I was worried that I may have made a poor decision. I hadn't been looking for another dog with baggage. This time I was going to get a fun-loving, unafraid, non-aggressive, easy buddy dog. I wanted a herding dog. I was thinking of maybe a heeler that had been born on a ranch but just hadn't turned out to be a great herder. I was checking ranch-country pet shelters and breed-specific rescue organizations. But also there are pet-finder sites, and Mara (Vicki's slave name) popped up often.
Turns out, the people at the Foothills Shelter were working hard to find homes for their animals. Vicki's sad little face was on all the relevant pet-finder sites. Foothills stood out as an organization that was really doing a good job. My questions were answered quickly and completely.
So it all seemed right, except that this dog I'd gone to meet was too scared of me to let me touch her unless I had a biscuit in my hand. These good people gave me a chance to back out on adopting her, and they promised that I could bring her back if it didn't work out. I looked at this scared little dog and decided she deserved a chance. Might not be the easiest for me, but she at least should have the chance to be in my home for a while and see if she can feel like it's her home.
Here's my little girl on her first morning in my house. The rawhide bone and toy she refused to acknowledge are on the floor. She watched me warily for the first several days. When I gave her a treat I could touch her briefly before she slipped away to eat it. If she had been adopted by a woman it might have been an easier transition. I know now that men are often seen as threatening to her but women rarely.
Slowly she started to loosen up a little around me. She would let me touch her head. After a few more days of feeding her I could reach down and scratch her chest. But always this touching happened when all four of her feet were on the ground. Sometimes she would suddenly bolt away.
One day after a couple weeks, we were in my back yard after having gone for a short hike. I was sitting on the ground talking to her and petting her head. Retaining eye contact the entire time, she slowly laid over and rolled onto her back, for the first time inviting me to scratch her chest and belly. We had a good long belly rub.
At some point around the same time, I realized that she actually does have a tail. Her tail was docked, so she has only a short stubby one. One day I said something to her and there it was, a stubby little tail popped up and wagged around. She had been keeping it tucked down the whole time she'd been with me.
There were always setbacks. The fear in her will always be there. Even as there were more belly rubs and tail-wiggling, every once in a while something will spook her and for a time her eyes will go wild with fear. I learned to keep an eye on her body language, and to help her react more confidently to things that come up. I learned that she cannot tolerate being held and kept from moving. I learned the hard way not to grasp her collar and hold on.
She was completely indifferent to toys and play, like tug-of-war or fetching a ball. I would give her a plush toy and she would just look at it and then at me. But at some point, probably more than 6 months after she came to me, she started being interested in toys. At first she just carried them around, now she excitedly tears into them as soon as I give her one. Fetch isn't a big thing for her, but sometimes she'll play along. She loves tug-of-war now, with lots of fake growling and being swung around off the ground.
About a year ago she made a leap. She became a whole level more confident and able to relate to people other than me. Much of that is a credit to friends of mine and hers who worked really hard to earn her trust. My friend Nate crouched down and spoke to her and let her sniff his hand for almost a year on a nearly daily basis. And one day, she stepped two steps closer and let him put a hand on her head. After that, Nate was OK. After Nate was OK, more of the people she sees often could be trusted to be close enough to pet her.
She and I have bonded very tightly. She is very important to me, a member of my family. I love her deeply. People who know us know how devoted we are to each other. She looks to me for protection. She wants to go where I'm going without being called or leashed. She sleeps with me, and every night spends about a minute carefully licking my face before we both settle in to sleep. I love to see her tiny little tail pop up and wiggle, see her excitement over toys and playing.
She's really easy, other than the occasional piece of clothing or personal object that she chews. She was a little over a year old when I picked her up from the shelter. She had been pregnant, her teats and mammory glands were still enlarged. For a herding dog of her age, she is amazingly calm and attentive. She's an old soul. I never need to raise my voice. She never runs off unless I fail to control something that scares her.
I can't imagine life without my little dog. These two years have only been the beginning of a long, close friendship.