Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On the resilience of dogs...

This is Oreo.

He's a 4-year old purebred Cocker Spaniel, and I got to know him a little better because his owner, Melinda Elkind, won a free pet portrait of him in a drawing I sponsored over the summer.

So a few weeks ago, I traipsed over to Oreo and Melinda's house to take some photos for use in the painting.

Oreo is a very pleasant dog. He has good social skills. But he's not one of those dogs who immediately is ALL OVER YOU, giving you the hard-sell like he's Orphan Annie and you're a potential adoptive parent.

Maybe this doesn't happen to you, but it has happened to me MORE TIMES THAN I CAN COUNT. I'd go to a party, and usually there'd be a new baby there (to be fair, this happened MUCH MORE when I was a bit younger).

Now MOST women are very BABY-oriented, so they would get sucked into the baby's orbit like the additional moons and assorted space junk that get sucked into orbiting Jupiter.

I am not like most women that way.

Sure, I like babies as a rule, and I will politely admire them, because, generally, they're very cute. But PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME TO HOLD ONE. They seem very pink and fragile, I never quite know how to support their necks (which seem disconcertingly weak relative to their enormous HEADS), and they are nerve-wrackingly susceptible to irrational crying jags. Plus they are FULL of all sorts of liquids that are apt to come OUT at any time from a dizzying variety of bodily apertures, and these liquids are not the sorts of things I want on my clothes.

I am the person who zooms out of the swarm around the baby at the earliest possible opportunity, looking for the family dog or cat and/or the bar, not necessarily in that order.

And what would inevitably happen at that point is that the dog immediately would attach himself to me. I'd start to pet him, scratch him behind the ears, talk to him, etc. And then he WOULDN'T LET ME STOP. He'd try to crawl in my lap or show me the latest awesome trick he'd learned. And every time I'd try to rest my hand or wash my hand or deposit the dog hair in a wastebasket or go somewhere for a drink refresher or the bathroom, there he'd be, following me and begging for more attention.

So that was the long way of saying OREO IS NOT THAT KIND OF DOG.

Like I said, he was very polite to me, a relative stranger (although he does take his watchdog duties somewhat seriously), but he's clearly not interested in selling himself like those needier dogs. He was well-behaved; Melinda let him off-leash part of the time and he did not flip out and start running for miles, just because he COULD, like some other dogs I could mention. He was a good boy!

Then Melinda told me about his background.

You see, Oreo is a rescue dog. When Melinda got him, three years ago, he was a year old, and had spent most of his life in a crate. The woman who owned him did not know anything about dogs, and her two children basically spent their time POKING at him through the bars of the crate.

So he would snap at people.

And I can't blame him, really, given his life experience.

But apparently he had bitten TWO people and was scheduled to be put down. Melinda was one of his last chances. And she took him in.

It was not easy, I'm sure. She said that, when she first brought him home, he wanted to constantly be up on tables, coffee tables, chairs, etc. But once her husband established that HE was the top dog, Oreo fell into line. Sure, he still indulges in the occasional criminal act (usually involving a food theft of some kind) but he seems to be a lovely pet!

I came away rather amazed at his resilience. I would never have guessed that he didn't come from a stable home and happy puppyhood. But I am constantly horrified and amazed by the many idiotic and cruel ways in which people mistreat their companion animals. And I am always humbled by the incredible grace and resilience of many of those animals who bounce back and are again willing to offer people their love and trust.

We, as a species, could probably take a lesson from that.

I don't know that Oreo was ever technically in a shelter, but, thanks to the ASPCA, October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month! If you're in the market for an animal companion, please plan to adopt a shelter animal this month. There's more information at the ASPCA's website.

Think about it! You, like Melinda, will not only be getting a great companion, you'll be saving a life!

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