by Terri Florentino
“He’s a Border collie. He’s in the shelter. Can you go rescue him?” The woman on the phone was so upset it was difficult to make out what she was saying. “Please?”
“Calm down, okay? To whom am I speaking?
She took a deep breath and sighed. “Sorry, I’m just so upset. My name is Debbie.”
“Tell me about the problems you were having with your dog and what he did that landed him back at the shelter.”
“My husband and I adopted him from the local animal shelter. We named him Chase. He was quiet and well behaved at the shelter, but not long after we brought him home, he started barking, lunging, and growling at wildlife, other dogs, and strangers.” She took another deep breath and sniffled. “He also suffers from separation anxiety—you should see our spare bedroom.”
I could tell she loved this dog. She must’ve tried to help him. “What steps did you take to correct these behaviors?”
She began to relax. “We worked privately with a trainer. He had us use a shock collar, and now his behavior is worse than ever.”
“Now, you said something happened that made you return him to the shelter?”
“He bit us both. My husband and me. He was lunging and growling at a neighbor outside. My husband was standing near him, and the moment I pushed the button on the shock collar, Chase just whirled around and bit him. When I tried to pull him away from my husband, he bit my hand. I got so afraid of him, I took him back to the shelter.” Her voice started to quaver again. She sniffled. “He’s so lovable when he isn’t acting out.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I can tell you care deeply for Chase. Go back and take him out of the shelter. I’ll put in a call in right now and let them know you’re coming and that we’ll be working together. Give me three months to work with you, your husband, and Chase. If after that time, you’re still not comfortable with him, I’ll rescue him.”
“Do you really think you can help us?”
“I am going to do my best. Call me once you have him back, and I’ll come out to your home as soon as possible. .”
A couple days later, I arrived at Debbie and Sam’s house. As I walked up the steps to their front deck, Debbie came out the door holding Chase by his leash. He was pulling toward me, frantically barking. As I stood at the top of the steps, I pushed open a gate and stepped onto the deck. Shouting over the racket he made, Debbie and I discussed Chase’s current state of mind. I could tell she was very frightened. “First,” I said, “you need to relax. I know it’s hard.”
While we talked, I intentionally ignored Chase. After not receiving any satisfaction, his obnoxious behavior finally settled.
“Go ahead and drop the leash,” I said.
“Really? Just let it go?” Debbie said.
“Yes. Let’s keep talking and ignoring him.”
Full of doubt, her brow puckered in fear, Debbie dropped the leash, and we continued to talk without looking down at the holy terror. He ran over and sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Then, I smiled down at him. “You smell my dogs, don’t you, boy?”
He looked up at me and then, in relaxed, fluid movements, he trotted back to Debbie. He made his way towards the railing on the deck and stuck his head through the wooden slats to get a better look at what was going on in the yard below. Just then, a neighbor stepped out of his house. Chase went into a barking frenzy and raced the length of the deck, back and forth. I calmly walked around a picnic table to the other side of the deck and blocked him from running past me.
Using a firm tone of voice, I said, “Get out of it!”
He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at me.
“C’mon on now, inside,” I said. He followed me through the slider door and into the house.
“How is the world did you do that?”
“He knew I meant what I said. That’s all.”
“Can you teach him to listen to me like that?”
“No. I’ll teach you to talk to him. Okay?”
Debbie nodded and wiped away a tear. “I see. You bet. Let’s get started.”
“You said Chase has separation anxiety and damaged a bedroom. May I see it?”
As I peered into the room, I gasped. Chase had clawed deep gouges into a wall right below a small, high window. Just looking at the marks, I could see his fear written on the wall. He had almost literally climbed the wall trying to get free.
“He tries to reach the window,” Debbie said, sadly. “I’m guessing to escape.”
“I think you’re right,” I said. Most of the wood trim along the floor had been scratched and gnawed on.
“Look at the back of the door,” Debbie said. We stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. Almost the entire surface of the door was covered in scratches and gouges.
All the while, Chase had been standing quietly beside us in the room. I took a deep breath and bent down to offer him a gesture of my affection. As I scratched behind his ears, we made eye contact and shared a moment of silent, peaceful communion.