This post marks Rescue Legacy’s 200th blog. Over the past three-and-a-half years, this blog has covered many topics and spun in several directions. Its main purpose, however, has remained constant: exploring the spiritual, emotional and material resources needed for humans and animal companions to flourish together.
One cannot move forward without honoring one’s roots. Rescue Legacy was founded as a forum for people to share their grief over the loss of a beloved pet and perhaps find the courage to love again. My wife’s and my first dog, Louie, a Boston terrier-Boxer mix, was a loving, devoted and gravity-defying boy. Sadly, he developed fear-biting behaviors that did not respond to training or professional intervention. While Louie ultimately found love and freedom on a horse ranch - an environment we knew was best for him - my wife and I grieved his absence and contemplated the many ways in which he changed our lives.
I would like to share with you an excerpt from a work-in-progress, Louie to the Rescue: A Tail of Surrender and Redemption. One of my favorite memories is how we helped Louie conquer his fear of our spiral staircase.
Thank you for reading!
Louie touched his left paw to the first step of the spiral staircase and barked. He placed his right paw on the second step.
We locked eyes. I nodded.
“Yeah, boy, that’s it.”
He licked his lips and panted. His slender muscular legs quivered, but he held his gaze with me. Louie set his right hind leg on the first step along with his left front paw and pushed off meekly, reaching for the third step with his left paw. He grazed the narrowest part of the third step, yelped like he’d touched a hot stove and backpedaled to the floor.
I sighed. It was not the kind of exasperated sigh passing from my dad’s lips when I was a child as he tried, for the tenth time, to teach me my left from my right. Dad wrote those words in large, block letters on the rubber tips of my sneakers when I was six. I may as well have been wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with the word: STUPID.
One Saturday morning in the middle of a public park, Dad stood me up, erect as a little toy soldier, and ordered me to walk forward. After I’d walked a few paces he barked out the direction in which he wanted me to turn.
“Left! Left! Right! Left!”
Heart pounded in my ears so hard I lost Dad’s voice. What was the last one? He said a few more. I’m way behind. Will never catch up. Never.
“NO, son, LEFT! I said LEFT!”
Can’t breathe. Turning to soon. Wrong way again!
“LEFT, FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!!”
No, I would not pass this example on to my son.
Instead, I would show him what I knew he could do, what he wanted to do.
I walked down to join Louie at the foot of the stairs. I held out his Kong and he licked a stray swirl of peanut butter caked on its base. When he finished, he looked up at me then toward the loft. Fifteen steps. If he kept toward the outer and broader edge of the steps he could maintain better footing and might make it.
But Louie’s butt was frozen to the floor. He needed a jump start.
I loosened my belt and got down on all fours, facing the stairs. Slowly, I crawled up the stairs, one hand and opposite knee at a time, poking my head between the steps occasionally to watch Louie, until I reached the loft. Panting and doused in sweat, I listed onto my left side and closed my eyes. In my high school gym, I could scamper up the ropes, tap the rafters with ease and slide down the braided nylon, ready to have at it again. Of course, that was almost 40 years and 10,000 tortilla chips ago. Now, I was just an elderly father helping his boy with a science project: how many steps on a tight spiral staircase can a reasonably healthy 168-pound man ascend on his hands and knees before reaching cardiac arrest?
What was that?
Click-click. Click-click. Click-click. CLICK! Could it be . . .
I wheeled around to face my boy who had scampered up the stairs all by himself. Louie’s eyes glistened with pride. His tongue unfurled through his jaws like a scroll hailing the spoils of courage. The corners of his mouth lifted in what could be none other than a smile. Louie cocked his head and licked my face.
Some people hate it when dogs kiss them on the mouth, even their own dogs. To me, Louie’s slather was the salve of love free of boundaries and selfishness. So what if Louie sniffed scat, vacuumed the neighborhood lawns and slurped dead worms off the sidewalk like al dente pasta. His saliva was my salvation! I wanted to paint with it, bathe in it and distill the juices into my liquid mantra: I love you no matter what! I would chant – no, I’d live the mantra every chance I got.
I hugged Louie and he leaned into my arms.
“Good boy, Louie. Good boy.”