Back in late December 2011, we got a new dog.
Our senior dog, Bear, had died (at 17! miraculously old for an 80-pound dog) in January of that year, and Smokey had been haunting PetFinders ever since, looking for the perfect replacement. Since bears are ever and always his favorite animals, he wanted another one with an ursine face, a face that an old friend of mine would have called a dumpling face. After one or two false discoveries — the dogs ended up being too far away or were adopted before we could arrange to come get them — in early fall he found Keesha somewhere near Stevens Point, WI. She was am eight-month-old rescue dog from Ohio. When she had been just one day away from being put down at the shelter there, someone from Wisconsin swooped in with a trailer and cages and rescued 20 or so dogs. This person placed them with in various foster homes in Wisconsin with people who were part of her rescue network. Keesha and her sister Sierra were fostered by a woman who lived near Stevens Point.
Smokey emailed with this woman several times. She sent photos but said that Keesha was not ready to be adopted — she was too skittish. In December the woman decided that Keesha was as ready as she would be, and we made the arrangements to come get her. This woman had a heart bigger than her budget — over a dozen rescue cats, nearly that many dogs, and a letter on her dining room table threatening eviction.
The first thing we did once we got home was rename her Misha, which is Russian for bear. It also sounded enough like Keesha that we figured it would not confuse her unduly.
The problem was that we couldn't touch her. Apparently she had spent her entire puppyhood in a cage and had never been socialized. We did find that if one of us lay on the floor, she would approach close enough to take a dog treat from our hand. She wouldn't do that if the giver were standing or sitting; she was afraid of anything higher than her head.
After a month or two we found that she would approach us when we were sitting and watching TV. If one of us slowly lowered a hand beside our chair, she would come over to lick it. But any attempt to pet her resulted in a mad dash back to Her Safe Place under the dining room table.
She repeatedly figured out how to escape from the fenced-in area where she and Lucy relieved themselves. For the rest of the winter and early spring she often roamed wild for an hour or three but always came home to be let back into the house. With the coming of spring we feared her roamings would result in her getting pregnant. A close neighbor had an intact male mastiff that was never kenneled or tied and who occasionally came over to investigate our dogs. We had to Do Something Drastic. In her present wild state there was no way we could get her into the car to go to the vet.
Smokey's solution was to get her on a leash and keep her next to him 24/7. At night he slipped the handle over the bedpost so she had to stay on the bed. This was the first time we could touch her; we discovered she had a coat with the texture of satin.
Over the next few weeks she became less wild but still extremely skittish. She was spayed successfully and came back home. By early summer we were taking her and Lucy along in the car whenever we went out, although she was never off the leash during the rides.
One day I was at a friend's house for something and I left my credit card there, don't remember now why I even had it out. I took Misha along for the ride when I went to retrieve it. The friend was visiting a neighbor and had put my credit card right inside her door so I could get it easily. Here is what I emailed her after I got home.
I have to tell you what happened when I came back to get my credit card.
I brought along Mischa, the shy dog, for a ride in the car. She doesn't know yet that getting to go along for a ride in the car should be one of the high points of a dog's life, and we need to teach her how wonderful it is to see the world going by and to feel the wind in her whiskers.
After retrieving the credit card, I came to get back into the car, and she darted out the door and ran across the lawn. Happily and by some miracle of good luck she didn't run into the woods. Actually, I think trees freak her out a little. She had no little or no experience of the outdoors when she was a puppy in Ohio.
Anyway, she stopped a little ways from the edge of the grass and stood there, looking around and sniffing the breeze. I knew without a doubt that if I tried to chase her, or even to walk up to her quietly, she would panic and run away and I might never be able to get her back. She was wearing a choke chain and leash, and it would be just a matter of time until she got hung up somewhere in the woods and ended up dying of thirst.
I didn't even want to think about how I could tell Smokey I had lost the dog that he loved. Instead, I just concentrated on how I would catch her.
Since I couldn't walk towards her — she freaks at anything that comes toward her from above the level of her head — I decided to get down on the ground. I had some vague plan of creeping closer every time she looked away (I think I saw that in a Road Runner cartoon once) but it turned out to be very painful to crawl on my knees. Instead I lay down, and whenever she wasn’t watching, I would roll in her direction.
This would have been hilarious to watch from above.
I lay on your lawn, talking to her and telling her what a good dog she was, then every minute or two, I would roll closer to her. This worked until I was about 8 or 10 feet away. Then it occurred to me that if I made a mistake and scared her, she would immediately run directly away from me… into the woods. So I rolled parallel to her until we were equidistant from the trees. Now I had to be really, really careful not to frighten her, since I found myself getting close. Instead of rolling all the way over each time, I rolled only a quarter turn at a time and lay for a minute or two before making my next move.
When I made the last roll and was once again facing her, I saw that the end of the leash was within reach. When she looked away to sniff the breeze, I just reached out and quietly grabbed the handle of the leash. She was very calm about it and trotted behind me to the car.
Whew. It could have been divorce court — or at then very least, some very uncomfortable moments — if my plan had not worked.
And that is why your grass looks like someone has been rolling around on it. And why there are a few plantain weeds lying uprooted. I had to do something to keep myself amused while lying there waiting for the dog to stop watching me.
All's well that ends well.
In the months since then Misha has become more and more friendly. She comes when called, seeks us out for affection, flops on her side for tummy rubs, licks our faces, sleeps with us, bumps the backs of our legs when we walk to the door to let her out, and dashes from one end of the house to the other in mad delight whenever Smokey comes home. She seeks him out for play, me for reassurance, both of us just to say, Hi, I'm your dog, gotta love me! Every week we see another tiny improvement in her socialization. She still barks at anyone else who enters the house — such a fierce watchdog she is! — but less and less as she gets used to the new person. As she gets more secure she also chews less. It has been months and months since she destroyed anything, although I still don't leave my shoes on the floor just in case. She does insist on building a shrine of Smokey's discarded clothes in the living room whenever we are gone for more than an hour or so.
Apparently dirty socks/underwear/t-shirts are objects worthy of worship when they bear the scent of your master.