Dogs fascinate me, as you have guessed……..
I spend all day watching their every move, watching their interactions with other dogs, humans, trucks, bicycles etc…the only thing I don’t watch and have no expertise in, is a dogs reaction to a cat, as cats are banned from the ranch…..for their own good of course!
I remember years ago writing a paper for my diploma in canine behaviour and psychology and answering the question as to whether dogs experience human emotions, in particular jealousy, with the answer that dogs aren’t capable of jealousy and that to attribute such an emotion to a dog was just anthropomorphic (attributing human feelings to another species or thing). I got an A plus for that paper, the scientific evidence gleaned from all of the text books I had read impressed my tutor greatly and she told me I was right, bang on.
Ten years, and about 2000 dogs later, I’m here to tell you that I was wrong…very wrong in fact. Dogs have a full complement of emotions, an incredible sense of self and an immense ability to manipulate our emotions too. It’s what makes them so special, and so perfectly matched to become mans best friend.
Three years ago in June I was up at the shelter in Gainesville working on one of the dogs that was so hyperactive she was unadoptable. As I took her into the pen to work with her, I knew this dog was going to need an ‘anchor dog’, or as we sometimes call them, ‘a rock with legs’. Kelley Uber Sterner up at the shelter suggested I use Levi, or Lee as he was called then, in run 29 as he was a sweet natured dog and super calm.
Levi was one of the Mississipi dogs, brought to the shelter after the Mississipi facility he was in was closed down, the staff had left, there was no food, no water and there were 400 dogs living in a shelter built for 60. Of those that survived after Animal Control came and raided the place to set the dogs free, Levi was one of the lucky ones. Riddled with heartworms, mange, skinny as a rake and just a poor sight, even when I met him, after the shelter staff had done such a great job on saving him, this boy was just happy to be alive. The shelter in Gainesville had agreed to take a bunch of the dogs to save them, and the rest were distributed to other shelters around neighboring states. Thank God they did or I would have missed out on one of the best teachers I have ever met….
I brought Dot home with me that day to let her run in our woodlands, and Levi accompanied her as they had done so well in the pen, Dot really liked him and calmed around him. The next day, when I went to take Dot back up to the shelter, I looked at Levi’s sad face and thought I would let him stay home with me for just one more day. One more turned into three, then a week, then a fortnight and by now he was growing his hair back (I have a special diet for mange and it worked wonders on him) and starting to feel pretty good. I hand fed him to forge a trusting relationship, I leash walked him every day as he couldn’t take too much off leash exercise, I bathed him with a special tar shampoo, I rubbed his sores with tee trea oil…I just wanted this dog to have a nice break from shelter life at Penny’s little dog resort.
We had five dogs already though, so I was no way going to keep him. Right?
Even though he was a shelter dog, Kelley agreed to let me try and find him a home through Gracies Place rescue so that I could do a home check myself, and pretty soon some great prospects came up. As I sat and told my husband about the home check I was going to do later that week, Levi was under his desk looking at me. Peter asked me if I thought Levi was fit to leave yet and I told him yes, he had just been romping for an hour in the woods with Freddie and the gang and looked great. Pete asked me again if I was sure about this, then looked at Levi, and said to me, ‘I think he limped earlier today’…and then giggled sheepishly. I knew it was bull then and there, the dog had never limped at all, but Pete was kind of liking having him around……
I looked him in the eye and said a very firm ‘NO’, that we were not keeping Levi, we were struggling financially and had five dogs, and this was just not going to happen.
At that very moment, and I swear this is the Dogs Honest Truth, Levi got up from the floor and walked across the office, with a VERY BAD LIMP! Neither Pete nor I are dog trainers, we could never get a dog to limp if we worked with it in a million years, so theres no way Pete taught him the art of ‘fake limping’ behind my back.
I thought maybe I was mistaken and that Levi had pulled a muscle, so I told Pete that Levi could stay til his leg was better, then he had to go to a new home.
As the weeks passed, I often caught Levi running like a puppy in the woods, or splashing in the creek like a kid, but as soon as he saw me looking at him, out came the limp in full force. I took him to the vet who said there was nothing wrong with him, I rested him, I massaged him…the limp, it seemed was here to stay.
Until one day, Pete sat me down and told me how he loved Levi with all his heart and could not bear to part with him. He was so good wth the puppies we had staying, he was great with fearful dogs, he was wonderful with the thunder phobics…So I said yes.
Pete and Levi had a little dance, did a little fandango on the deck and I noticed Levi wasnt limping then, though he quickly remembered it when he saw me looking at his front leg. The next day, we sat down and had a little ‘Come to Jesus’ chat with Levi (I do it with all the dogs, you may think I’m nuts) and told him this was home, he had to do chores every day, but this was home.
He never limped again!
I promise you that this is true, can be verified by my neighbors, by friends; honestly, I didn’t believe this was possible til it happened to us!
Levi works full time at the ranch, with the fearful dogs and the puppies and helps them to acclimate to the new environment in a calm, gentle way. He takes them under his wing as if to say ‘I got this, dont worry’.
He has personally saved the lives of at least twenty dogs that I can think of with his cool, easy demeanour…dogs that were so fearful they had turned aggressive have been swayed by his easy charm, and I learn from him every day. How to approach with cool calm indifference, how to let dogs know its okay without smothering as so many humans do, how to say hello and chaperone a puppy whos had no exposure to other dogs, he has been the ultimate teacher for me in how to work with a fearful dog and he never got a degree or read a book on the subject.
He plays the ‘injury card’ every time he feels he’s not getting enough attention; he understands innately how other dogs see him and responds approriately…making himself small for a fearful puppy, puffing himself up for an annoying one; he is the companion to the less mobile older dogs and sits out on the deck with them so they look like two old duffers playing cards and telling stories about the old days. He romps with his pals, he sits nicey with humans. In short, hes the perfect dog and all we could ever ask for in a friend and teacher.
The genius of Levi is something that rocks our world every day. We saved him and he saved us right back!