(published a day after writing)
So, I adopted a dog. I set out to adopt a senior dog, thinking that it would provide a home to a dog in need, and require a shorter duration commitment for us as a three-dog family again. Understandably, Ken would like to simplify our collective life, but I'm here and he's there for who-knows-how-long. So I decided to adopt a dog. My heart needs a dog.
The short version of the story is that I selected a senior at a local shelter via their web site. Put in my application, and made an appointment to go meet the ole' gal. We weren't a match. I visited with a total of four dogs that afternoon, and #4 turned out to be Jed, a Border Collie who had been abandoned, probably shot (he bears evidence of buckshot wounds), and left to fend for himself somewhere in North Carolina. I don't see myself as a special needs hero. Nope. But I have a soft spot for Border Collies, and Jed, well, instead of hiding under the table in the "meet and greet" room as he typically had with others before me, he backed himself up to sit on my legs where I had plopped on the floor. The shelter workers exchanged glances. "Looks like he's chosen you!" I brought Jed home.
He's skittish. Scared. Painfully shy. Happy to spend his day in his crate, safe from potentially threatening interaction. But once he emerges he follows me around and parks himself at my feet. Sometimes he takes sanctuary in a corner. He doesn't invite affection, but he accepts it without flinching. When we've gone for walks he alternates between convivial participation and active resistance. He won't take food from my hand, and his bowl has to placed in front of him--wherever he is--for him to eat. He's pooped and peed in his crate. In southern parlance, he's a mess.
Last night as I was offering my prayers after "lights out," I wondered if this was a good idea. I don't feel equipped for this kind of relationship, and I'm definitely not trained for it. In truth, with the long road of post-traumatic recovery he has ahead of him, Jed wasn't ready for adoption. He should have had more time for transition, healing, and training with a foster guardian. Under cover of darkness the option of returning him seemed viable. This is difficult work, and a new road for me. I was looking for comfort and love, and instead I bought in to a challenge. Am I making a poor choice, or rescuing both of us through this effort? In the dawning light of a snowy morning, it all seemed less daunting.
I've been reading about how to work with dogs in his circumstances, and the underlying criteria is patience. Patience is something I can do very well, but it helps to have realistic expectations as a framework in which to practice this virtue. Further, it is helpful to feel that progress is being made.
This morning I decided that a journal for Jed would be helpful. It can help me log his days, and make note of that cherished progress. It can help me feel reinforced in the decision to stick with him. It can be a way for his story to unfold on the record. So here we are. My goal isn't necessarily to publish this log, but it does help to write it through a means that is shared. Last night in the dark I felt very alone. Here, I feel companionship.
This is our second full day together. We are challenged by a blizzard, which makes getting outside exceedingly difficult (no cleared paths), and confounding for a dog that doesn't yet have established habits for using the great outdoors. In a way I was grateful that he'd relieved himself in the crate before dawn. Laundry is more manageable than hypervigilance over the course of the day as Jed adapts to freedom and a non-kennel structure. I am leaning into the wisdom of Tom Ryan, of Following Atticus fame, who practices the art of letting his dogs be who they are rather than asking them to conform to human notions of who a dog should be. With Jed I am endeavoring to do the same, letting him learn who he is, and sharing that with me as he is able, and willing. It will take a while, but of two things I am certain. I will do my best. And I will love him with everything I've got.