The joy of loving a rescue canine

We knew it was not going to be an easy ride the moment we were leaving the shelter with him.

Wearing his brand new collar and leash, we began to walk the young, black dog out the door when he suddenly froze. What had been a happy, friendly creature just a moment before was now suddenly frozen. His eyes were wild with fear and he pulled hard against the leash.

“Here, let me bring him out for you,” the shelter worker said scooping him up in her arms and walking him out.

Once in the car, he cried and shook with fear, finally crawling into my lap, burying his head into my stomach and whimpering. He stayed that way for the whole 40 minute ride, nails digging in as my legs went numb.

He finally calmed down as we got him home, but the signs that something bad had happen to this 4-month-old lab mix were apparent pretty fast.

A simple command of “No” and a clap when he went to chew on something, shouldn’t made his entire body tense up as if preparing for the blow of a fist. He ran as far away as possible whenever anyone gave him a treat, apparently afraid it was going to be taken away from him.

That first night, he awoke us both with a violent nightmare, yelping and thrashing wildly in his crate. His paws clanged loudly off the metal of his new crate sides and he cried like something was trying to kill him.

We both jumped up with a start, worried that maybe he had caught something in the slates of the crate, but once the lights where on, the thrashing stopped and his confused and sleepy eyes told us it had been a nightmare.

Taking on a rescue dog is a rewarding task. All dogs are unique and the circumstance that brought them to the shelter are all different. Some adapt quickly to their new homes, other requires a bit more work. Recent news of abused and neglected animals being rescued has brought these memories back to me.

Dogs who have apparently been abused or unsocialized can take extra time and care.

I was not a newbie at dogs who needed extra time to feel comfortable in the life of a well-loved family pet.

My father has always said my second childhood dog, Rocky, “took a year to learn how to just be a dog.”

He slept with with paws tucked under him, jamming himself under a bed or coffee table. Spray bottles terrified him and lifting your hand to pet him caused him to flinch.

Rocky was a year old and didn’t know how to sit, shake or lay down on command. We took over that task working with him to teach him to follow commands and how to play catch. Eventually, he got the idea that when we approached him with a raised hand, it was for a pet.

Even with this childhood experience, nothing prepared me for Duke.

Childhood dogs are different from the dogs you have as an adult. Often times the realities of early morning wakeups, messes and the dreaded “bathtime” is not something kids have to deal with.

Duke’s first walk ended with me chasing the now collarless dog that was running full speed away from a dog that had barked at him. He had slipped his collar the moment the beastly Maltese yapped at him, even though he probably outweighed it by a good 40 pounds.

He was terrified of my father upon their first meeting, snarling and growling at him. It was a frightening sight to see his hair stand on end, teeth barred. It was a big let down for my father, who is the kind of person junkyard dogs try to get pets from. My dad spent his entire first visit trying to get Duke to even come near him. Just when it seemed the dog was coming around and possibly let himself be petted, he would backup wildly and show his teeth again.

Eventually, my husband and I figured out that he was scared of men with any type of facial hair. So my husband did the only sane thing and grew a beard, the first he has ever had.

My dad kept trying every time he visited, slowly working to gain his trust. Now, five years later, he greets my father with jumping excitement.

We were able to take him to Fulton County’s rabies clinic for the first time two years ago, and he did well with the more than 100 other dogs and their owners that were all around.

Duke is playful with my siblings’ dogs and tries his best with their cats. He no longer barks at the kids on my street when they walk by and seems to ignore our neighbors dogs.

Nightmares are rare now, and much less violent than they were for the first six months we had him. He is more likely to wake us up with a loud howl as he chases after something in his sleep.

Yet through all the challenges, the chewed up cedar chest, two broken windows [Oh yes, he broke two glass window panes with his nails while jumping up on a window sill barking at a purple mylar balloon in our neighbor’s yard. He was unharmed,] broken picture frames from the time he got his head stuck inside a toy he had gutted and knocked over a table trying get away from it, I would do it again.

There is something beautiful in seeing a dog learning to trust, to enjoy walks and car rides, to greet the cat every morning with a cold nose to the side, to just be a dog.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the newspaper or its editorial board.