Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Ones Who Get To Me Part 4: Beretta

Once upon a time, there was a black German Shepherd puppy who came to our store.  She was a little shy, and had a case of diarrhea that would not clear up, in part because of a tricky stomach, in part because of a parasite.

I was on a kick of naming dogs after guns at the time (I find I often name in themes, though I don't realize it sometimes), and looking at her perfectly erect ears and pointy snout, she just looked like a Beretta to me.  I think the main reason I named her Beretta is because, like a gun, she was only going to reflect the spirit of the person handling her.  She was just a smidge timid, just enough to be worrisome.  Handle her the wrong way, and that timidness, coupled with a GSD's natural tendency to be wary of strangers and highly reactive, would make her just as dangerous as a loaded gun with the safety off.  With the right person and a dose of confidence building, she would be only dangerous to people who thoroughly deserved it.

I started working with her on that confidence issue while she wasn't for sale due to the diarrhea issues.  She was a gem.  Eager to please, it was a snap to teach her anything.  She was smart, she was beautiful, and she wanted to be worked with.  She got "sit" in a day, and after that I started the "treat any time they so much as glance at you" to teach her that keeping her attention on me got her great things.

She recalled with precision, heeled perfectly around the store, and very quickly decided that the toys belonged in the puppy room and not anywhere else.  Should a toy find it's way out of the puppy room, she would pick it up and put it back in the puppy room.

I really wanted Beretta to be my dog.  Really, really.  She had that special something that made her stand out from other dogs, that certain spark.  It's extreme intelligence coupled with plain common sense and something else that's an undefinable quality you know when you've been around dogs long enough.  She was just full of possibilities.  She could be anything, excel at anything.  She could have been the world's best police dog - the kind that has an "off" switch not many police dogs have anymore - who could throw her heart and soul into the job when she was working and go home and be a regular old, let-the-kids-lounge-on-her dog when she wasn't.  She could have been a superb search and rescue dog, a seeing-eye dog, a therapy dog - anything, and she would have been the absolute best at it.  I have not worked with a dog like that since my Sainted Labrador passed away.  She reminded me a lot of the Bay dog.  Same soul, same heart, different expression of it all.

One day after she had been put up for sale, I noticed people loitering outside the kennel so I went out to ask if anyone needed help.  Everyone declined my help, but I went to stand back by the desk anyway, because no matter what people say, they always have questions.

Two big burly guys were looking at Beretta, and I heard one say to the other, "Well if you ever want them to be good guard dogs you have to make them mean."

That was my worst fear for Beretta come true in an instant.  I felt my heart drop through the floor.  They asked me a few questions about her, and I told them she was a good dog, very easy to train, loved absolutely everybody, and had a horrific problem that was likely to cost a lot of money to fix.

Which was a blatant lie.  She didn't have any health problems since her giardia had cleared up.  They expressed regret, quickly lost interest, and left the store.

The entire time this was going on, two ladies had been standing a few feet away, quietly.  After the two men left, one approached me and said, "I couldn't help but overhear what you said to those men about the black German Shepherd, and I had a few questions of my own."

I smiled at her.  "The health issue I made up.  I heard him say something about making dogs mean and I didn't want him to have her," I told her.  Something about this lady made me decide, almost unconsciously, to be open and honest with her.  I think then and there we became friends when she smiled and said she'd overheard the same thing and been worried about Beretta.  She asked how I knew she was easy to work with and gentle, and I told her everything about Beretta.  Then she asked if they could take her out and play with her, and I said sure.

"Just know, she takes a minute to warm up to people.  That's a GSD trait, they're not supposed to be mean, but they are supposed to be aloof with strangers.  She'll open up to you in a few."

Beretta came out, and predictably didn't really want anything to do with the two nice ladies who had shown an interest in her.  She didn't shy away from them, she was just intent on me, what I might be doing, what I might ask of her, what I might want to play with.  They tried to call her and she looked at them and stood her ground, but didn't go until I told her it was okay.  I told them how she had learned by herself to clean up the toys, and to show them, I took one of the toys from the puppy room and dropped it on the ground.  Instantly, Beretta stopped what she was doing and stared at me with this reproachful look that said, "Of all people, YOU ought to know better."  She heaved a sigh, trotted over, picked the toy up, and put it back in the puppy room.  Everyone laughed.

The lady explained to me that they weren't looking for a dog for themselves, they were looking for a dog for her mother.  Her mother had cancer, was undergoing chemotherapy, having a tough time, had within the last year been divorced and had to put her beloved Golden Retriever to sleep.  She needed a new dog, someone to give her a reason to get out of bed and out of the house and do things, but considering her illness, not a dog that was going to be rambunctious or rough.

Beretta was playful, but not extremely hyper, and she was never rough in play.  Always gentle.  I was thrilled.  This sounded like a perfect match.  The daughter thought so, too.  They put Beretta on hold while they went to get her mom so she could meet Beretta.  Beretta would, after all, be her dog.

Mom came and met Beretta.  I showed off everything she knew already.  I explained how I felt about her - that she could be anything, do anything.  She was smart enough to judge a situation and react accordingly, a quality many GSDs no longer have.  Mom said she was happy to hear that, as she had an interest in doing search and rescue work.  Perfect!  Yes, I often felt Beretta would be a great search and rescue dog, and I've been involved in search and rescue myself and could put her in contact with the right people.

After about two hours spent talking with me, talking to and observing Beretta, they decided to get her.  I was thrilled.  I was so happy I cried, really.  I cried because Beretta was leaving, and also because I couldn't have dreamed up a better home for her if I had set my mind to it.  This was all just meant to be.  This lady was gentle, had the right ideas about training dogs (no Cesar Milan for Beretta), wanted to give Beretta and herself a job like search and rescue for both their sakes.  She was just what Beretta needed and Beretta was just what she needed.

While they were filling out the paperwork and we were going over warranties, I noticed the street name on the address and it was really familiar but I didn't give it any thought at the time.

We got Beretta outfitted with everything she needed, including her favorite toy, the training treats that didn't upset her stomach, a Gentle Leader, the works.

I helped them out to the car.  Beretta was confused when she hopped up into the car and the door shut without me in it.  I could see the wheels turning in her head when she realized that I wasn't coming with her, and it really broke my heart.  In fact, I'm tearing up just remembering that expression on her face.  I stood there in the parking lot and smoked a cigarette and cried a few tears and thought to myself, at least she's safe now.  I had a premonition that at some point, Beretta was going to save that lady's life.  I don't know how I know, but sometimes, as wonky as it sounds, I know things like that.

While I was standing there, a thought suddenly struck me.  The street name.  The street name sounded familiar because it was in the same apartment complex I lived in.  I ran inside to double check on the paperwork.  Yes!  Yes it was!  Beretta just went to a home I could literally see from my balcony.

There is a power at work in the universe greater than ourselves, and it didn't just hand me this once-in-a-lifetime dog to yank her away from me forever.  Things happen for a reason.

A week later, I saw the lady walking Beretta while I was taking out some trash.  I have to admit, having done the paperwork with them, I knew the exact address and had been keeping an eye out for them, but I wasn't about to be creepy enough to go knock on the door to see how Beretta was doing, though I longed to.  Besides, Beretta had been very attached to me.  She needed time to get used to the fact that she was not my dog.

Seeing them on the street, however, I went up and said hi.  Beretta was happy to see me.  We talked about Beretta and how she was settling in.  She asked me, "Why did you name her Beretta?"  I tried to explain as best I could.  I asked, "And what name is she known by now?"  The lady smiled at me.  "Her name is still Beretta.  It suits her.  I couldn't change it."

That's when I knew, this was meant to happen.  Without a doubt.

I still see Beretta frequently.  She has grown into a beautiful lady, quiet and dignified, and everything a GSD should be.  Intuitive and intelligent, she is perfectly behaved and knows what is called for in all situations.  Within two weeks of being in her new home, her person had to move the alarm clock in the bedroom onto a high bookshelf or Beretta would hit the snooze button repeatedly and it wouldn't wake her up.

Beretta is in search and rescue training now, and as I always knew she would, enjoys and excels at it.

I am proud of her, and proud of the part I played in her life.


  1. Beretta sounds like a one in a million dog :)

  2. This is why I'm a little worried to open my own pet shop that sells animals. My greatest fear is getting attached to an animal only to find I've sold it to the wrong person.
    It was bad enough to hear one of our ex-hand reared kittens had been run over