My dog chose me

November 20th, 2013

For most dog owners, it’s they who do the choosing — but some owners have claimed “my dog chose me”, as Krissy Bradfield discovers.

Have you ever been captivated by a pair of doggy eyes? Perhaps you’ve fallen for a particularly sprightly tail wag? There’s always something special that captivates us about our dogs. It’s usually those special things that inspire us to choose that dog over all the others. But sometimes the roles are reversed. Here are three stories about what happens when the dogs do the choosing.

Foster failures

Sharon Tierney and her husband, Mike, had a plan. They wanted a dog but weren’t sure which breed would suit them best, so they did what a lot of prospective dog owners do: they fostered first. The first dog they took in from Hunter Animal Rescue in Newcastle was a young mixed breed called Baxter.

Baxter had been in his foster home for two weeks when the Tierneys got the call that a permanent place for Baxter had opened up with another family. After sending him off, Sharon admits she had second thoughts. “I cried my eyes out when he went to the other family,” she says. “I had grown attached to him in just a short period of time.”

It turns out Baxter wasn’t happy with the move either. “When Baxter went to the other family he started barking all the time — he never barked with us,” says Sharon. “He was digging holes everywhere and trying to run away. Also, Baxter didn’t get along very well with their six-year-old son.”

Baxter was a completely different dog when he wasn’t around the Tierneys, so the decision was made to return him to his foster home. Sharon took this as a sign. “I believe he behaved badly with the other family so he could come back to us,” she says. “He’s been with our family over four years now and he is the best dog ever. We absolutely made the right choice by taking our first foster dog and becoming ‘foster failures’.”

A visitor on the doorstep

Graeme Fountain and his wife returned home late one winter’s night to see a small, frightened shorthaired pointer shivering on their doormat.

Graeme assumed that his neighbours had been careless and let the dog escape, so he confronted them. “Being a big boofhead, I banged on their door, got them out of bed and demanded to know why they left this little beauty out in the cold,” he says. The neighbour didn’t know what he was talking about. “I was shortly apologising, wishing them a good night’s sleep and agreeing to take her in for the night.”

Although the relationship was rocky to begin with, Lady — as she was christened by the family — settled into the Fountain household and became friends with their other dog, Butch.

“When Butch started to slow down, his eyesight and hearing were failing. Lady would lead him around the backyard, from water bucket to his favourite tree to toilet himself, and then return him inside to his bed,” Graeme says. “It was a truly heart-wrenching sight to behold. Lady took her role as carer very seriously.”

Lady not only cared for ageing Butch, she also cared for Graeme’s mother, Imelda, when she was suffering from cancer. “Lady shared her body heat, her companionship and her gentle love freely,” Graeme says. “My mother took a lot of comfort from her company.”

Graeme believes that Lady chose their family. “Our flat was at the rear of a large block of flats in Toorak, up three flights of stairs; there were many other doorsteps she could have chosen,” says Graeme. “We always thought she picked us to help us through some tough times.”

Doley the Guatemalan street dog

Jill Brazier had been travelling for a few years when, in 1997, she found herself living in a bamboo tree house above Lake Atitlan near the small village of San Marcos, La Laguna in Guatemala.

“I had only been living in San Marcos for about a week when I heard that one of the village dogs, Mickey, had recently given birth to a litter of puppies,” says Jill. “Knowing the situation for dogs in third world countries, I resolved to stay out of it and not get involved.” As is often the case with street dogs that are malnourished, diseased and dehydrated, Mickey was not producing milk and her puppies were dying.

Jill occupied herself with her work and did her best to avoid news of the latest puppy fatality, but “staying out of it” wasn’t on the cards. “A tiny little puppy, with one electric blue eye and one brown eye, ran into the kitchen where I was preparing lunch,” Jill says. “She looked up at me with her mismatched eyes and tiny shaking body as if to say, ‘Give me some @*#^^$# food!’ I gave the starving little pup a tiny piece of bread. To my horror, the bread practically killed the poor little dog as her system went into shock trying to process and digest solid food. She lived through the bread episode, and spent the rest of the day sleeping in my lap. That is how I met Doley.”

From that point on, Doley and Jill were inseparable. When Jill returned to the Pacific Northwest, Doley the Guatemalan street dog came with her. “Seattle was certainly a change,” Jill says. “In order to stay warm, Doley would position herself directly in front of the heater vent in my parents’ home. The warm air would blow her ears back and her eyes would close slightly, as though she was in a trance. My dad would say that Doley was ‘going to Guatemala’.”

“Do I think that Doley chose me? Absolutely,” Jill says. “I am so grateful for Doley’s presence in my life and for the 14 years that she spent by my side. We lived all over the world together, and as long as we were together, we were home.”

Can dogs choose? The experts weigh in.

“Obviously, most of the time dogs don’t get a choice,” says Dr Caroline Perrin from Sydney Animal Behaviour Service, “but dogs are living creatures with thoughts, feelings and personal preferences. So of course, they will have their own preferences of who they live with.”

Just like people, dogs have personalities — some are introverts and others are extroverts, explains Dr Perrin. “Extroverted dogs may be more inclined to choose to spend time with extroverted people. Introverted dogs may be more inclined to spend time with quieter people.”

We know that dogs take behavioural cues from our body language and it’s this ability to read and interpret these cues that serves them well. “It is not inconceivable that a dog can ‘read’ people who respond positively or appear to have empathy for the individual animal,” says Dr Katrina Gregory. “In return, it is also likely that people can read dog body language very well too — although we may not always be cognisant that we are doing it. So, if given the opportunity, a dog or puppy would very likely approach and choose to interact with the ‘right’ people to become the familial group with which they would prefer to live forever.”

Buy the book

Jill Brazier’s book, Doley the Guatemalan Street Dog: The Sounds of San Marcos, is a bilingual picture book for children and tells Doley’s story of living on the streets of San Marcos. You can order the book and find out more about Doley, Jill and Guatemala at

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