Alan hadn’t slept. I asked him what had kept him up and he couldn’t articulate it yet. Later in the day we trundled down our long driveway past the neighbor’s house at the end. Alan pointed out a pit bull puppy lying on an old lawn chair at the neighbor’s back door. I asked “the culprit of your bad night?” His head turned towards me, eyebrows raised to say “bingo.”
The neighbor had flagged Alan down the day before and told him he was headed out again. Driving a truck for an oil company in Texas. The little dog had followed his pit bull home the day before. They’d hung out in Petey’s very nice pen together and were fed and loved on. He called several friends who said they’d come take care of the puppy while he was away at work. He could only take Petey. He knew those friends would not. He was very concerned and hoped that Alan would. Alan had not mentioned this until now.
We drove past the abandoned, emaciated puppy whose heart had been broken when Petey left him. He didn’t even raise his head. We discussed strategies. We could put him on Facebook and find him a home. Maybe so-and-so would take him. We certainly can’t. Zippy would have a personality crisis and Brucie would simply dominate the dog as he does all of the animals including Catalunya.
We returned with puppy food and gave him a bowl along with fresh water and took some video. We drove past him again trying to avoid taking on another responsibility. We subconsciously gathered cast off food bowls, collars, leashes and bedding. We gave in and went back for him; deciding that sleep was important. Neither Petey’s dad nor us would get any knowing he’s out there with nobody to look after him and coyotes howling all around.
“We’ll put him in the barn in the pen that used to be Florentina’s, right next to Abba.” I said. Abba cries every time Catalunya leaves the barn. So, we hoped she’d be comforted by the newbie, and he by her. We fluffed up his digs with some cast off blankets and pillows with flannel pillowcases.
When we entered the barn with the chocolate faced chap, Catalunya tippy-toed and bucked around the pen a bit trying to manage this new element. He seemed naturally concerned that there was a canine near his goat.
The next morning I’d expected the foam filled pillow to be destroyed by his puppy teeth but found them neatly arranged. Humble as is was, he seemed so happy and grateful to have spent the night with companions in a place of his own . He did not want to leave his pen or the barn just yet. He seemed so afraid that no more food would come and that he may be discarded again. He’d slept since 4 pm the day before. I’d kept waiting for crying and barking but it never came.
When we introduced the puppy to Abba she was very curious and seemed brightened by a potential new playmate. They sniffed noses and rears and hopped around sweetly towards one another. They chased around a bit, he on a leash, and Abba jumped towards him when he went too far away. She seemed to want to be near him. He ate grass and tried to model her behaviors. When his puppy teeth or claws hurt, Abba did not hesitate to raise her ears like helicopter flaps and lower her head and butt him good. Before she was constantly forced to subdue her will to that of Buckminster and Florentina. Now she is confident in defending her territory and he seems to aim to please. I wondered if Abba remembered being cast aside by her former herd mates? Did that experience breed empathy in her towards the puppy?
The hard knock beginning seems to have heightened this little guy’s awareness of the behaviors of others around him. He learned down and sit after just a few tries to win a biscuit. He tries to adjust his natural ebullient responses into ones more subdued. Ones that please in case he’d been too bold. His self-worth having been called into question by those who are charged with supporting it’s development. Which is heart breaking to realize. But, his attempts to make keeping him easy on us has been very helpful for managing all the animal dynamics through the course of our day. It will be some time before we introduce him to the dogs who live in the house.
The puppy is soft and brindled and crouches and crawls on the ground when Alan approaches. He is focused constantly on Alan’s approval and Alan generously gives it to him. He seems to favor lying on his back with Alan rubbing beneath his chin. With me, he seems to especially love being kissed on the forehead and running towards me from a ways away as fast as he can until he smashes into me and melts into a ball in my lap. He gets a little bolder each day. Catalunya watches all of this interaction closely and paws at the fence.
The third day he became more nervy about coming out of the barn for sunshine, potty breaks and walks. Catalunya was focused on him like a laser beam. The dancing around and head shaking had ceased and he lowered his nose to the ground at the fence hoping to make contact . Maybe he remembers the smell of his own physiology after having been cast aside? Floods of adrenaline, hormones, imbalance in the diet, all have odiferous outcomes. Catalunya notices when I wear fragrant oils or if I’ve just washed my hair. After his initial alarm, he certainly showed empathy and curiosity rather than aggression. Donkeys can be trained to become good guardian animals. Catalunya takes his job of guarding Abba seriously. He is maturing and learning to tolerate her in his area for longer periods of time each day. His physiology is changing as his testosterone has dropped off. He is learning to enjoy her company when sharing his space more than his need to act out out when he feels territorial emotions. He seems to be easing up a bit.
The puppy, however, was intensely focused on the new-girl-next-door; me, and Alan. He seemed either completely disinterested in Catalunya, or a little afraid of him.
Later in the day, we took him up to the outdoor goat pen and put Abba in the barren garden. Catalunya’s pen shared a fence-line with Abba and one with puppy. Catalunya put his nose to the ground and finally the puppy felt brave enough to play and gave him some ear sniffs and puppy bites to the forehead through the fence. The donkey pressed his butt to the fence as he does when he wants Abba to groom him. His tail stuck through the fence and the puppy played tug of war with it. He then found a small opening in the side of the fence and tried to crawl through to follow me as I walked away from the pen. Catalunya ran to the spot and herded him away with his jaw. The puppy ran to the other side and tried and Catalunya had to run all the way around the outer edge quickly in order to corral him there. A new baby to herd.
It’s Easter now and a few weeks prior we had several waves of visitors to the farm for Spring Break. Abba and Cat seemed to enjoy their company and one of our visitors noticed a marked difference from his visit exactly one year prior. Catalunya no longer seemed defensive or anxious but inquisitive and soothed by the engagement. He even seemed to favor a friend’s nine-year old son; pointing his ears straight at him, walking up to him, unruffled by the normal nine year old fidgets and jerks. They’d come to boyscout camp and visit Brucie. We’d adopted Brucie from them when my college chum’s boy was three and Brucie enjoyed hanging out with them again after all this time.
We’ve all come so far. From Catalunya roaming free in the front yard, chasing the mailman down the driveway bawling, to my being able to enter his pen unprotected and walk around him without fear of him suddenly putting his head into my space and possibly biting me or bucking out when I’m near him.
The needy puppy has had a calming effect and the barn has never been so quiet. And, if you’ve read my blog, you know that a quiet barn is a happy barn in my book. The pit bull is a breed that we are somewhat new to and this little fella seems a breed ambassador.
The skills needed to survive abandonment come from trying to answer the questions “Am I not worthy of companionship, care, attention, inclusion, kisses?” The solution becomes: “I can arrange my personality in a way that you favor. I can mold my natural impulses into actions crafted to please you. I will not do anything to make you or anyone want to give me up.” Helping Abba, Catalunya, Zippy, and now, Archibald move from low self-esteem to high causes me to reflect on my own self-esteem issues. I have to fix my own so that I may be whole enough to give them what my very young parents could not give me. It’s okay, they were good in other areas. And, my friends must have done a great job of fostering self esteem in Brucie. For a dog that had to be rescued from the highway, adopted from the pet store’s shelter dog drive, then rehomed to us, he certainly is not lacking in self-esteem. I try and model his unerring belief in himself.
Alan has named the rescued puppy Archibald. I looked up the meaning of Archibald. The word has Medieval and German elements meaning “genuine”, or, “precious” and bald meaning “bold”. (This reminds me of describing a gem) A perfect description of the brindled pit bull puppy in the barn. The subconscious mind holds so much knowledge and is achingly accurate. One mans trash can be another’s treasure.