Dexter’s New Adventure
Two weeks ago Dexter and I drove three and a half hours to meet his potential adopter. Dexter is such a good little traveler. He shook a bit in the beginning, then settled in quietly for the trip. He didn’t sleep the entire time, which was surprising, given his normal routine is to sleep all morning and sometimes into the early afternoon. At one point when I checked on him in the rear-view mirror, he was sitting up with his head hanging. But he didn’t give in to sleep.
Thankfully it was a beautiful, sunny day which made the trip pleasant or, should I say, as pleasant as it could be. Being that this woman we were meeting today lived so far away, I hadn’t met her in person or been able to do an in-person home visit before bringing Dexter to her.
This was a real exercise in faith.
On paper, this home was exactly what I had written out as optimals in Dexter’s write-up for the rescue’s web site; she didn’t have other dogs, only two cats. She’s retired, so she’ll be with him all day. She agreed to learn Amichien Bonding and promised to live it for the duration of his lifetime. Almost too good to be true. Was this a prayer answered?
My stomach was tight and I was by turns excited for Dexter, and very apprehensive. What if this didn’t work out? What if I gave this stranger little Dexter and things turned out bad for him? And, most of all, how long would it take for Dexter to adjust, IF he adjusted at all?
Upon arrival I took Dexter out of his crate and offered him an opportunity to potty before we went into the home. I was surprised at the size of the home, thinking it was a bit larger and immediately was of two minds: either it would be great because it would keep Dexter’s world small giving him less to worry about or, since there were two cats, it could be a disaster because the space didn’t allow for escape very easily, for anyone.
The adopter was warm and welcoming. Dexter and I wandered a bit, giving him time to sniff and me time to inspect. We met the two cats who were up on a table in front of a window. Dexter stared, one of the cats stared. After a few moments, Dexter tried to make the cat run. Fortunately I had him on a leash, so I moved him away from the cats, giving everyone needed space.
We settled into our seats. The adopter had boots on with leather fringe that immediately caught Dexter’s attention and as she walked by he lunged at them. Hmm…she removed them and placed them in another room, but after that Dexter snapped at her feet/legs as she walked by. I thanked him and paid no attention, but will admit I was concerned. He was vigilant about watching her feet and legs after that for a while. Obviously this behavior was a concern to both the adopter and myself.
We chatted, making small talk while I allowed Dexter to wander a little while keeping his leash on. He was remarkably calm and very soon settled in front of the glass sliding door to enjoy some sunshine and his chew toy for a bit. I was very, very pleased. From time to time he would look to me, checking in, looking for cues. The adopter and I studiously ignored him, allowing him to enjoy the relaxation after his long trip.
We began going over the four areas of Amichien Bonding. In order to adopt Dexter, all potential adopters had to agree to learn AB and apply it faithfully for Dexter’s lifetime with them. It is a great leap of faith on my part to trust that an adopter would comply with this requirement, but this woman did seem earnest and willing to learn what she needed to do to help create a happy home life for Dexter. She had experience living with dogs for much of her life and loved them greatly.
One of the possible issues for someone who has lived with dogs is that they tend to do what they’ve done before. I’ve experienced the kind of situation where a person will take the information on AB in during the consultation, but then go right back to behaving the way they always have, to the great detriment of their dogs. They want to believe they know all there is to know about dogs and, after all, their other dogs never had any problems. This makes them think they understand how to treat dogs in ways that will make them happy and well-behaved dogs.
This was my greatest concern. Only time would tell, but I was very open in saying that this situation may or may not work out well and if it didn’t, I would be happy to drive the miles back to pick him up.
An issue that arose during our conversation that I had not been privy to before was the fact that one of her neighbors works nights and needed to sleep during the day. This made it absolutely critical for the adopter to faithfully apply AB with Dexter, so that didn’t feel he needed to constantly alert to and bark at things he could perceive to be a danger. He had to be convinced that he had a leader he could depend on to take care of him. This made me quite concerned about the potential for failure in this home.
I took a deep breath and continued on. I had put Dexter’s crate in the living room with the door open and he happily wandered in an out of it while I explained that he needed to have the choice about whether to go in and out. I watched him sniff about, learning about his new environment. I took him out into the yard to toilet and to begin experiencing his new yard.
I continued going over the AB areas and things were going smoothly until…and I couldn’t believe this…I began to cry. Yes, I will type that again: I began to weep during the consultation. I had been so, so excited for Dexter, so happy at the prospect that he would find a great home and no longer have half an adopter’s time. So happy he would be able to wander his home at will. And I had truly felt that this woman was his best chance at achieving a happy life, for the rest of his life.
So what was the problem?!
I kept struggling to regain my composure and the adopter was so kind and gracious about it, bringing tissues for me, trying to make light of it. I would put myself back together, start talking again and then a few minutes later, the tears would begin again.
One word: trust.
When you learn more about dogs, how they truly view the world, what their true nature is, you understand how deeply important trust is for them. Every moment, every day is about survival. Survival of the family pack, survival of the individual. It’s no small thing for a dog to turn leadership over to a human. They are, on a real level, agreeing to put their life in your hands, to trust your every decision for them, to believe that you will keep them safe.
I remember too well the panicked little dog who first arrived in our home. The bulging eyes, the panting, the frantic barking, the panic peeing, the marking from fear of being alone, that no one will find him again in the new home, and how he would leap away from me in fear when I just moved my eyes. The terror that came off in waves from that little chocolate body was palpable. I had earned his trust over the seven weeks he had lived with us. He had decided I was a good, reliable leader and that he would believe in my decisions for him. And now, here I was, getting ready to abandon him. It was heartbreaking to think of the fear he could experience again, after I had promised him he never had anything to fear again. So, so hard. It felt like such a betrayal.
We finished the consultation, and I made ready to go. Dexter immediately came over and sat down next to me while the adopter finished the necessary paperwork. It was beyond difficult not to reach down and pet him, to tell him everything was going to be okay, and that I’m so sorry to leave him this way. But to make a fuss would only serve to alarm him, and I so wanted his transition to be calm, quiet and smooth.
I ignored Dexter completely and kept my pulse rate low. I had let the adopter know that Dexter may very well panic after I leave; that he will probably pee at the doorways in an effort to help me come back and find him, to bring our pack back together, but that it was critical to ignore these behaviors and keep all the pressure off him by limiting eye contact, especially for the first few days. The adopter had promised to keep things quiet for a week or two, with no visitors and lots of time to get moving forward in their relationship.
I got into my car and drove away with my heart in my throat.
I received a text from the adopter which said Dexter had barked twice at the door, then quieted. Later, he did indeed pee at the doorways. And he ran from the front door to the back door a few times, trying to find me. He took a couple of days to relax and actually sleep. But he’s adjusting.
Me? I cried all the way home, three and a half hours. Then cried more when I walked into my house. Then a few more times during the following week. One of the toughest things I’ve ever done was to drive away from that little guy.
I’ve fostered before over the years, and have done well at staying detached but loving with the dogs who have stayed with us. But Dexter was a whole different ballgame, primarly because of what I have since learned about dogs in my training in Amichien Bonding.
Will this be a successful placement for Dexter? I’m cautiously optimistic, but not entirely convinced. Fingers crossed while being completely realistic.
On the plus side, when someone works with a Dog Listener, that DL is with you and your dog for the dog’s lifetime. I will be checking in with Dexter to check progress and to help guide things along for his greatest chance at success in this new home.