I guess I’ve delayed writing this post because I’m not even sure how it happened. One day we were fostering a fearful, aggressive dog off the street, one we couldn’t let near other dogs, one I was sure would bite someone at some point, one I refused to invest any of our scarce monetary resources into… The next thing I know, he’s ours, and he’s not going anywhere.
When did that happen? When we paid for the rabies shots? When we paid Paul to teach him to stay? When I fretted about leaving him with Kate when we went on vacation?
Whenever we decided, it was a done deal by the time we nursed him through a bad neutering. The vet clinic sent him home without a cone, and within two days the swelling was twice as large as what had been removed. We’d had him about seven months by then, and even though he loved us, he wasn’t above snarling or snapping at us if he felt threatened. We had to ice the area and shove antibiotics into him; there’s nothing fun about trying to help a dog in pain who might turn around and bite you, but we did it anyway.
Every so often we talked about getting rid of him. We talked about it after he attacked Zach. We thought about it when he took off through the neighbour’s back yards; when destroyed the kitchen window screens jumping at squirrels; when he raced out the front door and chased a terrified friend down the street. We still think about it when he barks like a maniac late at night. He’s a high-maintenance dog. But let’s face it– he ain’t going nowhere.
When we first got him, no amount of coaxing could get him up on a bed. Now he rests his chin on the bed, with this pleading look that says, “Can we cuddle?” When I tell him “Come,” he leaps up and curls up next to me. At first he’d only stay up ten minutes, max; now he falls asleep next me. Eventually he climbs down and stays down for the night, but he’s getting more and more addicted to them. And while he’s generally aloof with strangers, there are those few who get the full-body press and adoring gaze.
Ultimately, it was beauty that saved the beast, at least at first. As shallow as this sounds, we– The Spouse especially– couldn’t resist a dog this beautiful. (Research has shown that we are more like to give the benefit of the doubt, and more chances, to people rated good-looking than to those rated average. I’m sure that’s doubly true for dogs.) And if beauty hadn’t done it, brains would have. He responded to his new name in less than a day. He learned “sit” almost immediately, even though he had been trained in a different language. Now we have to spell words like “out” and “park” unless we want the barking frenzy to commence. Our biggest fear– that someone might someday get bitten– was alleviated by all the trainers we spoke to. Both Jared and Paul told us he was completely salvageable and neither felt he was a danger to children or non-threatening adults. And so far, thank goodness, they’ve been right.
Every day he gets more loving and less reactive. He still growls at me on rare, rare occasions; all I have to do is stare menacingly and say, “WHAT did you say to me?” in a disapproving tone of voice. He’ll cringe and whimper and lick his nose. I CANNOT be mad at him; it spins his world off its axis. If ever a dog benefitted from positive reinforcement and oodles of love, this one has; love is his primary reinforcer.
So that’s the story. A family ready to give up on fostering finds their forever dog, and it’s not the dog they expect. Three trainers and several kibble upgrades later, he’s our boy forever. And the final truth– we didn’t adopt him. He adopted us. There’s no turning that out of your life.