Ordinarily, we try to keep the tone and style of our foster dog blog as light and fun as possible. We strive to be totally honest, but keep things positive. There are so many sad stories out there already about the plight of animals and how the world and society have wronged them – you don’t have to go far to find these stories. Ordinarily, this is not a source.
But then we met Blue. Our journey with Blue has only just begun, but we can already see that it’s going to be a challenging one. We don’t know what this little girl has been through in her two short years, but we know that life has been scary and sad and given her reason to mistrust the world. We hope that with the right combination of care and training by us, and the right adopters down the road, Blue will live a happy, fulfilling life. We feel that the challenge ahead of us is a daunting one: the road of rehabilitation is long, and patient, experienced adopters willing to work hard with an emotionally wounded dog are hard to come by.
The other day I picked up her file from the shelter. Within, I found all of her records from animal control, the vet, and the behavioral evaluator. On those pages I found fragments of the story of Blue’s short life. Blue was picked up as a stray in bad shape. She was emaciated – weighing just 40 of the 55 pounds she now weighs. Her fur was patchy, with large portions missing. Her back legs were swollen and red, appearing painful to the touch. She had red sores on all of her feet and ankles. She had had puppies. She was described as timid. A little fearful. Quiet.
The good people at the Montgomery County Humane Society resurrected her. She was seen by vets, treated for a host of skin conditions, and put on a weight gain diet. She was walked by staff and visited regularly by dedicated pit bull-loving volunteers. She learned to cope with shelter life, but always remained a little shy. A little reserved. A little reluctant. She lived in this limbo for almost three months.
So we pulled her. We thought—once we bring her home to a stable, warm environment, we will be able to fix her. She will learn to trust and love. Turns out it’s not so simple. The best way I can describe this girl right now is conflicted. Sometimes, she is happy and confident. Other times, she is anxious and panicky. Some people she trusts with all her heart, and other people make her need to cower, bark, and growl. On the first day, she wouldn’t eat in my presence. Since then, she won’t eat unless I’m right by her side. She took to me immediately and has been nothing but love and snuggles since I picked her up at the shelter. With foster dad it has been the opposite. Initially, she could barely be within 15 feet of him without displaying tons of calming/fear signals, interspersed with barking and growling.
Luckily the love of my life has the biggest, kindest, most patient heart, and is working hard with her to teach her that he is not scary and dangerous. We met with a behaviorist over the weekend to talk about how best to proceed, and he reminded us of one of the most important and difficult parts of healing a dog like Blue: we can’t just snuggle her fears away, and it’s going to take a lot of diligent work and time. And even then, you can’t know for sure that you will succeed.
Experts say that it is usually possible to rehabilitate a fearful dog. Rescuers say they are the hardest ones to work with but also the most rewarding. Our brains say it’s going to be all new, exhausting, and that there are no guarantees. Our hearts say we’re willing to give it a try.