This is the story of how it came to pass, that we opened a tiny zoo in our Hamburg apartment. Ilona and I both grew up with pets. Ilona has had Nel and Devi since 2012, and they have accompanied her everywhere since, including her expat time in the US. The three of them lived for 5 years in the states, in a wonderful home where a constant coming and going of foster dogs and cats was a given (success rates of 100%, for nice pics and stories check out @bellabassoon on Instagram). Also three other cats and a pitbull belonging to the landlords were part of the community there. This experience had been a very important one for Ilona, motivating her to go on fostering dogs after her return to Germany. Fostering cats was not an option, because Devi and Nel wouldn’t tolerate other cats. With dogs they had mostly been OK though, so we thought fostering a dog could work out for us.
As it turns out, fostering a dog is not very easy in Germany, as shelter organisations tend to be very strict with their choice of foster homes. At first, we received many cancellations on account of both of us having full time jobs. After several months of failed applications, the organization called Perros de Catalunya e.V. found us Cosmo, the podenco mix. Cosmo comes from Spain, near Barcelona and he was driven by Perros de Catalunya to Bremen in northern Germany in a truck along with several other dogs, a very long drive. Little is known about his backstory. He was found by some nice people, roaming the streets, famished and full of fleas and scars. The guys who found him took him in for a few weeks, after which we came to us. He was born around March 2019 and is a castrated male.
From the first moment we met him he impressed us a lot. In spite of the long trip, he came confident through the gate of the shelter, wagging his tail. It looked like he was excited to get into the car with us. We were impressed at how well and sure he walked to the car on the leash, that he let us bathe him the first evening he was with us (he would have been happy to avoid it, but he smelled horrible) and that he slept through the first night instead of nervously pacing and whining as we had expected. I needed less than 3 days to declare that I was ready to adopt Cosmo… Ilona was still unsure, because she wanted to see how the relationship with the cats plays out.
In the beginning, Cosmo either ignored the cats completely, or approached them in a friendly way, wagging his tail and wanted to sniff at them and make friends. Unfortunately, Devi and Nel refused his peace offerings with loud hissing. A few times, Cosmo ran after the cats and chased them onto the scratching post or under the bed. But we have also seen evenings with all three animals lying relaxed on the sofa. And whenever Cosmo is asleep, the cats seem very interested in him and like to smell his paws and ears… things always get complicated, whenever Cosmo wants to do his part of sniffling. We have to keep working on this!
For a final decision to keep Cosmo, we needed over six weeks. Ilona especially had concerns regarding the safety and happiness of the kitties. But we were even more concerned about the opinions of several people, who had been telling us that the dog will develop a depression, if he is forced to spend over six hours a day alone and he doesn’t have a garden. When on walks, Cosmo was doing a lot of things right from the first day. However, he became agitated when meeting other dogs while on the leash, and his hunting behavior started showing more and more (keyword: squirrels :-)). This is why we requested a training session with the shelter and they immediately saw the necessity. This is how we met Tina Tschürtz (Dog University Hamburg).
Tina played a major role in our decision to give Cosmo a final home. At first, she had us tell her Cosmo’s daily routine. This involves two big walks in the morning and in the evening, a professional dog walker at midday, games with us two, playing with a dog in our neighborhood in their garden at least once a week and snuggling on the couch every evening. Tina’s professional opinion was that we are more than qualified to provide Cosmo with a balanced and happy life. Moreover, she was prepared to communicate her review of our situation to the shelter as well. Ilona and I both knew by the evening of our first encounter with Tina, that we want to keep Cosmo. Five day later, the shelter agreed to let us adopt him. And it was like magic – Cosmo immediately noticed the emotional change. His leash aggression was gone by the next day. He slept deeper and longer during the day. Tina also recommended us literature about stress and hunting behavior in dogs.
This is how we heard of the books of Ulli Reichmann, one of which is also available in English. To sum up Ulli’s philosophy very briefly, she is advocating engaging your dog and “partaking” in the hunt rather than trying keep him from hunting by force, thereby building a relationship based on partnership, trust and mutual respect. Now, this doesn’t mean, that we let Cosmo kill squirrels – Ulli’s theory is actually that a dog doesn’t need to “conclude” the hunt (ie. kill the game) in order to have a satisfactory experience. In Cosmo’s case specifically, this means encouraging him to signal and wait for us if he sees something interesting, since his ancestors were probably used to signal rabbits and other small game. Whenever he sees something, we encourage him to freeze and wait, and there is ample celebration and treats whenever he waits for our signal before “springing to action” 🙂 This approach has worked wonders with Cosmo and it’s a lot of fun for us, too! We are VERY proud of our smart, attentive, sweet and gentle hunting dog.
This concludes the first chapter of Cosmo’s life as a part of our family. But the story is to be continued.