Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Progress and Unpredictability

This Saturday, July 11, will mark Darlins’ four month trap-aversary. I took a lot of time off from work before I trapped Darlin’ and after I brought her home. I was completely immersed, mentally, emotionally, and physically in trapping Darlin’. Once I brought her home I was deeply affected by her fear issues. Her fearfulness made me even more determined to help her learn to trust me. No one that has ever loved a dog could easily sit by a dog that trembled at the sight of them without it touching their heart.

I bought books, e-books, read forums, and started the Petfinder thread for support and helpful ideas. Quite honestly, Randy Grim of Stray Rescue and Petfinder helped me most. Randy, because he was trapping dogs that had not been socialized, and Pefinder, mostly for the support. The books couldn’t touch what I was going through with a ten foot pole. Darlin’ was too fearful to eat, let alone take food or toys from me. Once she started eating, it took weeks for her to eat when I was around – with my back turned.

I have an online business where people were waiting for me to come back work. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have been so fortunate to be able to work from home or work when I want. Darlin’ coming into my life this year has been perfect timing for both of us. Once Darlin was accustomed to living upstairs where I could be with her at all times, I went back to work which has limited my time writing here. I see now I stayed away much too long – an entire month! However, I’ve been taking notes! Darlin’ has made phenomenal progress, although she has many fear issues to overcome.

Some days, always when no one is home, she behaves a lot like a normal house dog. I leave my office and she sticks right beside me. I go to the kitchen for coffee and she is right there, sometimes sitting next to my feet. As soon as I go back to my office she gets back in her bed beside or under my desk. I always have four out of five dogs in my office.

Other days I feel like we’ve taken two steps forward and one step back. Like yesterday when she walked up to me outside; when I reached out to pet her she ran away. Every now and then she’ll start through the back door, but something spooks her and she runs back down the stairs to the corner of the yard. I go get her and carry her inside. Once she’s in the corner next to the fence she turns over and submits to me by giving me her tummy. Yes, she’ll eventually come back to the door, but I need her to know when I call her inside that she has to come.

Then there are moments where she’s curious about her surroundings and my family. When we are home alone and I’m washing dishes or doing laundry, she walks around the house smelling the floors and taking in the scent of my family. She’s been watching my family more instead of running and cowering under my desk when someone walks in the living room. We have wood floors so whenever she is frightened and takes off running her feet are sliding out from under her. Sometimes she will jump up on the couch and squeeze in tight next to me or squeeze in next to me if she’s already on the couch. She no longer turns her head away; she actually looks at my family members now. However she still stares at the front door because she’s fearful that someone might walk in unannounced.

I’ve stopped carrying her out of my office! She’ll walk on her own most of the time, even if someone is in the living room which she has to pass through. She still has the look about her as though she’s afraid someone is going to throw something at her. She walks quickly as she passes through the room with her head turned to the side and lowered watching to make sure she’ll make it safely to the door. She acts likes she’s trying to escape from harms way.

She is still sleeping in her dog bed on my side. There have been a few mornings when I woke up and she was stretched out in the floor. She probably got hot in her bed. My husband lets the dogs out every morning after he gets out of the shower. Darlin’ will stay in her bed until he leaves for work. He always brings her a treat and rubs her behind the ears before he leaves. She used to turn away and eat the treats after he left. He tells me she looks right at him now and eats the treat before he gets around the foot of the bed now.

When I get up, the first thing I do is let her outside. I was going down with her every morning, last week I started closing the door because she can go down with the other dogs. I watch her; she’ll go do her business and come right back and wait at the back door. There have been a few times where she spent a few minutes in the yard, but she acts like she’ll get locked out. She is happier if I’m there, but quite honestly if you’ve seen our steps, I can’t continue walking up and down if I want to keep my knees.

Because I read Darlin’ pretty well, I have been giving my husband pointers so that Darlin’ will learn to trust him. “Stop staring”, “Don’t stand there, turn and walk away after you leave a treat”, “Offer the cheese by placing up to her mouth, if she doesn’t take it, lay it on her foot and walk away.” One day I couldn’t get her to come downstairs to the yard. I was baffled because she acted like someone was there. I told her to come on, it was okay, and then low and behold I see my husband backed up against the downstairs door! I told him to get his butt in the house, “that this dog is smarter that he is”. When Cesar says, nose, eyes, and ears, it is in fact the truth. A dog smells first, she doesn’t need to see him to know he is there.

So last night Darlin’ took a huge step in learning to trust my husband! She takes most treats from me. Every now and then she’ll run to her bed and I take her a treat, but most times she waits with my other dogs after coming indoors – during the day when we are alone. Last night my husband was fixing his lunch so I called out for some cheese. The dogs love Swiss cheese and Darlin’s ears perk right up when she hears the package. He walked over to the couch where Darlin’ was lying next to me. She wouldn’t take it so he would lay it down and I immediately picked it up and she ate it. I told him not to think about it, just keep pieces coming and once she took the first bite, keep tearing off pieces fast enough so that she didn’t have to think about who she was taking food from. That’s how I got her to eat from my hands, but it took two months before she took the first one and she wasn’t taking them consistently. She opened her mouth ever so gently, after that I told him to keep them coming. She took about six bites of cheese from my husband! He even got excited!

My dad was Darlin’s biggest fan after I told him that I had been feeding her. He encouraged me to keep feeding her and no matter how down I got after I brought her home, he kept up the pep talks telling me that she would recover, to just give her the time she needs. My dad is coming to visit in August; he is very excited to see all of my dogs. He has only met two of the five dogs, but he’s especially excited to meet Darlin’. I have had concerns that she would hide and quiver under my desk the entire time he is here. He even commented that she will probably be frightened by him. Well, this past weekend over the July 4th weekend I had friends come with their two small children and spend the night. Darlin’ amazed us all! I did have to carry her out back because I knew she wouldn’t come out on her own. She went potty in the yard and came right back upstairs and laid down behind my chair. She was fearful and cautious, but she was there! She even went inside when I called her. She ran to a dog bed near the door, then I called her over to the couch and she laid there with me until I went to bed late in the night. Every so often my friend would tell me how amazed he was at her progress and I would stroke Darlin’s head and tell her how proud I was of her. Looks like my dad will actually get to sit in the same room with Darlin’!

I love watching my dogs play. Well, as long as they aren’t too rambunctious in the house, otherwise I have them take it outdoors. Seeing them play really makes me heart happy because I know they are happy.

I was beginning to wonder if Darlin’ would ever play with my dogs. They have wrestled and chased each other through the house and it didn’t even stir her curiosity. Not even when the two Jack Russell’s are rolling all over my bed and Darlin is lying in her bed on the floor. Toby (rough coat JRT) starts barking if Bonnie (smooth JRT) gives in because he wants to keep going. Sam, our blue heeler, charges at the Jacks and sounds like he’s growling because of his deep voice. Then Chloe comes running and barking because she’s the most vocal, and she looks for the one in the most compromising position so she can mount them and show her dominance. When all four are going at it I’m usually in the background telling them it’s time to take it outside. I open the back down and they practically roll through. Darlin’ doesn’t budge from where she’s at, either under my desk, on a pet bed by the couch, or in her bed in the bedroom. All of that activity and no response from her led me to think she didn’t know how to play.

I was wrong, Darlin’ does know how to play! As with all things, Darlin’ had to come around in her own time. The whimpering sounds she made outside were about her wanting to play! It’s the way she asks them for permission to chase them or she’s asking them to chase her. Yesterday morning Bonnie (smooth JRT) took off running and barking around the yard. That’s the way she gets the dogs to chase her. Darlin’ took off after her, they split up coming out from behind the shed and Darlin’ had Bonnie chasing her! It didn’t last long because Bonnie is usually the one that likes to be chased, but oh what a joy it was to see Darlin’ flying around the backyard! It’s funny too because the other dogs just stop in their tracks looking confused like, “Hey, what’s she doing running around the yard!”

Besides the chase, it’s actually been a month since I first saw Darlin’ really play with one of the dogs. Toby (rough coat JRT) has bonded with Darlin’. Toby was last in the pecking order here, coming from the pound in February; Toby has been great about just falling in line. He is the baby, being the smallest and definitely the most affectionate dog I’ve ever owned. When Darlin’ was in the garage kennel I would sit with her behind the closed gate. Toby use to come over and brush against the wire gate like he was in a kennel at the pound hoping someone would stick their fingers inside and touch him. Sad and sweet at the same time, I use to say “Mommy’s in jail” and stick my fingers through the wire and touch him. I kept them all separated because Darlin was so fearful.

Toby wants to be near me ALL THE TIME and Darlin’ also wants to be near. Neither likes to be alone in a room. The other dogs are always with me, but secure in their own space. I think that’s the reason that Toby was willing to share my attention with Darlin’. Toby had it rough in his young life. He was skin and bones when I brought him home, but I thought he was just underweight. My Vet thought he was around two years old. He has since put on more than two pounds including some muscle so we are thinking he was right at a year or turning a year old. Toby has had a fractured hip, his back foot doesn’t quite touch the floor, it dangles when he stands still. He has little scars in several places on his body and he is fearful of cars. We are thinking he may have been hit by a car when he was a stray, before he ended up at the pound. Of course we will never know.

Somehow dogs just seem to know that other dogs have had a hard time. He slept in a dog bed next to Darlin’ on my side until I put him in bed with me one night. Now I hear his tail hitting the floor at night, wagging in anticipation of me reaching over and lifting him into the bed. That’s how he asks permission to sleep with me; he can easily jump on the bed during playtime. Toby loves Darlin’ and was the first to initiate play with her in my office. He is still the only dog in my pack that has really played and wrestled with her. One morning while they were playing, Darlin’ actually grabbed a toy and played with it too! Toby makes sure that there are always toys in the floor - something to grab quickly to tease and keep the excitement going. He loves “his babies”, I put them away and he drags everyone back out. Since the pictures were taken Toby and Darlin have played together like that three or four times. He’ll come up to Darlin’ and wrap his front legs around her neck and she’ll sit up and put her paw on him. The play bow begins and it’s on! I love seeing them play together, I could never get enough!

If I can get everyone downstairs when it’s time for the dogs to eat, I’m able to feed Darlin’ in the kitchen with the other dogs. My husband is usually the only one around and he’s easily persuaded to go watch TV. If my children are around, she will stay in my office so I take her dinner in there. Later when the house quiets down I’ll call her out to come sit with me on the couch and we watched Food TV or dog shows together. She is uncomfortable even on the couch with me if she hears the TV downstairs so I ask my family to close the door.


I typed this post at different times throughout the day today with breaks in between. I took Toby with me to Pet Smart this afternoon because he loves to ride in the car. When we left Darlin’ followed us to the front door and when I came home I could see through the glass that she was standing on her hind legs like a Kangaroo. I’ve seen her do that before. When I come in the door the dogs gets over-excited and Darlin’ runs to my office and whimpers for me to come to her. Today she was so excited wagging her tail and whimpering that when I called out to her she barked too!

I asked my husband to take the dogs out back this evening so that I could try and walk Darlin’ on a leash in the neighborhood. It’s time she learned to walk on a leash. I have waited until I felt it was safe enough since the heartworms should have died off. Since she followed me to the door and she gets so excited when I return home, I thought it was a good time.

I did not put a harness on Darlin’. I cinched up her collar pretty snug. She has lost a ton of hair, her winter coat was thicker than I imagined. She’s still losing hair and I’ve used the Furminator on her, but because of the hair loss her collar is definitely a lot loser than it ever was. She has only had it on for ID and more like a necklace than anything up until today. She didn’t want to walk out the front door so I tugged a little. When I pulled I could see that the collar was still too loose for my comfort level so I tightened it some more. She didn’t want to walk down the stairs; she immediately got nervous and started shaking. I picked her up and carried her to the sidewalk and put her down and started walking. She did great, she walks fast, taking several steps and practically stopping so that I can catch up, but the leash is only about 3 ft long and it stretches when the dog pulls.

She walked right next to my legs, the perfect walking partner, better than the other dogs would do, but she was nervous with her ears back against her head. I had only planned on going about a block, then turning around and coming back home. By the time I got to the street behind my house a car came by and she pulled over into a yard. When she did I noticed the collar was lose again so I tightened it good and decided to go home. I immediately thought to myself that I would not walk her again until I get a tight fitting collar that won’t slip or I put a harness on her. She walked well, but I could see that she was nervous. She held her tail pretty low too, but not quite tucked between her legs. We were in front of the house next to mine when she pulled wanting to go down their sidewalk. I knew she wanted to go home so I told her that we were almost there and tried to encourage her to walk a little further. She resisted so I thought I would just cut through the neighbor’s yard to get to my house faster. As I pulled, she reared back and turned her neck so that the collar slipped over her head! I stood there in shock as the last ten months of my life flashed before my eyes!

I called out to her and she looked back in my direction, but she ran. I kept saying, “this way, come on Darlin’ this way” and I started running home hoping she would run after me. She looked for a second as though she would, but turned and ran in another direction. I was at my front porch when my husband walked outside because he heard me. He asked me which way she went, but I asked him to go back inside because if she saw him she would run even faster. I think I had my hands over my face saying, Oh my God to myself because my deepest fear had just come to pass.

I caught a glimpse of her behind my neighbor’s house heading for a concrete ditch that leads to a culvert. A culvert big enough for Darlin’ to run through! I slid down into the ditch nearly losing my footing and followed her through some overgrown brush. She looked back and I kept going calling her name. Just before the culvert there is a hill that leads up to the side yard of a house on the side street. Darlin’ reached the top and turned around. I came up the hill and called her, “Come to Mommy Sweetie, Come to Mommy.” She stopped, turned to me, sat down, and gave me her paw! She was scared, her ears were back against her head. I slipped the collar back over her head and picked her up and started carrying her home. My husband drove up and I waved him on telling him I would carry her. She hasn’t been in the car since we brought her home in the trap. She was already scared, that’s why she slipped her collar and ran. She wanted to go home. He parked the car and came back to carry her to the house for me. I have a hernia from carrying her and it’s flared up a few times which scared me too.

We went inside and she ran to her spot under my desk. I walked in the bathroom, laid my head in my hands at the sink, and cried like a baby. I’m tearing up again now as I type this and I imagine I’ll be emotional about this for a while. What an awful experience!!! I love this dog!!! I have so much of myself invested in her that I felt like I was mourning her loss the moment she slipped her collar. I fixed the dogs dinner and made sure there was extra boiled chicken on top. I was so upset about the ordeal that I asked my husband to pick us up some dinner. I didn’t hear him leave the house so I went to check and he walked out of my office. He had been in there telling Darlin’ he was glad she was home. We have a full moon eclipse tonight, there was a full moon the night I brought her home. I suppose in a sense I rescued her twice on a full moon. She rescued my heart when she stopped running and sat down! Darlin’ is home…again!


  1. How scary! I'm sooo glad she came back! I've had bolters, but they weren't afraid like Darlin'. I am just so happy it turned out okay!

  2. Thank you gleehorse! So good to see you! I tell you, I was shocked when it happened and utterly amazed she is still with me. Honestly, I think she was just scared wanting to go home, she really loves her home and is so attached to the inside of the house. Nothing like that will ever happen again. We'll probably get her a harness this weekend. She needs to go out and walk a little so she won't be so curious when I leave.

  3. What a close call for you, your heart...Wow. So happy it ended well, and the harness will be a great aid and add a comfort level to your experiments in "walking" Darlin. Shes come sooo far, with your loving care, and the companionship of all those other 'darlin' critters that grace your life and home. All the best -

  4. They look so cute together ;)
    Nice blog!

    Patty Vieira
    The Doggy World

  5. Good lord, my heart was pounding like crazy.

    Whew! Glad Darlin stopped and waited for you at the end.