Months 4 & 5
His fourth month away from abuse and fear, and away from the difficulties of a shelter environment, marked a clear, albeit gradual, turning point for Samuel. Away from a painful and degrading past, and toward an eventful and rewarding future.
No longer compelled to remain ever-wakeful and ever-alert for danger. No longer compelled to spend every moment anticipating abuse. No longer compelled to spend every moment plotting his escape. No longer compelled to fight for food and afraid to eat it when he got it. No longer completely and utterly exhausted by the constant vigilance and preparedness required to react and escape. During this month, Samuel was finally able to rest and recoup, a little more each day. He must have been absolutely exhausted. But now, finally, he was able to relax for more than a minute at a time.
And so on occasions he moved out of the corner of the room, into more central locations, especially when it was quiet. He began to lie down sometimes, instead of always remaining upright. Instead of always remaining standing or seated. Ready for a quick get-away. And, sometimes, while lying down, Samuel even stuck his legs straight out, back and front. Like a puppy. Without a care in the world. With that little gesture Samuel showed how far he had come in these three to four months. And how far he could go. What a plucky little dog! What spirit! What determination!
And because he could rest and relax, Samuel could now begin to explore life. He could begin to learn to live life. Now Samuel had the freedom, the time, the energy and the peace of mind necessary to observe and analyze his world. He watched everything that went on constantly, assiduously. Seeking to learn. Seeking to understand.
Sam had always been very attentive to what was going on around him. But now, it was clear, he was viewing the world from a different perspective and with a different demeanor. Now, he was watching the world out of bright-eyed interest and curiosity, rather than fear. Turning his head from side to side any time something happened that he did not quite understand. He began to make direct eye contact, by choice, instead of always turning his head away. And he did learn. And begin to understand.
Yet. Despite all these indications of increasing confidence and trust, Sam had never wagged his tail. Quite the opposite. Sam’s tail remained constantly, committedly, in the very lowest possible position. Down his back and tucked under his body, between his legs. Except when he met a group of other dogs. Beginning in the third month, Sam had begun to wag his tail at other dogs. And that in and of itself was huge for Sam. Because it indicated a recovered capacity for sociability. But, it was for dogs only. And Sam’s problems were not with dogs. They were with people.
Needless to say, the day that Samuel first wagged his tail would be cause for major celebration. A sure sign that he was truly enjoying, and trusting, life.
And, during this fourth month, that show stopping moment finally arrived. Samuel actually wagged his tail. At a person. For the first time ever. This was Samuel’s Rubicon. And he had crossed it. This was a huge, very clear, very concrete measure of how very far Sam’s trust, Sam’s confidence and Sam’s joie de vivre had come in the 3 plus months since his rehabilitation began.
Now, not only was he not recoiling completely from any and all human contact and proximity, as he had been initially. Now, he was actually, affirmatively, expressing pleasure at the presence of a human being.
This simple gesture, taken completely for granted by most dog owners, was a turning point. A turning point away from the pain and fear of the past. Turning to face the joy and the promise of Sam’s future.
Not only did Samuel no longer feel fear of all human beings. Now, Sammy knew there could be pleasure, companionship and fun in the company of a human being. Enough to make him wag his tail. After all that time. He had turned the corner in his relationship with people. Or, at least, with one person.
And, now, even when Samuel’s tail is not actually wagging, it is always carried upright, above his back, the natural position for the tail of a confident, happy Bichon Frise or a Poodle. Except when something frightens him. But then, it comes right back up, as soon as the cause of the fright is gone.
And the reason for Samuel’s excited tail wagging? No prizes for guessing that. Going “walkie-walkie,” of course. Samuel knows that every single weekday morning his routine includes a run. And he adores it. Anticipates it with palpable glee as patiently, hopefully, he listens for the sound of the leashes coming out. As soon as he sees or hears them, he bursts into paroxysms of delight. And goes charging around the house, at top speed, like a veritable one-man keystone cops chase.
Because, as Sam has made abundantly clear, when he is running, Sam is truly himself. He runs, he skips, he stops, he starts, he checks out every detail of the neighborhood as he goes by, he jumps up on walls and back down again, goes up front yard steps and back down again, he looks for cats in all the houses where they live, turns into the yards of all his friends in the neighborhood, keeps an eye on squirrels, chases birds, runs into neighbors, both human and canine, checks out buses going by and gives the garbage truck a very wide berth. He is doing something he knows how to do. And he knows how to do it very, very well. He doesn’t have to think about it. Not for a moment. Unlike everything else in Sam’s life.
And, of course, it provides a wonderful outlet for Sam’s drive and energy.
But, Sam’s daily run is more than just good exercise and fun. It has proved to be a key factor in Sammy’s recovery, albeit unintentionally, for other reasons too. Because, soon, Sam came to realize he could rely on this activity. Every week day. So there was now clear shape and predictability in his life. It was predictable in a way which he enjoyed. And it was a person who facilitated this predictable activity that he so loves, and who did it with him. Sam came to understand that. And to learn from it. To learn that not only did he not need to fear people. He could actually rely on a person. He could rely on that person to provide himwith something he loved, an activity he loved. And he could enjoy the activity together with that person.
Of course, it goes without saying, that his Best Friend also participates in Sammy’s runs, as he does in every other aspect of Sam’s life. And, as time goes by, it becomes increasingly clear that Samuel would not be where he is today were it not for everything that his Best Friend does for him.
In addition, of course, Sam’s morning runs expose him to all kinds of different events, experiences, activities, noises, dogs and people every day. And it provides him with a wonderful outlet for his intense resources of energy. And his sense of fun. Taken together, all these facets of Samuel’s daily run, have played a key role in his rehabilitation.
If Samuel’s only mark of progess this month had been wagging his tail, that, in itself, would have been more than enough. But, in addition to wagging his tail, Sam made other great strides this month too.
He began to come when called from another room in the house. He had never done this before. Although, as always, he did not come all the way, preferring to stop just out of arm’s reach. His fear of voluntarily placing himself where someone can take hold of him is overwhelming for Samuel. Thanks to the abuse that he suffered at the hands of his human tormentors. But he continued to work very hard to overcome this perfectly rational fear.
Also, Sam began to learn the meaning of “wait.” He knows he has to “wait” in order to get out of his vehicle. But, this month he began to learn to “wait” so that his leash could be attached to his harness in order to go for his run. That is an especially huge step forward for Sam, for the same reasons that he is reluctant to come right up to a person. Everything he knows tells him not to let people get hold of him. Period.
Sam also began to try and “play” with his Best Friend. He had never tried to “play” in any way before. And his “playing” was certainly a little unusual. A little clumsy. For example, when taken to an open area on his 30 foot long leash, where his Best Friend was running off-leash, Sam would simply hurl himself at his Best Friend’s chest. That was apparently the “game.” His Best Friend didn’t quite see how this strange activity could be a “game” and simply tried to get away from him, but Sam persisted.
Or, when both dogs were on a leash, Sam would often turn around, grab his Best Friend’s leash in his mouth and start pulling on it. To an observer it looked funny. A 12lb dog using his teeth to try to pull a 65 lb dog by his leash. To his Best Friend it was annoying and bizarre. Exactly what “game” Sam was playing in both these cases was a little unclear. But there was no doubt that these were Sam’s first attempts at “playing” with another dog. Though his Best Friend was very puzzled, he remained, as always, kind and accommodating toward Samuel. His Best Friend’s role continued to be absolutely key in Samuel’s rehabilitation. Sam looked to him constantly for guidance, support and protection.
When playing chasing/following “games” with his Kind Friend, during this month, Sammy came running very fast every time he was called by name. He loves this game. And for the first time, while playing it, he began to “smile.” He does not, of course, come all the way up to his Kind Friend when called. But he does come to within about 18 inches. It is so hard for Samuel to voluntarily come close enough for someone to reach out and touch him. He tries very very hard to overcome this fear. Over and over and over again, he tried to do it. But, always, he feels compelled, at the last minute, to turn away. He wants to trust. But everything he knows tells him not to do it. Not to take that final, potentially dangerous, step of letting a human being get hold of him.
In addition to wagging his tail, trying to “play” with his Best Friend, and coming when called, Sam also took other steps, this month, which showed his increasing sense of security and trust on his part. For example, he moved from sleeping, alone, in another room, to sleeping in the closet of the room where others sleep, including his Best Friend.
Sam also continued to work on not barking at every dog that he passes in the street. This is very hard for him. He is a very talkative dog. But during this month he began to make real progress. And each week he barks a little bit less. Although he can clearly be heard muttering to himself instead, in frustration.
Sam continued not to take treats from anyone; to eat and drink in private (although, on hot days, he started to drink water from a public water bowl for dogs in downtown Davis); and to move away when people, including his Kind Friend, entered a room.
But Samuel’s progress this fourth month, and what it represents in terms of his rehabilitation, is amazing. Taken together with his achievements of the previous three months, his overall progress has been remarkable. Just how remarkable, we were about to find out in his fifth month.
Samuel’s Fifth Month has been cause for celebration. Many celebrations. Continuous celebrations. Celebrations of Samuel. All that he is. And all that he has overcome.
It has felt like the arrival of a new puppy. Which, of course, it is. A bar mitzvah. And a graduation. All rolled into one.
This was the month when Samuel was able to embrace life, unreservedly. When he began to live the life that should have been his from the beginning. But which he was cruelly denied.
The most noticeable overall change has been the change in Sammy’s demeanor. His head and face have relaxed. Almost permanently. His gaze is direct. He looks up – not away – constantly. He is engaged with everything going on around him. He is curious. He makes eye contact. He makes jokes. And he is almost permanently smiling. A big broad smile. His body and his legs are less tense. More forward. More ready for life. But, ultimately, of course, it is his conduct that has demonstrated just how very far has come in these 4-5 months.
It all began at the beginning of the month with a Poodles of Yolo play group meeting. While playing “fetch” with the other dogs, Samuel ran up and gave a quick “kiss” on the leg to his Miniature Poodle Friend’s person. This was someone he had never even met her before. It was quiet. It was quick. And it could have passed un-noticed. But it did not. And as a completely spontaneous contact with a human being whom Sam assessed, correctly, to be a trustworthy dog-lover, this was a very significant gesture of trust, playfulness and affection.
Then, right before Labor Day, a neighbor approached the see-through fence Sam was standing behind with his Best Friend at his side. Not only did Samuel not run away – a huge step forward, in and of itself for Sam. He actually approached her. This was unheard of for Samuel. He had never voluntarily approached any person before, (except when called by his Kind Friend.) He always backed away, from everyone.
And as if that was not enough. Which it most assuredly was. Sam almost took some treats this neighbor offered to him through the fence. Another first. So … he had voluntarily approached this neighbor … and he had almost taken the treats from her. This was huge progress for Sam, on both counts.
Then, a couple of days later, on Labor Day weekend, Samuel did take a treat from another neighbor. (See Stop the Presses! … September 10 Blog.) Samuel and his Best Friend and his Kind Friend were standing visiting with a group of neighbors and their dogs. A neighbor, whom Sam had never even met before, offered him some treats, and of course, encouraged him, very gently to take them. And he did! Everyone was astounded. Many were tearful. Because they knew Sam’s background. And they knew the huge challenges he had faced. They knew how far he had come.
And, then, within minutes. Another huge first for Sam. He jumped up at his Kind Friend to ask for more treats. Not only was he approaching his Kind Friend for more treats. He actually jumped up on her. Another first for Sam.
While this might not be acceptable behavior for many dogs, for Samuel, as a gesture communicating his newfound comfort and confidence in human beings, it was hugely acceptable. More than acceptable. It was welcome. [But, of course, even if it was not acceptable, as a dog who has been abused, Samuel cannot be “scolded”, “disciplined” or “corrected” in any way.]
All of this was then followed, in quick succession, by a quick “kiss” on the leg for one of Sammy’s human neighbors. Apparently a quick kiss on the leg is a favorite gesture of Sam’s.
All of Samuel’s people neighbors were absolutely thrilled and amazed at all of this. Because, now, finally, it was clear, Samuel had arrived. Samuel had arrived in life. Samuel’s life. The life that had been denied him by his abusers.
Not surprisingly, then, Sammy’s newfound confidence showed itself loud and clear when he went to the veterinary office with his Best Friend who was getting a shot. This was the first place Samuel had gone after being rescued from the shelter. And on that occasion he was absolutely petrified. This time, despite all the hub-bub, human and canine, there was nothing to it for Sam. It was a breeze. He was completely confident.
And finally, Samuel’s fifth month in rescue ended, as it had begun, with a bang. The icing on the cake. Samuel learned how to play ball. “Learned” is not really the appropriate term. Because Sam taught himself. He taught himself how to play ball with his Best Friend the way he taught himself everything else. By watching and analyzing. Not surprisingly, within days, he was even stealing the ball from his Best Friend! And … hanging onto it even when challenged by his Best Friend, who outweighs him 6:1. Sammy has chutzpah!
He plays ball by himself. And with his Best Friend. (See A Ball is to Play … September 29.)
What a dog! Four, three, two, even one month ago, these changes in Sammy would have been inconceivable. But that is because we didn’t know Sam.
Samuel could not be more thrilled with himself. Could not be more thrilled with life. And his friends could not be more thrilled with Samuel. What a plucky little dog!