Talking pets: You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

June 15, 2012 

Have you seen those commercials on TV from The Shelter Pet Project?

They're heartwarming (the cat rescued from the cold, dark streets of the city); they're funny (the Boston terrier whose insider-trading master is hauled off to jail); and they're poignant (the dog who's afraid to open his eyes for fear his new home is just a dream).

I think my favorite is the one that asks: "Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?" It ends with the dog wearing his new human's hat and saying: "I got picked! Wow."

It's a touching reminder that older animals can be the perfect companion and have a lot to offer in the cute and cuddly department.

I remember when I was almost 4 and we had just moved to Florida. My grandmother sent my parents a hundred dollars as a

housewarming gift to put toward a new TV set.

My dad went and got a dog.

He was a Boston terrier named Mike, and he was about my age.

Now, you would think my mom was mad as a wet hen that my dad had taken a tidy sum of money and gotten a dog instead of a new TV. But she wasn't. She loved dogs, and especially Boston terriers.

Her only complaint was my dad had gotten an older dog, one with "baggage."

For instance, we had wood floors in that house and every time my mom picked up the broom to sweep, Mike would run and hide.

And back then the Herald came rolled up with a rubber band on it and every time my mom brought it in the house, Mike would run and hide.

Obviously, someone had hit him with a broom and a rolled-up newspaper.

My mom's solution to Mike's distress? She wasn't about to quit sweeping the floors or bringing in the newspaper. So she said, "He'll just have to get used to it."

And he did. After he learned that he wasn't going to suffer from broom or newspaper abuse, he did "get over it."

(We still don't know what prompted him to eat the seat out of a platform rocker. I can still see it: green with plaid trim and springs sticking out all over. I thought it was funny. My mom, not so much.)

Later in life, my ex and I wanted to get a dog. As fate would have it, a friend at work needed to find a home for a dog and advertised it on a newsroom bulletin board.

He was a shepherd-Lab mix named Muddy Waters, and he was 4.

I wondered what issues he would have, and as it turned out, the only things that 90-pounder was afraid of were thunderstorms and fireworks.

If we had been set on getting a puppy, we would have missed out on having a wonderful, loving, gentle giant.

Since then, all my dogs have been rescues, and each has come with some sort of "baggage."

Jethro was spoiled rotten, Reba was a street dog who ate bugs and mulch, and Ella was saved from starving.

Each one was able to overcome a rocky start in life with time and patience.

Jethro learned his place in the pack, and Reba and Ella learned they were going to be fed every day and not go hungry ever again.

Don't get me wrong; I think there's a lot to be said for getting a puppy. They're cute as all get out and you can "bring them up in the way they will go."

But getting an older dog is so much more rewarding.

It simply is not true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

M.K. Means, Herald copy editor, can be reached at 941-745-7054.

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