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Del Ray Dog of the Week: Mendel

A dog and his family adjust to life with a new baby

When Corey Finkle switched jobs and started working from home, he quickly realized how lonely that can be. So he borrowed his neighbor’s dog during the day and enjoyed the companionship as she followed him from room to room and slept at his feet while he worked.

It didn’t take long before he decided he wanted a dog of his own. His wife, Jill, who was a swamped graduate student at the time, said he could go for it but finding the dog was all up to him. He visited an organization called Friends of Homeless Animals and, out of what felt like hundreds of dogs, he saw just one that that he connected with.

He managed to convince Jill to visit the shelter the next day; she studied her schoolwork the entire drive there. Jill says that it was while on a walk with this dog, as they sat on a bench and he hopped up to be next to them, that she finally understood Corey’s connection. “I said, ‘Oh! He loves us.’” They adopted the dog soon after, brought him home and named him Mendel.

Mendel, now 4, looks like a basset hound-pit bull mix. He has the short legs and tube-like body of a basset with the face and neck of a pit. It makes for quite the sight.

“Because he is so unusual, he’s so well-known,” said Corey. Some neighbors are more likely to recognize Mendel than they would Corey or Jill.

For two years it was just the three of them living happily together. Corey and Jill taught Mendel various dog tricks and figured out how to slowly give him full reign of the house without tearing it to shreds. Corey and Mendel visited the area dog parks frequently and bonded with the regulars at the on Monroe Avenue.

Then one day when Jill was sitting on the couch, Mendel jumped on her lap and put his paws on her shoulders, trying to prevent her from standing up. It was a very out of character action. On top of that, he had lately been a bit more aggressive when on walks and wary of strangers. Jill and Corey were trying to have a baby and a pregnancy test confirmed what Mendel seemed to already know—Jill was pregnant.

Before their child was born, Jill and Corey worked with an animal behaviorist to try and prepare for having both a dog and a child in the house together. In previous experiences, Mendel was OK with kids but never really seemed to understand that small children needed a gentler level of play.

Jill and Corey had a boy who they named Leo. With the new child came the commotion of family and friends coming in and out of the house, as well as the new child crying at all hours. Mendel did not seem to be handling it well. He was fine with everyone except for Jill, who he started barking and growling at, and stabbing at her legs with the beak of his nose.

Corey was crushed. Though Mendel never showed any aggression toward Leo, this was new behavior and there was no way to know what might come next. Corey’s dog park friends offered their help and understanding. A neighbor took Mendel for a week as the commotion in the house subsided.

“It all felt so traumatic and so heavy,” said Corey. He was worried he would be forced to give up one of his best friends.

Jill and Corey talked with the animal behaviorist again. Mendel’s aggression was focused entirely on Jill. Together they realized that although Mendel was getting plenty of attention from Corey, as well as all the other people coming and going in the house, Jill was focused all on the baby. She had hardly even touched Mendel since they had brought Leo home. As soon as Jill started showing Mendel some love again, his aggression stopped.

Now Mendel worships Leo and is his fiercest protector.

“There is no person on earth that Mendel kisses more or more often than Leo,” said Corey. “Mendel, if he had his way, would sleep in Leo's room every night instead of ours.”

The devotion goes both ways. Leo is excited to see Mendel every day and is upset if he does not join Corey and Mendel on their morning walk. And in possibly the ultimate sign of Leo’s affection for the family pet, his first word was “dog.”

“He is truly a remarkable dog,” Corey said. “We are very lucky that we worked that early issue out.”

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