What’s in a name?

My very first dog was a rescue dog. It was 1980 and I was working at a boarding kennel. In addition to operating a boarding kennel, the owners of the kennel were active in AKC conformation dog shows, and they were also involved in dog rescue. They had previously shown Doberman Pinschers and helped out with a Doberman rescue group, but had recently become involved in showing Whippets.

A friend of theirs in another state who was a Whippet breeder had alerted them that a woman in our area who had purchased one of her puppies was probably going to be advertising him in the local newspaper.

The woman had purchased the pup at 8 weeks, and he was now 9 months old and she wanted her money back because they couldn’t housetrain him and he was “just a bad dog.” The breeder offered to take the puppy back but would not refund the money (which was clearly stated in the purchase contract). They got into a heated argument and the woman hung up on her. The breeder asked that the kennel owners keep an eye on the newspapers and attempt to acquire the dog if possible. She would be traveling to the area for a dog show in a few months and could take him back with her.

Sure enough within a few weeks there was an ad for a 9 month old Whippet. The ad said he was “show quality” even though he had been originally sold as pet quality (and anyone who knew anything about the breed would have known immediately that he was not a show dog by any means). He was also cryptorchid, which is a disqualification for conformation showing. She was trying to sell him for twice what she had paid for him originally.

My boss responded to the ad, and asked about his pedigree to be sure he was indeed the pup from her friend. She told the woman that she had Whippets and was involved in dog rescue, and offered to take the dog, but would not pay for him. I’m not sure exactly what the details of the conversation were, but a week or so later the woman called the kennel and said something about needing to “get rid” of the dog before they went on vacation. They arranged to have her come to the kennel after hours to drop him off.

When she arrived at the kennel, she had a small boy with her who proceeded to grab handfuls of the dogs skin and pinch it while he was sitting in her lap. My boss had to struggle not to scream at the little boy, but her priority was to get the dog, so she held her tongue. The woman explained again what a “bad dog” he was and said they had been keeping him in the garage because he wasn’t housetrained. The dog was very thin and pretty pathetic looking in general.

I met him the next day. His name was Duke. In short order we decided that he needed a new name. Because he was so skinny they were thinking along the lines of something like Skelly (for skeleton). I suggested Twiggy after the super thin model from the 60’s, but that was rejected because he was a male. So then I said he looked like a stick drawing of a dog and his new name became obvious Stickie!

I had been wanting to get a dog of my own forever, and had an idea of several different breeds, but fate apparently had other ideas. I spent a lot of time with Stickie at work, and my boss allowed me to take him with me on my lunch hour. He was very sweet and we became quite fond of each other. By the time the breeder arrived several weeks later, he had become quite bonded to me, and I had decided I wanted him to be mine if at all possible. I asked her if I could purchase him. She smiled and said if I wanted him, he was mine and refused to take any money from me.

I took Stickie everywhere with me, and he was always perfectly behaved. Housetraining him using a crate was actually quite easy. His only issue was separation anxiety, but even that was relatively mild.

One day after Stickie had been with me for a few months, I took him with me to the law office where my sister was working. He was always a hit wherever I took him because most people had never seen a Whippet. One of the office gals asked what his name was. I said “I call him Stickie.” She said “No, what was his name when you got him? You know his real name?” I said “his real name is Stickie, but before I got him his name was Duke.” She said “Oh, Hi Duke!” Stickie looked at her and ran behind my legs to hide. We were all a bit stunned, and then she said “I’m sorry, Stickie, you’re a good boy Stickie.” He shyly looked at her and then wagged his tail and went over to greet her.

I never forgot that day, and it heavily influenced my attitude toward renaming rescue dogs. It helped me develop my “new life, new name” motto.

Most of the adult dogs that I have pulled from shelters were strays, so giving them a new name was expected. Owner surrenders were a different matter. Those dogs had names, but those names were also connected to their previous lives. I always changed dog’s names when they came into the rescue and told anyone who adopted a dog that they should feel free to change the dog’s name if they wanted to. Often they would say “Oh, no that’s his name I won’t change it.” My response was “that’s the name he’s had since he’s been with me. He learned that name, he can learn another one just as easily.” Then to make my point, I would ask them how many nick names their previous dogs had that they responded to just as reliably as their actual name.

Stickie was with me thorough many life changes in my 20’s and 30’s. He lived to the ripe old age of 17. He was one of those “one in a million” dogs and I still miss him. He started me on my path to becoming a veterinary technician, and rescue advocate.


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