What My Scaredy-Cat Dog teaches Me

Dog - Twist 1-28-13This is Twist.  As you can see even from his home-coming picture, he is a timid soul, poor baby.

He was left at a no-kill shelter as a pup with the rest of his litter and his mom.  Apparently, he didn’t get adopted and the shelter decided to go ahead and put his mom up for adoption.  Based on my experience with him, I wish they’d wait to adopt out the mom until ALL the pups are gone.  Maybe another month or two with her might have upped his confidence.

In any event, he ended up living there for nearly five years — stuck in a 4′ x 8′ chain link kennel day in and day out.  Don’t get me wrong.  This is an EXCELLENT no-kill shelter doing the best they can with the funds they have available.  But the reality is that unless a bunch of people go volunteer at these places to play with, walk and just generally socialize the animals there, the staff is limited to cleaning, feeding and doing what is needed to keep the pups and kitties alive and healthy, not much more.  You could liken the experience for most of the longer-term dogs and cats to prison without the possibility of parole.

Twist (short for Twister since he spent his days spinning in his little area) has been here for almost three years now.  He still can’t stand to be petted.  He will come up to lick your hand if he likes you, but runs away any time someone actively tries to touch or grab him.  Needless to say, getting a leash on him is a challenge.

But because Black Dog Sanctuary is located on 9 acres, during good weather we’ve been able let him out onto the land without a leash, and you’ve never seen a happier pup — running with the rest of the pack, sniffing and enjoying the earth.  And interestingly, when outside his wariness and constant vigil make him a truly excellent watch dog.

Twist doesn’t get the same snacks as the rest of the pack.  He’s just learning to come to enjoy special treats.  I’ve learned that we can often hold ourselves back from getting the best in life because of our own fears, and so I try to remember Twisty when I’m confronted with the possibility of stepping out into a new situation.

Twist also doesn’t get loved on the way the rest of the dogs do.  I’d love to, but he won’t let me.  For the five years he was in the shelter, humans meant being sprayed with water to clean-up, pushed from one side to the other and dosed with medicines in a variety of not-so-comfortable ways.  Even those days are over, he can’t seem to bring himself to try and feel any new touch.  I try to remember that sometimes love and good feelings may not come our way because we’re the ones pushing them away.

Twist sees the world as a scary place out to get him.  He thinks that every noise, dropped item and/or flashing light is an attack of some kind, and often runs in the opposite direction and far away, even when it had nothing to do with him and wouldn’t have hurt him.  I try to remember that maybe we put too much emphasis on what we’re feeling and so hold ourselves back in fear when there’s no need to.

Despite all of his problems, however, Twist has come a long way.  When he first came, he couldn’t play with another dog; couldn’t enjoy chewing a bone; would give up his food to just about anyone who even asked for it, let alone challenged him; and had his tail tucked between his legs 24-7.  Now he’ll stand up for himself more; plays with the rest of the pack; loves to throw bones in the air (whatever works for him is fine with me) and his tail is proudly wagging much of the time.  Twist teaches me that no matter how decimated and depressed we may feel, with time and the right attention and love, we can all move forward into a better place — maybe not the perfect place another might want for us (which teaches me to be patient and accept his limitations) — but at least into a place that feels a  lot more like wahoo than boo hoo.

Dog - Twist Oct 2015Twist enjoying his time outside in the sun.

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