Four weeks have passed since I have written. Not long after, things nearly came undone. While enjoying a warm and sunny day in our backyard, Violet placed her paws atop the fence rail to get a better view of a squirrel. She had done so before so I wasn’t alarmed.
Next thing I knew, Violet climbed the fence to get a closer look at that squirrel. I hustled into our neighbor’s unfenced yard. Violet had her paws on the trunk of the tree where the squirrel now was. I placed a finger under her collar and led her to our yard and inside. Scary, but it ended well enough.
Fast forward four hours. Time to take Violet out to pee. It was about 6:30 and dark. I opened the back door to let her into the yard. She didn’t blink–she bolted to the same place she climbed the fence and this time jumped it cleanly. My heart sank. I moved more quickly than last time into my neighbor’s yard. Violet was at the base of the same tree, but I didn’t catch her collar in time. She turned and ran along the back property line away from me and out of sight. My mouth lost all moisture.
I jogged through my neighbors’ back yards, along the property line, but she was quickly out of sight. I walked through yards to the next street over and called. To the end of the block, left, a block, then left and back to our house. Violet appeared and I called her. She turned and left. That’s bad. Would I get another chance? I retraced the path from before and again no luck. I stood in front of our house and she appeared a second time. Panting like crazy, but fine. I called her and she came right to me. I looped a finger through her collar and brought her inside. Gone for 45 minutes. She laid on her bed and I gave her a careful once over. All was well.
That wasn’t the whole of the day. We’d been having other issues and they all seemed to come up that fateful day. I won’t go into specifics. It was, in short, a rough day. More than I could handle after two weeks of 24-7 training, care and loving. For what? Not only did I feel like I was unable to help Violet integrate fully into our life, with the fence jumping I now felt I couldn’t keep her safe.
I called the rescue and turned the adoption into a foster. I invited them to find a new forever home for Violet. They were great about it, but they needed a couple of days, or as much as a couple of weeks to find a suitable foster home. I was happy to keep Violet while they looked. It was the least I could do.
I was sick to my stomach. I had never given up on a dog, and I knew Violet was a terrific dog with only a couple of rough edges that someone other than me, someone more skilled than me, would be able to sand down. How could I let her go? Having recently euthanized Frida, giving up Violet was like losing a second dog in a six month period. I was blue as hell.
But it turned out to be a wonderful decision. The next day I decided to stop worrying about training Violet to walk well on a leash and instead just walk with her. Get her the exercise she so clearly needed. Big mileage. We walked nearly ten miles in four walks that first day. She was so tired in the evening she had no energy to misbehave. It was a great day and a great night. Not bad.
As much as she became a better dog, seemingly overnight, I had also reset my mind. Instead of worrying about whether we’d sort all of her issues, and how quickly, I was determined to do the best I could in the next couple of days or weeks to get Violet ready for her next home. I was no longer working to make her perfect, I wanted only to make her better. That was something I could do.
The next day we walked seven. A training book from Sophia Yin arrived and I devoured it. Focused on positive reinforcement, Violet really enjoyed learning to say please. That’s when you simply stand near your dog and wait for them to sit on their own. No words or cues. When they do, and she did, you give them a treat. Repeat often, and we did. She is a fast learner. We worked on leave it, too. Also redoubled our efforts to remind Violet that Lacey and I are in charge. She had to sit before we’d feed her, throw her a ball, go out a door, and so on. Every time.
We formulated new approaches to addressing other problems, too. Violet was starting to bite and tug on her leash at times of stress. She’d really put on a show and it was embarrassing. We were used to having a model dog and Violet was a model dog–except when she turned into a maniac and attacked her leash. It’d happen, say, in a crosswalk at a busy intersection. I’d fight to get her safely to the curb and then try “leave it,” bribe her with a treat, have her sit or eventually forcibly remove the leash from her mouth. Each approach would work sometimes, but all were falling short. All a bit too much drama for my taste. I changed tactics. I thought about what Violet values most of all. Tennis balls! And that has been my get out of jail card ever since. If Violet grabs the leash, I produce a ball and she drops the leash immediately. I hand her the ball and she chews it like so much gum for blocks on end. And things are improving still. I’ve since been able to get her to drop it simply by asking. I then have her sit and calm down. Then she gets a treat and we walk on. In time, I expect the habit fall away. As she settles and bonds more.
And the fence! She hasn’t been in our yard without a leash for a month now. I won’t risk it. Bruce Fence Company should be here in a few weeks to install a six footer. I’ll still stay with her while she is in the yard until I can be sure she won’t try to climb the higher fence or dig under. Maybe she will never be able to be left alone, but at least we can play ball and do other business without a leash. In the meantime, we’ve been making almost daily trips to the dog run at muni golf course. A girl needs wild off leash fun. They have a six foot fence. I toss tennis balls to her and she plays well with all the dogs. Responds well to aggression by hopping back and leaving the situation. If she wasn’t well socialized before we got her, she is now.
We’ve kept up with the walking. Didn’t skip it even during the great snowstorm. One day we walked to the Hudson river and back–nearly eight miles in one go, but we’re averaging about five a day. Most often at a clip that is just short of jogging. I’ve dropped eight pounds!
Five point five miles today, but no dog run. We used up our spare time with work and a trip to return a van to the rental company. Violet loved the van. We rented it to pick up office furniture for Lacey and bring home some pieces that turned out to be too fancy for her practice. Low slung Scandinavian numbers that older clients had trouble getting out of. I laid out blankets on the metal floor of the cargo area. She’d walk to the back to look out the windows, walk to the front between the seats to look out the front, or curl up and sleep behind the passenger seat. Tried to sit in the passenger seat and made it work for a few minutes, but it was too small. She was more comfortable standing.
Violet has come so far that we’ve even invited her onto the bed. Something dogs have to earn in our house with consistent beta dog behavior. Hadn’t been invited until about five weeks in and even now she only gets to come up while we watch tv. When it is time to sleep, she goes back to her bed on the floor.
The end of the story for now is that while preparing Violet for her next home, we fell back in love with her. This time for good. I’ve been able to sand off the rough edges. Still working every day. I’ve also secured a spot on the waiting list for training at the Monks of New Skete. My expectation is that she won’t need it after the roughly four month wait, but it helps to know we can fall back on their able care if need be.
It has been a heck of a journey. I’ve been steeping in little else for six weeks! I wasn’t sure I should even share the story, even in the general form I’ve offered, but Lacey encouraged me. It is good for people to know that not every adoption is a cakewalk. That not all matches work.
Violet it our third adoption. Our first was a handful and we never sorted her out. Didn’t yet have it in us. We just managed her behaviors for ten years and it ended well. We loved her so much, but it was tough. Then we got Frida. She came nearly perfect and all we did was our best to not mess her up. Now dear Violet. In her forever home with us. I’m confident we’ll work out her form of perfect and have a dozen fabulous years together. But now I know what it feels like to say yes to a dog, then no. At the point of no, we felt like it was the best thing to do. It hurt like heck, but we had to take care of ourselves. If Lacey and I weren’t strong and onboard, we couldn’t help Violet be her best. Better to share her with someone with the right stuff. Or so we thought for awhile.
If you find yourself at the end of your rope with a new rescue, get the help you need. In addition to the head of our rescue organization, our trainer, and Lacey, random conversations on the street also made a big difference. Tell your story. It isn’t shameful. The day after I made the hard decision, I had two terrific conversations with dog owners while walking Violet. These folks listened to our story and gave tips and encouragement. One guy said he loves his dog’s Whistle. It’s a GPS device on his dog’s collar which allows him to track his escape artist on his cell phone. I haven’t bought one yet, but I probably will. A second person turned out to be a foster for dogs. She encouraged me to bike with Violet. She said the devices they make to tether dog to bike really work and that dogs, with proper training, love it. I haven’t purchased a device, but when I do it will be one of the two offered here. At the end of both conversations, I nearly cried. Short talks, only a minute or so, but they helped so much. Express therapy sessions, really.
We still have trying moments, but I see them with different eyes. Hopeful eyes. We are going to have some swell adventures together and some very comforting quiet times, too. Dogs! Gosh I love them!