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JOURNEY OF THE HEART
A RESCUE JOURNAL
by Dee Dunn
Webmaster's Note: This day
by day Rescue Journal came to pass as the result of a
correspondence between the author & myself. That post serves as a preface
to the story.
Journey of the Heart is presented with the hope that one more person will rise to the occasion on behalf of a Bouvier in need.
I have the deepest respect for anyone who undertakes a rescue. To me it represents generosity without bounds, bravery in defense of misfortune & optimism for the future. Rescue, along with loyalty & truth, is one of the highest callings we can make as humans. Tragically we are now more aware of that because of the events of September 11, 2001.
This is a rescue microcosm, a day by day log of how & why one person decided to commit to rescue, in this case of 5 Bouviers. I hope it inspires you.
To: Jan Rifkinson
Date: Sunday, January 20, 2002, 5:14:54 PM
Subject: Bouvier des Flandres
I think your idea of a daily log on recovery is excellent and started one - the progress can seem so minimal that a daily record will help us keep the faith as well as encouraging others not to give up hope.
How did we come to get these? Well... We had a rescued Bouvier recently. There had been no abuse but she'd spent 9 months in a kennel as a family went through divorce, remarriage and new babies). When they finally decided they didn't trust her with the babies she was adopted to us.
[...] Our lab/setter, Rexbo, had just been diagnosed with kidney failure and I was concerned that my husband would be devastated when Rexbo died; I thought a second dog would help us through the grief. I'd only seen Bouviers from a distance but liked their dedication to family and their aloofness to superficial "goochee goochee goo stuff" that so many witless dogs fall for... A few days after that discussion, an ad appeared in our local newspaper - "free to good home - Bouvier". I said "that's my dog" and we called. [...]
The poor dog was 55 lbs, nervous and so aloof that she didn't seem to register physical contact. We had to tether her to the furniture because she paced the house 24/7. We had about given up hope that she'd ever settle down when at 3 months, it was as if she changed overnight into a loving and responsive dog.
As the best of plans often go, the rescued dog was with us 3 years and died suddenly one day at age 12. Our other dog was still hanging in there and
we were back to the original issue [...]
I contacted the breeder and the American Bouvier Rescue looking for another dog needing placement. We were desperate, watching our ancient dog slide into decline. the ABRL didn't have any suitable dogs - we weren't in the market for another "short termer" and we needed a dog that was "cat safe". Finally, we heard of a litter of 10 pups that had been in foster care in KY. There were 5 left and they needed transporting to Northern VA. None were neutered and so the usual transport options weren't open. We tried to get them between Christmas and New Years but couldn't arrange it because of the foster family's work and holiday schedule.
In the meantime, Rexbo was failing and we finally had him put to sleep. We were basket cases - losing two family members inside 6 weeks. I vowed the if nothing else, I would get involved in the rescue program. Maybe there wouldn't be a dog for us just now - I've always found that dogs find you when the time is right - just like Delia was there in the local paper - but I could make myself useful until "our dog" found us. [...]
* * *
Journeys of the Heart
One doesn’t “decide” to rescue a dog. It isn’t a rational or logic based process. More likely, one is challenged to rescue, to see if one is worthy of the task. Over the years I have had many pets, nearly all of whom came as rescue opportunities. And from those experiences I have concluded that there is a higher power that decides when, where and who will be selected for rescue. It is not a matter of deciding to do rescue work, but of being open to hear and heed the call.
My first rescue involved a young German Shepherd dog, who crawled into our city garden yard and collapsed. Traumatized from beatings. injured and starving, it was not possible to approach her; she would growl and snarl, unable to run and so forced to be savage. Yet there was something in her eyes that prevented me from just calling animal control. It took two weeks of putting food outside the door and talking to her from the window before she would allow me to even be outside when she approached the food. Over the next 16 years until her death, I was rewarded with a gift of love and loyalty I never thought possible.
Looking back, I’m not sure who rescued whom, for I was also at a very low point in my life and she was exactly what I needed to heal. Not all the rescues have been that dramatic, but all have been uncannily timely, coming when I needed them most and possibly doing more for me than I did for them.
This time was no different. My husband and I had lost a dear rescued friend, Delia Dog, suddenly the day after Thanksgiving and [we] were awash in tears. Not only were we [in] mourning but we were also watching our 15+ year old “finest kind dog”, Rexbo, slip away from a combination of kidney failure, old age and grief as well. Delia had been Rexbo’s “nanny” for more than 3 years, acting as an interpreter when Rexbo lost his voice, telling us when he needed to go out, when he needed medicines, nudging him to go for walks and generally egging him on to play life “full-out” when he could.
Hoping there could be another nanny for us all, I spent hours on the internet, searching out Bouvier sites and rescue groups, looking for a dog that would fit our family and needs. Trying desperately to find a dog that could fit the hole in our hearts. I knew there would be no “replacement” for Delia - you can never find another one like the one you lost, but I had hopes.
Over the month of December, I hoped and searched, evaluating dogs available for adoption and sadly, reluctantly rejecting them for very good reasons - they weren’t cat safe (and we have cats), they chased livestock (and we have sheep), or they were significantly older dogs (and our hearts needed a little more promise than the sunset years of an older dog). We even drove up the east coast to meet a few who might be candidates, only to return home alone because we could tell it just wasn’t “our dog”.
Our ancient companion died and for the first time in 18 years we were dogless. Now we had a huge grief that wouldn’t be satisfied, that was totally consuming - we needed to process that grief until we could make room in our hearts for something new. There was no more talk of getting another dog…it was all we could do to make it through each day and return to the house, to sit with the lonely cat, and ride the waves of sadness that crashed over us as each daily routine broke apart without the partner to take on the familiar and expected role.
In the evenings, I continued my communications with the rescue and chat links I had found. No longer hoping, it was now just a need for connection with people who spoke a common language - like listening in on conversations about places I’d once lived - familiar and somehow reassuring, bringing back good memories.
One connection had been the source of much hope, the American Bouvier Rescue League. Despite an uncharacteristic lack of dogs in need of homes, the ABRL assured me that in time, they would likely have a dog for me. In fact, there had been a group of rescued puppies, now over a year old, the ABRL was trying to get transported from Kentucky to the mid-Atlantic region. This had been in the works since October, and now, in December, it was looking less and less like the rescue could be pulled off. There was little information about the dogs, except they had been living as a pack for a year now, in crates, and were in desperate need of rescue.
The dogs had been originally rescued from a barn, said to be a litter of 10 full-blooded Bouviers. Five had found homes, but the rest were still in foster, in a situation that was becoming a rescue of its own. Housebreaking a puppy is a serious undertaking. Housebreaking 5, when you work full time is impossible. And so the pups were living in crates, learning to be “dirty dogs” for whom there was no distinction between a clean bed and a soiled bed. Raised as a pack, their chances for being separated and successfully rehabilitated were getting slimmer with each month they stayed together.
The email began to fly between the ABRL, the foster parents, and me. Logistics were difficult and I began to see how tricky rescues could be. The logistics of taking five full-grown, untrained dogs on a 10 hour trek were more complicated than it first sounds. Since all the people involved were working full time, arrangements had to be made for a weekend rescue. Neither the fosters, nor the receivers could make the entire trip (20 hours driving plus an overnight) so the plan of a rendezvous in West Virginia was hatched. The travel routes were figured and refigured; timing would be critical to avoid burning daylight driving hours or overextending the drivers. Vehicles were discussed - the dogs, estimated to be 90 lbs each, were too far grown to put them all in a station wagon. You know who your friends really are when you ask to borrow their van, put on 500 miles, carrying a load of strange dogs.
The issue became even more complicated when one of the females went into heat. Traveling with a van full of untrained, hormonally charged, dogs being removed from their home would be a difficult trip. And I had to figure that if one of the females was in heat, there was a pretty good chance the other would be soon.
The situation reached a crisis point when the foster family’s dogs (intact males) got into a fight over the female(s) and ended up in the dog hospital in serious condition; word came that the dogs were going to a kill shelter. We did some quick negotiating and came up with a plan that might work if the timing was close to perfect.
The fosters had to get shots and health certificates; spaying and
neutering wasn’t possible at this point although I never understood why. I
rented a van, made arrangements at my vet’s for surgery on all five dogs,
heat or no heat, and prepared a room in the house to corral 5 large dogs
of unknown temperament.
Plans, plans and more plans…
The arrangements for the van, surgery and post-surgical boarding were in place. I had selected the one room in our open-plan log house that could be cordoned off, and we installed puppy gates. Whatever could be removed was, leaving only two antique corner cupboards and a deacons bench. We had a stack of newspapers a mile high, and the bottom of a rabbit cage to use as a large litter pan.
One trip to the local pet supplier added up to $150 in leashes, muzzles and travel supplies. We had maps, cell phones and lots of adrenaline. We were ready to go.
The day before the trip, word came from Kentucky that the weather was turning bad; it could be rain to snow and ice, and as a member of the foster team commented - “They can’t predict Christmas down here, so we’d better postpone.”
And a new rush was now on. My husband couldn’t be the second driver for the next weekend, and time was running out for the dogs as well. I rescheduled the van, rescheduled the surgeries (thank God for flexible vets), and began to call anyone I could think of who’d be up for such an adventure. Remarkably few people are…
I found two, who will forever remain on my list of people who desire saint-hood. The first is a friend and colleague of mine who is usually up for anything I can suggest. We’d have to make a few accommodations - she’d have to leave her guide dog behind, and being blind, she wouldn’t be much help as a back up driver…but she was willing to take on the task of monitoring the dogs and keeping me awake for our leg of the trip, estimated to be 12 hours. After a few discussions, she also agreed to take the videos…how hard could it be - you hold it to your face, point your nose in the direction of whatever sounds exciting and keep the tape rolling. We were sure it would be a classic and might earn us a few grand on [a] TV video show.
The third accomplice was a fellow attendee at the local Quaker meeting…with superb credentials. She had a driver’s license, own a rescued dog, had a wild sense of humor and had just made a new year’s resolution to try new things. Some things are a gift from higher powers, right?
I picked up the van the night before the trip. We’d be leaving before
dawn the next day and we had to take out the seats and figure out how to
tie down 5 dogs. It became horribly clear upon removing the rear seat that
we wouldn’t have enough space for 5 dogs and a passenger. I called my
friends to discuss the situation. I suggested the dog monitor could sit on
the floor of the van with the dogs or we could put two of the dogs on the
seat with the monitor. Much as we wanted to preserve the original trio, it
was decided that only the two drivers would go. It turned out to be the
best decision we could have made; even with all the seats removed, life in
the back would have been an 8 hour hell.
Long day. We begin at 7 a.m. headed down the highway in the rental van, with muzzles, leashes, rawhide chews and a year’s supply of paper towels, baby wipes and garbage bags. Seems like we are preparing for a siege of sorts - all we know is that there are five, huge, untrained, un-socialized, crated dogs to pack, uncrated, into a van. There’s a chance that one of the females is in heat. I’ve been told I’m crazy by people who do rescue transports - but what’s the option here? There’s no one else to do this and the dogs will go to a kill shelter next week. Instead of crates and experience I have a rental van and a friend who is a crazy as I am. Works for me!
We have a choice of two routes - one about 20 miles longer than the other, both rated to be under 5 ½ hours by the automobile club. We decide to take the southern route which will take us down the Shenandoah Valley - mostly to enjoy the view. The ride is easy, the roads clear and well marked, with little traffic at that hour. We arrive at our destination right on time, to learn that the party bringing the dogs north have hit a traffic jam and will be an hour late. We eat lunch and take a nap, expecting the trip home to require a lot more energy than we feel right now.
Our timing is great and we awaken a few minute before the other van arrives. The doors open and the growls and barks begin as we share paperwork and records, sign releases and donation waivers. The woman who has done her best to keep this litter alive is holding back her tears and we do our best to reassure her that the next leg of the journey will offer no traumas.
Each dog is taken off the van and walked but they are too nervy to relieve themselves. “Don’t worry - they haven’t eaten since last night so there shouldn’t be any problems.” My instructions have been clear from the rescue league. If any dog shows signs of aggression, refuse to accept it, even if it means it will be sent to the local kill shelter. I wonder if I can do this - I am trained to be a therapist with severely disturbed children, to recognize potential and good in the worst situation and to hold out Hope as a carrot to keep us all trying in the face of reality.
I spend about 15 minutes with each dog, but each is terrified and it takes a long time before I can touch each head. Gradually, I work my hands back to the shoulders and the ribs and massage each dog. Praying that they sense the caring in my hands, and begging the universe to help me out here before I get bitten or worse, before I have to condemn a dog to death. No one snaps or attempts to bite. The growls soften and fade. I lift each dog into the van, aware of their impossible lightness. I shouldn’t be able to lift any one of them at their age. I tell myself it is my adrenaline that makes them seem to light, but the hip bones protrude into my creation of reality. I’m so glad I’m doing this, here, today.
The ride back is a trial. Two of the dogs are in heat and the others are having a party with it. Because we have no crates, the dogs are tied in position in the van. The vans weren’t designed for dog tie-downs, so we do the best we can. Anywhere we put them, it’s trouble. I’m thankful I made appointments for surgery on Monday…party down, guys. One dog will not lie down. She circles and circles, whistling more than whining. We can’t comfort her. An hour later she messes in the van. So much for not eating…
We pull off the road, take each dog out for a walk. No success, but at least it give us time to clean out the van. As the last one goes back in and is tie in place, an aroma wafts out. Somebody waited for the safety of the van to get go. Another wad of towels. Another attempt to clean the carpet. Another prayer in praise of rentals.
The ride home takes a lot longer. The maps are wrong, the mileage is off and we arrive home well after our ETA. The only thought is to get the dogs settled, fed and bedded down for the night. We’ll leave the van doors open for the night - maybe the rug cleaner will dry. Or freeze. Whatever works to eliminate the odor of too many dogs having too many parties in the back of the van.
We put down a litter pan for the night. What seemed like a stroke of “planning genius” is now laughable. Suddenly the brilliance is in making arrangements to take the pups in to the vet’s on Sunday night in preparation for Monday. Now THAT was sheer genius. I can’t imagine how this room will look in the morning…
My trusty companion in this rescue now concedes defeat and goes home. She’ll tell me a few days later that she was overridden with guilt at leaving us with 5 uncontrollable, untrained dogs, and how my husband is amazingly brave and patient, sitting there calmly on the bench as each dog challenges his every breath with a growl.
We feed and water, and go to bed, feeling exhausted but good. A long day, running the gambit of emotions, but a sense of accomplishment and faith that this has been a day of good work in the most profound sense.
Longer day. Five huge untrained dogs, moving as a solid pack, with everyone in contact with every other one. Rather like an insane game of Twister, moving at incredible speed. Because they are not housebroken, we try to make sure each one gets out hourly - and because they are not leash trained, it takes about an hour to get the circuit done. Best of intentions…however, it is one clean-up after another. One does poop in the “litter pan” - a 30x36 inch tray designed for the bottom of a rabbit cage, lined with papers and a puppy pad. We pray that observational learning is as powerful in dogs as in people…Meanwhile, the bucket and mop remain at attention in the corner, the smell of bleach wafting over the smell of dirty dogs like a promise of better things to come.
We start to watch the personalities emerge. Baxter is the friendly one - he rushes my husband who is sitting on the bench in the dog room. Barking wildly at first, Baxter quickly throws himself into Ken’s lap and wraps his paws around his waist. At first, it looks like a dominance move, and then we realize he’s hugging Ken and resting his head against Ken’s chest. Begging for love. Baxter will turn out to be the optimist in the group, always sure he will get a cuddle. He will also make a great tow truck, we find, as he drags us up and down our mountain driveway at least 5 times that day.
Onyx is already adopted, so we provide only the necessities and reassuring pets. No point losing our hearts to say goodbye again. He is a Medium dog, Medium build, Medium demands. He will make a good pet.
Zaird is another story. At first, Zaird seems overly demanding, always pushing his way into the pack and resting his head on someone’s back. That starts a lot of growling contests. However, when Zaird is separated from the pack, he is quite different. Afraid, clinging, he walks directly behind me with his nose in the back of my knee, refusing to walk beside and never taking the lead. There is something familiar about his moves, his neediness, and suddenly it clicks. He reminds me of my friend who is blind - who takes my arm when her dog can’t lead, and reads my body cues on how and when to move. Zaird’s hesitancy, his contact with the pack, his peculiar way of peering into my face, nose to nose. Those pieces fit and I have a working theory that will help me help him through the day ahead.
Zoya is a cutie. The runt of this pack, she is the little sister trying desperately to keep up with her older brothers. Running to keep up, following their leads on barking and growling. She reminds me of my dear Bouvier friend, whom I lost suddenly not even two months ago. I am afraid to get close to her, because it tweaks my still tender heart. But I slide to the floor and have a good cry as she climbs into my lap to comfort me. I have been adopted. My husband comes over to give me a hug - support for times lost and times coming. Zoya takes umbrage and growls at the intrusion. When Ken puts his hand out, she growls more and I warn him off. He doesn’t heed the warning and a moment late Zoya grabs his hand, twice. Each time, quick, teeth bared, an extremely clear communication. The grabs are given as more succinct warnings - there are no teeth marks, no dents, no pain. He withdraws now to watch, and Zoya refocuses on me, licking my face and nuzzling my ear with her nose. This is a pet therapy dog in the making. A little overzealous but clearly a dog with good intentions and self-control.
ZsaZsa is an emotional wreck, whose eyes beg for someone to comfort her. I sit down on the floor and she slowly walks up and gives me a rapid fire series of licks on my nose and glasses. She accepts my hands on her head and presses her nose to mine peering intently into my eyes. I can feel my heart break for this beautiful dog - a fragile ballerina who thinks she must dance faster and faster to prove her worth.
The day is spent mopping floors and walking dogs. Two at a time is a challenge, but it makes the trip up the driveway faster than I’ve ever known! It is rare that someone poops while on a walk, but still, one less mess to clean up is worth it. They are using the litter pan some. Funny how some things transcend species. The girls usually hit the pan, while the boys don’t aim at all. Lucky they didn’t hit the outlet on the wall…
Our neighbor volunteers to shear the last two dogs. Baxter was sheared to his legs but those are matted terribly. The process is like taking off socks - cut what you can and roll it down a half inch, then cut a little more, roll, cut, roll. Zoya needs to be sheared from nose to toes and it take nearly three hours to do that. Her hair comes away like a hair body cast and she is a wild woman for a few moments as she gets used to the air hitting her skin. Lucky she didn’t have maggots under it all. What a mess - and what a wonderfully patient dog. Not a single fuss or growl throughout the entire event. We throw the body cast off the deck and watch it bounced when it hits the ground one storey down.
I return the van, vowing to remember that license number - to make sure I avoid renting it in the hot months…Actually, the carpet doesn’t look any worse for wear and the thought occurs to me that it may have been “primed” by the last dog to ride in it. Ahh…the art of rationalization.
The cacophony of growls lets me know I’m back at the right house, and we load up in the Subaru for the last leg to the vet. As raucous as they are, once at the vet it becomes clear that they have all bonded to us and will not be separated from their new protectors. I walk each one back to the cage for the night. Guilty to leave them in a new world and already anticipating seeing them post-surgery.
Decisions to make. Who stays and who goes? It occurred to me that if I visit the dogs, it will disrupt their adjustment at the vets. Better they stay there without interruption than have me come in and say hello, just to leave them again. It is a hard decision but the only kind one. Now I have to focus on who I plan to take with me for good. I originally had picked Baxter and Zoya, but Baxter is too much dog for me to handle and Zoya is too much like my other dog that I don’t know if I can treat her as an individual. Zsa Zsa needs someone who needs her just as much. But Zoya already adopted me. What about Zaird? Thank God Onxy is already spoken for…
I decide to let the decision rest for another day. In fact, they can
all stay at the vet’s until we’re ready to choose - there’s no pressure to
get them out - at least no pressure generated by the vet…
Welcome home. I pick up the ladies from the vet’s. The plan is to take the two females and see if we can handle them both.
I know Zsa Zsa is ours. And Zoya thinks she is, but we will have to see. Training two un-housebroken dogs when we both work days will be a challenge. We’ll take it a day at a time. The other puppies will be at the vet’s until the rescue team from Pennsylvania comes to pick them up this weekend. They’ll get ferried up to PA and put in foster homes. That gives us a little time to decide.
First day post-surgery, the vet techs meet me with papers in hand telling me not to let the dogs jump or roughhouse - walking on leash only. The dogs have a good memory and greet me with wild licking and hand chewing. I’m trying to keep them calm and finally just sit on the floor and “take a licking”.
The ride home is quiet and they are content to stand in the back. I lift them out of the car - but before I can get the second one out the first one has jumped back in. Gees-o-Pete, I flunk Motherhood 101 in the first 5 minutes. We walk to the low end of the porch and step up gingerly. My husband opens the front door and both ladies begin the growling routine. I wonder what from the past they are remembering.
Bedtime routine is to tether the dogs to the bureau. It is the least likely to be pulled in the event they panic. Which is about every 5 minutes. We are of the age where night time trips to the bathroom are routine. And now, too, are the sudden explosions of hysteria when one of us gets out of bed, or turns over, or breathes loudly. Zsa Zsa stands most of the night and I wonder if the stitches are bothering her…Zoya sleeps like the dead between Zsa Zsa’s alarm barks.
I’m off to work and the litter pan is down. The ladies are generally quiet and satisfied.
Coming home there’s a moderate clean-up although not as bad as it could be. We’re beginning potty training so the first item is outside for a walk. We learned the first night the dogs didn’t “do” steps, so my plan is to walk down the porch to the low end and step off. Zsa Zsa has other ideas and takes a flying leap off the middle - about a 4 step height. Ow, that had to hurt but she keeps on going. I’ve decided to use the trick my friend’s guide dog was trained by - walk her in a tight circle repeating the potty phrase of choice and then praise her when she potties. She circles about 50 times - no business.
Being a woman of science, I am keeping track of all bowel habits. What I can predict, I can work with and maybe change. I need at least 3 days of data to begin to discern the patterns. Zoya is a little more productive, with potty magic in 15 circles.
Meanwhile, my patient husband is enduring constant growls and warnings, with one dog feeding off the other. Correction for each growl, and I must be consistent. No shenanigans allowed - make sure the rules are clear and enforced. We growl through the evening.
Zsa Zsa is now Gigi…I can’t get her name out fast enough because I’m trying to find my bottom jaw after that first Zsa…it leaves your mouth hanging. She responds to the Z/gi sound the same so it will be an easy transition. Zoya doesn’t flow off the tongue either but we haven’t found a suitable replacement name. I suggest “Piglet”. Ken agrees that fits her very well but shakes his head - not enough dignity.
As we sit in the living room, Zoya snores away on her new bed. Gigi stands. She begins to sway on her feet and I get alarmed. I know she can lie down, because I saw her do it, but she is choosing to stand now. Suddenly, she sways and falls over like a dead oak tree…TIMBERRRRR. This wakes her up and she begins the cycle again. I sit down on the floor, begin to pet her and find her muscles are rigid and her joints are locked. I recognize the symptoms of hyper vigilance and am reminded of people who cannot sleep because of fear - until they collapse from exhaustion. After two hours of muscle massaging (and catching her when she starts to fall over) Gigi lies down and sleeps like the proverbial dead. She will sleep through the night tonight. As goes Gigi, so goes Zoya.
Hmm. I missed a day in there. Between work and disinfecting the floors, it occurs to me that trying to train 2 dogs at the same time is nuts. I report to my husband I can’t do this and he’s right, one dog is enough. His face falls. He admits he has lost his heart to Zoya and it would be painful to give her up now. And I’m the same way about Gigi. Check and mate, as they say.
Meanwhile, I’ve talked with another rescuer and she verifies my theory of hyper vigilance, suggesting that I have the pack member who had the guardian role and cannot give it up easily. We continue the massages each night and the results are amazing. Not only is she sleeping well now, but she has bonded very well to me and follows me so closely that sudden stops end in pileups.
We’re still growling… and last night was dreadful. Two middle-of-the-night ups and still we have a puddle in the new dog bed. It has become clear that these are “dirty dogs” who have learned to mess in their beds. Lying in poop is a familiar way of life to them. So crate training is not an option. It will merely mean I have to clean the crates AND the dogs daily. No, we will stick to the current plan and litter tray.
Dogs can really make you feel like an idiot. Poor Gigi has learned the potty circling routine very well. She goes out to the area, walks about 10 circles and then sits down. No potty but a perfect imitation of what I told her to do. Poor thing must think me nuts. And she waits until she goes inside to potty. We aren’t winning today.
Somewhere along the line we discovered that classical music was putting these pups right to sleep. Needless to say our house now sounds like the classical section of Tower Records…but we’re sleeping better!
And we’re still growling, although it is getting softer and shorter.
Ahhh. We nearly made it through the night. Only one out at 2:30, no errors and no hysterical barks when Ken’s alarm went off. Now that I get up at 4:30 we have time for all the chores before I leave for work. We’re getting the hang of this new parenthood stuff. And when the dogs go off to college, I can sleep again…
Things went a little smoother today. The puppies had better aim in the puppy pan and managed not to track it all over the house. Not that we would have noticed amid the pillow stuffing and fingerless gloves…Puppies have obviously relaxed enough to play games and invent toys out of ordinary everyday items - like cushions. What clever puppies. Only half my face is smiling.
They have only barked once at Ken tonight. That’s a great improvement. Now we’ll work on getting that bark down to less than 10 consecutive minutes!
New tricks? Sure enough. GiGi thinks she can fool me into giving her a treat by simply squatting outside. But she learned with only 3 “good dogs” to play with a particular toy she had previously ignored. Looks like she’s got talent for retrieving and a soft mouth. Except when it comes to pillows…we’ll see if we can put the stuffing back in that one!
And tonight, everyone sat down for dinner - two at the table and two
under the table. What progress!
The day from hell. Pouring rain and two dogs refusing to go outside. I have to put them on leashes and carry them down the stairs, so we can stand out in the rain, hunched, soaked and cold, as the bowels lock up tighter and tighter.
Being a woman of reason, I finally accept the fact that today is not an “outside potty day” and prepare the litter tray with papers and fresh puppy pads, hoping that the entire day’s business will make the mark. I walk to the kitchen to grab my lunch and keys and returned to find 4 piles and 2 puddles - all outside the litter pan, all made within the 3 minutes it took me to gather my stuff.
I lose my grip on reality and begin to holler. BAD DOGS!!! OUTSIDE! NO POTTY IN HOUSE! Dogs flee to the porch. Mom slams the door. Periodically opens the door and hollers “BAD DOGS”, then slams the door again. Throws out a paper-towel bundle of you-know-what. BAD DOGS. Good thing noise travels up the mountain and not down to where my neighbors would hear me, the therapist, the quintessential behaviorist, bellowing like a madwoman…First known case of Postpartum Depression in an adoptive dog-mother.
Once the floor is washed and bleached, I sit with my head in my hands. “We aren’t winning here” …words to bounce off the empty walls. The sound of the pouring rain reminds me of two wet, cold and likely terrified dogs sitting on the porch. I declare a truce and let them in, dry them off, all without a word, because I am not capable of “making nice” right now. They head for their beds in the corner; I leave for work.
When I get home from work, I approach the house with resignation. I know what lies ahead and I have no better ideas for how to solve it now than I did when I left that morning. Not only will I have to clean, but I will have to start over to undo the damage I did by losing my cool and yelling this morning. Starting over. With one new trauma to add to their already long list of traumas.
When I open the door, I am not greeted by the usual barking and growling. I call their names and imagine them to be cowering under the table. I imagine the room strewn with shredded furniture as they relieved themselves of frustration and fear in the only way available to them.
It takes a moment for the noise to register in those angelically sleeping little doggy brains. I close the door, gently this time, and then hear the pounding of feet as they barrel around the bends to the foyer. I barely catch myself as they slam into me, wildly licking and nuzzling, groveling and vying for physical contact. Someone licks my glasses and I’m in a fog. One hand taken into a dog’s mouth, firm but gentle. And they lead me around the corner to show me the litter pan. Poops perfectly centered. And only one puddle outside the lines.
I sit down on the floor and cry, hugs all around, tears licked clean by enthusiastic tongues. It ain’t over, but we have to find a way to make this work. For all of our sakes.
We make it through the night without a wake-up and by 5 a.m. everyone has pottied outside. Today is errand day, with revised determination to make sure all potties are in appropriate places. First we head out to a people meeting. Dogs will not be attending but will be able to socialize after the meeting ends. Despite several last-minute opportunities and much urging, we have no poops at the usual time around 11 a.m. Pups stay in the car (and I pray they don’t make any mistakes). One hour later they are still “good dogs”, and still denying they have to go. We go to the post office, make nice to a few strangers on the street and then head to the vet’s for itchy ear treatment. Waiting for lab workups and outcomes, we ponder the vet’s idea that maybe we are also dealing with undetected worms - that might explain why Zoya is going potty 5 times a day but Gigi only goes twice. We nearly have a potty accident on the vet’s waiting room rug, but a quick NO and hustle outside results in a positive outcome in an appropriate place.
We finally make it home and bail out of the car. No potty stops needed on the way to the house and there is a crush at the door to get to the beds, the water, the treats. I hang up my coat, check the answering machine light and walk into the great room to find a large puddle moving spreading across the floor. I shake my head - “What’s not to understand?” - and begin a much controlled version of yesterday. NO NO NO. NO POTTY IN HOUSE. OUTSIDE. We all walk out to the porch, down the steps and to the potty plot. POTTY HERE. I point in a clear and deliberate gesture. The little dog goes over and pees obligingly. THANK YOU. GOOD DOG. I shake my head again. No wonder my brains rattle.
Our first outing (except for vet and car rides). We all go to PetsMart and wandered around. The whole idea of Pets Mart must be rather like Disneyland for dogs. All the packages to sniff, with the smelliest and most tempting treats placed low on the racks for easy dog access. Reminds me of the strategies used in grocery stores - kids’ cereals at kid height to make it impossible for the mother to avoid confrontations.
Must be twenty people who ask “What kind of dogs are those?” and a minimum of five minutes of discussion. Each pat on the head is gracefully accepted and there are no growls, much to our surprise. No accidents either as we hold our collective breaths. Gigi picks out the leopard spotted squeaky bone and Zoya favors a tennis-ball-headed snake with a squeaky in the middle. The price is absurd - Zoya is the one with expensive tastes! We stop by the cashier on the way out and pay the bills as Gigi flirts with a lab pup. Zoya watches Gigi, but doesn’t let the snake out of her sight.
We are now several hours overdue for potty, yet several breaks are unproductive. We get lunch at a drive-thru, no growls there either. Someone has apparently kidnapped our dogs and replaced them with well-behaved clones. When we get home, everyone potties outside and comes in for a nice quiet family night. At dinner, we add the diet enzymes and supplements we bought to enhance absorption of food. Underweight with dry hair, they need all the help they can get. An hour later we are rereading the package fine print looking for caffeine or other stimulants - the dogs are wildly puppyish, leaping and cavorting like never before. I’ll put that on my cereal tomorrow…
Another night without rest. Out twice and scratching non-stop. Barked at the cat once and whined because the dog beds were too far apart. I am suffering the same symptoms as a new mother…no sleep, frustration, and completely disorganized. Eat more chocolate.
Vet trip again. Zoya has little scabs now all over her face and she is scratching through the night. Not mange as we had feared but more likely a staph infection. More pills and new instructions. Fortunately Zoya is a wonderful patient and accepts the pills with poise and grace. She has learned that every pill has a cheese-chaser …sounds like a “life-lesson” we would all do well to learn.
Tonight’s lesson on “sit” is interesting. Gigi is learning quickly but Zoya is still not getting this. She’s the brighter of the two, so I give her the command and just watch to see if I can figure out what that little brain is processing… she wanders around, looking for something, left, right, circles, and then walks over to the dog bed. THEN she sits. Dog isn’t dumb - just looking for a soft spot to rest her still boney hinderparts. Sits just as nicely as you please and smiles accommodatingly. Oh brother.
It is absolutely amazing how 1 pile of poop can be so demoralizing…I got home from work to find disaster. The litter pan was unused and 4 piles on the floor, 4 puddles, two pens eaten, plus someone had climbed onto my DESK, swiped and eaten one of the handspun, hand knitted socks my sister sent me for Christmas.
Today was the day to begin a new strategy - tethering the dogs to the furniture where they can watch me clean up the mess, and listen to all the exclamations of “PEEE-UUUUUU!!! This is DIRTY DIRTY DIRTY. ICK. PEEEE-UUUUUU.” (Thanks to ________ for that idea!)
It was nice to have a way to express displeasure without directing it at the dogs in anger. I noticed that they were just as apologetic as all the other ways, but not so traumatized and I got to vent.
Stayed in through the night and didn’t get hysterical when I got out of bed in the wee hours. Didn’t even bark at Ken when he got up. Scratching is somewhat less and Zoya is getting used to having her bed separated from her sister. (This was a deliberate attempt to decrease the dependence and also to help Gigi get some sleep. Little sister was chewing Gigi’s ears to wake her up to play!)
Coming home is better than yesterday for sure. All puddles in the pan, only 2 piles on the floor. One glove eaten. No messes on the dog beds. That is the FIRST DAY of clean beds - is this a sign of significant improvement? We continue the PEE-UUU routine.
Today we started working on ringing the bell to go outside. I was hoping for barks, but these two only bark at people they know. Go figure. So we start bell training. We are sitting much faster - Gigi slams her bottom down on the floor now when she wants something - our first structured communication!!! and Zoya has also improved. She no longer looks for the cushion to sit on.
Crisis in the Making
I have no idea what happened to yesterday but it’s a safe bet that I spent it cleaning up dog poop. Eventually it dawned on me that 5 bowel movements per day per dog wasn’t normal, so we are cutting back on the food to decrease the output. Gigi isn’t going as much, but both have too soft stools. I can’t put it down to cheap food, because we’ve been on the “good stuff” now for over a week. Can’t be the supplements because we cut that out too. Go figure.
A trip to the vet yesterday and now we are on a worm medication. The stools tested negative but the vet thinks maybe there’s some other gut irritant. Off to the store for yogurt, to reestablish healthy bacteria. Out with the bad stuff, in with the good stuff…
Nope. No change. NOW I understand why mothers of toddlers have so much to say about potty training…I’m beginning to sound ridiculous even to myself…My sister called the other day and I spent 15 minutes telling her about bowel habits. Fortunately she is a blood relative and is, therefore, obligated to put up with this…
Nope. Called the vet and we are now on medication for colitis. Food intake is cut back and they are both wanting more food. Gigi has gained about 10 pounds, Zoya is about 16 pounds up now (and she’s the smaller one) but cutting back is not a popular idea.
Other progress is very slow but steady. Growling is decreasing although it doesn’t take much to set them both off. Funny, but Gigi starts with a growl and then Zoya takes it to a high art form, continuing long beyond Gigi and getting a hysterical note in her voice.
Potty-wise we are making it through the night most of the time now, although I’m still not sleeping…Zoya is hungry at 3 a.m. and can’t be denied. Gigi has taken an interest in the cat who has decided that the dogs are not a serious threat, so it’s ok to parade herself by them - cautiously but confident. Gigi doesn’t growl at her, but shifts around to keep an eye on her. Of course I’m watching closely and wake up the instant anyone changes position now. The cat seems to be right - nobody is making any move to chase or snap. Maybe we’re getting lucky.
No potty problems, but I don’t think this is for the right reasons. Seems like we are into a pattern of bad day, good day…we’ll see…
Good Lord, what a nightmare. Started out well enough - both of us home, both dogs receiving 1:1 attention ALL DAY as we worked toward a goal of catching and correcting 100% of the potty errors (instead of avoiding errors by us being superbly trained to read dog minds.). Nice day, everyone loved being petted. Evening: We started into the usual routine of increased anxiety at night and had a few growling sessions at Ken. I put the puppies to bed - each tethered to furniture, beds separated but within licking distance. Then I made the mistake of going back out to the kitchen…CRASH, BANG, sounded like the log wall had given way in the bedroom. Ken’s yelling “GRAB HER”. grab WHO? Hell, I can’t see anything - black dog in a dark house - all I can see is that everything at waist height is getting annihilated…lamps, chairs. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?
Apparently Ken walked into the bedroom (lights on) and Gigi lifted her head to do her usual growl routine. Zoya was sitting up watching the world do by. When Gigi growled, Zoya wigged out. Bolted past Ken who tried to grab the leash. Within 4 feet of start-up, Zoya had enough power going to rip off the leg of the massive antique chest, which sent it toppling over onto Ken. Gigi bolted out the door, pulling the antique bed with her…Zoya was now being chased by a furniture leg - still attached to her leash, and it was bouncing to waist height - smashing everything in it’s path.
The bedroom is a wreck, the living room is a wreck, the dogs are wrecks and in the 20 years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen my husband this upset before. No outright aggression, just fear so pervasive that it feeds on itself.
I put both dogs into the “little between room”, barricaded the entrances, and we locked ourselves in the bedroom with the cat. Dear God, we can’t deal with this.
Soon as the sun had cleared the mountain, I called Maureen, the ABRL coordinator, for help. Thirty minutes later we hit the road, dogs in the back, headed for Philadelphia. The hardest part is facing our failure as adoptive parents - somehow despite the best of intentions, every spare minute and every ounce of affection we could muster, we have a situation we can’t fix. Three hours on the road, and another three hours in Maureen’s backyard yields a result we can’t yet appreciate. Maureen suggests we are having dominance issues; not unexpected with siblings, and especially two females…The only solution is to separate them. We’d been debating this for 6 hours now; how do you choose between two dogs who have each, of their own thinking, chosen you…both of whom are diamonds in the rough…both whom you’ve fallen head over heels in love with…
No use railing against it, it is time to make a decision we can all live with. This is not a logical based decision - nor is it rational, I suspect. My heart can’t make the decision, but my soul does. I choose the one I’ve been “called to serve”. It’s times like these that I so deeply appreciate the Quaker meetings, when you sit in silence and search within for the guidance you need. I see now that meeting time isn’t absolute; it isn’t that time that you will necessarily find the guidance within. It is simply where you practice, to be silent to listen for and to that inner guidance.
Fortunately, Maureen has an older couple looking for a dog - sounds like a perfect solution, so we hand over the leash and the toys that Zoya picked out herself. Dog kisses all around - can’t tell the tears from the kisses, and a few hugs to help the humans make it out the door. Gigi is subdued but cooperative and curls up in the back seat.
It is a long ride home with more than one stop for a crying jag. The routine waiting at home is a saving grace; feed the sheep, make dinner, get ready for another week of work…Gigi is already calmer. She eats 1/3 of her usual dinner and settles in easily for the night. Still growling but not as loud or as long.
Another mini meal - Gig is eating much less and her stools are nearly normal. Looks like there was a lot of tension that we hadn’t read correctly. The overeating (competition?) and the roughhousing (increasing dominance issues) were generating increased gut function/dysfunction.
Missing Zoya but the relief is palpable. For all of us. Maureen sends us an email assuring us all is well with Zoya, who will be going to her new “foster family” shortly.
I’m going to take a new approach to potty training. We are going for long mountain walks and Gigi can’t decide where to pee. I know dogs learn through observation, so I drop my drawers on the side of the mountain, praying in tandem, first that I don’t lose my balance while hobbled, and second that the Fed-Ex man doesn’t decide to make a delivery.
Gigi watches me, sniffs and then puts her head down and slinks away. I guess she is expecting God to start the PEEE-UUUU routine…
Too many piles during the day and not enough at night. I vote to change the feeding schedule. More food at breakfast, less at night. There is progress on potty training - everything today was on the puppy pads. And no damaged anywhere. Interesting to note that the cat has emerged this evening and walks within spitting (and hissing) distance.
Stools are better, timing is improving. Ken leaves for a business trip today - 3 days - that ought to be interesting. I stop by the library for some training books. I have a feeling that we’ve got a mixed bag here - not only some dominance issues but fear aggression as well.
We spend the night sitting on the swing in the living room - just long enough for one person and a full length Bouvier. Rocking and reading. Awash in cuddles and licks. No accidents. Probably my expert mind reading!
My heart belongs to a Bouvier.
Ken calls from the train and I fill him in on what I’m learning about dog behavior. Despite my experience with 4 dogs - three rescues and one from birth, I’m shocked at what I don’t know. I can see so many errors we made - and it is clear that separating the siblings was the only thing we could have done - and we barely did that soon enough!
He calls me at midnight to tell me he’ll be arriving in an hour. Batten down the dog - prepare for incoming!!!!
We’re back to normal. Shadowing mom, growling at dad…But the growls are not as grim. And the tail is not quite so erect.
Ken is now wearing a “treat bag”. He is under strict instructions to “derail” her negative mood with a treat, EVERY OPPORTUNITY. If necessary, I will scoop poop up every hour, but we have to get this aggression under control.
He’s not convinced it is dominance and aggression, until I pull out the books and the checklists, and provide blow by blow analysis of her every move, comparing her response to me with her responses to him. Doubting Thomas that he is, he’ll give it a go!
I can also see a separation anxiety in all this behavior now as well. Well, I’ll deal with that later.
By the end of the day, we are seeing a change. Growling is shorter. Redirecting her moods is relatively quick now and she is beginning to approach Ken with interest. The hardest part is going slowly. He reminds me that I told him it could take one to two weeks to notice a big change.
I’ve never seen such a power struggle in my life. Gigi wanted a treat and so far, they were hers without effort. Ken gave them out today with each growl and sometimes in between. If Gigi looked interested he rewarded her with praise and a treat. I suggested he start requiring a little effort from time to time, so he told her to “sit”. That dog took 3 minutes to sit, sat far out of reach and complained, growled and warbled the entire time. BUT SHE SAT.
More power struggles today. Gigi has now decided she will do a trick to get her kibbles, but not necessarily the one she is told to do. Ken says SIT, she lies down. He says DOWN and she sits. Too funny. Her tone of bark is changing - when she is being defiant, she barks a high, sharp, distinctly female bark that sounds like “a woman who already told you she didn’t want to hear what you were going to tell her BUT you told her anyway”.
Bouviers like fruit. They also like fruit trees. We pruned the peach and apple trees today and Gigi is now collecting all the sticks to chew on. I offered her a nice oak or hickory , but she prefers the fruit wood. Finally swapped her for a piece of grapefruit…I wonder how far I will have to cart/fling those branches to keep them out of her reach. We can hardly wait until blackberry season - with 5 acres of wild berries she will have a blast. In more ways than one…
Oh brother. I forgot to put on the radio this morning when I left for work and paid for it tonight. Extra potties in the house (most on the pads, fortunately). However, she vented spleen on a book. There are probably 300 books within easy reach here, and three others I have handled more recently than the now dead one (so it wasn’t a scent thing). Funny how picked the remedial dog training book and utterly demolished the dust jacket. I called the library - they weren’t amused. I’m still laughing. Well, it is a very helpful book and I will enjoy owning what is left of it. [The Dog Who Would Be King by John C. Wright and Judi Wright Lashnits © 1999.]
My first night coming home late; I drive up the mountain expecting to find Ken seeking refuge on the roof…And there they are, standing at the top having what looks like a negotiation session. Gigi is doing all the talking right now. I assume she isn’t buying the “kibbles by hand” subterfuge anymore and start racking my brain for a new way to promote friendship between Gigi and Ken. Gigi gets into my car as I get out. It’s clear she has an agenda - “Take me to the nearest taxi stand…I’m outta here.” Ken informs me she is upset because he ran out of kibbles. He hadn’t had a chance to refill the bag yet. Bouviers can’t stand slothfulness.
Later, Gigi tries to get on the swing by herself. It’s clear she’s been trying this during the day because the cushions are asunder and the pillows mashed. I go sit on it to steady it and she’s instantly up, circling, then throws herself into my lap. “The Book” says this is not kosher for a dog with separation anxiety. I’ll have to check and see if she ate that page. Meanwhile, Ken comes over and sits on the swing. There’s barely enough room for three and Gigi stiffens and growls. Ken ignores her and within a few minutes, she relaxes, her head on my shoulder and her hind feet across Ken’s lap.
Now THIS is progress.
This is the second day I made it home later than usual and Ken reports Gigi was much improved - only barked about 10 minutes and intermittently at that. And another night with three on the swing - she’s much more relaxed now and Ken is allowed to pet her back tonight.
Gigi is modifying our routines, thank you very much, to accommodate her desires. Mealtime is for EVERYone, however, she doesn’t want her food in the dish. No. Dad is supposed to feed it to her by hand, one kibble at a time. (Now where did she ever get that idea?!) And she waits for the “good girl” between each bite. I have to wonder how much of that book on behavioral training she read before she ate it.
Grooming. A nice concept. Gigi won’t tolerate having her hind end groomed at all. Head, neck, chest - all fine, but don’t even try south of the border… Since she was sheared when she arrived and her siblings were matted messes, I’m guessing that she didn’t have a good experience with clippers either. Oh brother. So we are going VERRRRRRY slowly. Desensitization at it’s finest.
The neighbor has agreed to come and let the dog out daily at noon. Brave woman. She and the dog have met, but I have no delusions that we will even see an outside potty for the first week. I can predict right now that unless the woman hides in the bathroom and leaves the door open, Gigi won’t even venture out. But we have to do something here to get the outside potty concept across. I leave a stack of pancake pieces and a sliced apple on the counter for bribes.
Sure enough, the neighbor spent the event in the bathroom and Gigi left me the usual number of puddles and piles - most of them on puppy pads.
This is not a dog you can hurry…I have learned that even a gentle tug on the collar results in backward motion. Doesn’t matter if you are trying to lead her to a T-bone steak - she’ll go backwards. On the other hand, infinite patience and countless “good girls” results in forward motion. It may take you 8 hours to get three feet but she will eventually get there.
This information is everything. And nothing. It provides the key to all future training but it doesn’t provide the time. How in the world am I going to train her to come reliably when it takes her hours to complete a single trial successfully?
The neighbor made progress today - smaller barks and growls greeted her, but Gigi remains determined to leave her prizes for me. All were on the pads today. Guess that’s a plus.
After dinner (which she insists be fed to her by hand now) she made eye contact and announced her intention to go outside. Twice. PROGRESS!!!
Her pills tonight were wrapped with #8 spaghetti and topped with an asparagus chicken sauce followed by a broccoli flowerette. I can see the vet’s eyes roll now…We’re grateful she’ll take them without fuss.
Well, progress with grooming. As long as I put a chew bone in her mouth I can touch her hindquarters with the brush without losing my arm… Without the chew, she holds my arm firmly - not biting - just using it like a rubber bullet between the teeth. This doesn’t look so much like fear as a secondary motion - sort of a scratch-the-belly-and-set-the-leg-moving kind of reaction.
The first time I came home to a clean floor since forever! No messes. All puddles on puppy pads and fewer of those to boot! To celebrate we go outside and play about 10 rounds of “fetch”. Today’s better, lighter than any I can remember with Gigi. She must be feeling better - medication taking effect on that infection.
Well, I’m beginning to get the hang of training a Bouvier. Although I have trained several dogs in the past, and adjusted each according to the individual response of each dog, there’s something profoundly different about training this dog. All the others were rescues, so it isn’t that issue. But there is a determination here that is different and far beyond even a lab’s blockheadedness. This isn’t a “huh? Who me?” response. This is a “Why on earth would I want to do that? No, I don’t think so.” response.
Teaching Gigi to “come” when outside has been a bust until today. Today, I divided “come” into two categories - “come” and “go-go-go”. “Come” means come to me, here, now. “Go-go-go” means come as if to me and then run by at top speed and go as far as you want.” Usually, I got the “go-go-go” response, but now that I occasionally give the “go-go-go” command, I get more of the “come” when I say “come”. Reward the dog with what it wants and it will give you what you want. [Thanks for comments made on Bouvtrain, a mail list devoted to Bouvier training issues, that led to that revelation.]
Dancing with Mr. Moo…Gigi has a new toy - a stuffed cow with a “moo-er” instead of a “squeaker” inside. Not only does she love it, but it inspires her to create her first game with Ken. Dancing up on sparkling toes to wave Mr. Moo under his nose, then a pivot and side leap, she drops Mr. Moo just long enough to bark wildly at Ken. Waiting impatiently for him to reach for Mr. Moo, then snatches and runs around the house. A billion dogs play this game, but this is the first game Gigi has played with Ken. Both of us have tears streaming down our faces, giggling like fools.
Uh oh. Something didn’t go right today. Gigi shredded her bed, puddles on the floor, poops twice and is growling at every shadow. I call the neighbor who stops by daily at noon to help with housetraining. Faithful woman who is far more optimistic than I. She reports there was a major blowout today - she brought her young children with her and had them sit calmly well away from the house, to play in the gravel bed. Gigi went out of the house and walked to her favorite hill in the orchard right next to the house. Looked over to the gravel bed, saw the kids, and took off running - the other way. Poor dog must have thought we had imported aliens. Near as we know this is the second time she has seen munchkins. As she disappeared down the drive the neighbor was frantically trying to recall my work number…the animal control number…anyone who could help her corral this dog. Wise woman; she had the sense not to run after the dog. Within a few minutes Gigi realized that the new territory at the bottom of the drive was as bad as the aliens at the top of the hill. She took a circuitous route and returned to the porch where the door was left open…Clever woman, the neighbor waited until Gigi was deep inside the house and then came back to the porch, closed the door and left Gigi to settle herself.
Decided we needed to increase the socialization. Of all the people in the world we are probably among the worst for improving Gigi’s social skills. Living on a mountain out in the sticks, we never invite people to visit and we use our home as a retreat from the world. However, if we are going to make progress on the self-confidence and greeting skills we’d better get on with it. So I take Gigi to work. I have this idea that maybe she can lie under my desk during sessions with the students and eventually learn to meet and greet. Today is my day off, so we plan to just walk around and introduce her…this works extremely well. I explained to the kids who see her that she was abused and afraid. Because they have all had the same experience, they are quick to understand and gentle in words and pats. All goes well until we go up to my office. Forget the idea of sitting under the desk. The office suddenly gets MUCH smaller with Gigi in the room. But the deciding event comes at departure time. We are in the upstairs of a multi-tiered building, an antebellum home with a half dozen annexes and sweeping stairs that promise Scarlett O’Hara the best of entrances…but Scarlett doesn’t do stairs…
Gigi lopes up the stairs about 6 at a time. I don’t think about it, and realize too late she doesn’t know how to go down the stairs and there’s no way I’m going to be able to carry her. A few volunteers come forward to carry her but that will undo all the socializing good we just did, I’m afraid. It takes a few false starts but we eventually plot a path that takes us through several offices, through a board meeting and on through two wings to the handicapped ramp-way that links some ground level dorms to second storey classrooms. Otherwise we’d be there still.
Gigi is a mass of nerves tonight with Ken. He sneezes and she levitates, he moves and she runs around the kitchen island growling. He walks away from her and ignores her [which] seems to bother her as much as the attention. She trails after him only to bolt and bark when she is “discovered”. We now have a plan. If she begins this behavior I will put her out on the porch until she settles. No reinforcement for inappropriate behavior. The theories are clashing - behavioral wins tonight as this matter is handled in 3 trials. I have no clue as to what triggered this - it could be the high winds for all I know.
Gigi greats us with great affection this morning, more of her on the bed than off, licking gleefully at Ken’s hands and my ears. We’ve noticed she is a happy dog in the mornings. It doesn’t bother me that the behaviorists explain her behavior as classic “pup to mother behavior”… She’s happy and interacting well and I’m thankful my eyelids are waterproof. Ken feeds her breakfast kibble, one piece at a time. The princess spits out the familiar and snuffles him for new treats. Let’s hope this mood continues into the evening.
Gigi is sitting on the far end of the swing - Ken is at the other. It took us 30 minutes to get to this - kind of like that old game where you move the 15 blocks around in a 16 block frame until you get them in sequence. But we made it. Sort of. “Stop watching her - that makes her nervous. She thinks you are giving her the eye, remember? Aggression.” Ken looks of the end of the couch. His arm snaked across the back of the cushions, three fingers gently massaging Gigi’s back. Gigi is as far away as she can get, back turned to Ken, looking over her shoulder with the whites of her eyes visible at times. Looks like a bad date experience to me, where the teenage boy is casually copping a feel and the girl is trying not to jump out of her skin.
We have a new morning schedule. Gigi gets cuddles, goes out to puddle, comes in to play with toys and then puts herself into the swing for a few minutes until breakfast is ready. She has this all worked out…Breakfast is relatively quiet - it’s safe for me to take a shower now as Gigi accepts Ken’s handouts of granola and flakes. She still growls about the Grape Nuts. After work is a wonderful surprise - no piles and all puddles are on the pads, with all pads in the same room where I left them. PROGRESS!!!!
The upstairs furnace has quit again and Gigi is VERY curious about the noises coming from the attic. The furnace repairman and I are upstairs - he’s in the attic and I’m manning the thermostat on the second floor when I hear ‘ticky ticky ticky”. To late I realize Gigi has climbed up the stairs. Well…I guess we are going to have a training session later.
Training is not quite the word. Beg and plead session. Forty minutes later we have moved our front paws about 8 inches from the back of the top step to the front of the tops step. The back feet are glue to the floor. My, what a LONG dog we are. No point in using the leash; fear is fear. I go downstairs, open the front door and start up the car. “Let’s go!” Much whining and tail wagging from the top step. Mentally I am noting that with Ken out of town, there will be no one coming home to help carry her down. There are no neighbors she tolerates. This could be a long siege. I put a puppy pad upstairs and Gigi’s tail stops wagging…
Past the hour now and we are once again at the top of the stairs. This time I am straddling the front end and have one hand on each leg. Left paw down one step. Praise and kisses. Right paw down one step - holding dog firmly between my knees with the leash securing me to the handrail in case this all goes bad. Put left paw back onto first step. Retie the leash further down on the rail. Right paw peeled off the wall and repositioned - on the top step again. Left hind leg moved onto the top step. Attempts to pivot. OK we can back down the stairs - nothing wrong with that now is there? Somewhere, somehow we get the center of gravity shifted down one step. More kisses. Gigi licks my glasses in return. About the eightieth minute Gigi allows me to move another paw. I’m counting out loud like I did when she was learning stairs up. One, left paw down one step, two, right paw down one step, three left hind paw down and wherever it will fit, four, my foot down a step. This is not elegant but we are making progress. I’m trying to remember the order in which I patterned her “stairs up” lesson. Most important thing is to keep the grip with the knees so she can’t back up and she can’t leap forward.
Ninety minutes later we are on terra firma, safety harness untied. Gigi bolts out the door and gets into the car. A deal is a deal. Nearly out of gas now, we take a ride to the convenience store, pay through the nose for gas and feel luckier than a raccoon in a full trash can.
Funny, but when we get back, Gigi swings a wide circle around the stairway.
Tour de kennels. We are trying to go away for a weekend and unfortunately picked Spring Break. The local kennels that I know and love are full. There are a few that have openings so I pile Gigi in the car and we go for a look-see. By people standards, the kennels are clean, the animals looking good, with indoor and outdoor access. The inside noise is unbelievable. This is a training kennel with 4 wings and 200 runs. The dogs are mostly shepherds training for drug and bomb detection. The trainer comes to greet Gigi & I give him a brief rundown on her background and he responds with calm and gentle words. Gigi is not impressed and comes in for a comfort hug. Standing on her hind legs with front paws wrapped around my waist, frantically licking my ears and hiding her head under my arm. He backs off, smiles and goes on about his business.
Gigi tours well, ignoring the barking and chaos that always greats a beautiful female strutting between rows of males…The dogs won’t be a problem, but she won’t give the kennel crew a chance. And I can’t bear those huge eyes. Anthropomorphism be damned, she’s afraid of being abandoned.
I call my softest hearted friend and beg her to come live with the dog. She’ll be here on Wednesday night. We will leave on Friday.
Pam and Gigi are getting acquainted over a chicken carcass. I’ll have to remember that when I am searching for new tea party ideas… We have a few growls and a few treats. Within 30 minutes Gigi is amenable to sitting within arms reach, although not accepting pats. We’re grateful all the same. Must be a “girl thing” - Gigi won’t even do this with Ken yet… the potty parade goes well, Pam and I stand on the porch which Gigi does her thing, only growling occasionally when she thinks Pam is staring.
OK, so it won’t be a great palsy-walsy event over the weekend but we seem to have a truce and agreement here. Ken comes in from a business trip at 1 a.m. and Gigi goes ballistic. But I detect a little smile on her face…and she lets him pet her ONCE with ONE FINGER on the tip of her nose. We refigure our plan to take the train into Washington. We will drive and park, so if need be we can take any train home and be back on the mountain in 5 hours.
Why oh why do I feel like a bad mother? Pam had said she would be in about 9 pm but got tied up at work. Finally at 11 p.m. she answers the phone. I can hear Gigi in the background, whistling and growling. “We’re doing fine here. I brought her a bag of leftovers from my dinner.” OK. They’ll do ok tonight. Tomorrow I will call our broker and have her invest in puppy pads.
Ken and I take the early train home and arrive to one happy dog. She’s even glad to see Ken. A few puddles and a few piles - screw the puppy pads she apparently said… And there is a demolished something from end to end in the house. Turns out to be a frozen yogurt container I used to measure birdseed rations. I gather all the pieces but she has mauled and distorted them so it’s anyone’s guess if I have all the pieces.
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