Feta, the Scandinavian Elkhound.

We’d been watching the Montgomery County Animal Control website for a few days, figuring right now to be as good as any time could be for taking the leash on a new pet, a guardian of the chickens who would not succumb to predator instinct nor terrorize the cat, Z. I dragged my feet on an impulse-trip to the shelter on Friday, but on Saturday, sure, why not?, and so we drove across town. We’d seen the profile of a Great Pyrenees who was by breed and age and temperament a promising prospect. The shelter also happened to be hosting an event called Purricane, what I understand to be a kitten season adoption and fundraising extravaganza made even funner-sounding by blending ‘purr’ and ‘hurricane.’ We witnessed it not as so much storm-like but as heavily trafficked with kitty oglers such that were it up to me, I might have gone with Catectacle. Catectacle drew a magnificent crowd.

The foot traffic boded poorly for really meeting a prospective foster dog. The shelter hallways were golldamn, devil, bustling, and most of the dogs mirrored the energy, which was filled with possibility, nerves, anxiety, and barks of all sorts. We met the Great Pyrenees, and then as A. was lingering with her, I walked a round to have a look adjacent, like we did back in the olden days when libraries had books on shelves and we browsed by looking not only for the focal book but also looking around at its near neighbors. As I did, I spotted a dog who quietly and smartly seemed to be telepathizing something like ‘I’m the one.’ A Norwegian Elkhound, she presented as sagely and warm and hearty, like she remembered her great-grandmothers were Scandinavian wolves and that this shelter scene was only temporary. Her self-control under the duress of the raucous shelter ambience suggested a different kind of interiority; I want to be careful here because it’s not as if I am some kind of dog whisperer, but I had a feeling just by pausing with her, looking at each other, that there was more to her than was common. A good feeling, an I-could-get-along-with-this-dog feeling. I was surprised when I went back to A. and said there was another dog here worth of a look that she said she’d already sent a photo of this Elkhound to her mom because it reminded her of her childhood dog, Pepper, who also happened to be a Norwegian Elkhound. A. was thinking that I was hard-set on a Great Pyrenees, but since I wasn’t, the Pyrenees-adjacent, serendipitously glimpsed dog elicited even more interest from us.

Saturday’s click meant Sunday included housewarming and yardwarming efforts: complete the foster-to-adopt form on their website, order and assemble an outdoor pen, and revisit the process that would allow us to have a trial period before committing, as aggression toward Z. or the chickens would be a deal-breaker. The form asked for a list of childhood pets: Cookie, Brandy, Peppy, Sheba, Jake, Kelly, Mushroom, Fang, Pigeon, Max, Tony, Cujo. Not all of these were dogs; Kelly and Mushroom were cats, and Cujo was a guinea pig. But mostly, in those years, dogs were the pet of choice.

We’d been lightly considering for several months a tandem, two dogs, one named Salty and the other Cousin, but fostering two dogs at once was, as the real and pragmatic conditions came into view, just too complicated. With everything else lining up as it did, we were green lighted to pick up the Norwegian Elkhound and bring her home on Monday afternoon. The folks at the shelter had given her the temporary name, Snigglefritz. And we talked some about the decision either to go ahead with calling her Cousin, or, instead, to spend some time with her and for us to come up with other possibilities later. By Monday night, we were thinking either Saga or Feta, both being two syllables with a hard second consonant that would not sound too much with the names of Z. or the chickens. Is. confirmed by text that Feta was a good choice, and so that’s it.

Feta commonly refers to a simple, crumbled, brine-based cheese. Languages being many, in Norwegian, which I don’t know about you but I can plausibly suppose a Norwegian Elkhound more or less comprehends, the word ‘feta’ translates to ‘fat’ in English. Given the troubling ways this pejorative association tracks, we can instead say she is a Scandinavian Elkhound, generally Nordic, possibly Icelandic. But then there is the similar phrase, “fytti faen,” which a lookup tells me is Norwegian for a milder version of “fucking hell,” translated roughly as “golldamn, devil.” Should I be worried about this secondary connotation? No. It’s just enough to not want to shed the Norwegian valences altogether.

We’ll continue for another week in the maybe phase, but after a day it has already become a maybeprobably phase and by tomorrow could be a Feta is where she belongs stage. She’s an astonishingly kind, patient, subdued canine, a creek wolf with Diogenesian quirks who wades in until the water is almost touching her belly, then sits, solving for just-right depth. And golldamn, devil, does she shed. A lot. Guess it’s a seasonal thing, winter coat loosing its blankethold. Creek currents willing, I’ll introduce Feta as friend and flock protector, and, in time, I suspect, as much more.

A Norwegian Elkhound (named Feta) wades in a small creek.
Feta wading in the creek.