Our latest Old Dog Haven foster is a stout 15-pound, one-eyed Shih Tzu. For a so-called toy breed, Wally is remarkably intelligent, pragmatic, and self-possessed.
It all began when we drove south to Vancouver to pick him up. Within 15 minutes he had definitely decided that we were a better deal than a cage in a shelter. We stopped at the first rest stop to give him a shot at some grass, which he handled quickly so that he could get on with barking at the nice ladies at the closest picnic table. He led us around in service to his plan and earned the first part of his name. He is definitely the captain of his own command.
We don’t know anything about his former life; he was picked up as a stray. The fact that he had one eye meant that someone was looking out for his health at some point, but when we got him, he was a mess. His skin was a collection of weeping sores and scabs, his fur was mostly gone, and he had a huge raw hotspot on his curly naked tail.
By the time we made it home, there was the “naming moment” where he revealed the rest of his name. One particular look over his shoulder and he became Wally. Unfortunately to this day, he probably has no idea what we named him. He is deaf enough that most of our communication with him is visual. Luckily, his remaining eye works well. In our short history of ODH fostering, he would most likely win the award for visual acuity.
Part of the challenge of ODH fostering is connecting with a dog that may not hear, may not see, but has a lifetime of training and behavioral patterns. It’s both a chore and a game to decipher the dog’s rules, to learn to communicate on his terms. With Wally and his one good eye, it has been relatively easy. Someone housetrained him to perfection, and he is still active enough to make going outside worthwhile for him. He loves to roll in dry grass and seems mildly offended by the onset of Autumn’s wetter variety.
Part of the joy of ODH fostering is to watch the rebound, the transformation, the new flowering of a dog that may have considered his purpose behind him. Even under the best of intentions, a stint in a shelter is tough on them. When we brought the little guy home, he struggled physically up the 5 inch step to the front door. Two days later, he was navigating those thresholds with ease. Two months later, he has been known to regularly break into a sprint, especially if a treat is waiting or he decides to play hard to get.
He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which was contributing greatly to his skin problems. Under treatment, his skin is healing much more rapidly than we ever expected. He may even regain some of that lost fur. He has one tiny new patch on his tail that looks like the head of a troll doll.
The real reward is his emotional rebound. He is full of personality and has no trouble with any of our other dogs. The way he did it was remarkable to watch. He never challenged anyone. He just walked in and acted like he belonged here. His confidence is loud and clear, but it takes a second place to his intelligence. Those of us who live among dogs know that they spend a lot of time memorizing everything around them. Wally had us completely figured out within a couple of weeks, and every time we throw something new at him, he takes it in stride and adds it to the list. Like all small dogs, he can read us with remarkable subtlety just from watching our feet. If that doesn’t do it, he looks up with one big brown eye, like a periscope on a cartoon submarine, and we fall in love all over again.
None of it, not the rebound, the transformation, the renewed doggie purpose, or the love, could happen without Old Dog Haven. While we are busy reaping our share of the rewards, and Wally his, they are paying for the ongoing medical treatment. We don’t know how this story ends, but we know how it’s playing right now, and each one of those days is a gift in our home. Who gets the most out of it is up for eternal debate.
Update: After a wonderfully long time in his Final Refuge home, it was finally time to let the Captain go. He was such a character and had made an amazing transformation. He will be greatly missed by his Mom and Dad.