Time can be measured in many ways. the blink of an eye, seconds, moments, minutes, hours, days, weeks, years, decades, lifetimes, centuries, millennium and yada yada yada. The benefit of such measure is often comparative — to reflect on how things are the same, how things are different. Then getting subjective — how things are better, or how things are worse. Living and working hands on with dogs full time for over the past 12 years has engendered a greater awareness of the value of living in the moment — it is a testament to the power of the animals I share my life with how many perfect moments there are in life, even amid stress, sorrow, sadness, loss and pain. Yet at the same time, a wise man once told me (okay, so it was my father!), if you can look back at a year ago and say that today things are better or at least no worse, then you are doing well. Forward ho. Or something like that.
So it is as an anniversary arrives I step back to become reflective. The Story of Tommy the Wizard.
Needless to say rescue work is an ancillary part of what many pet professionals encounter — that is, helping find new homes for pets who have lost theirs, as well as helping people find new pets for their homes. Making the right match is crucial to success — after all, the goal is to make or keep a formerly homeless or unwanted animal in a committed and nurturing home. I have counseled people on re-homing a dog that isn’t’ the right match; I have steered people towards animals they might not have recognized as the right fit with great success. So the phone call I received from a vet colleague in a county an hour north of me in the dead of winter wasn’t really a surprise. Nor was it even the first time Dr. Salinger and I had partnered in finding a dog a new home.
She told me she had a 4 year old intact shi tzu male dog that had been brought into her vet clinic to be euthanized by his owner for aggression. Seems his owner, an older adult woman, had taken physical and legal custody of her 3 year old grandson. The dog had bitten the child. The dog had to go. The vet and her staff didn’t really think the dog was aggressive and made a deal. They agreed that if the owner signed over custody of the dog to the vet and paid to have him neutered and updated on immunizations, they would find him a new home. That’s where I came in.
“Hi Rachel. How would you like to foster and find a new home for an adult male shi tzu?”
“No.” I said emphatically. “Too much going on.”
In all honestly my first thought when she told me the scenario — social worker hat kicking in — was, “wow, I wonder what happened that an older woman would suddenly have custody of a 3 year old grandson. What happened to his parents? Why was he removed from their care? What was this grandmother thinking about having to suddenly care for a needy and probably traumatized toddler? And the toddler, well, I’m sure he was pretty freaked out too. Add an under socialized and untrained and intact 4 year old dog to this mix, trying to express his own anxiety about it all and oy, what a recipe for chaos! But again, looking out the window at mountains of snow, again I said, “No! Can’t do it.”
After all, Bubbles the service dog puppy in training had been with me less than a month; the snow and cold of winter was ridiculous and endless. I had my own two dogs, 3 cats and oh yeah, three daughters to boot. Not to mention a thriving private and group dog training company to run and oh yeah, an invention, Har-Vest, to market! And of course I needed time to do my endless sweeping and vacuuming!
Well, without going into the sordid details, no turned into maybe. The dear doctor wore me down. On a frigid Saturday, February 19, 2011 she drove — over an hour — to hand deliver the dog. She then got back in her car and drove off. At the end of the nylon leash she handed me was a nearly all black, shaggy, 17 pound sturdy mass of confused dog wearing a cone of shame (he was still recovering from his neutering).
I remember looking down at his mushy face and buggy eyes partially obscured by his shaggy mane and wondering what I had agreed to. I bent down, took the cone off, and brought him into the house. I should have known from that first minute something special was up. Neither of my dogs, Bean and Trip, reacted to him. In the least. Very unusual. Actually unprecedented. Bubbles bounded over to him and without any sound or contact, she bounced back away again as if hit by a force field, cocked her head and looked at him. I couldn’t figure out exactly what he was doing, the blackness of his coat prevented seeing a lot of detail, but I could see he had some magical powers.
I told my girls to ignore him — he had a bite history although I had trouble imagining his smushy mouth inflicting much damage — and had him watch me throw away the dog food (Beneful, ugh) he came with. When I offered him his first meal of the food I give my own dogs , he looked at it, looked at me, and snubbed it. I shrugged, picked up the bowl and put it away. We repeated that dance for three days — twice each day I offered him food, he held out. I rationalized that he wouldn’t commit suicide by starvation but that in order for me to foster him until finding him a great home, he had to get with the program and he was the 4th dog now.
On the morning of the third full day, I once again offered him a bowl of food. He looked at me, looked at the food, looked at me again, and ate the entire meal. From then on, he and I were in love. I knew then I would never place him. I didn’t really let on to others — even my girls, for a few months, arguing that the right match hadn’t come along. But it had. It was with me.
Some obscure thought train led me to liken him to Tom Corbett, the character Bill Bixby played on the show THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER. Don’t ask me how! But from that I started calling him Tommy. Like He Who Must Not Be Named from Harry Potter, so too did I tell my children we could not utter his former name for fear of a PTSD flashback coming into his rounded cranium.
Time, love, structure, exercise, socialization, consistency, affection and confidence all helped heal Tommy. He has in his own way turned his powerful healing ways into healing others as well — dogs and in some cases, people. There are countless humorous anecdotes of some of his adventures. I take him with me whenever and wherever I can. He has a devoted fan club and it keeps growing. The wellspring of love I have for this animals is unlike any other. I can just touch him and I feel rejuvenated.
So as I reflect on the past year and ask myself if it’s better than the year before, I shout out a resounding yes. In great part because of Tommy. So it is with a warm spot in my heart I say, “Happy Anniversary Tommy Boy”. May we have many many more years together. The only place you’re going is on adventures with me.