on march 31 hugo and i drove to connecticut to pick up a our new rescue dog family member. her petfinder profile described exactly the dog i was looking for. small, easy going, confident and healthy. she was five years old and had been through a surrender, an overcrowded brooklyn shelter, a rescue facility, and one (TOTALLY BOTCHED) adoption before mine, so i had some perspective. i didn't expect a blissed out dog, but i did feel certain that i could help her transition into a solid forever life.
when we met her at the foster facility in connecticut, tildy (then dora) was friendly and calm, but i immediately noticed that she'd had at least one litter, and that her (ahem) lady bits were in bad shape. also, she had a break at the top of her tail near her back, which suggested possible physical abuse. these things seemed superficial and cosmetic, and i couldn't process their potential significance in real time.
once we were home, tildy started exhibiting strange behaviors that had me so confused, i pulled out the paperwork from the brooklyn shelter, the vets who had assessed and treated/spayed her, and the foster group. i spread the paperwork over my coffee table where i studied it for clues in between watching youtube dog training videos and searching for websites that would explain how tildy was acting.
in the first 24 hours i received three fear bites from touching her in the wrong places too soon or from resource guarding. i observed tildy barking at other dogs, lunging at cars and trucks, and her fear of humans in general. she was peeing inside, and i caught her biting her hind feet and tail until she cried out. she did the same with her tush. it was all so sad and confusing to watch.
i had a giant HOLY CRAP moment when it occurred to me that tildy had possibly been a breeding dog, which meant that she was taken away from her own mama and litter mates too early to get properly socialized, received minimal love and training in general, and probably had her own litters taken away in a cruel, premature way. (read: human hands and treatment = NO BUENO.)
we started working together on average two hours a day, with hugo enthusiastically following along. desensitization, obedience, socialization-- all types of training. i read a couple dozen different articles about reactivity in dogs, rehabing breeding dogs, socializing abused dogs, and how to make this experience okay for me and hugo if we were to go forward. i immediately hired brilliant local trainer janet vera, and the gang at active paws. i also joined a facebook group for parents of sensitive dogs, which helped emotionally.
(are you thinking-- isn't this is all just a BIT TOO MUCH? why didn't i just RETURN her? it's okay. these are valid questions. very.)
there were plenty of days in the early weeks when i indulged a good cry wondering if i'd broken the peaceable kingdom hugo and i built together, convinced that i couldn't possibly "cure" this hurt and damaged dog, managing the feelings of genuine anger toward a foster group that either gave me falsified paperwork or deliberately chose not to tell the whole story no matter how many questions i asked and how many times we e-mailed back and forth.
but in the seven weeks since tildy joined our family, i've seen all three of us grow, and not just be strong, but FEEL STRONG, which in my experience, is more important.
as homework for tildy's first training appointment (week five), i was asked to write down the issues i felt the most urgency about. that list had three big ticket items on it, but being a balance seeker in all things, i decided to make a companion list of what tildy had learned and areas she had improved.
in week one tildy learned sit, stay, down, wait, let's go, come, check-in (eye contact), trade'ya (drop it), shhh (my signal for being quiet). she had stopped resource guarding with food and was much better at resource guarding with toys. tildy had improved at walking on a leash. most significant for me was how quickly she began trusting my touch.
by week two tildy could maintain her command (sit, for example) while hugo did something different (down or come). peeing inside became much less frequent. tildy showed that she could be an excellent listener. her eye contact improved, and she let me take her photo without growling at the camera afterward.
during week three, tildy had her first off leash experience and was a natural. she followed hugo around, sniffed other dogs, and even a greeted a few people without growling or barking. tildy started showing confidence in her meet and greets at the dog park, and i learned to tell EVERYONE we encountered that tildy does not like to be pet and not to try. (at all. seriously. DON'T.) this turned tildy's fear dial way down, and gave people a chance to like her instead of thinking that she was one of those angry, scary dogs that they should write off. there was a noticeble positive energetic shift in our time at the park and on the trails.
each week tildy improves. and each week there are clear and obvious setbacks. but isn't that true for us all? do any of us really experience life and learning in a straight line? aren't we each in the midst of managing our triggers, our physical and emotional hurts, our lack of trust in people, and the hard lessons life is teaching us?
tildy and hugo and i have decided to take the long road together. we are committed, and have given ourselves full permission to love each other one tiny, meaningful day at a time, however that day manifests itself. our road is the take it slow/no timeline/no expectations/hope and patience kind of long, and we're so grateful to have you walking it with us...