What To Do About Wally
I bought him on a whim. The end of last June. Seven weeks before my two girls would both be taking off from their home base and replanting themselves in new cities. My nest needed more activity. It needed someone entering who would stay and not be saying good-bye or returning with a suitcase. I needed a new weekend playmate, something my two dachshunds are not.
He had been sitting in the window of the pet store for two months. He needed to be loved. I wanted something that resembled a baby. Two hours before I bought him I had found out a book project I thought I was embarking on would not happen.
For the first time in close to thirty years, I was looking down a long empty road with no work plans and no family life to give my days structure and meaning. So I bought Wally. A four-month-old white French Bull Dog.
It was folly in so many ways. We had two dogs. But we had always had three and, OK, yeah, it’s a little more work but not that much. Especially the way I raise dogs, no rules, little training and I don’t want to hear about a crate.
Everything was fine for about two weeks. Then one day we heard this deep long noise start in the solar plexus of seven pound Wally and slowly it emerged from his mouth. We thought it was funny. It wasn’t really a growl, it was more like a cartoon noise. And since Wally had a cartoon personality it seemed to fit.
Wally was everything I wanted in a dog, first off he was/is hysterically funny. I mean like this dog is a laugh riot. If he was a person he would be on SNL. The guy always in trouble and on the verge of getting fired but he’s that funny. He’s also very loyal and followed/follows me around like a shadow. In fact, his love for me has bordered/borders on the obsessive, but I kind of need that these days. When he sleeps next to me, he ends up on top of me. The guy loves me a lot.
Everyone who meets him wants to take him home. I swear that is the charm Wally exudes. Which is weird as we found out he comes from Milan, Missouri, headquarters of twelve of the worst puppy mills in the country. God knows how he lived as a tiny baby. But he is like some gorgeous girl born to a family of trolls I suspect.
Taylor found out from her dog trainer that the puppies from these mills are piled into trucks and driven across the country. They are so neglected en route, that apparently only the runts and the really aggressive ones survive.
Wally is not a runt and his aggression started in the third or fourth week. He went after Winnie. I think it was over a toy. But at that point, I chalked it up to puppies will be puppies. Besides he was almost five months old and had these giant balls; likely too much testosterone for his little body.
In the weeks that followed more fights broke out. At that time Winnie was bigger than he was and she was tougher. And she has the advantage of dachshund chompers and a family history going back hundreds of years of demolishing badgers. But this did not deter the macho Wally from picking fights with her.
The weird thing is Wednesday has some hold on Wally, he loves her, plays with her and would never cross her. I don’t know what doggy signal she gave off but he read it loud and clear. Behave your Frenchie ass and he did and does around her.
Toys were a problem. Some days I was a problem, he did not like Winnie near me. The order of who got their dinner dish first was a problem. But I continued to chalk it up to the fact his balls were the problem. So I had them cut off. The vet said this would maybe cut down on the aggression, but not necessarily.
The neutering did not help at all. We kept his harness on him at all times and if the inner belly roar started I would grab his harness sweep him up in the air. It got to be a fulltime job monitoring when Wally would get pissed off.
Though through it all he remained a charmer. I remember a dinner where the artist Peter Dayton was holding him all night and said, “This is the best dog ever. I want him.” Our friend Patrick would come over to smoke cigars with Glenn but mainly to hold Wally. He was like Alec Baldwin total beguiling movie star most of the time, but prone to unexpected rage.
I remember the sound of my vet’s voice, three weeks after his neutering when I called to say the rage was not getting better. He told me it wouldn’t. That in a dog like Wally who started this so young it would be a lifetime affliction. He said you need to rehome him where there are no other dogs. If not either you, one of your family members or one of the dogs will end up badly hurt.
But me being me, and running my life on the motor of the idea that my will is so strong if I set my mind to something I will bend the universe into the form I want – I refused to listen.
In the last four months, I have been bitten many times trying to break up fights. My housekeeper has been bitten as well. Once he hit twenty-three pounds of muscle it was harder to break the two up. He has tried to bite Glenn out of jealousy. The older he has gotten the more consistent the fights have become and the more serious the results.
While Wally starts every fight he loses every fight. Winnie is now eleven pounds to his twenty-three, but she has ripped his face, chomped his neck. He spent a month looking like Burgess Meredith in Rocky. His ear cut, a scar down the middle of his face. But once the fight was over, ten minutes later, they would be snuggled in bed together. See they really do love each other I would mutter while holding ice up to Wally’s latest wound.
In October I hired a very expensive trainer. A man who was famous for years. He cost more than my shrink. He gave us exercises. We did them. Wally calmed down during that period. But I couldn’t afford to keep up with the once a week doggie shrink sessions. So we did the exercises on our own and soon the chaos returned.
There were two final straws. He bit Lucy on the nose when she leaned over to kiss him while he was sleeping in my lap. And then one day before a party we were giving for the writer James Oseland’s book Jimmy Neurosis, Wally went after Winnie for no reason and he ended up with a bleeding eye.
Was this the moment the vet had warned me about? Had we hit bottom? I grabbed some ice, bundled him up and took him to the vet. Terrified I had let this go on to the point he might lose his eye.
Now, this is the thing about Wally. He never cried. I put on his sweater, he got in the cab and behaved like a gentleman. At the vet, he kissed every dog he met. He lets the doctor do anything she wants. He is the total angel dog.
The dachshunds, on the other hand, when faced with a vet visit, behave so badly we are asked to wait outside until it’s their turn, then one of them gets muzzled. But not Wally, Mr, Lovable who looks like he just happened to get in a knife fight.
When I got home there was a young woman James knew who was making the food for the party. I was crying and there was poor Wally with his bloody eye, She told me about her pit bull rescue and the boot camp trainer that fixed him.
So on Presidents Day Winnie and Wally went off to boot camp. I kept Wednesday at home with me for three weeks. She went up last week. Winnie is now back. Wednesday comes home tomorrow. Wally is still there and staying a week longer. Everyone needed a reboot.
Winnie is vastly improved. She is now house trained. She listens and her lessons will continue. She is totally relaxed. She sleeps in a crate next to our bed and I do the good New York dog owner thing and walk her in the morning. Or Glenn does.
But the Wally of it all, without me to protect or Winnie to go after Wally still likes to pick fights. The dogs where he is do not bite back, they are trained not to. And Rick, his trainer can stop Wally in his tracks.
The question I grapple with 24/7 these days is can I do that? Can I handle him? Can I turn our home into a doggie boot camp? Which apparently I have to do for a year. I will have to learn to stop him before he starts a fight. Do I have the time, energy, patience or skills to do this? I just gave up wee wee pads for proper walks.
Is it really better for Wally to be rehomed to a family where he is not only the top dog but the only dog? Is it better for Winnie to not be exposed to his aggression?
In my sane, big girl moments I know it’s better to let him go. He’s been gone a month, I gave them his sweater, his papers and his baby blanket in case I decide to rehome home. I count the pluses to that decision. A big one being I won’t have to say good-bye again.
But then I find myself scrolling through my Wally album on my phone and see his little face. I think of him curled up at the base of the fridge, a very Frenchie thing to do. I think of him trotting down the street next to me. And the time a woman in a wheelchair looked at him and said, I haven’t smiled in months, he makes me smile can I just pet him for a while?
And Wally and I stood on Madison Avenue until she was happy enough for us to go. I remember thinking you know if I train him I can take him to hospitals to make people happy. He can be a real service dog. Wally makes people really, really happy. Unless he makes them bleed.
How can a dog with so much love and so much charm harbor that violent rage? I know the good Wally. The sweet Wally. The Wally with the crappy childhood I want to fix in the present. I know the Wally that makes me excited to walk in the door. I know the Wally who in every other way is the dog I have been waiting for my whole life. And then I break down sobbing and think I can’t rehome him. I am his home and he is mine.
This morning I was set on rehoming him. By five o’clock I was set on giving him another try. Taking him to the office every day and just keeping up his training.
Rick says I can keep him, the rules just have to be strict and I have to be the alpha dog.
It’s such a toss-up. Life is calmer without him, no question. But he is so deeply missed by us all.
I’m sure I will change my mind many times in the next weeks. The constant sound in my brain is “What to do about Wally?”
Someone said to me today if I don’t give him one more chance I will never know if it could have worked. And after all the boot camp it’s not fair to him not to see if he can calm down.
Hey, he’s not an old dog. He can learn new tricks. Can’t he?
I’m not too big on praying, but I am praying he can.
To be cont….