How do you compete with the perfect dog? Just ask Alley, our 4-year-old rescue Shepsky (German Shepherd-Husky mix). For three years, she’s been The Second Dog.
Our first dog together, German Shepherd Heidi, lived a canine Cinderella story. She was found in a storm drain in Houston, Texas. And the person who rescued her is Sonya Fitzpatrick, the former Pet Psychic on Animal Planet. Sonya took in Heidi and her three puppies, all fleas and bones, and nursed the little family back to health.
My husband Alan represented Sonya as lawyer, but their mutual love of dogs forged a strong personal bond. And because of her journalist mom, Heidi became the subject of a Los Angeles Times blog about breaking a dog into Hollywood. Later I shared a byline with the Heidi on A Paw in the Door, a weekly humor column for the Studio City Patch.
We were devastated to lose Heidi to cancer at age 11½. But receiving condolences from fans as far away as Paris heightened our belief that our next dog would be special—and would find us, just like Heidi did.
The Internet is a dangerous thing. Too soon, we found ourselves visiting pet adoption websites, evaluating female shepherds like some kind of doggie Tinder. But just as we reminded ourselves we were not ready for a new dog, we got a call from the doggie day care where we had taken Heidi for many years.
Someone had left a young female German Shepherd tied up in the alley behind the day care. Staffers were already calling her Alley. Did we want to take the New Girl home?
Like I said—not ready. But you can’t inherit a first dog from a pet psychic without starting to believe in Fate. We decided we should meet Alley.
She was beautiful, with piercing light brown eyes and an elegant dark coat. We were startled when she let out a sharp, high-pitched bark, the kind that might shatter glass or explode a nearby hearing aid. Where did that come from?
We decided to do our good deed: Take Alley to the vet for shots so she could at least play with the other dogs at daycare even if we didn’t adopt her.
Our vet declared Alley healthy except for a case of pinworm. She added Alley’s markings indicated she was part Husky. We couldn’t help wondering if that piercing bark came from the Husky side of the family.
We remained unsure—were we trying too hard, too soon to believe that Alley was the dog?
A few days later, we took the plunge. Alley immediately bonded with us but was afraid of just about everything else: visitors, garage doors, even a Christmas elf decorating a neighbor’s lawn.
During Alan’s first long trip away for his safari company, Alley brought me a dead squirrel from somewhere in our large hillside backyard. She laid the treat carefully in front of the TV for me, her idea of a special afternoon snack. She found my reaction so ungrateful that she marched off and pooped in the kitchen.
She did adorable things like creating art works of stolen toilet paper. Less adorably, she barked. At everything—especially other dogs on leash. A family friend who often babysat Heidi had always left us glowing reports. The best we were getting on Alley was that her walks had been “without incident.”
Unlike the accomplished Heidi—whose ashes are buried in our backyard with her resume and head shot—Alley proved nowhere near ready to be Alan’s companion on trips to the gym and to Los Angeles Adventurers Club meetings like Heidi, even after a stint away from home at a doggie boot camp.
Finally, during one barking jag, Alan said the unthinkable: “I’m beginning to think we should find a new home for her!” I can’t blame him because there were many times I’d thought the same thing. But by voicing it, I think Alan shocked both of us into a new commitment to our immature, high-strung, silly, loud, adorable Wolf Girl.
We came to realize we could not expect the young, abandoned Alley to be as mature as Heidi, nurtured by Sonya. We would have to work on her barking and social skills, possibly forever. And we discovered that, despite her high-pitched soprano, people fell in love with Alley’s goofy sweetness. She’s still too excitable for the gym or the Adventurer’s Club, but she loves her new job as Alan’s business assistant, picking up packages and getting hugs from the guys at the UPS Store.
“Shut up, Alley”—said with affection—is a legitimate and useful command. Most importantly, she’s Alley—not Heidi. Exactly as she should be.