Kindred Souls

Four years ago, The Scientist and I adopted a dog. This is Emma, a few days after we brought her home:

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Emma was a rescue. She spent nearly 3 months in the shelter system. The week we adopted her, she was featured in the shelter’s weekly newspaper ad that highlights the hard cases. We didn’t know that at the time.

When we visited the shelter, The Scientist and I agreed to walk around separately and then compare notes on the dogs that seemed like good possibilities. Emma was on The Scientist’s list; I hadn’t noticed her. Most of the dogs in the shelter come running to the door of their enclosure when a person walks by. Emma sat in the back corner, wary and watchful.

But that was okay. I understand what it means to fear change.

She fit my criteria (female, medium-sized, short-haired, not hyper or teething or a submissive piddler) so we took her out to the shelter’s backyard for a visit. As soon as we let her off the leash, she ran to the opposite side of the enclosure, as far away from us she could get.

We sat down on the gravel and waited. Eventually she came over to tentatively check us out. I didn’t realize at the time what a huge step this was for her. After talking it over, we decided to take her home.

We had no idea what we were getting into.

Shortly after arriving home, I took her out into our walled-in backyard. When I turned on the hose to water some newly planted trees, she jumped the three-foot wall and bolted.

All I kept thinking as I tried to lure her close enough to grab was, “If I call the shelter and report her missing on the same day we adopted her, they’ll never let me have another dog.”

I finally managed to coax her back into the yard. In the coming days, every time I turned on the hose she bolted over the wall. When I unloaded the dishwasher, she ran off to hide in another room. When the laser printer started up, she fled from my office like a bomb had gone off. When I picked up a ball to throw it, she cowered and hid under a bush.

But that was all okay. I understand what it means to have seemingly irrational triggers.

We took her to the vet for a check-up. One of the first things the vet said was, “You need to start socializing this dog immediately or she’ll bond exclusively with you and won’t be able to tolerate anyone else.”

At the time, I was having trouble imagining her bonding with anyone. She was content to spend her days alone in the yard. Some nights it took me a half hour or more to get close enough to leash her and bring her inside. Even when it was snowing, she preferred to dig a hole and curl up in it, oblivious to the snowflakes accumulating on her. Once I got her inside (she refused to let the Scientist get close enough to leash her), we had to lie flat on the floor and be very quiet to get her to approach us voluntarily.

But that was okay. I understand what it means to be slow to trust strangers.

She was an exceptionally good dog. She climbed on the couch once. I told her to get off. She never did it again. She never chewed up a shoe or a sock or anything else that wasn’t a dog toy. She rarely had an accident inside. What she did do–and still does when she’s anxious–is pace. Relentlessly. In circles. She also compulsively dug holes all over the yard.

But that was okay. I understand what it means to engage in repetitive comforting activities when you’re anxious.

I researched how to socialize a traumatized dog. I rewarded her for channeling her stress into her chew toys, for smelling objects that frightened her, for making eye contact. We enrolled in puppy kindergarten. For the first six weeks, we had to carry her into the classroom because there was no way in hell she was going through that door voluntarily.

It was too noisy, too unfamiliar and there were too many strangers. It took both of us to manage her during the hour-long class. We were all exhausted when it was time to go home.

But that was okay. I understand what it means to struggle with new situations, strangers, and loud noises.

I read and read. I was becoming an expert on dog socialization. One book after another emphasized the importance of routines in making a traumatized dog feel secure. A dog that knew what to expect was a happy dog.

This was not news to me.

Gradually we got to know Emma and she got to know us. We discovered that she has some scars–one of her ears never grew (it’s all scar tissue), her muzzle is scarred, and her right rear hip bone sits half out of the socket, poorly healed from some unknown injury. We don’t know her early history, but the evidence points to a rough start in life.

em1

We also discovered that she loves to play and is very affectionate with people she’s grown used to. She warms up to friendly strangers more quickly these days. She’s still terrified of children, but has learned to politely share an elevator, as long as everyone stays on their own side.

She’s a loyal guard dog, an enthusiastic running partner and she instinctively knows when one of us needs comfort. The last time I had a meltdown, she came and laid her head on my cheek as I was curled up on the floor, crying. She reminds me to feed her if I forget and nudges at my elbow to get me to take a break when I’ve been at the computer too long.

She’s come to understand what I need in much the same way I learned to understand her in those early weeks and months.

They say dogs resemble their people–or is it the other way around?–and as you’ve probably guessed, Emma and I are kindred souls. I wonder if The Scientist picked her out because she reminded him of me.

42 thoughts on “Kindred Souls”

  1. Oh I so love dogs! And yes, I believe you were meant for one another, just as my Buffett and I were meant to be. The human- dog bond is a special one, and many lessons are exchanged, as you already know. Enjoy! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. They’re amazing creatures, aren’t they? I’m very allergic to dogs and suffer mightily for the first couple of weeks with a new dog in the house, but it’s always turned out to be more than worth it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Awww, this is adorable. My Edgar and I are incredibly bonded. I got him as a puppy at 8 weeks; he’s a border collie, sheltie, and American Eskimo mix. He sat on my lap on the way home from picking him up and was afraid of everything. He gets freaked out by loud noises, barks nonstop, and then cowers under the kitchen chair I sit in. At night he sleeps on top of me or right next to me. He’s my living weighted blanket. He will go after anyone that yells at me or acts like they want to hurt me, and I think he’d die for me if someone came after me. He’s my best friend. He gets scared when we have people over for the holidays, so he has to go in the basement to keep him from biting them =( I wish he could behave, but I completely understand how he feels.

    1. Emma likes to cuddle too. She isn’t allowed on the bed (her hip can tolerate jumping on and off furniture) so sometimes we cuddle on a blanket on the floor. Dogs make the best weighted blankets. ๐Ÿ™‚

      It sounds like Edgar is really protective of you. Emma is pretty shy with strangers, unless she senses a threat, then she’ll get between me and the other person and show them all of her teeth while growling like a hundred pound rottie.

      1. Edgar thinks he’s a big dog too. He’s super protective of me and my mom. When I wash my hair in the sink or do dishes/cook, he sits where the cabinets form a corner and guards me.

  3. What a lovely happy story!

    Kudos to you for taking on an animal that most would not have given a chance, and doing all the hard work to help her become a good pet! And a beautiful story.

    She looks great too…

    My 2 dogs are rescues, but from a pound. Not directly… One has been surrendered to a pound when she was a puppy, but I had to do a bit of detective work to figure that out. I prefer to have a ‘middle man’ between me and a pound, such as a foster carer who knows the dog and who has already started to work with the dog’s possible issues. However, I like the idea of rescuing a dog or cat directly from the pound. Just go there and relieve 1 from its uncertain wait in cages/kennels, and take it home. I follow 2 local pounds’ facebook pages (and Desert Dogs), and often see the pounds’ photos of found and ‘urgent’ dogs & cats, and feel tempted to go and take one home and add it to the pack:-)

    I dare not though … One thing is that any dog requires lots of training and attention, and comes with fairly high costs (vet et.c.). Another is the high risk that the dog has big behaviour problems due to abuse or neglect in the past which we can know nothing about. But I have a lot of respect for people who do dare take it on and do all the hard work to re-socialise under-socialised pet animals.

    1. I don’t mean to imply that all dogs (and cats) who end up in pounds are under-socialised and have behavioural problems. Many are just fine. They may be loved, well trained family members who are lost and are never found by their owners, or who have lost their owners, and some are surrendered ‘due to no fault of their own’.

      Our post-pound dog has a few issues, but is overall a very well behaved, affectionate and easy-to-correct dog.

      1. It seems like pounds have a mix of puppies who haven’t had time to develop issues and surrendered/lost pets as well as dogs like Emma that were taken in off the streets or had suffered some kind of abuse. The shelter we adopted her from offered a lot of support for the hard cases, including adopting some dogs out with 8 weeks of free training weekly training classes and having a hotline with a trainer available to offer questions for families.

        I think the really tough dogs can also be the dogs that become fiercely loyal and affectionate with some love and training.

      2. The shelter you adopted from sounds amazing. I have never heard of a shelter that offers so great adoption support and services… Most appear happy to put down difficult/’unadoptable’ dogs ASAP.

        I think the really tough dogs can also be the dogs that become fiercely loyal and affectionate with some love and training.

        I suspect that to be the case too.

    2. Rescue dogs can be tough to integrate into a family/home. We sunk many many hours into training and socializing her and still she can turn skittish at the drop of a hat. Last year we moved from a very rural area to a city, so there was a lot of adjusting again. After some iffy moments, she’s fine now with walking on a sidewalk alongside traffic or encountering bicyclists and things like that.

      I know what you mean about wanting another one! If Emma didn’t have her hip issue and could play freely with other dogs without risking a serious injury, I’d get her a pack mate in a heartbeat. I’m a sucker for pound puppies.

      1. It sounds like you have done a lot of great work with Emma!

        Our dogs were actually easy to integrate. With that I don’t mean that we haven’t sunk countless hours into training and playing with them, because we have… and still do. That is just the nature of having dogs, even when they’re not problem dogs, they really require an amazing volume of education & repetitions & repair when new quirks pop up due to unforeseen reactions to things. Which is why I would be reluctant to take on a difficult dog… it is work intensive and ‘exciting’ enough as it is!

        One of our rescue dogs is a Desert Dog (rescued stray aboriginal village dog, ‘camp dogs’), so she is super dog social and very smart (and a bit brutal). The other is the ex-poundie, but we bought her as a private rehoming via a foster carer.

        This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but: we had our 2 puppies in our 1 bedroom flat in the beginning… It went surprisingly well. We had good time at the time, and both worked from home. We lived in a beach suburb full of parks and friendly well socialised dogs. Because the dogs were puppies at the time and we had no yard, they needed lots of walk… So they got much more intense training & socialising than they would if we’d had a yard we could just let them out into. That has proven beneficial in the long run, after we moved into the house (5 months after we got the first puppy, 1 month after we got the 2nd). The dogs are very well mannered inside, relaxed & easy going and walk beautifully on leash (mostly).

        The ex-poundie developed some dog-aggression issues when on leash after we moved to the house (actually, they both did) and met many aggressive (/totally erratic) dogs on the walks and almost no friendly dogs, but is pretty good now. We met an erratic American Staffy in the bush this morning, a totally freaked out barking & pulling monster, and my dogs kept calm. I was very proud!

        1. Emma is a “rez dog” (a stray rescued near/on Native American land) which sounds quite similar to your Desert Dogs.

          It sounds like you did a great job socializing your dogs early on around people, etc. We have some occasional dog aggression issues too (with females who are neither obviously more dominant or more submissive) but we keep working on them and do our best to avoid potential problem situations. It’s really a never ending adventure, isn’t it?

      2. Fascinating! She does have ‘the look’ in her eyes a bit in the photos… The feral dog look of life experience, survival, street smartness and reflection. A post-stray dog is a special creature have around… Like a fascinating story book in an alien language! You can’t read it, but you can sense the presence of past adventures…

        My dogs came fully socialised, so the training is mainly just obedience, routines/rules and positive conditioning.

        I don’t know if a ‘rez’ is similar to an Australian camp dog. Camp dogs are usually very social (albeit some can be cheeky/bitey;-). They live in desolate villages, often surrounded by desert or arid lands, and they often have owners, but not in a Western-culture sense. They roam around freely outside and inside houses and may sleep in someone’s bed at night (particularly cold nights), but they don’t get fed if there is no food. There are typically way, way, way too many of them – I think most typical remote aboriginal villages have this camp dog overpopulation problem – and where there is no animal management programme in place to try to deal with it (desexing, feeding and treatment), there may be starved, parasite ridden (mangey) camp dogs hanging out everywhere. These villages have very limited resources (such as dog food), no vets and a very long cultural tradition for the human/dog relationship. The dogs used to be Dingos, which can hunt their own food and have a restricted breeding cycle, so that’s the explanation for the problem.

        My dog is from a village with an effective dog programme (‘Desert Dogs’). One person down there takes care of homeless/unwanted/surplus puppies and have them in her house, from where they are flown to Sydney to be adopted to city homes as pet. They do have a great puppy hood down here (except they have to share everything with many other dogs and generally, where camp dog populations are under control with desexing programmes et.c, camp dogs look quite happy. They are extremely well socialised/exposed to a great variety of dogs and people of all ages from early puppyhood and used to look out for themselves. Anecdotically they are said to be smarter and more independent than pet dogs that are bred to be pet dogs, maybe because of their life experiences, or the logic of surviving (requires smart choices) or their semi-feral, possibly hybrid dingo genetic make-up. My dog fits the profile… She is very smart, surprisingly talented at manipulating other dogs, and very independent (/initiative rich and stubborn).

        1. I think it sounds like a fairly similar environment. Reservations tend to have a lot of un-neutered/spayed feral dogs or dogs that are someone’s pet but don’t necessarily live indoors. Packs of dogs hang out in parking lots waiting for scraps or leftovers. They’re more or less friendly because they depend on handouts. But Emma came with some scars that look like the result of a dog fight so I’m not sure how well socialized the dogs are in general.

          She’ll always be part wild animal. For weeks after we brought her home, she would walk all around the back yard, tipping over rocks and eating the bugs she found under them as if she didn’t quite believe that we’d feed her on a regular basis. To this day, if we let her off the leash, she will happily run off and not come back until she’s good and ready. One night she ran away and didn’t come until 4 AM, presumably when she got hungry. ๐Ÿ™‚

      3. Itโ€™s really a never ending adventure, isnโ€™t it?

        I totally agree…

        Suddenly an unforeseen trigger in the surroundings emerges and nullifies all the training which was supposed to be general behavioural rules applicable to all situations…

      4. Sheโ€™ll always be part wild animal. For weeks after we brought her home, she would walk all around the back yard, tipping over rocks and eating the bugs she found under them as if she didnโ€™t quite believe that weโ€™d feed her on a regular basis. To this day, if we let her off the leash, she will happily run off and not come back until sheโ€™s good and ready. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Semi/post-feral dogs are great entertainment:-) Freya (our ex-camp dog) also go hunting in the yard at sunset. She is almost cat-like or wolf-like to look at. She stands totally still and listens with her head tilted, then suddenly jumps right up in the air and jolt down on *The Prey* (usually an insect) with her front paws stretched in front of her. Also, she has selective hearing and never misses a chance to go cruising if the front door isn’t properly closed… But I do run with her off-leash in the bush in the morning (most of the way). It has taken a while to get to that point and I have nowhere near full control of her, but she seems to have figured that her off-leash privileges will be immediately suspended if the begin on any of the cat-and-mouse games or bolting off she used to have fun with when she got the chance.

        There does seem to be significant similarities between ‘rez’ and ‘camp dog’ living conditions, at least superficially (I don’t know anything about native American cultures, but there are probably many cultural/structural similarities between indigenous people across the world)

        Camp dogs are an integral part of aboriginal culture(s) and considered family members (in some cases/with particular dogs, spirits of deceased human family members). The dogs are sometimes exposed to abuse, where they have become pests due to out of control population growth and are literally EVERYWHERE. Indoor, outdoor, in the kids’ beds, in their mangey, worm-infected and starved condition. That’s a situation where the dogs are so many and in such poor condition that they burden the health condition of kids et.c. in the communities they live in. Their owners are families who most likely can’t imagine to not have any dogs at all, but who have many more dogs than they need and want. In some cases 20 – 30 dogs per household!

        In (many/most) aboriginal cultures, dogs can’t be euthanised – or at least not by aboriginals (whites can do it, if in agreement with the owner). It would be like killing family members. These communities also don’t have a tradition for treating sick dogs (and don’t have remedies to do it), or feel responsible if dogs are starving because there is not enough food. They prefer to let surplus/sick/injured dogs ‘die natural way’.

        The foster carer who look after dogs in the village we got our dog from, had over 40 dogs in her house at some stage… literally. She makes food for all the dogs in the morning, turn on AC and TV and go to work while the dogs hang out watching TV all day. Then when she comes home she gets them all in her van and drive them to the waterhole (their heads in the open car windows, as dogs do:-) and take them for a long walk… all off leash… She is doing an amazing job, and the puppies coming from there are very well socialised and smart and cooperative. The general condition of the dogs in that village is quite good compared to the standard, and their numbers fairly well under control due to desexing and the ‘From The Desert to the Beach’ dog re-homing programme (basically, sending camp dog puppies to be rehomed as pets in Sydney).

        Sorry if I am providing too much info which you haven’t actually asked for (is this what is called ‘info-dumping’?) … Please feel free to not read it if you don’t feel like it:-)

        1. I think is info-dumping and I’m quite enjoying it! ๐Ÿ™‚ I like learning new things so I like when people infodump. Oh, I think I’m going to make an infodump post at some point and invite everyone to each me about something they love!

          The integration of the dogs into aboriginal life does sound quite different than the relationship dogs have to humans in Native American culture (as far as I know). However the semi-feral nature of the dogs and their overpopulation/health problems are similar. So some similarities and some differences.

          That foster carer sounds like a very generous person!

      5. I am happy that you are enjoyed rather than inconvenienced! I am really glad about your attitude … that you see it as an opportunity to learn about things people are passionate about.

        I don’t mind info-dumping either, actually (depending on the topic though). I like to learn new things.

        But I am trying to not do it. Actually I figured out many years ago that this type of conversation (info-dumping… although I didn’t have a word for it) puts people off, and I don’t do it at all when I talk (I don’t think)… I try to say as little as possible and listen as much as possible. However, my self-censorship doesn’t extend to writing. I have come to realise that:-) I don’t think it is too bad, people can just choose to not read it.

        Oh, I think Iโ€™m going to make an infodump post at some point and invite everyone to each me about something they love!

        That sounds like a great idea!

        That foster carer sounds like a very generous person!

        Very much so. And she serves as an encouraging reminder about how much difference one person can make for an entire community and its ‘extensions’.

    3. Just spotted a missing word, I hope it did not change the meaning: “My 2 dogs are rescues, but from a pound.” should have been “My 2 dogs are rescues, but not from a pound.”… Sorry.

      1. The ‘but’ doesn’t make sense in the original sentence, so I hoped that made it obvious there was a missing ‘not’. A shelter and a pound are just different words for the same thing, so it would not make sense to respond to your info that your dog is a rescue dog from a shelter, by saying that my dogs are rescues too, but from a pound.

  4. I have a fur ball too. He’s helped me when I feel depressed. What would I do without a dog and Jesus. My emotional support system!

  5. (I have been reading your the last few days, starting from the early posts. It is wonderful. Sorry in advance for any spelling/grammer mistakes, English is not my first language and I don’t live in english speaking contry)
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    I have tears in my eyes after reading this post. Your relationship sounds so wonderful! I am so happy to read about such wonderful relationships. ๐Ÿ™‚

    We also have a dog, Lady. When we adupted her, it was quite the same. She wasn’t barking and howling like the other dogs in the animal-shelter. She puted her paws on the fance and watched us, so my grandmother decided that we will take her. I was 12 or 13. 14 years passed scince that day, but I still remamber carring her in my armes to the car… I think she trusted me.
    I became aware quite early of how smart she is. I learned to hnderstand the different sounds and gestures she made. Nowdays, she is and old dog, with a lot of grey fur. I still understand her well.
    It is quite surprising how a person like me, who struggels with Human body language, finds it easier then others to understand her. She is communicating with me. I know when she wants somthing, and I talk to her (I even make some small talk :-D). I know she does not understand most of the words, but they are not importent to us.

    My mother askes (I don’t know if it is a joke or not, she doesn’t tell) why I talk to her with more compassion then to ther family members, and why I let her in my room without any problems. The thing is, we are quite alike. We both live with people who don’t understand us and are afraid of our own species. We communicate on some level and we give each other the space each of us need.
    I belive that we have some special conection. And we care for each other.

    P.S -This is somthing unrelated I want to share about her: during the last war (I live in Israel) she has learned really fast to run to the door, and then we opened it to go with us to the shelter – without us having to carry her. She used to be realy afraid of sirens before, but then she leared she can do somthing about it. In the shelter she walked to every one who was inside (including the neighbors) and just ask for some pats and back-rubes (although, I had to explain that this is all that she wsnts to some neighbors), helping herself and others to deal better with the stress and the sounds of explosens.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story about your dog, Lady. It sounds like you and she have a very special relationship. I especially enjoyed hearing about how she has learned to go outside by herself and follow you to the shelter without help. I’m sure the other people in the shelter appreciate her efforts to deal with the stress and to comfort them. Dogs are amazingly empathetic that way.

      I’m so glad that you took the time to share your story and that you have been enjoying the blog. No worries about spelling or grammar, I completely understood what you meant.

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