When the Guest Becomes Family

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Just the other day, I was shocked to retrieve Addie’s red polka-dotted slipper shoe out of Momma Bear’s mouth. For some reason, known only to the canine world, those shoes are the best tasting ones in the house. Pretty much every foster dog has favored them. Somehow they’ve survived the onslaught, although several dogs ago, Addie had to use blue flowered duct tape to re-secure the liner to the bottom of the shoe.

Momma Bear’s paperwork says she’s between 2 and 5 years old. I’m betting she’s on the low end of that scale. As she’s finally begun to relax at our house, we’re seeing more puppy-like behavior.

Next was Brady’s forgotten croc and then Ian’s stinky sneaker. And the children thought they could stop putting their shoes away since there wasn’t a puppy in the house. Think again!

It’s not just the shoes she’s begun chewing. She’s gnawed on the directions for my new iphone, multiple ball-point pens, and yesterday she found a box of packing peanuts. That was pretty funny. They were the kind made of cornstarch which disappear when wet. She’d poke her long snout into the box in the corner of my office and fish out one peanut and then take it to her favorite spot only to discover it was gone! So she’d return to the box and grab more, repeating the process until I put the box up because I didn’t know if cornstarch was poisonous to dogs (it isn’t).

When she’d run out of suitable chew toys, she began badgering Gracie to play. Gracie indulged her for a good thirty minutes, chasing her all over the first floor, barking and snarling, until my husband, who was working from home, separated them so he could hear his conference call.

Trying to indulge her new past-time, we hauled out the loaded basket of puppy chew toys and let her have her pick. She’s definitely a shoe girl. She dug through the year’s accumulation to find plenty of ruined shoes. When she found my old slipper mangled by our very first foster, Galina, she tossed it in the air and ran in circles. Happy puppy.

She’s changing in other ways, too. After ten days of avoiding the front hall with it’s narrow passageway, she finally braved it. She surprised me by turning up in my office, which is at the other end of the hall. She’d only been in there once, and I’d had to drag her there on a leash. That was her first day here, and I’d since given up on having her company at work. I was happily typing away and heard an odd whine, only to turn around and find her snoozing next to Gracie behind me, whining in her sleep.

She’s a different dog than she was when she arrived. I’ve seen many of our foster dogs transform like this and it makes sense. They’ve been moved around time and again, they can never be sure if their latest landing spot is for a day, a week, or forever. I would imagine the longer they are in one place, the harder the adjustment is at the next place.

DSC_8427We saw that with Carla, the big coonhound who was our first returned dog. She’d been given back to OPH after four years with her adopters. Carla mourned for weeks and then slowly came out of her sad shell to reveal an energetic, playful dog (who also chewed shoes).

I haven’t written about this, but Momma Bear is also a return. She was adopted in October and for reasons that have never been truly clear to me, she was returned. I know it’s not easy on any of the parties involved, but I feel pretty strongly that if an adopter wants to return a dog, they should return it. No dog should remain in any home where it is not loved or wanted.

Still, I think plenty of returns happen because some adopters are thrilled with the dog they adopt, but have second thoughts about the dog that dog becomes. The dog they adopt may be a quite different dog after it has lived with them a week or two, or longer. Just like my kids feel free to leave their dirty socks on the kitchen floor and their wet towel in the hallway. They wouldn’t do that if they were guests, but since they live here….there’s not necessarily a reason to flush the toilet every time. I think maybe it’s the same for an adopted dog.

These dogs have been through a lot of uncertainty and until they are certain they’re really home, they may not be acting like their true selves. Adopters should expect that their dog will likely change once it’s settled. The dog might not be as quiet as it was at first. It may be more playful, chewing things it had no interest in touching when it arrived. The dog may find its confidence and its voice, and begin barking more. This is a good thing – this means the dog feels like family.

When they first arrive, they feel like a guest, they’re nervous and wary. But once they realize they’re here to stay, they relax and begin to do the equivalent of not hanging up their towels. Maybe they’ll chew a few shoes or test out the sofa.

Momma Bear is due to meet her approved adopter tomorrow and possibly go to her forever home. I hope this time her adoption will stick. I hope that she is happy there and that within a few weeks she’ll be chewing up the shoes, racing around the furniture, and leaving her wet towel wherever she wants.DSC_1234

 

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Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and occasional cowgirl who lives on a hillside farm in Southern York County, PA. You can find information about my books and all my writing adventures on my website CaraWrites.com.

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