Excellent epilogue to a canine cliffhanger

Peter the dog with his new family (including two other dogs), all on a front porch of a home
After a harrowing adventure that left him stranded on a cliffside in the desert, Peter is now snuggling up and settling in with his new family.
By Sarah Thornton

Just over a year ago, Peter’s life turned upside down. He had been left behind by his family when they moved, abandoned outside along with his sister to fend for themselves until someone spotted them and alerted animal control. They were taken to the shelter but quickly staged an escape; Peter dug a hole under the fence after everyone had gone home, and the two dogs ran off into the night.

Peter was found the next day, stuck on the side of a cliff, scared and thirsty but otherwise none the worse for wear. It took much of the morning for two staff members from nearby Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to get the stranded pooch back down to solid ground. He finished his stray hold at the Sanctuary with an escape-proof yard, and within the month his missing sister was found and brought to join him.

It was a lot for a young dog to go through. But these days, as Peter settles in for an evening at home with his new family, rolling around to find the ideal cuddle position, it must seem like a lifetime ago.

The right place at the right time

Joel Clayton and Maggie Behringer had two dogs at home, but they knew that at some point they wanted to add a third to their little family pack. Joel had adopted Otis, the younger of the two, from Best Friends in Los Angeles, so he occasionally found himself scrolling through the pages of adoptable dogs there.

Meanwhile, Peter’s sister had been adopted soon after her arrival at the Sanctuary, but things were taking a bit longer for Peter. He was an energetic young dog who was always up for an adventure (supervised now, of course). He charmed everyone he met with his sweet and eager personality, so it seemed like he just needed a larger audience of potential adopters.

[Channeling a dog’s boundless energy into a new home]

A move from Utah to California gave Peter exactly that. And it landed his picture right on the screen in front of Joel. “I just kept falling on his picture at some point,” Joel recalls. “His name was Southeast [at the time], and we’re from Tennessee and Georgia, so the name was catching us. He also looked like Charlie and Otis.”

He sent Peter’s picture to Maggie and found a time when the whole family could go to the lifesaving center to meet him. They say Peter was bigger than they expected, based on his photo, but right away he felt like part of the pack.

“The initial meeting went really, really well,” says Maggie. “He sniffed around Charlie; she said no thank you, and he was like, ‘OK, great, no big deal.’ He’s kind of similar to Otis. They, since the beginning, have gotten along really well.”

Peter was, without question, their new family member. And just like that, over a year after he’d been left behind, Peter had a place to call home again.

Part of the pack

It didn’t take long for Peter to settle in. He bonded with Charlie quickly, following her lead to all the best napping spots in the house, while he and Otis started playing together. “He’s very happy they’re his siblings,” Maggie says, “and they seem happy to have him, too.”

On their walks, Joel and Maggie divide the pack into one and two for ease of handling, which means sometimes they get split up along the way. But when that happens, it can lead to some pretty cute interactions, Maggie says: “If Peter is by himself and then sees the other two walking towards him, he’ll stop and give them kisses and then continue on his way.”

Peter has a rich social life beyond his new family, too. On walks, he might lunge and pull on his leash to meet new canine faces, but at the dog park, he’s a perfect gentleman. Dogs and their people are all prime targets for Peter’s charms, and he is always excited for any new playmates he can find.

[Dog Parks: Rules of Off-Leash Parks for Dogs, Safety and Etiquette]

When it comes to training (like helping Peter with his impulse control around meeting other dogs on walks), Maggie and Joel use sign language cues with their dogs. And though Peter was stumped for a second, he’s a fast learner. “The first couple of times I went through signs with Otis, I could see Peter sitting there like ‘What are you doing?’” Joel says. “Now he knows his right very well with just a sign or saying the word. He knows his left. And he knows ‘wait.’”

As fun as new friends and new cues are, though, Peter’s favorite thing is simply spending time with his new people. He loves snuggling into bed with Joel, Charlie and Otis in the mornings when Maggie gets up for class. He delights in joining the pack on the lookout for spills and dropped scraps as Joel, a private chef, prepares meals for clients. He gets psyched up for games of wall-ball in the backyard, catching the tennis balls Joel tosses against the wall and bringing them back for another go.

Then, after everyone’s back together at the end of a long day, Peter just wants to sink into a cuddle puddle on the couch with his family. And after the cliffhanger that started his story, this is just the kind of heartwarming conclusion Peter needed.

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