Adopting an “Old” Dog in a Foreign Country

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In August 2012, our family moved to Prague, Czech Republic to work and study at an international, Christian school. Our three daughters, 17, 16, and 13 were excited about this new adventure; but, the youngest insisted that we adopt a dog when we arrived. This was a reasonable request and we started the search immediately upon our arrival. We visited shelters in many parts of the city, but we didn’t connect with any of the mutts we saw.

After a few weeks, we learned about a dog fair where many dog shelters were coming together to show their dogs to visitors. It was a sweltering day and tents were set up around the park. Dogs available for adoption wore a bandana, tied onto their collar. It was a busy, happy, colorful scene as dogs moved through the area looking for a new, forever friend. As we scanned the tents, we saw many of the same dogs we had met at the shelters over the past month. The attendants recognized the American family and they seemed impressed by our persistence. Sadly, we still didn’t see the dog for our family.

We were about to leave, when we noticed a dog stretched out at the feet of man under the shade of a tent. I asked if the dog was available and the man looked up in surprise, “This dog?” In broken English he shared with me that Ben was an old dog and needed much attention. This was not a problem for us and we walked him for the next 25 minutes. Ben was a beautiful Golden Retriever, with a sweet and gentle disposition. Even as guests walking him through the park, people often stopped us to admire the beautiful dog with an obvious, happy disposition. We fell in love with this old dog in that short time. He came home with us that afternoon and we learned the unexpected benefits of adopting a senior-citizen dog.

Since Ben had been in the shelter a only short time, they didn’t know much about his history. They didn’t know his exact age, but his white face showed that he had lived at least eleven years. We quickly learned that Ben did not “speak” English and our simple commands of “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” didn’t spark any bit of attention. But when our neighbor spoke to him in Czech, his ears would perk up and he clearly understood! Our language barrier was easily broken by the time we spent with this sweet dog. He knew we loved him and he loved us.

We had a beautiful back yard at our house in Prague and we were glad that Ben would have it to himself; however, he had been trained to NOT relieve himself in “the garden”.  The only time he would do his business was when we took him on a walk in the morning and the evening, a time that we came to treasure with our sweet boy. He had the energy of a puppy on these walks! But offer Ben a bone or a ball, and he was completely clueless that we were offering him a treat! If possible, whenever we left the house we took Ben with us. He traveled well on the buses and the trains. He made friends with every man, woman, and child. We made many new friends because of Ben.

The only challenge we had was that Ben was terrified of loud noises. In Europe, loud noises were thunder and lightning and the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. We weren’t anticipating his psychotic reaction to extreme noise and were totally surprised when our 70 pound dog frantically tried to squeeze under the bed or break through the fence. When we left for the day at school, we would leave Mozart’s music playing to drown out any sharp sounds outside. We wondered what had happened in Ben’s life to create such a severe reaction to loud noises, but we were glad to give him comfort when he was afraid.

But when the time came for us to return to the United States, we knew that Ben would not be able to make the trip with us. With his age and sensitivity to loud noises, he wouldn’t have survived the multiple take-offs, landings, and unusual environments. Ben’s home is in the Czech Republic, but he will always live in my heart.