u haz treats?
I was going to wait until I got a decent photo of the two of them before making an announcement, but it has proved impossible. This, apparently, is as good as it gets. I forge ahead, covered in mud and dog fur.
. . . .
Bradley, as he is now known by those who love him, was found wandering the streets in an area of rural Washington in October of last year. He was ill, emaciated, and afraid of humans. Of touch, in particular. A quick read through of the Animal Control report doesn't offer much hope. He was lucky; sent to recover at a no-kill shelter instead of the Humane Society where the euthanasia rate for small dogs in that area is incredibly high. After neutering, they knew his chances of adoption were slim without a transfer, and so he was sent to Portland, Oregon. We brought him home just a few days later. And then it all began.
The attempt to undo years of neglect in a matter of months is not an easy thing. I would try to describe it, but I couldn't do it justice. The only people who have any idea what I'm actually talking about are people who've been through it themselves. I have heard stories of dogs who jumped through second story windows as a result of separation anxiety. Holes chewed through doors. Entire living rooms attacked as if by machetes. The unlatching of locks, the bending of steel, the jumping of impossible barriers, injuries, death, you name it.
You should know, however, that these stories are from the same people who cared enough to keep trying. The benevolent leaders who knew that it takes more than exercise and dominance assertion to rehabilitate a wounded animal.*** One who cannot even speak your language. Who will never understand you, what you are saying, or why you do what you do. Who will never sit in a psychiatrist's chair. Who will never have the benefit of an explanation. Who is not even of your own species. Through it all, there was never any doubt. Ours was the most docile, gentle, well-mannered dog we could ever have hoped for. An angel with children. Friendly to other dogs. He would have done anything for you, if only it meant you wouldn't leave.
Fast forward five months. He is still all of those things, of course, but completely transformed. Confident, happy, joyous, with an arsenal of self-soothing techniques. He got a second chance, and he knows it, takes in every day as if it were a gift, a thing of beauty. It does a person good to live with that kind of exuberance. It changes people. The dogs, well, they are just busy doing what they do, and you are in tears, wondering why you never saw it before--the way this day is the greatest thing that ever happened to you, that you are ALIVE, and get to live it. The lightness of being.
We never expected to receive a call from the shelter up in Washington. We never expected to be told that there was a chance they knew where he had escaped from. That a home in the area was seized by Animal Control, where dogs of Bradley's particular breed combination, with a few variations, were neglected and in abundance. That they had taken in one of the females, that she was pregnant, but after she gave birth, would be up for adoption. We never expected to be making an 8 hour trip to pick up another dog on a random Sunday in March. It felt like the most insane thing we had ever done.
More than anything, we never expected what we found when we got there. An impossible landscape. A listless, fractured place. Big dogs chained in front of every dwelling, and quite a few dead in the middle of the road. (Wish I was kidding about that.) The human situation was equally hopeless. And then one crazy old wild-haired woman, wearing socks and sandals and bright plaid pants, covered in dog fur, smiling with her whole mouth, as we pulled up to the shelter at the end of a desert road. We realized right away that it was her home. That she was, quite possibly, a saint. And that is how we came to adopt June.
We drove home that night while the dogs slept together in the backseat, their heads resting on each others shoulders. It has been five days and the June-bug has already brought out aspects of Bradley's personality that we could never touch. She taught him how to wrestle, how to chase squirrels, how to dig, how to play 'steal the bone' for HOURS at a time as if he had never forgotten any of these things. They both got a second chance. They know it. Sense in the nonsensical human world. A tie to their previous lives. Proof of continuity, instead of an explanation. And let me tell you. It is enough.
They are eerily similar (not surprising). The gentlest creatures you will ever meet, their every move deliberate and soft. June shows no propensity for separation anxiety so far, but lives up to her name as a mischievous bug. Are we crazy for wanting to do this again? Probably. But I will tell you this: I have never been happier than I have been these past few months, running around like a fool at the park, drenched from the rain, covered in mud, away from the computer, phone, and big comfy couch, every day, rejoicing in each tiny success, and paying no attention to the failures. Even my own.
My house is a disaster zone, the camera is covered with slobber, and I have swept up enough fur to clothe a herd of elephants, but it really doesn't matter. This is a happy home. We live here. All of us. No matter how our family may change in the years to come, no matter where we go, these two will always have a place here. We did what we could. And let me tell you. It was enough.
***As you have probably noticed, we do not ascribe to the increasingly popular (not to mention televised), 'intimidation approach' to dog training, and are firm believers in Operant Conditioning, or positive reinforcement. If you are interested in finding out more about how we went about rehabilitating Bradley, including clicker training (our approach was multifaceted), feel free to email me with any questions, or check out the following books. You won't regret it. Promise.
The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell (my personal favorite)
Don't Shoot the Dog, by Karen Pryor
Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson
The Dog Who Loved To Much, by Nicholas Dodman
I'll be Home Soon, by Patricia McConnell
How Dogs Learn, by Mary Burch and John Bailey