Scratching the Itch, or Getting to Know Kirk Douglas

About a week ago, the yearning to get a dog got too strong. Usually it's kept in check by my overly developed sense of guilt about leaving a dog home alone and the lingering ambition to move to Europe, but every few months we start to wonder if we could make it work. It's not so hard to think we could. Doggie day care isn't so outragious and the border collie down the street couldn't be happier than when the Smilin' Dogs van pulls up. For many of the dogs in need of homes, certainly what we can offer is better than the alternative. For anyone struggling with the same rationalizations, we have a solution: spend some quality time with someone else's dog. For us, that most often comes through fostering a dog in need.It is more work to take care of a dog you don't know than your own. Perhaps that's why, after each foster dog, I'm OK with the easy quietude of the house again, at least for a few months. We were looking forward to getting into a routine with Bob, our last foster dog. We had just gotten past the bathing ordeal to get rid of the kennel smell, were no longer worried about a possible affinity for fine Italian leather or a predilection for burying things under the rose bushes when he found a wonderful permanent home. It takes awhile to get to know a dog with no history, no references. And then, all too quickly, it's time to say goodbye. I didn't actually think I was ready to go through that again, but as I started ponder getting a dog of our own, I took a look at the source of our past foster dogs, the Merced County Shelter. Merced is a few hours east of the Bay Area. The shelter there has very few resources, no vet on staff, and way too many dogs for the number of people looking to adopt. It's hard to believe, but each of the four wonderfully well-behaved, loving foster dogs we have had from Merced were on the short list there after failing to find homes. There were so many sweet faces that before I knew it, I was emailing to ask for more info about Kirk and whether they thought he would be a good fit for us to foster.

Kirk Douglas, as the shelter named him, is big and he is black. That's two strikes against him in the strange game of Merced County adoptions. But he is also the sort of dog that turns heads and elicits exclamations of "ooh, look!" and "beautiful dog" on walks. He is a dog who is eager to please, likes his people, exhuberantly greets other dogs, loves to run, seems to expect the opportunity to at least walk every few hours, and quietly moans and grunts with pleasure when you rub his ears or belly. He has an endearing knack for crawling, which he does while playing tug-of-war, unlike anything I've seen. He is utterly content curled up on his back, feet in the air, in bed with people (when invited). His tail wags so hard and so fast with any provocation that it looks like it might fly off.

Kirk is probably about two years old. He looks like a handsome black lab with a white splotch on his chest. At a tall and lean 75 pounds--he may have some Great Dane blood--he is also a little large for our normally adequately-sized suburban lifestyle: there is now hair from his back rubbed into the ceiling of the Mini and he can cross the yard in a brief moment with his long strides and is just as quickly out of site when he finds an opportunity for a self-guided tour of the neighborhood. I'll just say that our gate is now barracaded to compensate for his apparent understanding of handle mechanics, his collar is on tight, and the front door screen is firmly latched. I think we're getting the routine down now and we are quickly falling in love, but much sooner than we'd like, and probably not soon enough, Kirk will be off to a new home. We would love to keep him, but it's all too clear that he needs to be somewhere with lots of open space or people who run and perhaps older kids or another dog. We've already had an inquiry from a family that sounds perfect for him and with all the people looking at his photos, I am sure there will be more to come. It's hard not to love a dog like this. When he's gone, we'll be sad, the house will feel empty, it will be harder to motivate to go take all those long walks every day, but we'll be happy to have saved this one and will have a few months until the cycle starts again. See more of today's photos of Kirk.