Thursday, June 16, 2016

Who's Rescuing Who?

I've always loved animals, and have been blessed with several beloved pets over the years.  But it wasn't until two years ago, when we adopted a dog named Chauncey, that I really thought about what I was receiving from my relationship with animals.

When we brought Chauncey home, he wasn't pleasant to be around.  He'd been a stray and he was very uncertain about living indoors.  And he coped with his uncertainty by trying to bite our legs when we walked around the house.  Or by barking and growling at anyone who came to visit. Or by snarling when anyone tried to pet him on his walks.

Chauncey when we first got him. Cute, but very guarded.
On Chauncey's second day home with us I called a local trainer, desperate for help.  She came over and spent some time with Chauncey and said "I think you adopted the wrong dog."  My heart dropped to my toes.  Unless," she studied me carefully, "You're willing to put in a lot of work."

I didn't much like Chauncey at that point, but he was a pathetic, scruffy scrap of a thing who clearly needed help.  Plus, I wasn't going to send a message to my young son that we give up on our fellow creatures that easily.  So I agreed to do the work.

Chauncey guarding my son's dinosaur puzzle, so my son couldn't play with it!

Following the trainer's advice, I walked Chauncey several times a day to calm him down.  My husband, son and I spent countless hours training him.  We even got my husband's parents involved.  They'd come over to our house, sit at our table, and then get up suddenly to walk around, triggering Chauncey to bark at them.  Then we'd put Chauncey on time-out so he could learn that his behavior was wrong.

During the first several months of living with Chauncey, I had many moments where I questioned why I was doing all of this.  Why was I investing so much time and energy into a twelve-pound scrap of grumpy fur?  Our progress was slow.  It was weeks before he'd let my husband near him, let alone a strange man.  Weeks before he'd come near me willingly when I sat down on the floor to play with him.

Watching pelicans on the beach and learning to relax.

But then there was the day when he approached me nonchalantlly and climbed onto my lap.  I couldn't quite believe it.  Chauncey the terrier-terror (as we'd come to call him) wanted a cuddle?   I sat very still so I wouldn't scare him, witnessing this breakthrough in his doggy-soul.  Concrete evidence that all the time we'd put in was actually making a difference.

Chauncey overcoming his fears and shaking paws with my son.

It's been over two years since we adopted Chauncey, and he is a very different dog.  He's beloved by us and also around the neighborhood.  He greets everyone, even men, with boundless joy.  In fact, trying to contain his exuberant love is my new challenge!  He's calm in the house, doesn't mind strangers too much, and loves cuddles.  He's happy! And he's cute!  He's gone from scruffy to fluffy.

Pure happiness on a family trip to the beach

But this post is about more than me helping Chauncey.  What I realized, as I questioned myself through this process of training and taming him, was that Chauncey wasn't the only one in our relationship who was growing and changing.  Working with him made me more patient and compassionate.  I had to put aside my to-do list to be there for another creature.  One who didn't always show his appreciation for my efforts.

And working with Chauncey healed me.  I'd really wanted a second child, but we weren't blessed with one.  After trying to make it happen for years, after miscarriages and attempts at adoption that fell through, my husband and I decided that we were finished trying to grow our family.  Even though I knew it was the right decision, I was very sad.  Working with Chauncey gave me an outlet, a fur-baby who needed me, a distraction from my sense of loss.  I may have rescued Chauncey, but ultimately, he rescued me.

And since I'm a writer, it all ends up in my stories, somehow!  Chauncey wriggled his way into my upcoming July book, Return to Marker Ranch.  I'm sure you'll spot him if you read the book.  My hero and heroine, Wade and Lori, rescue animals in the story.  Or maybe the animals rescue them?  Because in the end, Wade and Lori have grown enough, and healed enough, to rescue each other.

And I'd love to know... has owning an animal, or an experience with an animal, ever felt healing to you?  Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win a signed copy of Return to Marker Ranch!

(The winner will be announced here on the blog this weekend.)

Thanks for joining Chauncey and me on the blog today!


Colleen C said...

Oh your story brought a smile to my face! My family has always had pets and many have been adopted... Each has touched my heart... we rescued a parakeet from someone that decided he no longer wanted him and tossed him cage and all in his shed during winter... my sister's boyfriend at the time told us about it... how cruel can you be... we also had a beautiful dog that was afraid of men, when she was a puppy she was kicked by the owner... with time and love, she became comfortable around my dad and grandfather... such a precious and beautiful soul she was... I wish I could do more for all the animals that need hones and love.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing, Colleen! That poor parakeet, isn't it shocking how cruel people can be? I wish I could do more for animals too. When I was adopting Chauncey I almost felt guilty because there were so many dogs, just at that one rescue organization, who were waiting for homes. It's really heartbreaking.

Tammy Y said...

HI Claire,

Thanks for sharing your sweet dog's story. I have 3 rescue cats now. We got them as kittens, Now 2 are 7 and 1 is 6. But, they still play like kittens, No need to enter ne. I joined your review team. Love your books!!!

Laney4 said...

My husband became allergic to cat/dog fur/dander a few years into our marriage (after having dogs and cats for years as a child). Much as we wanted a dog, it wasn't to be. Then a miracle occurred. He was prescribed a nose spray that seemed to work wonders. We brought a Golden into our house without telling him, and he was fine. Then we brought the dog to "meet" my husband, and he didn't have a reaction (his nose runs, so it isn't life/death). Finally, my husband agreed to "dogsit" for a neighbour's parents, and we had the Golden here for a week straight. No problem-o! Now we dogsit several different dogs (usually Goldens) but rarely more than three times per year. It's enough to feel like we're helping when our friends go on vacation and don't want to leave their dogs in kennels.
Anyway, yes, it does feel like a dog heals us - in more ways than one. We can learn so much from them....

bn100 said...

no pets

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Mary Preston said...

If you count the warm fuzzies as healing then definitely.

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