The vet tech said Otto was “not well cared for” by his previous owners.
Otto was picked up as a stray by Leawood Animal Control in Kansas and taken to the State Line Animal Hospital for boarding and care. He was not neutered and wearing a worn black harness without ID tags or microchip. The hospital holds stray animals for a trial period before spaying or neutering and putting them up for adoption. No one came to claim Otto.
Otto was 17 pounds when he was picked up which put him close to 20% below his target weight. When we went to pick him up at the hospital, where he had been living for a month, he weighed 18 pounds. You could see his ribs, all of his vertebra, and his hip bones. His coat was so thin that he couldn’t be clipped short in a standard grooming cut because his skin would show through. Otto was essentially missing his “wire” coat: the thick, coarse hairs that gives structure and weight to his fur. The vet techs said that Otto found life in the hospital very stressful and they had a hard time getting him to eat. Because of the deplorable condition of this teeth, the vet had estimate Otto to be approximately 8 years old.
It is not unusual for skinny, ragamuffin strays to be picked up without tags or ID. And not even that unusual for them not to be neutered.
But Otto is clearly 100% purebred schnauzer. And even in his poor condition, he is very, very handsome.
Purebred + not neutered + bad condition + old age + stray = breeder’s dog dumped when too old to be of use
Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? It is not uncommon in the mid-West. If you find this difficult to believe, there is more…
The vet techs were correct about Otto being a skittish eater. At first he appeared finicky: he’d approach the bowl slowly, sniff just over the rim and then turn and walk away, usually to go curl up in bed. I would have to coax him back into the kitchen repeatedly and even hand feed him some kibble before he would stay at the bowl and eat. And even then he might only eat a portion of the food before voluntarily walking away from the bowl. And there were other strange signs. Otto never asked for food. Not first thing in the morning nor in the evening. He never begged and he never looked for dropped food on the floor. If you stood in front of him holding his bowl and turned away even slightly, Otto would leave the room and curl up in bed. Any distracting movement or noise in the kitchen and Otto would leave. He wouldn’t come back for a second try on his own. He would just go back to sleep.
Otto had no expectation of being fed. And Otto had no comprehension of food belonging to him. Which meant that Otto had most likely never been fed on a regular schedule and had probably been intimidated while eating.
Otto didn’t know the word “cookie”. And he did not appear to understand being given a cookie, showing reluctance and leaving the cookie on the floor the first time until encouraged to eat it. Otto had never eaten anything that wasn’t kibble. He didn’t recognize apples, carrots or other fruit and vegetable tidbits and would leave them alone unless encouraged to eat them.
Teaching Otto to sit before eating resulted in a anxious bowing, scrabbling, grovelling gesture that would have been tremendously funny if it hadn’t been so grotesquely sad.
While Otto was slow to grasp the practice of consistent eating, he immediately found his place with his bed. A plush bed with a thick curved bolster and a reflective layer to generate heat, it is a possession Otto covets. Next to his bed, his most favorite thing is “hugging”: Otto likes to be picked up with both paws around your neck and his whole body pressed against you. An anomaly in a dog, who typically merely tolerate hugging, Otto craves a hug shortly after breakfast and in the evening. Truth be told, Otto will take any cuddling anytime he can get it.
After a month, Otto gained 3 pounds and his coat grew back in thick and shiny. His bones are now covered with a layer of sleek muscle. He loves running top speed around the yard and monitoring the fences that look out onto the street in front. He is a brave protector. He has a home and a duty and a family. He is safe and loved. And he starts doing the “dinner dance” half an hour before he is fed…right on schedule. He sits up straight and tall to “earn” his dinner and eats the whole bowl without looking up.
It is easy to fall into habitual patterns of questioning thoughts about the past: was that a good decision? should I have taken a different course of action? where would I be in my life if I had gone down a different path? Otto reminds me that I needed to do everything that I did in order to be here with him, to rescue him, and to bring him into a home that would help him overcome his past. A past of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. Of being neglected and abused. Of being vulnerable to strangers. Of being homeless and without family. None of these alter that Otto is worthy of love and belonging, with his own love to share. And that in return, so are all of us, regardless of our past choices or the directions our lives have taken us.