The Power of Touch
When I pulled the Jeep into the driveway at the rural home, I caught a glimpse of a large reddish-gold dog. She quietly went slinking up the porch steps and disappeared. The "greeter" at this home was a friendly black Cocker Spaniel who met us at the gate with his whole back end trying to wag his stub of a tail. Mr. "D" opened the gate, as we did introductions. Mr. "D" had discovered a female Mastiff girl in his pasture a few weeks ago. She was digging a hole, trying to catch a mouse or mole for lunch. All of her rib bones and hip bones were visible. She had been on her own for quite some time and not fairing so well. Hunting was apparently not one of her strengths. She was quite timid and cautious. When Mr. "D" approached her she would keep her distance or retreat to the woods. Over the next few days he left food out for her and she began to warm up to him, finally following him back to his house where she has remained since.
Mr. "D" had grown fond of her and wished he could keep her but there was a problem. She got along great with his Schnauzer and Cocker Spaniel but she seemed to think that his wife's little black and white spitfire Chihuahua was a "rodent" of sorts. Mr. "D" thinks she has mistaken it for a skunk (or a dinner entre'). Miss Mastiff had picked up the Chihuahua a couple of times and deposited it at Mr. "D's" feet. His wife was horrified. Fortunately, the little dog was not severely harmed but the wife gave Mr. "D" an ultimatum (me or the dog). Mr. "D" spent a great deal of time and sweat getting a very frightened, reluctant mastiff into his horse trailer and took her to local shelters where he was turned away, saying they had no room for her. Through a chain of connections, he got my cell number and called me, feeling desperate that we were his last chance to save her life. He felt he would have to "put her down" if he couldn't find a place for her to go ASAP. (Rich and I have had two whole days without an orphan as our last puppy, Jonah, was adopted on Sunday.)
As we visited, I looked around for Miss Mastiff but didn't see her. I asked where she went and Mr. "D" pointed to the far corner of their large front porch. Tucked in the corner behind the porch swing sat this beautiful mastiff girl, shrinking herself as small and obscure as possible. I sat down beside her and just talked to her for a while. Mr. "D" said she seemed more afraid of women than men, as she had not let his wife or daughter come close to her. She had shown no signs of aggression toward people but would just avoid contact any way she could. She didn't try to move away when I sat down with her, so that was a good start. I talked to the back of her head for several minutes, as she refused to make eye contact with me. I looked at all the scars of mistreatment and neglect that riddled her two to three year old body. When I decided to try gently touching her tense, stiff body, she turned to look at me. I was looking into sad golden eyes of hurt and abandonment. She had learned to brace herself when someone touched her, expecting the the worst at the hands of man (or woman). She had built a wall of self defense and avoidance around her heart (like we do when we've been hurt or betrayed over and over again). After stroking her gently and slowly for several minutes, I could feel defenses come down ever so slightly.
I will go back to get her today and take her to the vet before bringing her home. I am expecting it will be a long journey with this girl, to restore her trust in mankind, but I could see in her eyes that she is still willing to try and so am I.