This blog entry from guest writer, Jessica Lough. Thank, you, Jessica!
My partner Andre sent me this video from The Dodo on the anniversary of my last heart dog’s (Faolan’s) death, and I immediately knew he was destined to be my baby. Initially, this sweet pup reminded me of Faolan because of the German Shepherd markings and the floppy ears, but also because of his shy, uncertain nature. Faolan was shy by nature — his Border Collie genes — I recognized similar looks in Fenrus (Wooley), and knew that it would take someone who had experience with shy dogs to help coax Wooley out of his shell.
Initially, I joked with Andre that he was dooming himself by sending me this video, especially on the anniversary of Faolan’s death (one year ago to the day, Faolan had passed away in my arms on our way to an emergency specialist over the holiday weekend). I half-joked that if he wasn’t careful, I’d make him drive all the way down to California over the holidays to pick this sweet baby up and give him a loving forever home. Andre’s response was that we would do it, no question, if he was still available.
The rescue had taken place over a month before we saw the video, so when I searched the comments for the rescue’s name, I assumed he would have already been adopted out. I found that The Dodo had referenced Pinky Paws Search & ResQ as the rescuers, and messaged the rescue to introduce myself and inquire if Wooley was still looking for a home. I talked about my experience helping shy dogs come out of their shells, talked about how I understood the extra precautions and care they require, and how we would love to give Wooley a happy forever home if he was still looking. To my delight and surprise, Krystle Pinky Woodward responded swiftly, and told me that Wooley was still waiting for his forever home. He was due to be transferred to another rescue down the line, but if things panned out, it sounded like it would be much better for everyone to get him into an experienced, loving home instead.
And in a matter of hours, we went from lightly joking about bringing a new baby into our home to planning the logistics of going to meet Wooley (now Fenrus) and bringing him home. It was right before Christmas, and we knew we would have a few days off from work. Krystle wasn’t available immediately, but could drive halfway to meet us (after applications and appropriate adoption vetting had been done). We settled on a midway point from her location to mine, with each of us finally agreeing upon a nine-hour drive to meet in Ashland, Oregon.
And just like that, Andre and I had about a week to prepare to welcome a new pup into our home. Everyone had another long weekend for New Year’s, so that’s when we decided to make the trip. Although neither one of us had planned to bring another dog into our lives after the loss of our sweet heart pup, Faolan, this decision seemed right. It was the right pup, the right time, the right everything. We knew we could help this sweet boy, and we both had the strong desire to earn his trust and make sure he wanted for nothing else, as long as he lives.
Not a week after first seeing this video, Andre and I were on the road while most other people were preparing for New Year’s resolutions, drinking, and celebration. We drove nine hours to Ashland, Oregon and checked into a hotel to wait for Krystle, her husband, and Wooley. When they arrived and let Wooley out of the back of their vehicle, he was so scared and so shy and uncertain, it just crushed us. It was not due to anything Krystle and her husband had done; he just had such a rough start to life, he didn’t know what to do or who to trust. They had worked on earning his trust over the past month and did wonderful work with him, but he still didn’t know if he could relax.
As much as it pained us, Andre and I refrained from focusing too much on Wooley when we first met him. He was scared and shy, tail tucked under his legs, hunkered low to the ground when he got out of his comfort zones. We brought him into our hotel room to let him unwind a bit, and we made sure Krystle was the one to put his new harness on him, since she was the one he had learned to become more comfortable with. She warned us that he was still scared of people, men in particular, and that he still barked at her husband. We took some time letting him wander the hotel room without being restricted, armed with plentiful treats, and allowed him to come to us if he wished- which he really didn’t.
Often, you expect a triumphant “oh my God, this dog was just shut down but was instantly in love with us and all over us” sort of media-ready story, but with Wooley/Fenrus, we knew it wouldn’t be the case. We stayed passive and didn’t focus on him so he wouldn’t feel intimidated. We offered him toys and treats, but generally looked past him so he would be able to start feeling secure. Krystle trusted us to bond with him slowly, and on his terms, and not to rush things. She watched us interact, but knew that there wouldn’t be true trust in the first few hours of our meeting. We talked, and we let Wooley get comfortable, but he was still nervous and scared. Krystle put a tremendous amount of trust in us when she handed him off to us officially and said goodbye. She cried and hugged us, and we assured her that we would make him happy and secure, and would keep her updated on his progress. I think in that moment we all felt a bit scared and uncertain. We all wanted what was best for Wooley, but knew we wouldn’t see him relax until later down the line. We were all sad and fearful and hopeful and loving at once.
That night, Wooley shied away from us if we looked at him or moved too quickly, but we could see he wanted love and warmth. We threw toys for him, which he was too scared to chase at first, but eventually started romping after, once he was certain we weren’t going to hurt him. We spent a good deal of time sitting on the hotel bed and watching TV, ignoring him enough that he could see we weren’t focused on him like a predator looking at prey. Eventually, he relaxed, but occasionally had to be assured that the people in the TV weren’t strangers that were looking to harm him- he evidently had not been exposed to television before that night.
By the time we went to sleep, he allowed us to leash him and walk him around to go potty- we were sure to walk him outside, away from the parking lot when Krystle drove away so he wouldn’t notice her leave and experience the feeling of abandonment he once knew when his original owners drove away from him. He still seemed like he wanted love by the time we went to sleep, but was too scared to be pet. When I fell asleep, I left my hand hanging off of the bed so he would know I was still there for him, should he come to check. And throughout the night, although he would run with tail tucked if I moved toward him, he would come and check in on me when he thought I was asleep. Even in the wee hours of the morning, I left one arm hanging off of the bed, and whenever he would feel uncertain, I would feel his nose softly bump into my palm.
When we woke in the morning, he had seemingly put together in his mind that we were still there for him, that we didn’t seem interested in chasing him, hurting him, or leaving him. He snuzzled into my hand – briefly – and showed more interest in playing with the toys I threw for him. He seemed excited to go outside with me, even if he initially tucked his tail and retreated when I reached for him to clip the leash onto his harness. When he saw Andre emerge from the shower into the main room, Wooley/Fenrus flattened his ears and head, and happily gallumped over to Andre, eager to greet him after the long night.
We set off that morning, happy to see Wooley/Fenrus now starting to relax and show a true desire to interact with us, even if he wasn’t yet sure how to best go about it. As we drove in the car, we realized just how sheltered Fenrus had been from a normal dog life- every time a car or truck passed us going in the opposite direction, Fenrus tucked his tail and tried to run from it, as though he felt it was directly chasing him. He would sit for passive comfort in between the two of us on the center console, but even then would occasionally catch sight of himself or Andre’s eyes in the rearview mirror and we’d see his lips tense up, eyes growing wide and paranoid, as he realized someone was staring at him.
Knowing he wasn’t used to being in cars, and seeing how he was too nervous to potty much before we left, we tried to pull over and give him a chance to stretch his legs and potty whenever we saw a good location for it. Every time we stopped, though, and opened the back door to let him out, he absolutely wilted. The first time we stopped, it took about twenty minutes to gently coax him out of the car. He crumpled in on himself, ears down and tail tucked, fearful of being forced out of the car and left behind. When we finally convinced him to come out of the car on his own, he hunkered near the ground with tail between his legs and refused to do anything but try to run back to the car. Nothing was more present on his mind during the first six hours of our trip than getting back to the car, and ensuring he was not left behind, abandoned again.
When we finally got back to Bellingham after over nine hours on the road, Fenrus has started to trust that we would not leave him behind. He was desperate for love and attention, but fearful of being abused and disappointed. When we drove, he laid his head between us whenever he could, and wanted nothing more than to be near us and know he could do so without fear of repercussion.
Upon getting back to our house, we knew he would have to be introduced to our resident matriarch dog, Emma, carefully. We stayed outside with Fenrus on a leash and brought Emma out on leash, immediately taking them both on a walk on the trails behind our house, adventuring side-by-side. We needn’t have worried- the two took to each other naturally and without question. When we returned from our walk, the two played like puppies, even though Emma was pushing 12 at the time. It was like they had known each other for years, and they played like old friends.
It took no time at all for Fenrus to settle into our home. He made fast friends with our resident kitten (who had been in our home a whopping week longer than he, and insisted on showing him the ropes), our two elder dogs, and became a sweet, goofy velcro dog to myself and Andre. He was completely untrained and unsocialized. I spent the first two weeks sleeping in the living room so I could be around him 24/7, even when he slept, but the rest of the house and household could have reprieve from his puppyish ways. Fenrus warmed up to indoor living over time, learning not to potty indoors, and learning slowly what stairs were and how to traverse them without collapsing in fear. Eventually he started coming to work with me (thank goodness for dog-friendly workplaces!) and, under the careful guidance of The Dog Guy (Michael Nichols), slowly began the process of learning to see strangers and hear strange noises without fearing for his safety.
We are now approaching, in a few months, a full year with this sweet boy. When I look back at the huddled, broken, terrified dog that he was, I’m absolutely astonished at how far we have come. I can now bring Fenrus to work and people can make eye contact with him, and talk to him directly, without him defensively trying to retreat or snap at them to try to scare them away. Not ten minutes go by without my seeing his big, goofy grin – and being a Rottweiler/German Shepherd/Samoyed, he truly has an amazing goofy grin! – and I am truly grateful for the huge community of people who have come together to ensure his safety, comfort, and security over time. I work with people who respect his boundaries and have enjoyed seeing him grow in confidence and comfort since January. I have seen him go from “something in the general vicinity made a sound or looked in my direction so I have to scare it away with my big, scary voice before it gets me” to “Hey! New people in my house- I’m okay with this, and their laps are mine now!” I have seen him go from tucked, shut-down, scared little boy to goofy, exuberant, loving, confident pup.
I can’t express my gratitude enough for the people who have made his life possible, and who have undertaken this journey with us. And huge shout out to BarkBox, Super Chewer BarkBox, Chewy.com, and Bulletproof Pet Products. Indestructibone Chew Toys for giving us a constant supply of enrichment and activities to help him reclaim the puppyhood he should have had from the beginning!
TL;DR: Wooley (now Fenrus) came into our lives somewhat unexpectedly, and at the absolutely perfect time. I can’t imagine my life without him, and I’m so honored to have him, and our entire network of supportive, awesome people (and puppy friends), in our lives. ❤