Tag Archives: rescue

Dangerous Chase, Part 1

Fear Itself,

by Terri Florentino

He could be so sweet.

He could be so lovable.

“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?”

You could see his fear written on the walls.

You could see his fear written on the wall.

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.

Wee, Part 1

Wee’s First Hours

by Terri Florentino

“I think she’s having another puppy!”

“Another?!” My friend Megan had been helping me to whelp the litter the entire night. It had been two hours since Echo delivered her seventh and last puppy–suddenly she was bearing down and  licking again.

EchoSailorPI moved the other seven puppies to the far end of the box out of her way. While I assisted Echo, Megan got the hemostats, washcloth, bulb syringe, and scissors ready for yet another go. As we watched, Echo delivered what looked to be nothing more than a placenta.

“No puppy,” I said. As my hand closed around the mass, I felt something inside the size of a mouse. “Megan, hand me a wash cloth and a bulb syringe! I think there’s puppy in here!” I removed a section of the sac away, and there was the smallest black and white face I’d ever seen. Megan and I shared a look of amazement and fear. Afraid the puppy wasn’t breathing, I placed a bulb syringe in its mouth to clear away any mucus and wiped its teensy nose. Once Echo had separated the puppy from the umbilical cord, I massaged him in a towel.

“Is he breathing?” Megan asked.

I opened the towel to look. I had never seen such a tiny Border Collie. He was half the size of his littermates. “He’s gasping—hand me the bulb syringe. I want to clear his mouth and nose again.” I gently massaged him with the towel and waited for a little cry.

wee 2By now Echo was nudging my hand, demanding her puppy like the good mother she was. I set him in the box between her front legs. She rolled him from side to side, washing him from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. She didn’t seem concerned about his size; she was as diligent with him as she was with his littermates. Surely she would have sensed if he was disastrously abnormal.

“His color looks good,” Megan said. We were both looking for whatever reassurance we could find. “He’s breathing  steady, right?”

“True,” I sighed, and sat back. “But I’d hoped to hear a little squeal out of him by now.”

echosailorpups1Once the pup was sufficiently washed, I leaned over the whelping box and moved him into position to nurse. Much to my delight, the little guy latched on and eagerly suckled. We began to relax, and fatigue set in.

“Let’s weigh them. After we’re done I’ll go wash Echo if you’ll freshen up the whelping box and put down the fleece.”

“You bet,” Megan said. All seven puppies weighed either fifteen or sixteen ounces. The wee one was eight. Megan recorded their weights. “He is literally half their size!” she said.

“C’mon Echo, let’s go for a walk,” I said. Echo jumped out of the box and ran out the door. Once back inside, I placed her in the bathtub for a quick rinse. Wyn, who is a daughter of Echo’s from a previous breeding, took over licking and fussing after the puppies while Megan was busy wiping down the whelping box and lining it with a large piece of soft, warm fleece. Echo never minded Wyn caring for the pups in her absence.

After Echo was dried and clean we returned to the puppies. Echo immediately jumped into the box and gingerly lay down with all of her puppies. The puppies were squirming and squeaking while making their way to the “breakfast bar.” I placed little wee puppy at the nipple closest to him and helped him latch on. Once latched, he eagerly nursed. Megan and I watched in dismay as the stronger puppies pushed him away from the “milk bar” as if he was nothing. It was going to take a lot of management to keep this puppy going. I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone. It’ll take a village, I thought.

wee 1My mind went a million different directions all at once; I’d never had a runt. I feared the little guy wouldn’t make it through the night. I tried to prepare myself for worst, but except for his size, he was vigorous. He was determined to survive. If the little guy was giving it his all, I would give him mine.

Dusty, Part 4

Love Him Wisely

by Terri Florentino

“The truth is,” Susan said. She paused and ran her hand over her mouth. She took a breath. “Dusty can be so volatile that I’m afraid of him.”

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

I tensed. “Sometimes there are hard deci—”

“No. I’m in this for the long haul. We all are.”

“Okay. Good,” I relaxed. “I’m going to need you to love him wisely.”

“Can do,” Susan said.

We agreed to check back frequently, and a week or so later I visited them to follow up after their trip to the vet. I heard happy yelling and scrabbling behind the door as Susan put Dusty behind the baby gate. She let me in smiling and breathless.

“You were right,” she said. “The doctor agreed medication would ease his stress and lower his aggression. He’s been on it a few days now.”

I moved deliberately and calmly, never looking directly at him. Behind the gate he sat cute as a button and watched me intently. “Have you noticed any differences yet?”

“I’d say he’s showing a little less a play drive, which is sad, but the good news is, he is definitely less reactive.” She led me into the kitchen. “Juice? Tea?”

The fur family.

The fur family.

I could hear the hope in her voice, and I smiled. “Don’t relax yet. We’ve just begun. Keep a leash on him at all times, indoors and out, day and night.” This way he if started to act inappropriately they could get control of him quickly. “Think of the leash as an umbilical cord. If you want your dog to learn from you, he needs to be attached to you.”

Robert met us in the kitchen looking more at ease than the last time I saw him. We shook hands.

“I was just saying, be aware of Dusty’s body language and watch for early signs of reactivity.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Susan said. She put a kettle on the stove. “His body stiffens, his head drops, his eyes stare, and he might let out a low growl you can barely hear.”

“The second you see him enter that mode, change the subject.”

“Should I offer to take him for a walk or to get the ball?” Robert asked.

“Yes, and I’ll teach you to learn some constructive learning games in class,” I said and grinned. “You’ll have a whole repertoire of new subjects.”

Susan was setting three teacups and saucers on the counter. She turned and flashed me a big smile at the thought of Dusty having lots of fun things to do besides snap and growl.

It’s important to be pro-active rather than re-active. “Let’s not set him up to fail. For instance, he’s not sleeping in your bed anymore.” I took a seat at the kitchen table, and Robert joined me. “Since that last episode with you and the bed, Dusty has lost the privilege of sharing that space. Do you see what I mean?”

Susan set a box of herbal teas on the counter and turned around with a frown. “Where should he sleep?”

“In a crate, where you know exactly where he is and what he’s doing.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Robert said, relieved.

Susan set a plate of sugar cookies on the table and joined us. We discussed Dusty’s fear of people he didn’t know. “Don’t force the issue this early on. Once you and Dusty attend my classes we’ll work on promoting positive interaction.” The kettle whistled, and Susan got up. “In the meantime allow him to be social with people he’s relaxed with, but take him immediately out of any situation that makes him uncomfortable. Baby steps, okay?”

I explained the nothing-for-free concept. “Dusty needs to earn everything,” I said, as Susan filled my teacup. “Everything. Toys, food, treats, free time, and affection must be earned.”

Susan and Robert looked at each other, dipping their teabags. “This is going to be hard,” Robert said.

“It’s doable,” Susan said.

“It’s worth it,” I said. We raised our teacups. “To Dusty.”

It took years. They trained Dusty in basic obedience, rally, tricks, Beyond Backyard, and even Canine Good Citizen.

“One of the secrets,” Susan said in an email, was that “Dusty loved the hotdogs we used for training. It helped keep him focused on me. Each night the family and I also enjoyed practicing all of the skills we learned with Dusty, and it tired him out.”

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Surprisingly Dusty was tolerant of other dogs. He didn’t want to wrestle and play with them, but he was comfortable in their presence. Susan and Robert eventually got two cats. “I never thought Dusty would get along with the cats, but I believe they helped with his social development. He and Tigger are good friends. Autumn tolerates him. It’s so funny seeing our tough guy get smacked around by a cat and tolerate it.”

“Dusty and I formed a strong bond during the training process. I had a blast training him, and he loved to learn. I was amazed at the transformation in Dusty once I stopped the punishment and intimidation technique I’d learned on television. I focused on his good qualities. Seeing the twinkle in his eye and overall happier demeanor motivated me to keep going. After I while, I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. I was more and more determined to save him. We were able to wean him off of the Prozac after only a year. It got easier and easier to love him. We became the best buddies I dreamed we would be.”

Dusty and the Kids

Dusty and the Kids

Susan and Robert did a remarkable job with Dusty. I had cautioned them that Dusty’s baseline personality would never completely change, so the behavior management techniques have to be lifelong habits, and they followed through. I’ve seen it too often: the biggest mistake that my clients make is falling back into their old habits with their dogs. When they fall back, the dog falls back, and the trouble’s back.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore,” Susan said. “But I’ll always be guarded in certain situations. He still gets annoyed. It’s clear he can never be trusted, just as Terri predicted. He still wants to be the boss, but we try to keep a nothing-for-free attitude with him. I recognize his triggers and immediately change the subject. He’s much easier to re-direct now, and he’ll forgive and forget quickly. He rarely sleeps with us, and when he does he’s on a leash, and Rob gets in bed first, then he is invited up. My mission is to make sure he stays on the right path.”

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Some things haven’t changed. Susan is still his favorite person, and he’s protective of their daughter Sarah. He still keeps an eye on Robert. He’s an intelligent dog, so he was easy to train. He demands attention but he’s learned to ask for it playfully. He loves riding in the car, going to the beach or park, and seeing other dogs. “The best part,” Susan said, “besides being able to keep and develop a satisfying relationship with Dusty, was meeting the people along the way, who helped us.  Especially Terri, but we met others who truly cared about our plight, and understood the potential heartbreak and stress of what it was like to have to deal with him.”

Susan got choked up remembering the tough times. “So many of our friends and family said we should euthanize him.” She shook her head. “I never knew the depth of the relationships between man and dog, and how much a dog understands and feels. I learned about dog rescue, and saw people give of their time, money and emotions to protect the helpless lives of so many dogs.   How inspiring is that? I appreciate dogs more than ever, and even though Dusty will never be a therapy dog, I am inspired. I hope to have a Therapy Dog one day.  I never would have been exposed to that if it wasn’t for Dusty. This experience has been invaluable to me in many ways.”

“Now I realize the truth in Anatole France’s quote, Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

Beach Dusty

Meet the Royal Bahamian Potcake

Our Potcake

by Kristin Strong

On August, 2004 we arrived in Nassau, Bahamas for a much-needed vacation. Once we completed checking into our hotel, we took our first walk on beautiful Cable Beach. While walking John and I saw a couple of dogs roaming around the resort. They appeared unwell and malnourished. I later learned that the Bahamian people viewed these feral dogs as a nuisance. They would shoot or poison them. They feared their presence would drive away the tourists that provided their livelihood.

Xuma beacherOn the second day of our vacation, I noticed one particular stray dog hanging around our hotel beach. I said, “John, do you see that dog chewing on a coconut shell? He’s so thin, and look at all the bloody sores.”

John declared with a sigh, “I see. The poor pup.”

One night after dinner, we brought him some filet mignon. Careful not to scare him away, John and I approached the famished, feeble creature. He hesitated—we knew it would take time and patience to earn his trust. After a moment’s indecision, he meekly approached and delicately lifted the piece of meat from John’s hand.

He’d retreat a few safe steps away from us, then devour the meat and return for more. After he’d eaten several bites, he began dashing off with the rest to bury it in the sand.

Xuma beach“Look, do you see what he’s doing?” John asked, obviously amused.

“He must be saving some for later.”

 We nicknamed our new friend Xuma. We decided that we had to do something to help our new friend. We found a brochure for an organization, Proud Paws, run by a British Veterinarian, Dr. Peter Bizzell out of the Palmdale Veterinary Clinic in downtown Nassau. We scheduled an appointment.  

Xuma lounge chairThe night before the appointment we planned to keep Xuma with us. We lured him with food until he got close enough to lasso with a rope we found dangling from a life preserver. Knowing pets were not allowed in the hotel we sat outside on patio chairs until all of the guests where settled in for the night. Once the coast was clear, we whisked Xuma into our arms and snuck him into our room. Xuma slept soundly. I am sure he knew we were there to take care of him and he appeared to trust us more with each passing minute.

When Dr. Bizzel met us in the examination room, he took one look at Xuma and exclaimed, “You got yourselves a Potcake!”

It turned out, “Potcake” is the Bahamian term for the thick, leftover food that remains in the bottom of a pot of peas and rice after several reheatings. Traditionally, Bahamians fed potcake to the indigenous dogs that freely populated the Bahamas. Hence the dogs have come to be known as Potcakes.

As he examined Xuma, Dr. Bizzel explained that some believe the original Potcakes came to the Bahamas with the Arawak Indians from Central or South America. Until very recently, all island dogs shared the same isolated gene pool.  “Potcakes are as close to nature’s perfect genotype dog as possible,” he said. “It’s an extremely unique species of canine.”

Some islands’ Potcakes look more like the typical “pariah dog” found in locales such as India and North Africa. They have smooth, short fur with little or no undercoat, cocked ears, a hound-like rib cage, and long terrier-shaped faces. More rare are the shaggy or rough-coat Potcakes but they do occur naturally. While the typical Potcake is brown, colors range from black, white, cream, yellow, and red. Adults stand about twenty-four inches high at the shoulder. Normal adult weight in the bush is about thirty-five pounds. Healthy, homed Potcakes can weigh anywhere from forty-five to fifty-five pounds. They have distinct characteristics of size and temperament. The Royal Bahamian Potcake is now a recognized breed in The Bahamas.

Dr. Bizzel vaccinated, dewormed, and treated Xuma for sarcoptic mange. We also had him neutered. Dr. Bizzel determined that he was around seven to nine months old.  He only weighed twenty-four pounds.

John asked, “What will become of him now?”

“You have two options,” Dr. Bizzel said. “Either release him back to the island or take him home with you.”

“Fly him back to the U.S.?” John asked, bewildered. It sounded like an impossible journey.

Dr. Bizzell responded with certainty, “Sure, no problem. I’ll have Jackie help you with the paperwork.”

Off we went with his assistant, Jackie, to the Bahamas Board of Health to complete the paperwork to take Xuma home. We had to purchase a crate. We thought we had a setback when we learned that Xuma couldn’t travel on the same airplane home with us. Our airline only flew turbo prop planes into the islands, and it would be too hot in the cargo area for a live animal. He’d have to fly on a different airline, so we bought him his own an airline ticket

When the day arrived for us to fly home we took Xuma to his check-in counter. Before placing him in the crate, I bent down next to him. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d gotten until I thought about how frightened he’d be alone in the belly of the plane. I felt tears on my cheeks and whispered in his ear, “You be a good boy, Xuma. I promise John and I will be there for you once you arrive in Philadelphia.”

Xuma was already visibly terrified by the airport, and so could offer no alleviation to our own anxiety. I put Xuma in the crate, closed the door, turned, and walked away.

“Just focus on the moment when we’ll be reunited,” John said. “We’re doing the right thing, Kristen.”

The flight arrived in Philadelphia right on time. We were elated to be reunited with our Xuma! We couldn’t wait to get him home to introduce him to our other dog, Buddy. In time, they would become the best of buddies.

XumaThe first month, he nearly doubled his weight, and his fur eventually grew back. Sometimes we still observe his survival instinct. Just like on that sandy beach when Xuma buried the steak, he will, on occasion bury a treat in our back yard. His prey drive still run deep in his veins; there’s rarely an opportunity for wild vermin to make it out of our yard alive. One of our favorite pastimes is to take the dogs hiking. Xuma with his inbred and intuitive nature will always lead us to the simplest and safest way up and down the mountain.

Only two weeks after we brought Xuma home Nassau was hit with an intense hurricane. We often wonder had we not brought Xuma home if we would have survived the storm.

IMG_2040 familyWe feel blessed to have found him. We know that fate brought us together that day will be forever grateful. We all live happily together, myself, John, Buddy, and our son, born after we brought Xuma home, Patrick.

Potcakes are an excellent choice for people who want to share their lives with an intelligent, quick-witted, and bonded companion. They’re graceful runners, intuitive, empathetic, and the right match for someone who wants a long-term, interactive relationship with another intelligent species.

Say It When You Feel It

curl your ears

Sadie, a pit bull rescue

Mean Dog, Finale

Safe and Loved

by Terri Florentino

I must admit I felt a connection with Wyatt. He’d look at me with those big, round, dark brown eyes as if he saw and loved my very soul. I had tried not to give him too much of myself, knowing he couldn’t stay. After all, now that Tulley had joined our family, I knew too well that six dogs were our limit.

Morgan at Six Years Old

Wyatt with Karen and Morgan

At this juncture neither Karen nor I were convinced that Wyatt would make a suitable companion for their family. We all went back inside together and discuss Wyatt’s training and feeding and sleeping schedule. While we decided his fate, he trotted through the house, following Morgan and inspecting her every move. Morgan talked to him, “C’mon, Wyatt. This is a stuffed-animal tea party, and you can be our guest.” Wyatt hung on her every word, which pleased the little girl mightily.

As we talked, occasionally Jim knelt and called to him. Wyatt dashed over and wiggled as Jim ruffled his fur all over. Finally, Jim turned to Karen, “I say let’s give him a try.”

Lost in her play-pretend, Morgan had seemed oblivious to the adult conversation, but right on cue she piped up, “Oh! Can we keep him, Daddy?”

Jim and Karen blurted, “Yes!” Then Karen added, “If Wyatt is happy, we would love for him to stay.”

“Wonderful!” I said, but my enthusiasm sounded a bit forced. Puzzled, I looked at Wyatt anew—could it be this was good-bye? What in the world had I expected?

Knowing how intuitive he was, I tried to conceal my sorrow. “Do you have that crate we talked about?”

“Yes,” Karen said.

“Put him in the crate and don’t let him out until after I’m gone.” I managed to hold back my tears. “I don’t want him to see me leave.” Just then, Wyatt walked over and slid his head onto my lap. I cupped his face. “You’re a good boy. . . . I’ll always be with you.” Everyone began to sniffle.

Ed stood up. “Okay, let’s go, honey.” I let him guide me to my feet and put his arm around me.

Karen escorted Wyatt to another room and the crate. At the door, Karen embraced me—no words, just strength, trust, and love.

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Merry Christmas, Wyatt

Karen emailed me often. Morgan loved Wyatt from the start. He joined in many a tea party, fashion show, and Disney-movie reenactment. At first, he didn’t know what to do with himself, which was saying a lot, because Wyatt had a big personality. With so much attention from a family so happy to have him, he acted like a kid in a candy store. Overcome with glee, he’d race through the house and leap from couch to chair to chair. They realized quickly how right I was about his need for training, and they diligently obliged.

Wyatt was a counter-surfer, and for this, Karen asked my advice. I replied, “Don’t leave things on the counter to tempt him, and he may forget to surf.” That cured it, but one St. Patrick’s Day, Wyatt had a little lapse. Karen had made corned beef and cabbage and left it to cool on the counter. A half hour later she returned to find the entire meal had vanished. Wyatt had sprawled himself out on the kitchen floor, lounging with a look of self-satisfaction. He practically shrugged at her, as if to say, “Hey, you obviously didn’t want it. What’s the problem?”

Morgan and Wyatt

Morgan and Wyatt

At first, Wyatt was haunted by old fears and anxieties. Whenever he rode in the car with Karen and she stopped at the supermarket or strip mall, he’d panic and try to keep her from getting out, as if remembering the day his first owner gave him up in a parking lot. Eventually, he learned to love car rides, but it took time and a lot of reassurance. Summer storms frightened him; sometimes they’d find him hiding in the clothes dryer. When left alone for long periods, Wyatt scratched up the furniture, the floor, the doors. Karen used Rescue Remedy or Anxiety Relief drops, and Wyatt learned when he felt his fears coming on to go to her and sit obediently, as if to say, “Please, please, please may I have a few drops of the stuff?” He’d lift his lip and wait for her to squeeze the medicine into his mouth. Over time, he learned he was well-cared-for, and his fears subsided.

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Morgan, Jim, and Wyatt

Last fall, while Morgan was asleep in bed and Jim was outside spotting deer, Karen decided to make a cup of tea before bed. Her heel slipped off the top step, and she went skidding down the wooden stairs on her tailbone. There she sat at the bottom with a dislocated shoulder, a concussion, and a likely broken coccyx, so painful that Karen heard herself wailing in a way she never had before. Wyatt dashed over and ran his eyes and nose all over her. Then he rocketed up on the couch in front of the picture window and barked and barked and barked. Jim was was spotting deer about thirty yards away and heard Wyatt’s bark. Afraid Wyatt would wake up Morgan, he came running to scold him, but instead found Karen injured and badly dazed.

You're safe, and you're loved.

You’re safe, and you’re loved.

Wyatt and Karen had grown very close, in part thanks to the three-and-a-half-mile runs. At one particular point halfway up a hill, Wyatt would stop dead in his tracks and sit right in front of the “SPEED LIMIT 25 When Horse Rider Is Present” sign. He refused to budge. Karen spoke firmly and tired to get him to heel, but nothing worked. Karen stood there thinking, “Seriously? Just move your tush up the hill. This is not hard!” She usually had to get back home to get Morgan on the bus and Jim off to work. Finally one day, as Wyatt sat by the sign like a cement statue, she leaned down, patted his head, and said in his ear, “Everything’s okay. It’s all fine. You’re safe, and you’re loved.” He relaxed, he wriggled all over, and then zipped up that hill like an Olympic athlete.

Wyatt still oversees all the movement in the house, off to work and school, over to the barn, out to bound in fresh snow, and up to bed, when he listens attentively to bedtime stories and often stays to sleep in Morgan’s room. Whatever’s going on, Wyatt is happiest when the family is all together.

Karen works from from home, and every afternoon like clockwork, Wyatt comes to her and whines. Engrossed in her work, she tells him to hush and lie down. He settles for a moment before fussing again—right around the time Karen looks up to see the school bus coming down the road. The house sits almost 800 feet from the road, and he starts to whine and pace about five minutes before she even sees the bus. Karen still can’t figure out how he knows Morgan is on the bus and it’s time to go get her.

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Morgan and Wyatt in the snow

Karen emailed me the other day, “I just said to Jim tonight that we’ve had Wyatt longer than we’ve had any dog. Hard to believe he’ll be ten years old in a few months.”

So many things had happened since their dear Raine had died. The whole world had changed for the mean dog who had become our own dear, old Tulley.

Karen wondered, “Where does the time go?”

I believe that there is an explanation for everything, so, yes, I believe in miracles. ~Robert Brault

Mean Dog, Part 8

Why Not Wyatt?

by Terri Florentino

For the first few days, Whiskey seemed depressed. He never left my side and barely ate a thing. Time passed, he started eating again, explored a little, and romped around with Tulley. When people came to visit, he greeted them with his whole body, wiggling with delight. It turned out that Whiskey was a delightful character, full of adorable antics.

I decided that a new name might help him progress. Because he was such a clown, I’d nicknamed him “Cowboy,” but thought the new name should resemble the old. Wyatt Earp was a cowboy, so why not “Wyatt?” It didn’t take that cowboy long to learn his name, and after a trip to the vet for blood work, vaccinations, and neutering, he got a clean bill of health. I started training right away.

The worst thing about Wyatt was serious: he lifted his leg on everything in sight. My biggest fear was that neutering wouldn’t change it. If he couldn’t be housebroken, I probably couldn’t find him a loving family of his own.

I kept him on a leash indoors and gave him a firm “No!” each time I saw him sniff and lift. Fortunately, he was easily shamed. Basic obedience moved swiftly; he wanted very much to please me. He learned so fast that I soon looked for a permanent home for him. The longer it takes to find a home, the harder the transfer is for the dog—and for me. Sometimes, after I’d placed a rescue dog I’d had for a long time, my husband, Ed, caught me crying. “Self-induced misery,” he’d tease.

Wyatt was a lively, loving dog and needed a home where he could get plenty of exercise, perhaps with children and other animals for company and fun. He’d also need someone willing to keep training him. That got me considering Karen, Jim, and Morgan. Karen was a runner and wanted a running partner. Jim was an avid outdoorsman. They would train him. What cinched it, though, was seeing how Wyatt loved children. He was sure to put a smile back on little Morgan’s face.

I wrote them an email: “How are you since losing Raine? I know it must be hard. I’m writing to tell you about Wyatt.”

“We’re still grieving,” Karen wrote back. “Thank you for letting me know about Wyatt. I need to talk to Jim. I’ll be in touch.” The very next day she wrote to ask a few questions about Wyatt. I answered her and offered to bring him to meet her family. “We’d love that!” she dashed back.

Tulleygoingride (1)The following weekend Ed and I packed up the truck with our two black-and-white buddies, Tulley and Wyatt. We headed out for the two-hour ride to New Jersey. Both dogs got along well, but liked to have their own space. Wyatt jumped all the way into the third seat, and Tulley camped out in the middle. After a long, companionable ride, we passed a large farm that brought the scent of manure rolling through the windows, and Tulley began to whine and pace from window to window.

“We must be getting close,” Ed said. “He remembers.”

“It’s been four years,” I said. “He can’t possibly know where we are!” How could Tulley remember a place he’d only seen flash by a car window at fifty-five miles an hour?

Sure enough, Ed was right. A few minutes later, as we pulled into their driveway, Tulley wailed with joy. He flung himself from window to window scrabbling to get out of the truck. Karen, Jim, and Morgan heard us arrive and came out to meet us. When we opened the door for Tulley, he rocketed straight at Jim and Karen in glee, almost knocking them over. They threw their arms around him. The worst had been forgiven and forgotten, and all they remembered was love. As for Morgan, who had transformed from a baby to a four-year-old girl in his absence, she kept her distance. Tulley paid her no attention.

When it was time, Ed kept Tulley busy with a tennis ball while I got Wyatt out of the truck. Wyatt met them eagerly, all wiggles. Morgan giggled and patted her new friend. So far, so good. Greetings over, we put Tulley back into the truck and brought Wyatt into the house. I kept him on lead and walked him through the main area of the house, room to room. He sniffed everything and never even considered lifting his leg. Then, we let him run off-lead in the fenced yard while Morgan sat nearby on her swing set. He zigzagged every inch of the yard, nose down, and thankfully did his marking there. Every few moments, to Morgan’s delight, he’d check in with her for another wiggle and kiss. She began to swing on her swing and sing to herself, improvising a song about wiggly Wyatt. Karen and I exchanged glances and smiled. So charming, so peaceful, so perfect.

She and I stepped back into the house to speak privately, leaving the men to watch over Morgan and Wyatt. No sooner had the door closed behind me than Wyatt was jumping and yelping against it. When we returned to the yard, he leapt on me in joyful relief and planted himself beside me. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight.

Apparently, Wyatt had grown very happy to consider himself mine. Now Karen and I exchanged worried looks.

How could we help Wyatt feel happy to belong to them?

Mean Dog, Part 7

Whiskey

By Terri Florentino

“Will you rescue my dog?”

Through the phone, I could hear his voice crack.

“He’s a Border Collie mixed with English Shepherd,” Bill said. The dog was living outside part time and in a basement of a building he was helping renovate. “This is no life for my best pal,” he said, “but right now I don’t even have a home for myself. It would destroy both of us if I had to leave him at a shelter.” The dog would need basic training, neutering, and vaccines. He choked up again as he said, “But he’s absolutely wonderful.”

WyattAs I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a man who looked like Grizzly Adams standing with a handsome, densely coated, tri-colored dog calmly sniffing around the end of a leash. As Bill and I shook hands, the dog walked right up to me, tail wagging. I put out my hand to let him sniff, and he nudged it, inviting me to pet him. I chuckled at his forwardness. I massaged my fingers through the thick fur on his neck then behind his ears, gradually moving down his back, under his belly, and toward his paws and ears, making sure he was safe to handle. He didn’t care what I did—he loved the attention.

“Like I told you, he’s friendly,” Bill said, smiling proudly through his beard.

“He sure is!” I ruffled his neck and ears. “What’s his name?”

“Whiskey’s what I call him.” Bill got him as a puppy from a friend. “We’ve been inseparable ever since. Four years.” Bill warmed to the subject and reminisced about Whiskey’s mischievous puppy days, his awkward adolescence, his good-natured adulthood, and many happy adventures up until now. “Four of the best years with my best pal.” He reached down and scratched Whiskey on the chest, and Whiskey looked up with adoration.

“How does he do with other dogs?”

“I don’t know,” Bill said. “We don’t really run into them.”

“We’re in luck—I brought one of mine.” I’d brought Tulley—he’d always been good with other dogs. I got him out of my truck, and we walk around together, keeping a a distance. Tulley wiggled and lowered his head, and Whiskey barked and pulled on the leash as if he wanted to bound over and say hello. I was pleased to see no sign of aggression. I let Tulley lead me over for a three-second meet-and-greet–more wiggles, wags, and noses. If anything, Whiskey was almost too friendly; he bounced in the air and tried to wrap his front legs around Tulley’s neck. Tulley welcomed the play, but Bill and I had business.

“You were right,” I said after returning Tulley to my truck. “Whiskey’s a great dog. I can find him a forever home.”

“Thank you,” Bill said, and his whole body seemed to slump. “Thank you, so much,” he said, his voice now quivering with emotion. He knelt and pressed his face to Whiskey’s muzzle. “Be sure to let me know if there is anything he needs.” He squeezed his eyes closed, and I thought I saw tears on his lashes. “Let me know how he’s doing.”

“I will. And you can visit any time.”

While Bill loaded up my truck with the dog’s crate, food and favorite belongings, Tulley watched intently from his crate, and Whiskey became uneasy—pacing, panting, and jumping onto Bill, sensing his anxiety. Bill’s tears were falling frankly. Once all of Whiskey’s belongings were loaded into my vehicle, Bill bent down to say his final goodbye. He buried his face into the dog’s neck, no longer able to contain his emotion. He sobbed, inconsolable. “You’re my best pal, okay? My best pal ever. This is what’s best for my best pal.”

Mean Dog, Part 6

Looks Like ‘Raine,’

by Terri Florentino

I went straight into the house and called Karen. “I have a lovely little female Border Collie that I’d like you and your family to meet.”

“How exciting!” she said.

I gave her some details about Raine. “She loves children. She just lives for them. Can you come meet her this weekend?”

“That would be great!”

Jim, Karen, and Morgan came to meet Raine and visit with Tulley. Tulley had not seen them since the day they dropped him off at the farm. Ed and I were curious about how Tulley would react, but decided that time alone with Raine first was more important, so we put Tulley in a crate to wait his turn.

Raine and Morgan

Raine and Morgan

Sweet and gentle, Raine was not the type to jump all over and get too excited during an initial welcoming. We allowed her to wander freely as they came inside. Little Morgan, now three years old, huddled close to her parents as Jim and Karen bent down to greet Raine. Tenderly Raine approached, calm and welcoming. Once Morgan realized that she could touch Raine without the fear of being bitten, she relaxed. I took Raine through a sequence of obedience commands to show them what she could do. I also brought out some toys and treats so they could all have some fun together. They absolutely adored her, and she seemed content with them. As I suspected, she was most fond of their little girl.

Then we let Tulley out. He greeted Jim and Karen then grabbed a ball.

Karen’s eyes lit up. “He wants to play!”

Morgan stayed close to her parents, and Tulley paid no attention to her. All the while Raine stood quietly and watched Tulley playing with the toys and people. As we discussed the details about Raine, Tulley ran up to Ed and stood next to him. Out of habit, Ed reached down and pet him all over his body.

“You can touch him on his back end?” Jim asked with amazement. “Tulley would never allow anyone to touch his back end. If someone tried, he would’ve bitten them.”

Ed was taken aback. “Once he trusted me, I could touch him anywhere.”

We all watched Morgan stroking Raine, who wagged her tail and dipped her head, sweetly looking into Morgan’s face. “Well?” I said, grinning.

Jim and Karen looked at each other, beaming. “We’d love to take her home!”

Raine and Morgan passing happy years.

Years pass for Raine and Morgan

We agreed that there would be a trial period. We would keep in close contact. And so we did, there were frequent emails with updates. Most were of charming pictures, stories and updates about how well Raine was doing. They loved that Raine was a social butterfly; all of the neighbors quickly got to know and love her. The relationship between Raine and Morgan was all I’d hoped–they adored each other.

A couple of years passed, all was well, and we kept in touch with the occasional email, pictures, and Christmas card exchange. Karen remembered Tulley’s birthday every year and sent him a toy through the mail.

One day Karen phoned, crying so severely I could hardly understand what she was saying. “Raine ran out into the road, right in front of a car.”

I could hardly breathe. “Tell me she’s at the hospital. Tell me she’s going to be okay.”

Karen wept. “She didn’t make it.”

There was a long pause. I was speechless; my lips quivered, my eyes streamed. I took a deep breath. “How are Jim and Morgan?”

“She doesn’t go down to the road. She stays with us. It was a teenager, a new driver, but that shouldn’t matter because she never goes down to the road. Never!” Karen stopped crying, as if it simply couldn’t have happened. It couldn’t be true; it must not be true. “She never goes down to the road. We have so little traffic here. So few cars, ever. And she never goes down to the road. She wants to be with us. She stays close to us.” Her voice began to break again. “It was dark. The kid said he didn’t see her. Oh, Terri! This is my worst nightmare!” She began to cry again. We both did.

Karen and I spent a very long time on the phone consoling one another. When we finally hung up, we promised to keep in close touch. I put down the receiver, buried my head in my hands, and sobbed until I had no more tears.

Morgan drew this picture and said, “Raine is sad because she misses us.”

Morgan's drawing "Raine in Heaven with God and a hairbrush"

Morgan’s drawing, “Raine in Heaven with a Tick, a Hairbrush to Remove the Tick, and God, Who Will Take Care of Her Now”

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Shameless Friday Night Revelry

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