Choice Spirit: Our Story Continues
The dog, Yukon, replied with an ominous low-throated growl. I shifted a touch closer. He growled a touch louder. I gingerly began offer my hand for him to sniff. He graciously curled his lip and offered an excellent view of his fine dental work, along with yet another, more pronounced rendition of his now popular growl.
Robbi had brought the husky in late the night before from an emergency pick up, a four hour round trip made to San Diego. As I sat studying the beast in the obscuration of dimness, table legs and horse stands, Robbi related that she labored nearly an hour just to get the frightened dog out of the back of her truck and through the front door of the house, a mere fifteen feet away.
The leash still hung from his collar, first and foremost to avoid the risk of being bit whilst trying to remove it. Secondly, it was the only way to possibly catch him if he bolted or to cajole him into or out of the backyard if needed. Needless to say, all other living creatures were sequestered in other areas for the time being.
At one point, he had already grabbed Robbi's hand in his mouth, but quickly let go without harming her. He had then hidden away to his present location, awaiting the retribution that he assumed would come. Of course, it never did, but yet he waited.
Once a happy, friendly husky a mere two months ago, the year old dog had been severely abused -- verbally, psychologically and perhaps physically. The big dog now feared his own shadow and anything more substantial that even moved in his general direction. As I sit with him, three rooms away, Robbi corrects another foster dog over a puddle he has created. Yukon cowers at the faraway sound. The canine's terrorizer, a roommate of the owner, claimed the dog was vicious, snarling and snapping. One look at the husky though, revealed the true villain in this case: abuse. Fear fiercely gripped this young dog. His spirit seemed crushed.
Emerging from beneath the table after ten minutes, I spoke to Robbi, summarily surmising that the dog was hopeless, indelibly scarred and would probably have to be destroyed.
Here in Southern California, the weather rarely changes. Even at Christmastime, it is notoriously sunny and 75 degrees (F). However, at that very moment a storm arose. An icy chill swept through and filled the air. Lightning flashed and thunder roared. Then the full torrent began in earnest. Outside, of course, it was still lovely. But inside the hurricane called Robbi reached full fury. And I fully deserved every bit of it. I had the opportunity to make a choice, but instead allowed myself to make assumptions.
It had been a foolish, presumptuous, knee jerk reaction on my part. Reached after a mere ten minutes, no attempt had been really made at all to communicate with or understand the dog. She was so right to bring on a verbal tempest and I stood properly chagrined and corrected. Robbi is far more perceptive and cognizant than I. Fortunately, she lets me know very strongly when I revert to my Neanderthal mentality. Readily admitting my error, I retreated to start again to beneath the table. This time, setting aside my judgmental attitude, I chose wisely and began to observe with an open mind and heart along with a spirit set toward solutions not conclusions.
There came of feeling of being Spencer Tracy in the classic film "Boys' Town." And the canine take on the age-old adage seemed true: "There is no such thing as a bad dog." -- probably so. Only bad owners whom the dogs either fear or emulate.
Clearly the husky needed to rebuild self-confidence. To becalm him, I simply talked, telling him stories (Taz Adventures of course) and complimenting him.
Possessing a broadcast quality voice, my FM jazz disc jockey mellow and cool melodic tones are such that they quickly and gently lull one into a state of catatonic stupor. Effusing lavish praise on Yukon, the husky showed signs of relaxing, but still remained on edge, sending warning vibes.
Finally, Success!! Yukon tired of my banter and bolted up the stairs. I had to agree. Even I can't stand too much of that kind of vocalizing. However, I could see a glimmer of hope. He hadn't attempted to rip off my face in passing. It appeared he felt responsible, unworthy all intermingled with his fears. By the second day, I was sitting on the lower stair landing, reading catalogs out loud and commenting on items to Yukon. Slowly, hesitantly, he moved down a step, and then another, ever closer. I could still see the fear and caution in his deep brown eyes.
Then Chuy (Choo-EEE), another of our foster huskies, came over for some love and petting. Chuy went right for the heart, laying his head in my lap with that look that turns most of us to mush. He got his petting and hugs and kisses. And as I was extravagantly giving this attention, there came a touch -- a slight, wet, cold nudge on the tip of my ear. There came a slight snuffle, and the gentle weight of warm fur on my shoulder.
Instinctively, I would have turned. Emotionally, I should have rejoiced. But my thoughts kept me in check. Don't move. Do what you are doing. Let Yukon make the moves. Dogs live on emotions. Most animals do. With Yukon, fear had given way to curiosity; wanting to see what I was doing to Chuy.
Curiosity in turn, turned to desire. "Hey! How come you stopped talking to me? Hey, how come that other dog is getting all the attention and affection? Hey! Wait for me!!" Like all of us, he enjoyed attention and hearing the sound of his own name in a complimentary way.
And desire eventually overcame all other heated and fearful emotions and brought Yukon to my side. From abject fear to a 70 pound, affectionate, happy dog in two days. Yukon became a quickly became a favorite companion for both Robbi and I as well as every one of the seven dogs. Yukon and Taz became almost inseparable buddies.
As for me: an arrogantly judgmental nincompoop transformed into a more thoughtful, insightful and caring nincompoop. I'm still working on the nincompoop part.
Choice is a gift we all have. We like to claim that someone or something has somehow deprived us of choice. We follow the crowd; our vaunted independent spirit all but evaporated. There begins a hesitation, a procrastination, an inability to take responsibility to make decisions. And to not choose is to have decided.
It starts a downward spiral of indecision, doubt, anxiety, bias, fear and worse. In an age rampant with base emotion, snap judgements, self victimization, and general irresponsibility, the person with strength of character to make those tough choices is truly spirited.
In the Bible, it is said that having a right spirit brings forth fruit. And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I can not speak for any but myself. Let it be known that I would wish to make it my goal to strive for these things in my life and would seek and assist others in search of the same.
True, it seemed emotion helped heal a traumatized dog, but it was all calculated; choices carefully couched in a caring spirit. Only such an approach can truly build, rebuild and heal, be it human or animal. Did I make a difference? Was I a hero? Hardly. I simply made a choice to find and do and offer what the dog needed; a conduit through which he could return to his true nature.
So, before declaring something should end, finish or be destroyed, take a pause, conduct an inventory of self, look beyond the fleeting moment's sentiment. Then, take the bold step to indulge in those rarest of gifts so few of us possess and fewer of us use. The power of thought, the courage of spirit and act of choice. It can make all the difference for both you and all whom you deal with.
Scott and Robbi and Taz
Men's evil manners live in brass.
� Scott Ringwelski