Saturday, January 08, 2011

Bonding Patterns

I fully support the practice of adopting rescue dogs.  It's a philosophical no-brainer:  give an unwanted animal a loving home and watch the blessings multiply for everyone.

It's just not always that easy.

Puppies, like babies, make it easy to form that connection.  They're eager to please and funny as hell.  They romp and flop and play nonstop.  They're even cute when they pass out.  I think puppies assimilate into the personality of the household easier, too.  They grow up with their people, so they learn the family vibe:  friendly or excitable or patient.  Reid's dog Wyatt is absolutely a furry reflection of him:  calm and relaxed...happy to do his own thing...sleeps like a stone.

Marshall came to me already well on his way to adulthood.  He'd been in three different shelters and with a family for a short time, all before he was two years old.  He's smart (very smart) and learns quickly...but his personality is all his and none of ours.  He's assertive and fearful of new people.  His protective instincts combined with the nose of a hunting dog make him a tremendous yard-barker.  This is not exactly the combination of personality traits I might have chosen for us.  I was looking for a dog that would become the Monkey's best friend and sidekick.  Marshall is FAR too independent for that.


Beneath the barking and the nervous shedding and the 5 a.m. Chewbacca-noise wake up calls, Marshall is actually a sweetheart.  He'd happily stay put for hours if someone is offering ear-scritches.  He's patient with baths...and swallowing pills...and being furminated.  He's a perfect gentleman at the kennel and the doctor's office (well, once they get him away from me).  He plays well with the neighbor dogs and, when he's pretty sure no one's looking, he'll stand very still so the little boy next door can reach over the fence and pet him.  He's brimming over with awesome...but you have to look a lot deeper to find it.

Another dog got frustrated with Marshall at the kennel recently and went all Mike Tyson on him.  He's been in the Cone of Shame all week while the stitches close the gash.  It's been traumatic for him...and for me as I've watched him freak out and mope over the giant collar.  But I realized this morning, as he was happily alternating between playing with a toy and resting his head on my lap for petting, that I've finally bonded with this dog.  I understand his quirks and his graces... and I accept him for who he is.  

It took a long time for a "no brainer" decision to actually feel like one.  Marshall's been with us for two years now (I had to go look!) and I almost can't remember what it was like to not have him around.  It was a long, slow process of bonding...but definitely worth it!

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