Huddled, fearful, in the corner though he was, Samuel was not wasting time. He was watching. Thinking. Calculating. Analyzing.
And gradually I got to know him. And he got to know him. Because Samuel never had a chance to be before. To be himself. The self he was meant to be. That is what abuse and trauma do. One of the things they do. Whether in people or in dogs. They destroy what was, what could have been, what might have been, what was meant to be. They rob the abused, the traumatized, the victims, of their selves.
And so, as I got to know Samuel, and Samuel got to know Samuel, difficult though his first month of freedom was, Samuel demonstrated himself to be a determined and plucky participant in the rejection of his past, and in his own recovery. And it showed. Right away, it showed. As soon as I took him running. Running was the key.
Outdoors, despite his past, Sam becomes himself. And never more than when he is running. That must be why he loves it so much. That must be why it was so horrific for Sam to be locked day and night in a cage, as he undoubtedly was, probably by some puppy-mill breeder. Like most rescue dogs, Samuel came into rescue un-neutered.
Grass and trees. Birds and breezes. Squirrels and cats. Twigs and leaves. And individual blades of grass. They all call to Samuel.
Outdoors. Running. Immediately. He revealed a different dog. Confident. Engaged. Playful. Very playful. Alive. Very alive. And I saw it right away. As soon as I took him running with my dog, Sam’s Best Friend.
Out front, pulling at the end of his leash, leading the parade, petite though he is, Sam holds himself ramrod straight. Head high. Movement bold, precise and strong. Sam’s gait has something of the military about it. Except that, somehow, with the spring in his step, it manages to be jaunty at the same time. The navy maybe? The brass band?
Except when he is running full speed. Then, he becomes a short legged Italian Greyhound or Whippet. As fast as a Standard Poodle. Flying through the air. On tiny, sturdy legs with too-big feet. Feet that do not seem to ever touch terra firma. Graceful. Free. A dancer. A prancer. A whirler. A twirler. Black eyes darting. Here. There. What was that? What is that? Where did that squirrel go? Why is that branch there? Catch that leaf! Pounce on that fallen branch. Oh I missed that blade of grass! Wait I have to go back and get it! Sam’s mind races along with his body. Sam’s spirit soars.
Samuel on the Run (Copyright.)
And all this while the entire world still terrified him. People. Men in particular. Cars. Buses. Garbage cans – plastic garbage cans. Lawn mowers. Leaf blowers. Telephones. Running Water. Car keys. Bicycles. Bags. Arm movements. All arm movements. Hands. Feet. Leg movements. Voices. Coughs. Sneezes. Throat clearings. Going into rooms. Going into buildings. Going out of rooms. Going out of buildings. Going through doors. The fizz of a carbonated drink. The sound of opening doors. Closing doors. Drinking. Eating. Being given a treat. Being touched. Toys. Balls. In sum, everything. Except other dogs. Sam loves other dogs.
I was awed by his courage. His chutzpah. His bravado. Watching him, that first month, with his cheeky, saucy, insouciant strut down the grass-in-the-middle-of-the-street, I was immediately reminded of Edith Piaf, the “Little Sparrow” of the streets of Paris. Edith would have understood this little dog. And he, her. Birds of a feather, the two of them. Little Sparrows, both.
And so, not surprisingly, Samuel learned the meaning of the word “Walkie” immediately. And the meaning of the two dog leashes in my hand. The mere sight of them sends Sam into paroxysms of delight. Jumping and running and laughing and barking, around and around the house. His small body seems too small to contain his huge, and ever-burgeoning spirit. His huge commitment to life. “To life, To life, L’Chaim,” he seems to shout, as he bounces here … then there. Like the rubber ball he does not yet know how to play with. That he is afraid of. L’Chaim, indeed, Samuel.
And he is torn between his commitment to standing still to get his leash on so he can go “walkies”, and expressing the sheer joy that overwhelms him at the mere thought of it.
“Catch me. Catch me. Please catch me.” He seems to say as he bounces up to the leash, only to leap away again for yet another race around the house.
That Samuel needed and deserved help was always self-evident. But that this was the spirit lurking behind the veil of terror that enveloped the tiny, terrified dog I had seen at the Shelter. That was surprising. Astonishing. This charming, engaging, intelligent, sweet, vivacious dog.
It goes without saying. In this first month. Since Samuel could not be approached. He could not be stroked. Or touched in any other way. Except forcefully. And that was not on the table.
But in the truck. On the front seat right next to me. He sat, calm and still, on truck trips. Always. Samuel loves to go for rides. Even though he’s too small to see out the window. And so, as he lay there, quietly, I stroked him constantly. At first his expression was quizzical. And nervous. What are you doing? What is this? Are we supposed to do this? Do we have to do this? His eyes seemed to ask.
Watching those eyes that first month. Those shining, coal-black eyes. As he lay on the seat next to me. And I stroked him. I saw something else too. Yes. He was alert. As he would always be. As he may always be. Constantly alert to the possibility of impending horror and abuse. But I also saw an unwinding, a letting go. Could this be the beginning of a willingness to reconsider. A willingness to trust. When all he had ever known had told him, No. Don’t. Run.
Or could it quite simply be exhaustion. Because clearly Sam’s life had been utterly exhausting. Or both?
And it was during that first month that I realized, for the first time, the magnitude of the challenge that lay before Sam, and all those who have experienced violent abuse and terror and trauma. Not only would he have to learn to trust human beings and to trust the world. No small feat given his experiences. Not only that.
But he would also have to unlearn everything he had learned to date about people and the world. And that would be overwhelmingly difficult. And dangerous. For him. Because, from Sam’s point of view, those things had worked. He was still alive wasn’t he?
Add the two learning challenges together, and the size and complexity of Samuel’s challenge becomes immediately apparent.
But Samuel was up to the task.
Samuel figured out his own answer. His time spent huddled in the corner of the room was used productively. He watched. He observed. He analyzed. And he decided on a plan.
He saw that nothing bad ever happened to his Best Friend, my dog. So he decided if he stayed beside his Best Friend. Right beside him. Sometimes under him. Under his belly. Always right there. And if he did everything that his Best Friend did. And nothing more or less. Then. Maybe he would be OK. And he could figure out this new way of doing things.
He was right, of course. And it worked. Because Sam’s Best Friend is a kind, gentle dog. And his Best Friend knows what happened to Samuel. And his Best Friend never corrects Sam’s behavior. He accepts behavior from Samuel that he would never accept from another dog. Because he knows. He does, however, on occasion, eat Samuel’s dinner and treats, if given half a chance, as Samuel has observed. Which just goes to show. That even deities are not flawless.
And so, for example, Samuel watched how his Best Friend gets his hair clipped with the clippers. Clippers terrified Samuel. He could not be clipped. But, gradually, gaining in confidence and boldness, Samuel approached closer and closer to his Best Friend getting groomed with the clattering, noisy clippers. Eventually, Samuel began to circle around his Best Friend while he was getting clipped. Looking directly into his Best Friend’s face every minute or so. To read how his Best Friend, his God, was feeling. Because for Samuel. If it’s OK with his God. Then it’s OK with him. And he’s going to try to do it too.
During that first month, Samuel learned many, many things. That he could go through the doorway of the Avid Reader bookstore and live to tell the tale. That he could go into Newsbeat and all the man there wanted to do was give him a treat. That he could sit on the Davis Food Co-op patio and despite the clanging and banging of grocery carts and the scraping sounds of metal tables and chairs on a flagstone floor, he could leave in one piece. And above all, that none of the people he met had hurt him.
But most of all what he learned was that nothing bad happened to him. And he had a friend. His Best Friend. Whose judgment he could rely on. And whose body he could stand beneath.
The Bichon tail, like the Poodle tail, is naturally carried high. But not Sam’s. During this time, he never, ever lifted his tail from the lowest point it could assume. And he certainly never wagged it.
Sam continued to reject all attempts to touch him. All attempts to feed him by hand. Even when hungry. Even when salivating. He continued to refuse to drink in public. Even when very thirsty. He continued to only eat and drink in complete privacy. He never made eye contact. Sam continued to physically turn away from all attempts to interact with him .
But, he was busy. Constantly evaluating the world around him. Constantly trying to learn and unlearn. He had a daunting task. But Samuel was ready to take it on. That much was clear. Very clear.