Husky mix Fritz has been through a lot of change and difficulty in his very short two years of life. His name alone should give you an idea of how things have been going for him – he was originally called Boris, then Horace, then Kai, and now Fritz. For the sake of clarity, we’ll stick with the name Fritz, since that is what he is called today.
In his first year of life, this poor pup was adopted out from the Oregon Humane Society in Salem a whopping nine times and returned all nine times, often after just a few days.
“Rarely can you make an assessment on whether a pet, especially a dog, is going to be a fit in that short of time,” says Beth Lewis-Anderson, spokesperson and dog care coordinator at NWAC, a foster-based nonprofit rescue group in Oregon. “All of the documentation, if people read it, says it’s at least three weeks for them to start to feel comfortable in their new environment, and you can’t even make an assessment until after that.”
The families’ reasons for returning him varied widely. Some said he was not potty trained, wouldn’t listen, or was just too much to handle. Others said he was too smart and an escape artist. Still others claimed he didn’t get along well with their dogs, got into fights, and had tried to bite people, so he was not safe to be around children and other animals.
And yet, somehow, Fritz escaped euthanasia each time he was returned to the Oregon Humane Society. Someone there had seen something good in him and refused to stop trying.
When Fritz was transferred to Northwest Animal Companions (NWAC) in August of 2022, the volunteers there knew there had to be something special about him. Despite all the difficulties he’d presented, the Oregon Humane Society had not given up and euthanized him. Rather, they were now reaching out for more individualized help for him from local rescues that could pair him with a foster family.
“Some of those larger facilities where they’re doing huge intakes just don’t have the same sort of time to invest in the animals,” says Beth. She explains that small rescues like NWAC are able to spend more time considering applications, facilitating meetups, and doing trial runs with potential adopters than big shelters can.
Elaine Hartman, president of NWAC and later Fritz’s foster mom, recalls thinking, “Returned nine times before he is barely a year old? There must be SOME redeeming qualities in this dog or he would already be dead.”
So NWAC sent their volunteer trainer, Charles, to evaluate Fritz. Charles later called Elaine to report, “there is nothing wrong with this dog.” He just needed someone to take the time and energy to figure out what his needs were and match him to a family who could handle those needs.
“He was really high energy, and I had just finished fostering a different husky, and so I was interested to see that some of the behaviors that I thought were individual to that first husky – because I had not ever fostered a husky before – were actually breed behaviors,” says Elaine. “He’s just very curious and willful. They love stealing from other crates, and they love playing jokes and then looking around to see if you saw them play the joke. If you’re not ready for it, it’s overwhelming.”
Volunteers at NWAC believe Fritz’s biting was as a defense mechanism he used when he didn’t want to obey and someone tried to force him to comply with a command. It’s also possible that some of his adoptive families lied or exaggerated about his behavior to make their arguments for returning him to the shelter stronger. In any case, he has never tried to bite anyone at NWAC, and they have no reason to believe he’s aggressive.
Fritz spent a month living and training with Charles before NWAC believed he was ready to be adopted again. But, lo and behold, his tenth adoption didn’t go well either. The adopter returned him not long after, reporting that he likely needed to be in a home with a seasoned older dog who could show him the ropes.
So Fritz went to live with Elaine for eight months of foster care while he awaited the perfect family. And – spoiler alert – they did eventually come. It was actually rather serendipitous how it all came together.
“One of our other volunteers was sharing his story and happened to share it with a husky-loving family who raised their hand to give it a try,” says Elaine. “Wow, was that a fit. They had a well-balanced dog that immediately helped him feel safe but also could direct him. The parents understood how to work with him, and the kids turned out to be exactly the right energy and balance for him.”
Liz Stevens, Fritz’s adoptive mom, has two young children and a tripod dog, Sitka, so there was certainly a chance that this match wouldn’t work out either, given Fritz’s history. But Liz and her husband knew what they were getting into with the breed-specific behaviors of a husky, and they found they were easily able to integrate him into their little pack.
“He loves getting the attention and direction from the humans, wants to spend every waking moment with Sitka, and loves getting worn out by the kids,” Liz says. “Fritz has made us so happy. He is the perfect second dog for us. He’s just the best boy.”
Liz is a doula, and her husband is a photographer, so they have flexible schedules and lots of time to spend at home with Fritz. Fritz even gets to go to work with Nate sometimes and do some people-watching.
“Sometimes it really is about the fit that you have with the individual, and sometimes it’s not how you do it or how well you know dog behavior,” says Beth. “I’d almost say it’s a chemical reaction. You either have it or you don’t have it for that particular dog.”
Liz reports that there was an instant chemistry between her family members and Fritz. He’s been glued to her seven-year-old daughter and can’t get enough of playtime with Sitka, his three-legged doggy sister.
“By the second day, Sitka was relentless in asking Fritz to play, and he wanted to be right by her side,” Liz recalls. “It was a mutual feeling of being smitten. He is clearly working through things and wants to do the right thing. He is a great dog and just doesn’t know the rules yet.”
Today, Fritz has no trouble coming when his owners call, he hasn’t tried to bite anyone, and he loves his tripod sister and his little human siblings.
“He is a loyal, goofy, loving dog,” says Liz. “He loves going to the fields for walks and sleeping on every surface of the house. He loves car rides, coffee shops, salmon skin, and his people. I wish all the previous people that had adopted him could see him now – he’s a brand new dog!”
Fritz is very gentle with Liz’s children, barely reacting even when the toddler takes a toy out of his mouth. There was, of course, a learning curve, but it’s amazing how much he’s changed.
“He is SO good with the kids. He can’t get enough of their hugs,” says Liz. “They are doing a good job of approaching slowly and leaving him alone when he has food. They are also teaching him to leave them alone when THEY have food. I can see why someone else would think he was naughty, but he really just seems clueless to me. He has us so impressed!”
Fritz is alive and happy today because staff and volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society and NWAC didn’t give up on him and found him the perfect home. Now his family is even considering training him to be a therapy dog. “He could truly be a cruise line activity director,” Liz jokes.
Not only has the match been a good one for Fritz, but he has also made a big difference for the rest of the family.
“I have seen massive growth in my family because of this dog,” Liz reports. “My son is being obedient to the dog rules. My daughter is in love with Fritz and the security she feels in the gentleness of a gigantic fierce dog who has been through so much. My husband has become the main caregiver for Fritz and Sitka, who came to us with her own emotional issues due to being born disabled and being shunned by her litter. She is being pushed by Fritz to a whole new level of growth. Her confidence has exploded as she has stepped into a leadership role.”
Beth and Elaine say Fritz’s story is an important one to share, because there are so many other dogs like him in danger of euthanasia if no one takes the time to see their worth. Rental homes and apartments often have breed and size restrictions, increasing people’s irrational fears of these animals and leaving dogs like Fritz with nowhere to go. Beth reports that around 80 percent of the dogs that shelters reach out to NWAC to save are large breeds.
“We truly believe without the advocacy of the Humane Society staff stepping up and Elaine and our trainer putting in the time, [Fritz] wouldn’t have made it,” says Beth.
Elaine adds, “There are a lot of Fritzes in shelters and rescues that are mislabeled, and if they don’t have an advocate, they’re toast. If those frontline people don’t step forward and advocate for the animal, you don’t have the outcome that you have with Fritz.”
Thank you to all the people who stood up for Fritz and helped him find the right fit. Thank you, indeed, to all the people who work in animal rescue and take the time to find the good sides of rescue pets with behavioral issues. And congrats to all those families that come out the other side with fantastic new pets to love!
So many animals like Fritz just need to be given a real chance, and we hope Fritz’s story inspires some of our readers to give that opportunity to a rescue pet in need. It’s important to be responsible and realistic when selecting the right pet for you, but it’s equally important to be compassionate and open-minded.
Liz perhaps summed it up best with this thought: “Every mistake Fritz has made just made us more creative on how to set him up for success the next time. Rewriting Fritz’s story is worth my time.”Whizzco