What the act of rescuing a dog really taught me.

Last night as I was trying to get the dogs to come inside so I could go to bed, I had memory which made me laugh. I had to write it down for a reason I cannot explain.

A friend of ours had come across a dog which needed to be rescued. She had been taken from an awful abusive home where she was starved and neglected. It was disgraceful. When we first saw her there was no way we were not going to help her. Her breed was Great Pyrenees, so she was tall as dogs go and should have had very long white fur. Her fur was all matted into giant brown clumps and packed with feces and urine. The short part of the story is she had been left on a short chain to starve to death until somehow the Humane Society got a hold of her. Large dogs, especially this breed don't fare the best in shelters, enter our friend and enter Snow who became Heidi into our lives. Sorry, the background is about as long as many of my posts all total.


We already had a St. Bernard, a giant breed dog- so what the heck, we are no strangers to large dogs. We had to help her. Here is the part where I have to enter the caveat- Great Pyrenees are not like any typical dog I have seen, read about, experienced, you get the idea. In my experience, the only comparison to the St. Bernard is size. Period. Don't get one without extensive studying. Trust me here. Great Pyrenees are a livestock guardian dog. They have been bred for hundreds of years to protect and that is their strength for sure. Fierce loyalty till death, protection of their flock and independence.

Rescue.
Part of the deal with agreeing to rescue her was that we ended up with dog classes to help socialize her. This was a huge undertaking in itself since they are naturally protective of their food and a starved version is really a scary thing to deal with. That is a whole other story. Our kids were fairly young at the time so the whole family went to the dog classes, we wanted everyone to be involved. Looking back at what we were really teaching the kids, it was likely one of the better ideas we had as parents.

"Obedience" Class
Ok, so there were lets say eight other dogs with their respective owners in the class. We would do the exercises and the training method was treats. This dog was nearly two years old and knew nothing. She had been chained up as a puppy and taught not a thing. Looking back it is kind of funny. She would sit down and there was no getting her up until she decided to  (just one example).  The treats did not work for her. I know now that these dogs are very wary of strangers and typically wont eat from someone they don't trust. So the dog training turned into the instructor who was a saint, coming to our house and working with us on her own time to help this dog.

The "Funny" Part
So let me get to the part that makes me laugh as I tear up in memory. Part of the class was where two owners would split up and go about forty feet away from each other. One held the dog, the other a treat. The person with the treat calls the dog and the labs, boxer, terriers, mutts etc..all take off running to their owner. They get to the other side with every version of exuberance, jumping, licking, you know, happy dog stuff. So I think we may have had all the kids with the treat begging and calling for her to come. She sat there, looked around and with the help of the instructor finally made a step in the "right" direction. She took a couple of steps more turned course and just began to wander off. She had no interest in the whole thing treats or no treats. This was after we watched the whole class pass the exercise without hesitation. The class was six weeks, the only way we would get her to come was at the end of a long rope. This is true independence I suppose. We still "passed" the course, but never that part, it was fun and we got many tools to help her adapt.

The Impact-
Heidi lived about five years after all of this and eventually lost a battle with cancer. For what a horrible beginning she had, the rest of her life could not have been much better. It took nearly two years of love for her to trust us. She never did become a "typical" dog, if you wanted her to come, she might have eventually, but it would definitely be on her terms and her timing. So last night as I am pleading with the two Pyrenees that now inhabit our house, many years after Heidi left us, to come inside, I am reminded of our obedience school failure. It makes me laugh with tears.

The Lasting Impact-
We had to help that dog. That dog eventually wove herself into the fabric of our family and became part of it. I would not trade a second of the experience for anything. We all learned lessons in compassion, love, nurture, and definitely patience. Four things the world I live in could always use more of. All because we were trying to help someone else, this someone just happened to be a dog.



Side (Bottom actually) Note-

I fell in love with the peculiar, independent traits of these dogs and while their behavior is a challenge, their uncanny perception of my state and condition as well as their method of communication led greatly to the inspiration of the Firetok series. While the book never makes this distinction formally, Firetok is definitely a Great Pyrenees.

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