Some people I know thrive on change. Throw them a curveball and they are galvanized. New job. New city. No problem.
Frankly, I’m not one of those people. Yet I know that shaking things up now and then keeps me awake and alive and exploring new possibilities (including this blog!).
Unfortunately, too many animal companions experience the wrong kinds of change. The most catastrophic of these being abuse, abandonment or delivery to a local shelter, the latter often for the flimsiest of reasons.
But there you are, ready, willing and able to give the right being with four legs and an open heart a new, stable home. Having caught the eye of that special, furry someone from behind the chain-link fence or metal grate – and sharing some bonding time outside those confines – you weigh the commitment. She nestles in your lap and tilts her head back to look into your eyes and you are a goner.
Go ahead. Admit it.
Sometimes, you get a little peek into your companion’s history: a pup from an expectant mother abandoned by the side of the road; a frosty-faced codger whose former owner was too weak to care for her; a designer dog who peed on the Persian carpet one-too-many-times. Often, you get a blank slate, a nameless wanderer, a hearty survivalist thirsty for tough love.
While knowing your companion’s history will help shape your specific behavioral interventions, there is one constant that will make your adoption an unqualified success regardless of background: You.
Your time. Your patience. Your loving spirit.
Close your eyes and imagine what it must have been like for your new pet to feel cold, lonely and desperate for refuge. Feel them shiver violently as they are brought to that place from which there is no return, where the face of the only human they loved and trusted vanishes forever.
Then try to imagine how they might feel being taken to a strange, new place for the second, third, or perhaps the fifth time in their life. Give voice to that feeling: “Your arms feel comfy and this place looks nice, but I’ve been left before. Can I trust you, human?”
In the first few days after homecoming, you notice your fur-baby sulking around the house. She sheepishly peers around corners, lowers her head and pulls her ears back. You interpret this as a gesture of supplication until you reach out your hand to offer comfort to which she bares her teeth ever-so-slightly. Then you hear the low rumble of fear: “Stay away from me, right now.”
You reel back, more than mildly offended by this display. The thought that you’ve adopted a monster flashes across your cortex. Then you remember reading that special article about rescue dogs on line. It occurs to you: my gesture of love may be seen as an act of aggression.
Though you mean well, you take your hand away. Her snarl and growl subside and she pads back to her safe place, that cushy bed you got just for her. Then it hits you.
You scroll back to the day in your distant teens when your dad walked into your bedroom – your most vaunted, private space – and placed a concerned hand upon your shoulder as you sobbed into your pillow. That’s right. You brusquely shrugged his hand off, wheeled around and spat unforgivable words at him.
In the best of all worlds, you dad knew that he jumped the gun and that you needed space. He withdrew along with his solemn promise to be there for you whenever you needed to talk.
Eventually, you did. After that, you and your dad got closer.
You will have the same chance with your fur baby. In a day or two, she will surprise you by nuzzling her snout into your hand that dangles absent-mindedly off the arm rest of your couch. She will lick your hand which you’ll return with a gentle pat on her head.
The change has begun. It will be slow, but sure and enduring. All because you did what no one else could – or would - do.
You gave her time . . . and you.