Pack Politics

By Reed Coleman, October 2012, Updated February 2015

Thought you might enjoy my input for your article about having a pack of dogs ("The Pack Is Back", March 2012). When I was development director for Portland’s DoveLewis ER/ICU Animal Hospital, I rescued two strays. The first was Gracie, a Whippet/Pit mix. Smart, speedy, intuitive, she was my soul dog. She comforted me following the death of my “First Ever as an Adult” dog, Lion. When Lion died, I told myself I’d be just a one-dog girl for a while.

Less than a month later, in came a gorgeous, stray and injured Am Staff. Months on the streets had left him skinny, he was scraped up from getting too close to one of those streets in heavy traffic, and he was scared. The only way he’d move was to army-crawl. Despite all that, he was sweet as could be. I named him Otis.

A few years later, I married, and my husband brought a cat into the fold. Edgar (the cat) and the dogs figured it out, kept their distance and tolerated each other. Lung cancer took Edgar about a year later, and while we talked about rescuing another animal to fill the void, my husband and I decided to cap the furry-kid quota at two. Otis and Gracie were a great team: calm, sweet, smart and easy. They loved our hiking and camping adventures, tolerated the inevitable baths that followed, adored our friends and their dogs, and guarded our home with the perfect level of don’t-mess-with-us barks. We were complete. From the classic “best laid plans” file entered Royce, a perilously cute, 14-week-old, seven-pound collision of Chihuahua and French bulldog. Transferred from a shelter in Yakima, Wash., to a no-kill shelter outside of Portland, Royce was described as “not doing well.” His sad face and droopy, Dumbo-esque ears were testimony to what I thought was a broken heart.

Within minutes of coming home with us, Royce sparkled. Otis (now six) and he formed a bond that perfectly balances sibling rivalry and unbridled devotion. They play, tease, romp and nap within only a few feet of each other. Gracie (now eight) has enhanced her role as Zen Mama quite well, letting the boys be boys, but setting limits when they get too loud or too wild. Royce (now almost two) has been an elixir for both of the bigger dogs, and in turn, they have shown him “how to be,” as I like to say.


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He knows that barking lasts only for a couple of alerts and then my husband and I take over handling approaching threats (like the FedEx guy). He learned that after a lively round of squeaky-toy Olympics, “all done” means it’s really and truly time to give up the goods until the next match. And he discovered the incredible outdoor world on our hiking adventures.

The dogs are beloved among our friends, get compliments on their discipline and good manners, and have even starred in two episodes of the television show Portlandia. We are very proud of and grateful for our pack.

Of course, it’s not all sweet games and TV shows. My husband and I realize we are now outnumbered. If one of us even so much as sneezes or stirs after four in the morning, it’s time to get up, go outside, eat breakfast and start the day! Three against two—we’ve lost this match more often than we care to admit. And the Murphy’s Law of vet visits definitely holds true: when one dog needs a non-routine appointment, at least one of the other two will get sick/come up lame/eat something weird within two weeks. Thank goodness for pet insurance! Going places, with or without the dogs, now takes a little more thought, planning and strategizing, but that’s part of it. And when you’re in the middle of a three-dog snuggle pile, it’s all pros, no cons.

—Reed Coleman
Portland, Ore.