Man, this dog of mine — and in so many ways, yours, too, and I really feel that and believe that she has an extended pack out there — has come such a long way. This video didn't seem like much at the time, but it shows her taking one of the steps on her way to recovering from whatever traumatized her so badly.
While she was frightened by just about everything, that fear was mostly, if not entirely, man-made. It was not enough to defeat what nature had equipped her with: her dog soul.a She had courage and curiosity and intelligence and resilience.
In retrospect, it might have been an advantage for me not to have had any experience with fearful dogs. There's a lot of stuff I would undoubtedly have handled differently and probably better. Maybe I wouldn't have been on pins and needles so much around her. But, when the slightest everyday noise you make sends a dog into a full-blown panic — trying to dig into concrete or tear a wooden fence down, flailing and clawing at anything, panting and as tight as a knot — it was hard for me not to get nervous about it. Noises I never gave a second thought, like putting a plate down or closing a cupboard or turning on a light switch, were all fear events for Roo. So were lights and shadows. Those still are. Not to the point of panic, but enough to make her want to hide. I didn't know what would scare her next, and the main thing seemed to give her a break from getting scared. She just needed to catch her breath so she could regroup. But I had no idea what I was doing, and all it came down to was just trying to let her be a dog. Naturally, being in the middle of a crowded city, the dog park seemed like a good idea.
That's what's so wonderful about this old video of Roo the first time she ever went to a dog park. You can see how baffled she is when she gets there. She's not frightened or even especially on edge. Outdoors has always been where Roo feels at home, so she had that going for her. But everything else about the experience was strange to her. She had no idea what to make of it. And yet, in the course of a few minutes, her mind turned it all over, her dog spirit took over, and she began acting like the puppy she was.
It's more than five years now, and Roo's fear issues crop up every day, though almost entirely in small and even cute ways. When a door is held open for her, she stops before crossing the threshold, for example. Always (unless she forgets because she's chasing someone). When I first got her, she was terrified of any door if my hand was on it. That combination had to mean to her that she was about to be trapped. Okay, so now she likes to make sure. The night — not the dark — is still an issue for her. Flashlights still terrify her, which has meant having to make adjustments in camps, especially in the wilderness, where you need to use them.
Anyway, she’s a great dog. She’s sweet and silly. She still acts like the puppy who jumped up and down when she was happy or excited. She runs and jumps like a gazelle. She is fascinated all the time and in tune with her surroundings, especially in the wild. She's one hell of a good dog.
If you now anyone on the lookout for a rescue dog, talk to them about getting a fearful or otherwise damaged dog. They get better, and the experience of being part of their transformation from desperate to dog is one of the most powerful interspecies relationships there is.
The little rescue squirrel is improving every day, according to Deb Bryan at Lil Rascals Wildlife Rehabilitation. She's getting stronger and more mobile and she can eat unassisted now.
Deb texted me the other day to ask if I'd like the honor of naming her. The result: Nutasha. Here she is in a picture Deb took. Have a look at the Lil Rascals facebook page, and if you have a couple of extra bucks in your PayPal account, lay 'em on the squirrels, raccoons, opossums and skunks. Even the smallest donations are welcome. Deb pays for all the rehab herself, and like all good rescuers, if an animal in her care needs veterinary care, she doesn't skimp, even though she has to pay full freight for all of it. Nutasha is in great hands.
The only problem is that now Roo is convinced that any box of any kind might contain a squirrel. Today she stared at my friend Jim's guitar case for five minutes. The guitar case — just in case.