Dogs & other creatures I've treasured; past & present: Stories & reflections.

Tag Archives: rehabilitation

Finnegan met me at the door when I got home yesterday. I know, that might not sound like much to most people, but to me, it absolutely was AMAZING. Besides, it wasn’t just that he met me at the door; it was the way in which he met me: exuberantly.

Finnegan has bonded so closely with me since I brought him home from the shelter December 14th that if I stop short, his cold, wet nose gets jammed into portions of my anatomy that truly prefer not to be exposed to clammy canine noses, even though I’m covered by clothing – it’s just that unnerving. He’s the perfect (or imperfect?) height to hit me “right there” every time I stop walking, & he’s always, always right behind me… I can count on Finn!

However, I realized that much of this tight “bond” had more to do with his fear of repeated loss than actual emotional attachment. I prayed daily for help. I also constantly touch Finnegan with loving hands. If he’s anywhere near me – & he usually is – he’s being stroked, scratched, “Furminated,” massaged, held, or hugged. There are so many ways to touch a dog without reaching his heart, it seems…

At bedtime I sit on the bedroom floor between both of “my boys,” Copper & Finn, & just love them both & whisper secrets into their ears. It’s important for them to fall to sleep knowing how much they are loved & wanted; these boys who were both abused & thrown away by others after nearly lifetimes spent trying to please. When I hear them each blow a hefty sigh, I feel as if they’ve given up their bad thoughts & dreams for the night. I bless them, kiss them, & leave them in peace. All of this worked with Copper back when he was so adamantly against forging a connection with me. So I’ve kept hoping it might also work with Finnegan.

Since Finn came home with me, he’s been an extremely low-key dog. The only time he’s displayed any “real” emotion was when he was crated & he went ballistic in a total frenzy to escape. Having to crate him every day for several weeks became terribly painful for both of us, as he absolutely abhorred it. Other than that, Finn gradually began showing interest in our twice-daily romps through the pastures instead of remaining pasted to my hip looking for approval (or because he was afraid I’d disappear). Still, Finnegan simply didn’t express true joy like other dogs. He seemed always guarded, as if afraid that something bad would happen if he either got too excited or was too happy. I was always so thrilled when he used his “happy tail” & “smiley face;” they told me he really was doing well & feeling content in our home.

But I prayed for more, of course. I prayed for the sign of that REAL connection between the pair of us. I wanted to know he loved me (because I’m just that needy).

And yesterday: Yesterday my sweet, faithful Finnegan met me at the door when I got home from work. He’s been crate-free for weeks now, after a horrific incident (for both of us) in which he quite literally panicked the crap out of himself while crated. He was miserable. I was miserable. It was all-‘round a wretched affair & I decided while digging poop out of the pads of his huge paws that I needed to find a way to make him crate-free – & I did. However, after nearly three weeks of being crate-free, yesterday was the first that Finn has ever met me at the door. Usually he waits for me to come in before he approaches to say “hi.” I suspect it’s the same fear of appearing too enthusiastic, lingering anxiety that some sort of painful retaliation might occur. Ah, but yesterday everything changed!

Of course, I didn’t suspect anything as I parked & gathered my belongings from the seat beside me. I got out, closed the door, & as I stepped toward the front of the van movement at the glass patio doors caught my peripheral vision. I glanced over toward the deck, expecting to see Copper performing his happy dance, wearing his “welcome home” grin, but I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before my eyes: Finnegan was at the door & he was doing his first-ever happy dance for me. He leaped into the air until his old hind feet even left the floor, his tail lashed back & forth in a veritable blur, & as I approached closer & closer to the door, he danced faster & faster. When I stepped onto the deck, Finn powered off his front paws & immediately threw himself forward onto the floor into the very first play-bow I’d ever seen him perform. He looked ridiculously adorable with his big old rump wiggling in the air! His ears were cocked as far forward as he could get them, his eyes were wide & gleaming, he was smiling broadly, & his tail was waving madly. Finnegan was beside himself with joy to see me. Even more astounding was that he felt confident enough & trusted me enough to display it. I was awed & humbled by his heartfelt demonstration.

It was all I could do to get inside the door with both of The Geezers frantic to greet me. It was awesome! I felt like I’d waited half a lifetime for Finn to not just desperately need me, but to love me, too. I dropped my belongings where I stood & sat on the kitchen rug, wrapping my arms around each of the boys. Copper death-breath kissed me & Finnegan tucked his head into my chest & sucked in huge breaths of my scent over & over again, as if imprinting me in his brain. I pressed my face against each dog’s neck in turn & did the same.

I marveled at the gifts these two damaged dogs have given me. It’s continually amazing to me how adaptable & endlessly forgiving dogs are. Both of these dogs – as a result of cruelties perpetrated upon them – had every right to never trust a single human being ever again; perhaps even to become vicious animals with no future as trustworthy companions. Nevertheless, each of them found a way to see contentment through the misery of subjugation, joy through the grief of betrayal, & learned to trust & love again through the fears of pain & loss. Unlike humans, canines have the extraordinary ability for living today & letting yesterday go, which Finnegan had just reminded me of once again, as Copper had two years previously.

Finnegan may never feel as free to demonstrate his emotions as “normal” dogs that haven’t experienced the abuse he has, but yesterday was a critical day for him; a turning point. Yesterday was the first day I saw The Real Finnegan break free from his iron-tight, inner constraints. The most perfectly wonderful part of it all was that he came dancing to meexuberantly, with his heart in his eyes.

Finnegan and Copper ~ "The Geezers"

Finnegan and Copper ~ “The Geezers”

Finnegan, Copper & me enjoying an ultra-warm January day.

Finnegan, Copper & me enjoying an ultra-warm January day.

“Recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit.”
– Sir Walter Scott ‘The Talisman’

“If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.”
– James Thurber

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I’ve been tossing this whole blogging idea around for quite a while & finally decided to just go for it. I suppose we’ll see how it goes! Anyway: welcome!

The stories or happenings I share may not always be lace-trimmed & perfectly well-kept, but consider this a sort of window into a wannabe writer’s mind & memories & future hopes & dreams. I plan to mostly write pieces about pets which have influenced my life, but there have been numerous other animals as well, so things could get a little weird now & then. Really, you just never know what’s going to greet you at GrayHaven Farm… And so the same will hold true for VelcroDogBlog.

My first post is a piece I’m very happy with, both because I just like it & because it’s true. The dog’s name is changed, but the facts of the story are real. The dog currently shares his heart with me & I’m honored to share my home with him. He’s an incredible boy. I look forward to any comments you wish to share.

I hope you enjoy your visit with us; better yet, I hope you’ll become a regular visitor & encourage some friends to join us!

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us (me & my dogs),

Carlene

“Every visit’s a peek inside…”


I met the surrendering owner at the sliding door and gaped in utter astonishment as the gasping, black-masked fawn Boxer anxiously entered the house. I’d been forewarned that Elvis was a “bit overweight.” However, there’s a certain level of beyond-disbelief when over one hundred thirty pounds of morbidly obese Boxer waddles in a vaguely obscene fashion into one’s kitchen. He was so corpulent that he carried ‘saddle bags’ on his hips. His entire body was overwhelmed by flab and upon first glance; I found it impossible to determine his gender. I felt my heart squeeze in compassion for Elvis’s obvious suffering and I struggled to shore up my emotional defenses. I had filled my life with small dogs precisely to avoid the Call I was hearing inside myself from this sad behemoth; how could I guess how much he’d come to mean to me?

I am a Boston terrier person by choice – exhibiting AKC Bostons, plus rescuing and fostering Bostons and other “bully” breeds. Although I had no need of a mega-sized Boxer; something more than concern for the dog’s health yanked my attention back to the wheezing animal time and time again, as I discussed the surrender terms with the overwhelmed owner… While she completed the paperwork, I knelt on the floor before Elvis, squared my shoulders, and met his eyes with a dominant stare. He panted malodorous ‘death breath’ in my face and immediately flicked his eyes away from mine. I whispered nonsense to him and waited for his attention to come around. I stared strongly into his eyes again. He blinked and turned his head away and down, angling his entire body so it became lower, smaller than mine.  I was pleased and told him so, “What a sweet, soft boy you are!” and rubbed his silky cheeks.

The owner’s leave-taking was heart-rending to witness. Again, my eyes were drawn to Elvis. For all his bulk, he sat unobtrusively by the door, quivering and panting madly, ears erect and eyes wide within his shadowy mask. Elvis understood that a Big Change was here. He wanted his Person to give him direction – but she only let her guilty eyes skim over him as she squeezed by him out the door. When she stepped off the porch, Elvis’s breath caught harshly in his chest, not panting for the first time since I’d met him, not breathing at all for several moments, and then suddenly gasping out a single stunned bark as he watched his beloved Person climb into her car and drive away. The pain Elvis breathed into that single hoarse bark spoke of six years of devotion, companionship, and his innate drive to stand steadfastly by those in his charge. Deaf to all consolation, Elvis was a Boxer in mourning.

Within days, I knew I was keeping Elvis. His stoic acceptance of his situation broke my heart – and I wanted to earn his.  I put him on a weight reduction diet that consisted mainly of green beans, mixed with miserly servings of kibble. We went for meandering strolls in the field behind our barns. At the start, it was so difficult for him to navigate the two porch steps that I worried whether I could ever get him healthy. Halfway ‘round the two acre field and Elvis was spent; drool hanging from his chops, his docked tail hanging limp. Very slowly, the excess pounds vanished. As blubber melted away, Elvis breathed easier and walked lighter; he could sit like a normal dog. It was clear he looked forward to our walks, but though obedient, held himself remote from me. Within weeks, the canine could make the trek around the field three or four times, even trotting partway. I nicknamed him “The Hunk,” because he was becoming such a gorgeous dog.

An amazing thing gradually happened: Aloof Elvis noticed me. I observed that instead of just blandly accompanying me on our walks, he began to walk with me, often choosing to walk so close that he brushed my thigh. If I sat to rest, he paused. As summer waned, Elvis sat closer and closer until one evening I found myself propped in the sun warmed grass with an arm draped companionably around the now athletic Boxer, whispering silliness into one Spock-like cropped ear. It twitched and waggled; tickled. Hunk turned his head and focused his soft, deep gaze on mine. He looked at me.

            Two years later…

A flash at the edge of my vision catches my attention and I turn in time to see a large dog streak by my side, galloping flat-out. “There’s my Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love!” I call as he thunders past. His eyes are wide, shining; his ears are pinned back hard; his tongue is flagging out the side of his mouth, and I swear – I swear! – I can see a canine grin of utter joy on my dog’s face. He skids and spins to an untidy stop thirty feet before me, plants his paws, locks his docked tail impishly upright, and awaits my next move. I can see his eyes gleaming with anticipation within his inky mask.

“Come on, Hunk!” I holler at him and clap, crouching down into my own play pose. Immediately, Elvis collects himself and launches. I drop to my knees, spread my arms, and urge him on. As my gorgeous golden dog rockets toward me, I see love and joy beaming from his gaze and wide “Pac-Man” grin. I consider the comfort and companionship he has brought to my life and I wonder who really saved whom?

When Elvis reaches me; when this eighty-nine pound Boxer slews ungainly to a stop within the circle of my arms, he sits and pants his gleeful death-breath in my face. I laugh a bit misty-eyed as I press my forehead to his and rub his ears, his shoulders. I cup his velvety cheeks gently in my palms and look softly into his glowing, coffee-rich eyes…

My Hunk looks back at me.

copyright2012carlenegrayImage



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