The bond has been created, built from scratch, from something unlikely, of which I had no idea if it would really work or was worth the time, money, sweat and tears. This bond is stronger and the most unique in anything I have ever experienced before between myself and another animal. This bond, I am certain, was meant to be, meant to be “work”, meant to teach me a life time of lessons in a condensed amount of time to facilitate it’s strength and growth from here on out.
The day I met her she was a 6 month old, scrawny and nearly bald 40lb Classic colored German Shepherd. I had seen her pictures, talked to a vet that treated her, spoke with the lady that owned the rescue from which I was putting my trust in to give me a dog that I hoped would be a good fit for my life and my other two dogs and a cat, my family. That night in early October was a rainy fall night. I was to meet the transport vehicle at a park and ride off the highway. Which in itself seemed kind of like an odd way to receive dog I had paid for from a rescue. The driver was calling me to give me updates and approximate times of his arrival for the past 4 or 5 hours that day. At this point, she had been in the back of a Sprinter cargo van for the 1800 mile trip from Southern California for nearly 17 hours, minus bathroom, water and food breaks for the driver and all the rescue pups on their way North to their new forever homes. Timing was everything in each drop off and exchange. I understood this, yet I was nervous. I had a conglomerate of internal questions I was asking myself; was this “not for profit” transport that only asked for donations to transport the dogs legit? Was it safe? Was I getting a truly healthy dog as I had been assured? Was this dog indeed friendly? Was it going to be the correct dog I had seen pictures and video’s of?
Upon our approaching meet up time of 10:30pm at the park and ride, I sat in my Tahoe in the pouring rain on a dark fall night. Two dog crates in the back end of my rig ready to take my new baby home, yet my mind full of anticipation and apprehension. I noticed everything, from how many folks linger at a park and ride on a dark rainy night, to the types of vehicles, what appeared to be a drug deal exchange, and to how outrageous it seemed to just meet and grab a dog that I paid an adoption fee through PayPal for and wondering the entire time….was this legit?
When the large sprinter van pulled off the highway, pulled into the park and ride lot I received the call from the driver asking where I was parked, my heart rate sped up like a I just injected a shot of adrenaline. Like clock work, the driver pulled in next to me, backed his rig up, parked, got out and handed me a manila envelope which contained my paperwork, vet records, microchip records, standard paperwork on how to integrate a new dog into my home, her leash and collar and as swift as that hand off was, he opened the back of the Sprinter van and handed me my new dog. I stood there amazed at how many dog crates were very securely stacked, strapped and packed into this van. Stacked two crates high, three wide, I would say he had maybe 18 plus crates in the van. Some of the back crates were already empty. He opened up a top crate, quickly grabbed this scrawny dog that was very eager to get out and unsure of her next move. Slipped a leash around her neck and we exchanged very quick pleasantries and he was off before I was back to my Tahoe to load up my new companion.
In the hast of the anticipation, pouring rain and daunting thought of having this scared girl get loose, I quickly loaded her up into one of the dog crates in the back of my Tahoe. Got in my driver’s seat, talking in a high pitched friendly tone telling her it was going to be “okay”, when before I could put my vehicle into drive I heard the sound of a dog urinating in the crate, she whined as she did so. I immediately got out, went to the back, got her out of that crate, not wanting her to ride the short 4 miles home in her own urine, had her get into the next crate. I tried my best to tell her it was okay and that she was such a good girl. As I chuckled to myself that I never “thought” of letting her pee after such a long car ride in the first place, plus being a scared little girl. Oh well, I thought. Got back in and started to drive home. The very first stop light I could hear her whining and not settling in the crate, then I heard that sound again….she was again peeing in the second crate. This time, I made the choice to not stop on the street, as it’s not that great of an area and just drove home. Once home, I closed my gate, got her out of the crate and kept her on a leash just in case she would spook and feel the need to run and jump a fence. She was wiggly, giddy and unsure of what was going on and where she was and who I was. She was insecure, not knowing me from anyone, she begged for attention, yet had a look of distrust, but always friendly and somewhat submissive to my words of reassurance. There in the rain, with her tethered to a leash, I washed two crates in the rain as my other two dogs barked at the commotion they could hear from inside the house.
That night I was not going to introduce all the dogs. I had made arrangements to have her bed down in the garage, in a 4×8 foot kennel with a pillow bed, food and water until morning where two dear friends would come over to help me introduce my newest family member to the rest of the family.
The next morning as planned my friends showed up to go on a walk with all three of my dogs. I was unsure how this new girl would react, and unsure specifically how my oldest Lab, Shuksan would accept a new dog to the family. I wasn’t at all worried about my younger Lab, Mi Hijo, although I did not want the new girl to do any harm to them if she was to be aggressive. I simply did not want to try to do this on my own. With myself and my two friends, Ed and Linda, we each took one dog and started our two block walk to the neighborhood park. Of course the dogs were all curious, but by the time we reached the park we were all able to walk fairly close to each other without any issue or over interest in one another. Once at the park we were able to have all three pose for first pictures with me and my three dogs. I was pleasantly pleased, or actually, I will admit I was elated that all was going smoothly. So we headed back to my place where I have a nice sized fully fenced yard where they could run free. Once inside my fenced yard we let them go, keeping leashes attached in case we had to snag one and pull them off another. That was thwarted rather instantly as they all got along and wanted to run and play. So off with the leashes and we watched as they played and chased one another. The new girl, still unnamed, was immediately drawn to my younger Lab, Mi Hijo. It was actually kind of like love at first sight for her. She, to this day adores her big brother so much that she is always with him, always looking for him, his constant companion and partner and enticer. The poor guy had zero alone time. The girl learned instantly that she can rough house with Mi Hijo, but not with Shuksan. Shuksan instantly scolded her and put her in her place…which was on her back in a submissive pose as he only scolded and growled at her once and she took it to heart and took note that he was the boss. So her attention was back to Mi Hijo and that has never left.
Next step was the cat. The cat loves her Labs, they are calm, don’t chase her and she sleeps with the older Lab. Well, add a curious, untrained 6 month old German Shepherd pup…and although she didn’t seem to want to hurt the kitty, she definitely wanted to give chase. The first introduction went like this: Let pup in, she see’s kitty sitting there and not moving. ( she is not afraid of dogs, so she sits and stares) Pup happily romps over to the kitty and starts licking kitty all over… kitty objects and jumps up on to a barstool chair, then the counter then the fridge, pup follows…so now I have a 40 lb dog on top of my refrigerator with the cat ! I was thinking to myself, “ oh hell… what the hell am I going to do now?”, as I coaxed her to the counter and off and left kitty, and removed the chair.
This new girl still had no name, or a name that I totally decided upon. I wanted to see her personality. The rescue called her “Clover”. I did not want any name attached from her former life of neglect and unlove and not a name just because she needed a name at the Rescue. I kept calling her “Baby girl, or Girly”. She seemed indifferent, scattered in her thoughts, totally untrained, undersociazlized and yet was this happy go lucky girl that just wanted love, attention and acceptance and to please. She was happy to be alive, happy to be in the moment and her spirit was sweet as ever. She was in love with her new brother, seemed to like me too. She never stopped moving, from running to chase a ball, the Labs, me, running in circles of excitement not knowing how to contain it all. She was totally untrained to the slightest bit of manners in how to act whatsoever. Rather sad I had thought, as she really did not know how to be a dog.
The next day we visited my vet. I suspected a bladder infection, perhaps stress and who knows what. Mostly I wanted to make sure she was healthy and have my vet get to know her and tell me how to get her healthy. My first course of action was putting some weight and muscles on this girl. She was so thin, you could see her hip bones, each of her ribs and her hair was a ¼ of what it should be as it was just started to grow back from her previous owners having shaved her bald to rid her of fleas and ticks. Sadly, they failed and she then got a nasty skin infection from too much dry skin, fleas and ticks, sunshine from the Central Valley of California to being dumped at a shelter to be put to sleep because her previous people failed to be good dog owners. My vet suggested proper feeding and supplements to get her off to a healthy start. I started with basics of potty training, daily leash walks with the boys and lots of attention and one on one time to gain her trust. It is the second day that I decided since she was a Central Valley girl from California, she would be called Cali. She is in all senses a California girl that undoubtedly knows she is gorgeous, flaunts it, flips her head, knows she is smart, but plays the goofy side really well. My Cali girl !
I have had puppies before, tiny 7 -8 week olds that I hand picked from a litter, started from scratch, potty train, create a routine, spend all my time with that one single puppy to create the bond. However, I have never adopted a large 6 month old, grown adolescent pup. My hands were tied. My mind perplexed on what should come first. It was a huge learning curve for me to comprehend that she didn’t understand something so basic as “go potty outside”, or her name or “come”. Plus, add to the fact that I have never had a female dog before. I knew I had to get her to trust me before any type of training could happen. I also knew she needed to transition to being in her new home. As well as learn that she wasn’t going to be shunned into living her life in a cage, kennel or on a chain in a backyard, all which I was told she had lived before.
Admittedly, I didn’t want a female dog, I was determined my next dog would be a male black and tan German Shepherd……just as my first GSD. That was until I laid eyes on her sweet face. Her eyes spoke to me through that very first picture. My heart sank, it was as if she was speaking directly to me and I understood and knew I had to fight for her, save her and offer what I could to give her a chance. I also knew I was talking a huge blind leap of a chance and faith in adopting sight unseen and trusting in others to be telling me the truth of what I was getting.
With having fell for this girl I was bound and determined not to let her down in rescuing her. Before her arrival I had already made arrangements to have her trained by a professional trainer. I wanted a dog to learn the basics where I could build upon. My first GSD was trained in Schutzhund, and was amazing at that sport and in his commands and I wanted to get the basics down for her as well. So one month after her arrival she would be sent off to Brown Dog University for a 21 day board and train, broken down into half… 10 days there, 10 days back home for me to do our “homework” and then back for another 11 days. I was sent constant pictures and updates on how she was doing. I missed her immensely, yet enjoyed the peacefulness of just my two Labs that live the cush life of couch surfing and daily walks without the hyperness of a puppy. I often wondered if I would bond well with this new girl, if it were too much for me to handle. If I was indeed insane for taking on such a chore of three large dogs, full time work, going back to school and maintaining a house and life of sanity.
The first 10 days went by quickly. My friend, Linda, Cali’s Godmother, and I, made the drive to drop her off. I was already very attached and in love with this girl. And I have to admit I had a lump in my throat as I walked away. Knowing I would get updates, and knowing the person for that past couple years from the Dock Diving world I was involved in made matters a little easier to put trust in the training plan I had entrusted Brown Dog University with, but still…that lump was there. As the 10 days went by, I received pictures of her playing with another GSD. Happily running in open fields, putting on weight even in 10 days was a happy site. Seeing pictures of Cali eagerly sitting in her “place”, posing with a Halloween costume and just plain looking like she was happy made all the difference and reassurance I needed.
At home, my house was quiet once again. Homework was done with ease and peace and quiet, and the Labs were happy to have me to themselves and to just enjoy a casual walk, fetch sessions and couch time. Life was simple.
Day 10, left work to go pick up my girl. Meet with the trainer, get a tutorial on what I was suppose to work on with my 10 days of keeping up on the training. Going over the 6 printed pages of what to do and how to do it. I learned quickly that most of the training was already done, I just had to be the one to be trained. I had to learn not to cave in when my dog doesn’t do what I ask them. I had to learn to be the leader, and to lead in a way that a dog understands, especially a very smart GSD.
Upon Cali’s return to home it was already like night and day. I was able to tell her to “Platz” ( place) and she would calmly lay down on her pillow and we could all relax. Her recall was spot on, she was no longer bouncing off all walls and furniture. She still liked to lick the kitty, but turned away when asked. I was beyond thrilled with what she had learned so far.
The next 10 days at Brown Dog University the trainers worked on Cali’s heel, Place and distraction. The trainer sent me a video of Cali in her “place” while four other dogs ran, chased balls and played all the while she stayed in her place watching the trainer for her next command. I was stunned and amazed that this was the same dog. I was so impressed and proud. I was beyond excited to continue with what was built and build more. Still, I had to bond solidly with this girl, one for me, but also for her to trust me as I was still unsure that she truly trusted me, her human.
Once home I made sure I had one on one time with her everyday. We practice her commands, go through all of them as well as some new ones I wanted to teach her. In one setting she learned “shake” and “roll over” all in about 15 minutes. I was beyond thrilled that she caught on so quickly. That was the first time I felt that she wanted to “work” for me, that we indeed had made a connection, a bond. As the days went by, I would take time for each of my dogs one on one and all together. Soon, I was going on hikes with all three, all at a heel and all enjoying 2,3 and up to 6 mile hikes and walks. Cali was flawless on these excursions. She was also going running with me as my new running partner. This is where I believe she became closer to me in that bond. She became my constant, my companion and her confidence grew as did mine. One particular incident will always stand as a testament to how smart and loyal she had become. One particular day I took Cali for a casual walk at Fort Steilacoom Park. The park has a lake in the middle and a paved walking road around that lake that is a mile around. With Cali at a heel to my left side, she was calmly walking, ignoring all who passed, with her only concern was me and how slow or fast I was walking. I am a rather cheerful person and will share greetings with those that pass and when a man in his mid 30’s passed and said a rather awkward “ HI, I like your dog, can I pet your dog?”. I immediately felt Cali stiffen up. Her ears perked up, her stance became wider and her body stiffened. I looked down at her to notice she was in a protective mode, yet still. I immediately noticed that this man was “not right”, as in probably mentally and emotionally delayed was my guess. I also assumed that he was out for a walk from the adjacent mental hospital down the street. I kindly, yet sternly denied his request in a way to protect my dog and not have her react. However, this man had no personal space margins and approached even closer where Cali let out a deep growl, I quickly turned away, told her to heel, which she did, then the man followed and tried to reach out for my shoulder to “tap” it or get my attention since I was not paying him any attention. That’s when Cali reacted, she snapped, snarled, growled and then barked all the while he was right on my back side as I was trying to walk away and now very loudly telling him “NO !”. I continued to walk the other direction quickly. Cali at a heel, yet watching this man. At first I was annoyed that she reacted as she did. I soon realized that she was only protecting me from something she sensed in this man and in my reactions towards him. After relaying this scenario to my trainer, friends all contended that my dog did exactly what a dog should do. She protected me. I have since learned to watch her cues, watch her ears, her actions and understand when she acts. She has never done this since. Cali is flawless on runs or walks when meeting strangers, passing other dogs, never gives them a second thought. So that one incident still stands out as a testament of a dog sensing something was “off”.
The bond that has been created between my rescue GSD is unbelievable. She tests me daily. Wins me over every time. She is smart, sometimes too damn smart for her own good. Like the time I shut the refrigerator door, turned to sit at the kitchen Island and then watched her tug on the door handle and help herself to the bacon package. My reaction was to yell and say “NO, DROP IT, OMG CALI “, which only gave her a mental cue as to “THAT WAS ATTENTION…” and she now is not totally trusted to NOT open the fridge. Her other quirks are turning on the bathroom Fawcett to get a drink of water and play in the water, open screen doors by jumping up and pawing the lever, or opening the lever handle front door. This girl is smart, scary smart, at times you can see her ears twitch, like she is “thinking, contemplating something, then she goes and does it”. She is in a constant “happy” state of mind. She only wants to be near me every single minute. Reclining to relax in the evening requires having her lounge across my lap as she lays her head on my chest and snuggles. If I nap, she naps as close as possible. Now imagine having three dogs that do this. Its comforting, funny and something I would never change.
I once told my Vet that I totally lucked out with this dog. Not knowing what I was getting, if she was pure bred or not, then I added: “ not bad for a backyard breeder”, which my Vet promptly corrected me and stated: “ I think she is a pure bred that someone just plain gave up on. She is too good of a tempered, mannered and beautiful dog to be just a backyard breeder pup. Someone just didn’t have the time or dedication to find what she could grow to be.” Still, I am so lucky and thankful that somehow those eyes spoke to me in that very first picture I saw of her.
I have a bond that is totally unique with each of my dogs. Each has their own personality, own silly remarkable traits that no other could replicate. Yet, somehow, the bond shared with a rescue dog is on an even higher plateau that seems so impossible to comprehend without seeing it for one’s self. I swear that Cali know’s my every feeling, every mood, every action. She meets every day with an abundant amount of enthusiasm to do “work”, or just play and enjoy the moment. She is in love with her Lab brothers and knows she is safe and loved in her home. That in itself means the world to me. I need not worry of her leaving me, running away or not coming back to a recall. She depends on me as I have grown to depend on her. She watches me for my ques as I have learned to watch and read her actions and movements. Something I did not know I had to learn, until it happened. The trust, love and the connection is strong and unbreakable in both our worlds.
Through Cali’s growth and training I was told GSD’s and ones like Cali that are smart need a job. She needs the stimuli the movement and exercise to give her days purpose. That is why we are active together, seeking adventure, exercises, running, practice of commands, fetch and just being a good canine citizen where she is welcoming to strangers when told in public. Cali loves people, other dogs and loves the attention. She has a very mellow gentle side when she is in public. She surprises me with her calmness when allowing children to pet her. She practically melts at their touch. She is gentle enough to allow a toddler or an elderly person to give belly rubs, chin scratches and rubs on the ears or her favorite, her back. My Labs love the attention, but not the same way. Again, all are very unique in their own personalities.
Cali is now in training to gain her “Good Canine Citizen Certificate”, then on to “Therapy Dog Certificate” so we can go to Retirement and Nursing homes and visit with folks that could use a little cheer and visit. My hope is also to be able to use Cali as a conversation piece of what a rescue dog can become as well as an ambassador to the breed of GSD’s.