At 11 months old, Waldo, the standard poodle and Wheaten terrier mix or woodle, is shaping up to be a strong, well-behaved puppy. But just a month ago, before he came into the lives of Steven and Katherine Lesse, he was recovering from surgery and physical and mental trauma he had received in a previous home from a family that was ill-equipped to take care of him.
"He came up on the Love Train from Tennessee," Katherine Lesse said, referencing the animal transportation program that moves animals from areas with high euthanasia rates to no-kill shelters. "And I guess the family — we don't know how he acquired him, he may have been a puppy mill puppy, we don't know — had both kids and other dogs in the house who were apparently very aggressive. And, in Tennessee, they abandoned him at The Humane Society. I think they didn't want to pay for all the surgeries — he had a lot of punctures and stiches on his chest and head and things like that. And they said that he had abandonment issues, he didn't like to be crated and that other dogs had attacked him. But I don't know what kind of household it was, because they obviously didn't properly take care of him or train him or protect him."
Meeting True Love
Despite all the trauma that Waldo had sustained, that for some may have been a deterrent for adoption, the Lesses were determined to give Waldo a home once they learned of him. It all started when the couple moved into a home with a yard that was equipped to handle a puppy.
"What we noticed about this house was that the basement had a big dog door and there was a big dog run with a big eight-foot fence around it. So, I said, 'Oh, Steve can have a dog again,'" Katherine Lesse said. "… Over the years, Steven has had one or two dogs in his whole life, always rescue dogs. As a family, we've had four rescue dogs."
So, it wasn't long before they began visiting the Humane Society of Huron Valley, located less than a mile away from their home. When news broke that Waldo had arrived, Steven Lesse made his way to shelter as soon as possible.
"When he was there and Steven met him, he wasn't yet available for adoption, but Steven went and he found out that he was going to be available the next day. So, he went the next day, immediately, first thing in the morning, put his name down and said, 'I want to get to know this dog. Can you put a 24-hour hold?' I was at work and I didn't even know about this, I was in the middle of a staff meeting and he called me and said, 'You've got to come here now to The Humane Society.' We spent time with him that day and the next and we watched him and how he reacted with other dogs and he didn't seem fearful, which was encouraging."
New Names and New Beginnings
Eventually, the Lesses realized that Waldo would be a perfect fit for the family, but one thing was still up in the air: Waldo's name. At that time, Waldo was known as Otto, and Katherine Lesse said she wasn't sure that he would benefit from another major change like a new name in such a short period.
"I thought that at 10 months old that could be psychologically traumatizing, too. He's been uprooted from his home and had this trainer and multiple surgeries, but for that few days when we called him Otto, he never looked up when we called his name," she said. "And as we were talking about names, our property has three little swamps and, in the family, we call it Walden Ponds, plural. So, Waldo came up at one point, as in 'Where's Waldo?' And the kids love to play that game and we thought it fit with Walden Ponds. We called him Waldo a couple of times and he looked up. So, we decided that maybe it wouldn't be traumatic to change his name."
A Pattern of Giving
When asked why they decided to adopt a dog rather than purchasing one another way, Katherine Lesse said that the family always thinks of rescuing animals first.
"I just think that there are so many dogs and pets in need, why would you go to a mill and pet store? I just don't agree with that at all as a way to breed animals," she said. "They're often inbred and suffered early trauma and separation way before they should from their mother. And with inbreeding, they often have a lot of health problems. But also, I just don't want to support that industry at all, and when there are dogs out there that are coming from kill states where you can save their life [why buy?]"
The Lesse's giving nature translates to more than just their personal life, too. Owners of Abracadabra Jewelry and Gem Gallery in Ann Arbor, the couple has been making giving a part of their daily life long before they even considered adopting a dog.
"Our business, every few months, we do donations with both our customers and our staff, who actually came up with the idea. They donate change or anything they've got into this jar, we collect it and donate it to different things. … This month, we're doing cancer, but we do different things," she said. "And even our ad for hiring employees at Abra used to have the line, 'Must love dogs,' because we used to bring our two dogs to work every day. One of our other crew members' husband is a dog whisperer trainer, and another crew member, we hired away from a doggy day care place. We have a lot of dog lovers and dog owners on our crew. And we've all gravitated toward rescue dogs."
Abracadabra Jewelry and Gem Gallery is a BTL advertiser. To find out more about the company visit abragem.com.