Carol Hershey with 4 dogs
Dr. Carol Hershey stands with her three Newfoundlands and tiny Pomeranian. Photo courtesy of Dr. Carol Hershey.
My husband J and I adopted our first Newfoundland, Hobie, when I was completing my veterinary degree at Purdue in 2013. Six years later, we are shepherding our fifth Newfoundland puppy through his teenage phase. I can’t envision my life without them.
A morning around these parts sounds a bit crazy to some folks.
At 5:45 a.m., Buoy stands next to my bed, panting in my face. I can feel the air move from the force of his wagging tail before I even open my eyes. I can also hear in my head the voice we have created for him speaking in the third person: “Mumma, Mumma! Buoy hungry!” I start to laugh as my husband groans and rolls over. This is not your typical “ignore your dog when he wakes you up too early” type of thing. Buoy is just too much of a presence and he knows it. We brought him home 5 years ago as a 37-lb, 11-week-old puppy. He is now our oldest and largest Newfoundland, weighing in at 160 lbs. Buoy gets points for his dashing looks and charming personality, not his brains.
Buoy also knows he has rallied his troops. Soon after, Tugboat and Bimini join us on the bed for morning snuggles. Tugboat is Buoy’s 140-lb “little” brother, and Bimini is his svelte 100-lb sister. They are also Newfs, so this drooly dogpile is not for the faint of heart. We rescued Bimini 3 years ago, and she is the smartest yet sweetest of the group. She throws her weight around on the bed like a fat Golden Retriever while Tuggy watches from the sidelines, tapping his foot for attention.
To finish the morning wake-up call, I suddenly feel the coarse scratch of a tennis ball against my face. I find myself being persistently nudged by the smallest and most career-driven member of our family, Nimbus, the 8-lb Pomeranian whom I adopted for my 35th birthday last year. Nimbus strongly believes he can be the next ball boy at Wimbledon if he just practices hard enough. These are my four dogs, all 408 pounds of them. If we didn’t have a pretty big bed to accommodate the morning snuggles, the floor pile would be less than pretty.
The clock hits 6 a.m. and we begin our post-snuggles morning routine.
I jump in and out of the shower, throw my scrubs on, and young Tuggy is always first to thunder down the stairs. Friends and family have likened the noise of three Newfs and a Pom racing downstairs to enthusiastically throwing bowling balls around the otherwise silent house. They’re not wrong. The three cats, Mungo, Marcello and Tilly run for the hills when the stampede comes down the stairs.
Tuggy and Bimi run to their kennels for breakfast time. Nimbus plays with the cats, avoiding breakfast entirely, and Buoy stands alert in the kitchen. None of this is quiet, either. I start my coffee, as I do have priorities, and then I portion out a combined 8 cups of kibbled dog food with additional sweet potatoes, green beans, eggs, whatever I have cooked for them this week. Breakfast is served in brightly colored slow-feed bowls.
Then I feed the cats. They have their own living room in the front of the house with a 7- foot tall cat tower, which tends to be the favorite perch to watch dog feeding from. They have their own amenities in the basement as well.
After everyone finishes, Buoy leads the brigade to the backyard for “bunny patrol” and to go potty. At the top speed of 4 miles per hour (except for Nimbus), you can happily anticipate no small creatures will be caught or injured in this morning jaunt. If the sun is shining, it’s difficult to get everyone to come back inside in any weather, especially if the wind is blowing off the West Bay of Lake Michigan just a few blocks away. All three of the Newfies go to the “magic fence” on the north side of the yard where our wonderful neighbors give them treats whenever they are also outside.
Nimbus scoots back and forth between the maple trees sniffing for visiting bunnies and squirrels. He is so fast, especially next to the lumbering Newfs. He uses his puppy agility training to its finest. I still remember the agility day in puppy class when Nimbus immediately started lapping me. My last 5 puppies have been Newfs, so this was like a cold bucket of water dumped on my head.
I call morning patrol to an end, everyone shuffles in, kennels up, gets a cookie, and settles in for the morning.
Then I grab little Nimbus’s leash and he follows me to the car as we head to my day job as a full-time small animal veterinarian. Nimbus “Grandpa” Hershey is the most laid-back little dog you’ll ever meet. He works with me in behavior consultations and with our training program at my hospital. He has big and little friends at Doggy Day Care at our clinic, but prefers to nap in the office on my chair when I am in appointments. He has achieved his Canine Good Citizen and will hopefully be able to certify further for therapy work. I also teach yoga, and I would like Nimbus to be an integral part of that as well. Downward dog, anyone?
It is now 7:30 am.
These hectic mornings are difficult to explain to some. Dogs are my family and my community. I often think “it takes a village” to raise a puppy. I have seen both joyous and horrified looks when I tell new clients I have three Newfs and a Pomeranian at home (the cats are a whole different story!). Clients instantly understand that I am a dog person. They also know I’m a cat person because I have three of them, but they are not giant sized, just normal. They also can’t fight their way through the snuggle rush hour to wake us, so they just let the dogs take care of it.
Play time is hilarious! Nimbus came home to us at 11 weeks old and 3 pounds of furry. I was initially nervous he would not get out of the way, but he quickly learned to side step the ambling stampede of his siblings. He keeps up with them and always has. He has been raised no differently than the Newfs and gets zero passes based on his size. His expectations are the same and he feels like one of the pack. My mom actually gets annoyed that she can’t hold him like a little dog (that’s what they are for, right?) because he always wants to play.
Nimbus. Photo by Dr. Carol Hershey
Tuggy will bring Nimbus toys to play with and vice versa. We taught Tuggy to “lazy play” with Nimmy when they were both puppies, and he has never had an issue dialing it down to make sure Nimbus has his fair shot at the game.
Some days it’s time for “Naps on a Newf.” Bimini is Nimbus’s favorite snuggle buddy. She is always sweet and gentle with him and recognizes where he is all of the time. Sometimes we lose him in the fur, but fortunately she’s never rolled over on him. Bimi is also the cutest dog we have (sorry, Nimbus, we know you expected that title).
Who rules the roost within this pack? I do, of course. I get asked this question a lot, but it is so important to know that managing this many animals comes with a lot of work and responsibility. I lead them each day and we all have to work to respect each other. That being said, if I had to choose which animal led the pack, it would definitely be our cat Tilly. She is the most outgoing of the animals and my worst medical patient to handle. She has a permanent stink eye and a severe allergy to poultry. She is the only one in the house that doesn’t respect the dogs when they are eating. I know immediately if she has gotten into the dog food because of her allergies. Tilly usually sleeps fat-belly-up on the stairs, and the Newfs will NOT pass her if she is sleeping. Long Live the Queen.
Sleeping arrangements shift with age. Nimbus slept in his crate every night until he was a year old, but he now sleeps on the bed. He is by far the best sleeper in the house, and will even excuse himself during the day to go upstairs and nap on our bed. This is how he earned the nickname “Grandpa” from my husband. The Newfies sleep on the floor in the bedroom, although they all prefer tile, but no one is crated at night time any more. They do like snoozing on the couch at any time of day, and also in their own crates.
I have fun experiences with my dogs every moment, but these are only possible because we are incredibly diligent about their behavior, health and safety. All four of my dogs have been professionally trained and we work with them every day to make sure they are healthy and happy both mentally and physically. If you look around, that village is all around you. Managing my dogs takes constant and consistent effort, but like any relationship with a pet, they are capable of giving you so much when you put a little faith in them.
May 30, 2019
April 29, 2019
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.