Just Plain Ordinary Dogs

Michael Baugh CPDT-KSA, CDBC

It always comes down to this for me.  Would I live with that dog?  You see, I don’t endorse dogs for adoption lightly; that’s bad business for dog trainers.  If I’m going to put my name behind a dog, he or she has to be a dog I’d honestly and freely welcome into my own home.  I’m also not the kind of dog trainer who adopts rehab cases.  I want to live with a just-plain typical dog, magical yes, but in the way ordinary dogs find magic by settling deep into your heart.

My dogs are those kind of dogs.  They are mutts, as we used to call such gifts, mixed breeds of questionable origin.  But, this isn’t really about them.  It’s not about my adopting a dog either; our house and our hearts are full.  This is about other ordinary dogs, magical dogs with no home, mutts whose origins and looks draw their worth into question.  They are dogs who’ve touched my heart and even now risk breaking it.


When I posted pictures of Tara and Oreo on my facebook page, my brother posted only one question about them.  “Are they pit bull mixes?”  The question made me angry, and at first I wasn’t exactly sure why.  My answer to him was staid.  Breed identification based on visual observation is only about 30% accurate.  He didn’t reply.

I met Tara and Oreo more than two months ago.  They were scrappy adolescent dogs pulled from the streets of the Corridor of Cruelty in Houston and placed directly into a boarding facility.  Oreo was literally a mangy mutt, black and white, slightly squared at the jaw.  Tara was and is brown and muscular with a blocky head and slanted amber eyes.  My job was to assess them and a third dog, a shepherd mix named Skipper, for a program called Project HEEL.  The program places homeless dogs from Corridor Rescue Inc. with teenage boys in the custody of The Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.  When I first met them, the three dogs ran amok and were definitely untrained.  Nevertheless, they got along well and within a week they were sent off to a juvenile probation home in the rural reaches of a Houston Suburb.


It’s hard to ignore the parallels – tough-looking dogs with tough-looking teenage boys, all behind the double locked doors and barbed wire of the county.  For the dogs and the boys both, the trouble is more about how they look, than what they’ve done or ever will do.  The boys at least know what they’re up against when they get out.  The dogs have no idea.  Block headed, bully bodied, banned in some places.  They are totally, if not blissfully, unaware of how hard it will be for them to find a place in this world, a home, a family.

Someone claimed Skipper, the shepherd mix, weeks before Project HEEL ended.  Skipper’s leash will be handed to his new guardians at a graduation ceremony.  No one will take Tara’s leash, or Oreo’s leash, the ones my brother summarily asked about.  They will return to their crates, and if time runs out they will go back to the boarding facility to wait.  I don’t know for how long.  I also don’t know if they are pit mixes.  It doesn’t matter.  They look the part and that’s enough of a mark against them.  And here’s the irony , bitter as it may be.

I’d live with either of these dogs, Tara, Oreo.  I would if it weren’t for the dogs who’ve already claimed me.  Tara, tough as she may look, with her muscled body and serious eyes, would have a place beside me – curled and pressed against my chest please.  Oreo would learn tricks and accompany me on TV, the eager learner, the clown.  I’ve looked at each of them squarely and asked myself soberly, would I live with that dog.  The answer is yes.  I’d put my name behind either of theirs, and let them settle into my heart to find the magic life of an ordinary dog.

I don’t endorse dogs lightly, but these are dogs with whom I’d live.  Wouldn’t you?  Won’t you?  Please.