Paws for thought: Thanks be to dogs

University of Illinois veterinary student Alex Fuchs and Parkland College vet tech student Caitlin Wolf are all about their dogs. The young Champaign couple met about five years ago while volunteering at an animal shelter in Springfield and began dating a year later — for the sake of the dogs (well, not really).

Said Fuchs: "We each had our respective dogs when we met. I had Addy, and she had Bella. The dogs are really the reason we got together — or, we used them as an excuse.

"Neither of us is super outgoing, so to have that excuse of each of our dogs being the same age, and we had to get them out to get some exercise — it was a good excuse."

Bella is a great Pyrenees. She's big — about 110 pounds — and white and resembles a polar bear, but is gentle and sweet. She was adopted from a shelter at 8 months of age, surrendered because she had grown too large for her former owners. Nocturnal by nature, she is restless at night, pacing back and forth heavily.

Addy is a husky mix of medium build — and also a gentle creature. She is a furniture hog at home and howls at sirens when out and about. She can speak on command, like huskies do, in a "roorrr rooor" voice.

"It sounds like she's trying to mimic my words," Fuchs said. "It's really funny."

Both dogs are exceptionally good with kids, though they weren't raised with them, and they play nicely with Wolf's and Fuchs' young nephews. And though Addy is a bit excitable compared with Bella, the two get along beautifully.

"Addy will kind of run circles around Bella and, as soon as she's tired, Bella will go in for the kill (but not really; she just pounces on her)," Fuchs said. "Bella is twice Addy's weight — I like to say, Bella is two of Addy — so Addy's pretty defenseless once she's got to take a breath."

Now, several years later, the young people share a rental home with a yard and are each working hard to prepare for careers in the veterinary field. In addition to school, Wolf works nights for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, answering the hot line. And despite the intense workload, it's still all about the dogs.

"Addy is at my side at all times," he said. "She's my shadow, wanting to go on walks any time I do, and she gets me out of the door. I'm super thankful for her on those days when I don't want to do anything, and she'll come up and sit right in front of me and stare at me, like, 'We've been sitting here way too long.'

"When I got Addy, I immediately lost 15 pounds: I started running more and getting out to do things I'd wanted to do, but never did. She gives me that push, and exercise is part of our bonding."

He said Addy knows what he needs at all times, and he knows what she needs.

"If I don't want to go out, she just lays her head in my lap. I just know she is so in tune with how I'm feeling, so she'll just go with whatever I'm feeling at the time, which is awesome," he said. "She's definitely my best buddy."

Bella is likewise in tune with Wolf.

"Bella, I love how big and goofy and what a big puppy she can be, but she's still so sweet and cuddly," Fuchs said. "If you're sitting on the couch, she'll come up and set her head in your lap as she's standing there, even though she's so big."

It's not surprising, given the amount of time spent together, that the dogs' personalities reflect some part of their respective owners' personalities.

"Personality-wise, they're pretty different from each other, and they match up with our personalities pretty well," Fuchs said. "I think dogs watch you and take on your traits a little bit.

"Addy is easygoing when she knows she can lie around all day, but she's the first one up if there's someone at the door. If something goes wrong, Addy's a little more highstrung: she's the one who's afraid of thunderstorms. Addy is also the one who will get up and do something — she'll instigate things; kind of how I am — I'll get up and instigate, maybe disrupt things, from time to time."

Bella is more mellow, he said. She will mope around until it's time to get up and do something.

"Caitlin is a little more reserved with her emotions; she doesn't wear them on her sleeve at all times," Fuchs said. "She just wants everybody to be happy. That's how Bella is, too: She's very laid back.

"Addy can steal the rawhide right out of her mouth — and Bella could easily take down Addy — but she just watches her walk away with it, then gets up and gets a toy. She's mellow about everything. In the same way, Caitlin works 4 p.m. to midnight or 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., then has an 8 a.m. class the next morning, and has a test to study for, but she doesn't get stressed out."

Clearly, the two are very dog-centric people.

"It's almost pathetic how much our lives are just very centered on them," Fuchs said. "We spend a large portion of each day making sure they are happy and good.

"I don't know what the two of us would do without our dogs."

This column is dedicated to your pets in The News-Gazette's circulation area. If you have a special pet story you'd like to share, please send an email to Siv Schwink at pets.illinois@gmail.com. Schwink is a freelance writer and interpretive naturalist. She lives in the country with her three kids, four cats and a ferret.

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