So, as you may recall, we have a Jordanian puppy that came to us through the combined awesomeness of Captain Cassie Wyllie and Puppy Rescue Mission (http://www.puppyrescuemission.com/). In her first days in America, she and I ended up marooned in the Cascade Mountains in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, about as un-Middle Eastern-like terrain as we could have selected for Gwenie’s debut in the Pacific Northwest.
Back in the valley the next morning after our mountain adventure, I figured I ought to show Gwenie the neighborhood. The leash was not something she was terribly thrilled with at first, but she soon got used to it as I walked her around the front yard. That said, the sad puppy eyes she kept flashing at me suggested I was crushing her little soul with this new torture device. Resigned and broken, she trudged around whining every few minutes to let me know she was not okay with this gig. Fortunately, after a bit, she perked up and began bouncing along beside me as we explored the yard. I bent down and pet her and said, “Not so soul-sucking after all, is it dog?” She ignored that and did her best to still look wounded every time she caught me looking at her.
Now it was time to introduce Gwen to the neighborhood. we stepped across the front lawn, crossed the threshold of the sidewalk and out into the street. The minute we left the property, she fell behind me. I turned and looked at her. Here was my puppy, a world traveler, survivor of snow and car marooning in the mountains, staring at me with an expression of abject fear.
She got up off her haunches and tried to leap back toward the yard, bucking furiously against the leash. I tried to calm her down, but she would have none of that. So, I moved back to the lawn. The minute we made landfall at Chez Bruning, she calmed down and sat quietly beside me.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this. The last warrior animal I had, Volunteers the cat, tore around the neighborhood at Mach 2, getting into everything, attacking dogs, making friends and reveling in every bit of trouble he could find. He once chased a tennis ball for blocks after Renee threw it for him down the street. I had to run after him to make sure he didn’t get gobsmacked by a commuter returning home.
Gwenie saw everything beyond the realm of our yard as a potential threat. For two days, I worked to coax her off the lawn. I have a place of my own that is my writing refuge about a half block from the house, and I was able to convince her to go back and forth between them. But stray from that pattern, and she would flat out refuse to budge. At times, I even had to carry her between the two places.
So, I had a puppy I couldn’t take for a walk. I had no idea what to do. Clearly, my pup had suffered trauma. She’d watched two of her litter mates die in Jordan. Her mom had vanished long before that. Before Cassie found her, she was slowly starving to death in a little den, only a few weeks old. Combine that background with the car rides, plane flights, cages and disorientation over coming to America, it was no wonder she wanted to stick close to the one place familiar to her.
Each night, I took Gwen out and inched her a little at a time, out of her comfort zone. Within a few days, we could make it across the street, outside the normal path we took to get to my other place. I was excited, things were looking up. I have plans for her–road trips back to the woods and nights on the beach in Aptos, California. But first, we needed to be able to walk around the block. Baby steps.
One evening, I put the leash on Gwen and took her out front. She padded across the lawn, nose pointed for my other place. But I stopped her and said, “Okay, darlin’, we’re going up the street tonight.”
She whined. She gave me the Please, Writer, noooo! look of pure, doggy anguish. We needed to do this. I was not swayed.
I stepped off the curb, and Gwen reluctantly followed. She bolted toward my other place, but the leash stopped her cold. Then she tried to make a break back to the house. Nope. That didn’t work. I waited patiently. It was a cold night, and our breath was fogging around us. The lamp posts nearby cast orange pools of light on the asphalt. Beyond them, the ‘hood was unusually dark. Clouds overhead blocked the starlight and the moon. Gwenie scoured the blackness, looking for threats. I stood and let her do her thing until she calmed down at last.
We started walking up the street, the opposite direction from my writing loft. Gwenie trailed behind, whining periodically. We reached the edge of our property which sits on the corner of two cul-de-sacs. I paused and let her get used to being beside in me in the street, twenty feet from her familiar lawn.
She didn’t really look ready. But I think I saw her muster up some courage, and I took a step. She followed. Two more and she was trotting next to me.
She jumped up and pawed my hip, so I stopped briefly to stroke her head. She was building herself up for a new adventure, and perhaps she was starting to trust me a little. All that she had known for the last few weeks now was not going to go away. She wouldn’t be torn again from what she found safe. She would be with me, and it would be okay.
We moved forward together and I sensed confidence flowing into my little refugee. I wanted to make it to the intersection about three blocks north of our place. If we could do that, I figured she’d be able to do anything with me.
We reached the edge of the next cul de sac over. Suddenly, Gwenie recoiled. She keened and kicked backwards, uttering sounds I’d never heard come from a canine before. Fearing she’d cut her paw on something, I spun around to check on her. Terror filled her eyes. Her mouth hung half open, and she was desperately backpeddling. What had happened? There weren’t any people out. No other animals.
“Gwenie! Gwenie! You’re fine, relax!” I kept telling her. She didn’t believe me. Something was about to get her, and I was keeping her from escaping.
I knelt down and tried to coax her over to me. She tugged hard at the leash to get away. That’s when I realized she wasn’t even looking at me. I followed her gaze. She was staring at the naked cherub statue in my neighbor’s front yard.
A faux stone statue had panicked my puppy.
I scooped her up–she weighed all of about fifteen pounds at that point–and carried her home. Enough for one night. We’d try again tomorrow.