This Labor Day weekend marks the one-year anniversary of Shadow's adoption into our family. In his honor, I'm posting an updated version of his story, which originally appeared in two blog installments one year ago:
A week before Labor Day 2004, we learned a little black dog had been hanging out in our church's prayer garden for over two weeks. The ladies at church dubbed him "Shadow" because the poor thing acted as if he were scared of his own shadow. He's solid black with a beautiful glossy coat, probably a border collie mix. No one knows where he came from, but his fear suggests some sort of abuse. The church staff had been putting out food and water, but with preschool starting soon, our administrator was concerned that the dog might be perceived as a danger to the children.
I have a reputation for being able to make up with just about any animal, but this little guy was so frightened by the tiniest movement or sound that I couldn't even get close. Not wanting to abandon him to the dog catcher and certain death, I decided to try coaxing him into a crate with a rope tied to the door, then pull the door closed and trap him when he went inside to get food. My sister-in-law and I tried for about three hours Tuesday afternoon and evening. But that smart little thing just knew something was up, and he'd never get far enough inside for us to close the door.
Next stop, our veterinarian's office for doggy tranquilizers. I was all ready for him to nod off to dreamland so I could cover him with a blanket and carry him to my car. Fat chance! Though he got really groggy, he refused to give in to sleep. If I even came close, he'd get up and stagger farther away. That went on all Wednesday afternoon and evening. But by the time I went home that night, I'd at least gotten him to trust me enough to take pieces of hamburger patty out of my hand. I hoped if I could get him that close, he'd stand still long enough for me to slip a leash over him. Again, fat chance.
On Friday I made up my mind to not leave without him. I went over around 9:30 loaded up with snacks, water, and lunch, plus two more hamburger patties and a bag of dog food. I chose a quiet corner of the prayer garden, spread a towel on the ground, and kept coaxing him over with goodies, slipping in my last two tranquilizers. When they didn't work any better than the day before, I called the vet and picked up some more, with instructions on upping the dosage until Shadow became groggy enough to approach. But I had to sign a paper saying she warned me how dangerous a frightened, sedated dog could be, that he could bite if cornered.
But all day he never strayed far from me, as if he was finally getting used to my presence--even grateful for it. If I walked around, he followed a little way behind. If I made him too nervous and he went farther away for a little bit, I could always count on him to move closer before long. And he sure loved that hamburger meat. He ate much of it right out of my hand.
When a staff member came out to check on us around 2 p.m. , I took the opportunity to go inside and use the restroom. I'd set up the crate again with the rope and treats, and while I was inside, the staff person said Shadow had gone all the way into the crate for the treats! Hope renewed, I put more treats inside and stretched out the rope a good distance away. A minute later he ventured inside and I pulled the door shut. In his drugged state he didn't even panic, just turned around and looked at us as if to say, "Okay, what's next?"
Everyone in the church was thrilled and relieved. The church secretaries helped me carry the crate to the car, and I took Shadow over to my sister-in-law's, where she agreed to take care of him for a few days while our grandsons visited for the Labor Day weekend. When I opened the crate to let him out inside her screened porch, he staggered around for a minute looking confused, then lay down quietly. I knelt and slowly reached out to stroke his head. He rested his chin on the floor and closed his eyes, and in his little heart I knew he was thinking, "I understand now. You were helping me, and now I know I'm safe." When I rose to leave and let him sleep off the drugs, he got up and looked at me as if he didn't want me to go. He was as gentle as can be, as loving as any dog I've known, and I know it wasn't just the drugs but the fact that he trusted me and understood how much I loved him.
At that point I wasn't where Shadow's final home would be. We'd been resistant to taking on the expense and commitment of adopting another dog, but I was pretty sure Gracie, our happy-go-lucky Lab mix, would love making friends with him. And I knew I had plenty of love to share! (And my husband did, too, if he were brave enough to admit it.)
There's a biblical analogy in here somewhere. Like the shepherd who left the 99 to go in search of the one that was lost. This little puppy was certainly lost, but I just couldn't give up on him. And as the angels in heaven rejoice over one lost soul who finds new life in Christ, so did the church staff members rejoice to know a sweet, innocent little doggy was going to enjoy a happy life in a good home somewhere, not a lonely, meaningless death in the back room of the animal control department.
So Shadow spent Friday and all day Saturday of Labor Day weekend in my sister-in-law's back yard, and she and I both spent lots of time just sitting with him, trying to get him to trust us. He'd find the farthest corner and cower whenever we came near, or dart past us to escape. When we managed to block his path, he'd freeze, as if he thought, "If I don't move, they can't see me." We were able to stroke him and talk to him a little bit at a time that way, but he still wasn't sure of us.
When early evening came, both my sister-in-law and I had to leave, and while Shadow was alone, the yard service came. He must have been frightened by the noise of the mowers and blowers, because he dug under the fence and found his way right back to the church's prayer garden, two blocks away. We tried again to lure him to us with soft words and treats, but he was too afraid.
With my daughter and her family visiting through Monday, I couldn't afford the time or the energy to go through another day like the first time I finally caught him. That whole week had been emotionally and physically exhausting for me. I did take him some food and water the next day, with plans to return Monday afternoon after the family left to see if I could catch him once more.
So, starting around 1 p.m. on Labor Day, I camped out in the prayer garden. I set up the dog crate system again, hoping he'd have forgotten that's how I captured him the first time, then started him on more tranquilizers. But no matter how drugged he became, he simply would not step all the way into that crate, and he wouldn't let me come close enough to catch him by the collar we'd put on him Saturday before his escape. Nothing seemed to be working.
A rain shower came up about the time my husband brought me a drink and snack, and we stood under the back portico of the church to wait it out while Shadow staggered in and out of the bushes looking for a dry spot to lie down. The rain finally let up near 5 p.m. I told my husband to give me just a bit longer, and he went back home. But I was ready to give up, and told God so.
"Lord," I prayed aloud, "I can't help this little dog if you don't help me. I give his future over to you. All I want is to help him right now, to take him to a safe place where he can be cared for. The rest I leave up to you. Just help me help him."
I sat down on a step and watched as Shadow crept under a concrete picnic table. I had just a few pieces of hamburger left. I sidled over, speaking softly, and eased onto the bench with my back to Shadow under the table. I reached down and offered him a bite of hamburger. In slow motion he edged forward and took it.
I seized the scruff of his neck, quickly working my fingers under the collar. He didn't offer any resistance. I pulled him far enough out that I could pick him up, then hurried to put him in the crate and get the door closed. Crying tears of relief, I used my cell phone to call my husband to come and get us. I took the little guy straight to the bathtub, and he was so drowsy that I had to hold his head out of the water with one hand while lathering him up with the other. The water ran reddish-brown from all the flea bites he's endured--and he was covered. Afterward, I stretched him out on a towel in the bathroom, and he dozed while I dried him with a blow dryer before applying a flea treatment.
We put him back in the crate in the corner of our kitchen, and Gracie sniffed all around him, wondering who this new little doggy was. He was alert enough to bark and snarl when Gracie got too close to the bowl of food we'd put inside the crate. But the next morning, after feeding the dogs separately and giving them some time to get acquainted through a doggy gate and then with Gracie on a leash, I quickly realized they were going to get along fine.
And I knew for certain we were doing something right when I walked into the kitchen later and Shadow came to me with his tail wagging--the tail we'd never yet seen more than an inch away from the ground. That tail has gotten higher and happier every day since. Gracie has a fun new playmate and little brother, and she willingly (?) shares all her toys and chew bones. They happily dine together only inches apart and even lick out of the same empty ice cream bowl together.
Shadow is one happy little doggy these days. I can hardly believe he's the same terrified little animal who used to run and hide if anyone tried to approach him. It did take a few months for him to completely trust Jack, and he's still quite wary of strangers, but he's getting better all the time. He loves to go on car rides, especially with Gracie to our weekly obedience classes at the park, where he quickly became a star student. He usually sleeps under my desk while I'm at the computer, or in my lap when we're watching TV in the evenings. Oh, and he loves having his teeth brushed each night at bedtime!
I've been so blessed by the dogs who have come into my life--Shadow, Gracie, and before them, Brynna, the sweetest retired racing greyhound ever. Three wonderful dogs in a long line of special pets going back to the very first dog of my childhood, a gentle collie named Boots. I have deeply loved and deeply mourned all who have gone before, and it always hurts so badly to say goodbye, but I'd rather endure that pain than never experience the unconditional love, companionship, and devotion of my dear canine friends.