Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Idea of A Dog

Today, I am sad. We made the decision last week that we cannot keep Fergie. I hesitate to even write these words because it still feels like too sensitive a situation, too new a decision to share with the world. But when it comes down to it, this is what I need to write about-- blog or no blog to report to.

Fergie nipped Cedar. I wasn’t home at the time; my friend was watching Cedar, and I guess he turned away for just a few seconds when it happened. I’m quite certain Cedar must have grabbed at Fergie’s face probably, because he’s done this before. Twice now, Cedar got to Fergie before we had a chance to intervene, and Fergie jumped up and barked which alerted me to the fact that there are limits to her tolerance. Ever since those instances, I’ve been extra vigilant in my supervision of the two of them, but inevitably there are going to be instances where I turn my head or step out of the room-- and in a matter of seconds, something unfortunate can happen.

Cedar is fine—he has a faint small bruise on his forehead, along with two tiny scrapes that you wouldn’t even notice if I didn’t point them out. He cried a bit when it happened, but otherwise doesn’t now seem afraid of Fergie or anything. But Fergie is now, clearly, wary of Cedar. She often gets up and goes elsewhere now when Cedar starts heading towards her. She is nervous around him, and that makes me nervous.

Fergie is not an aggressive dog by any means. But she is a sensitive dog, which can more easily bleed into that territory of fearful. I cringe to think what might happen now that this association with Cedar and pain has been established in her, what might happen if Cedar manages to grab at her face again or even just takes her by surprise. Because of this, Matthew and I feel that we have no choice but to give up Fergie. We can’t afford to take the risk of something like this happening again, or possibly worse. Cedar is so young that he still has another year probably before he can learn to not grab at impulse. And as he learns to walk and run around, his “reign of potential terror” will only get worse before it gets better.

I don’t want Fergie to get a bad rap. She is such an awesome dog, so affectionate and intuitive. She is great with Miles, our cat, and has grown up with a young child in the past, although not as young as Cedar. She definitely needs her exercise, but she is also quite calm and mellow. She likes to go after squirrels, as most dogs do, but relatively speaking she is good about not dashing off after distractions, about sticking close to you when off leash, and about coming back when called. She does pull on the leash, but not terribly bad, and these tendencies certainly could be corrected with a committed dose of training. She is not a barker, although she will bark at other dogs passing by when she is tied up outside. And like I said, she is not aggressive. At the dog park, she will mostly run away from other big dogs and try to play with the little ones, who are often afraid of her, at least initially. And, of course, other people are often afraid of her because she is a big, intimidating Doberman with a metal prong collar. Anyone who takes the time to observe her, however, can see that she is a sweetheart.

But like I said, she is sensitive. And throughout the 4th of July holiday, Fergie was especially nervous. People started setting off fireworks on Friday, and even a week later, I heard an explosion or two. Of course, Fergie hears them all. And on what level of her being we can only speculate. Like many dogs, she gets shaky and wants to burrow into some dark, enclosed space. In our house, that meant the bedroom, where we temporarily moved her bed and let her lie on our bed when she insisted she wanted to be there. Ever since the 4th, Fergie has still been a bit nervous. Even the sound of a carboy of beer bubbling in the corner sent her headed to the bedroom. And, perhaps, this made her more jumpy around Cedar, too. I can only speculate.

After Fergie nipped Cedar, my friend put her outside and Fergie’s hunched body and flattened ears showed that she knew she’d done wrong. That night and the next day, she seemed depressed to me, staying on her bed and not coming up to greet me and Cedar in the morning in the way she normally does. I think she has picked up on our feelings. How could she not? Animals are not like humans in the way that we overvalue our eyesight and rational powers at the expense of our intuition, hearing, or ability to pick up on energy. So Fergie undoubtedly has picked up on our sadness, and perhaps the sense that it has something to do with her.

Immediately following the nipping incident I felt a little cold towards her and kept my distance as my instinct to protect and nurture my son above all else surged into the foreground. But I never faulted Fergie, and as I’ve had time to process this whole incident, I’ve felt great surges of love and sadness for her. In a short time (two months), she has bonded with us, and us with her. I know it must be hard to be suddenly moved into a new home, and I feel awful to have to make her go through this process, especially so soon, again. I know it was up to us to make sure that Cedar only touched her gently, no matter how tolerant Fergie may have seemed. I know that many dogs would not tolerate a fraction of what she does. I feel bad that we weren’t more vigilant initially in our supervision of their interactions, but I thought that the little bit of pulling or crawling over her legs or back that slipped through the cracks of supervision would be okay. I do not blame myself, however, for I know I am an observant mother. It’s just unrealistic—not to mention extremely tiring—to stay at Cedar’s side every single second. It defies the point of all the care we take in child-proofing, when the one most important thing to supervise with your child is un-childproofable—short of putting Fergie outside.

I feel like this sadness is going to keep sinking in, in layers, and it will be a while, perhaps not until Fergie has been gone for many days, until I will be able to name what those layers are. Yes, I did go through a period during the first month of adopting her where I seriously questioned the decision, but ever since I got over that particularly tiring couple of weeks, I have committed myself to her and thought of her as a part of our family. Yes, there were still days when I resented my responsibility of making sure that she got enough exercise, but mostly I enjoyed our walks with the three of us, our own little unit. Yes, there were moments where I got frustrated at how she pulled on the leash or got in the way of the stroller, and vowed that I would take her to a training course, but mostly, we walked together fine. She waited patiently when I tied her up outside the store or at the park while Cedar swung, and then she’d happily get up and we’d be on our way again, sometimes with her giving Cedar a jovial lick on the face. I have been grateful to be forced to walk so much more, and I think that this added exercise is what has finally helped my ongoing back strain to get better. And in those rare moments when I have a chance to give Fergie some extra affection without Cedar’s needs trumping hers, I’ve felt only love towards this animal, love for her receptive presence, love for her love of us.

Unfortunately, those moments where I’d get to enjoy Fergie and bond with her one on one were all too rare. Cedar was always number one, and she would get whatever I had left over. I admit, it has been tiring caring for a big, sensitive dog, and a mobile, energetic baby/toddler at the same time. Those who cautioned that this might be the case were right. Although I’d committed myself to Fergie and gotten over my thoughts about giving her back, in the back of my mind I still sometimes wondered if it’d been the best decision right now. But never mind that. Matthew loved her, Cedar delighted in her presence, and I grew more attached to her every day. I knew that she would continue to bring our family joy, not to mention that she’d continue to get older and thus need less exercise, and the idea of how bonded we’d all be by the time she got old and grey warmed my heart—the idea of the ever-loyal, ever-happy, family dog.

It was the idea that seduced me in the beginning, and the idea that kept me committed (not to mention a sense of duty). Even within the blur of new parenthood, I was drawn to the knowledge held dormant inside of me ever since I was a child, that it was a joyful experience to bond with a dog. But here it is, one more confession: I know that once I get past this sadness, there will be a small part of me that is also relieved. My life will become simpler, easier again. We will no doubt try again with another dog, maybe a puppy, but not for a couple years at least. I will know better what the responsibility entails and I will make sure then that I am ready, and not acting out of some impulse for change.

I’m not saying that our decision to adopt Fergie was pure impulse. We’d talked about wanting a dog for some time. But we hadn’t talked about it recently, in the midst of raising Cedar. Yet in the end, the idea of getting an adult, yet still youthful, dog in which we knew her history, in which we knew—or thought we knew—how good she was with kids, and in which we knew that she’d been cared for by great people was too tempting. It seemed like the ideal situation. Not a puppy that would require boundless energy, and not a dog from the pound with an unknown past, but a big, gentle, smart, and completely vouched for dog. She sounded perfect. Too good to pass up. A gift from the Universe. A leap of faith.

It is always so disappointing when these leaps don’t turn out the way you hoped for. You want to trust in your decisions, your instincts, your impulses. But you can’t control the outcome, only your reaction to it.

In this case, it’s a no-brainer what we have to do. And I am sad. The good news is that there was another couple (also friends of Fergie’s previous owner) who was interested in adopting her, and they are excited to now give it a try. I really hope that Fergie won’t get shuttled around any more after her next stop. She needs a home where she can get lots affection, lots of exercise and ideally, not have to be tied up when outside (we don’t have a fence, so we kept her on a long lead when we let her out, but she was used to being able to roam freely at her old place). She also needs a home with children who have learned not to grab and pull. And she needs a home where someone needs her as much as she needs them.

Fergie is a dog you can quickly fall in love with-- especially if you don’t have a small child who is competing for every ounce of that love himself. She is the kind of dog who feels deeply present, keenly receptive to every noise, smell, word, or emotion. It is a huge gift to be able to share your life with other animals, not human. But it takes work, and the timing has to be right, and sometimes even when you want it to be right, it isn’t.


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