Thursday, March 11, 2010
We have three Golden Retrievers that are our children. We love, pamper and spoil them. I think there is nothing cuter than a Golden puppy. Who can resist those soft little bundles of fur that wriggle and cuddle and make cute puppy noises? We started out getting puppies, but the last two we've gotten were rescued and around two years of age. Both were abused and had some behavior issues as a result. It is a tremendous joy to rescue an abused animal, but they require a lot of time and attention. Not everyone can give that time, and not everyone understands the special needs of an abused animal.
Our first rescue was from the local Golden Retriever Rescue Club over six years ago. Her story is awful. A breeder who had around 40 Goldens was mating smaller ones to get a miniature version, something that would be totally awesome to those who love Goldens. Our Maris was one of only two that she had successfully bred. Based on some of her behavior, Maris probably was abused during early leash or show training up until she was about two years old. Then, unfortunately, the breeder abandoned her animals, leaving them in small puppy size cages in a warehouse with no ventilation for 28 days. I won't go into the details--they are gruesome. When the GRRC got there, half of the dogs were dead, and the other half dubbed "the bones bunch." We have always had very large dogs, males weighing between 100 and 120 pounds, so we had been looking for a smaller Golden. The first day "the bones bunch" was in an adopt-a-show, my other half just happened to attend and put our names on the list for both of the small dogs. We were first on the list for the one we eventually got, but later that week, we were told that her behavior issues were the worst of any Golden they had ever rescued. They decided not to adopt her out, and I asked them to contact us if they ever changed their minds.
The foster mom tried to help Maris but wasn't very successful. She kept her for six months, and then, possibly in frustration, decided that our vet references had been so stellar that she would consider letting us "try her out." Otherwise, the fosters were going to keep her. The foster mom's biggest concern was that we had two other Goldens, and she felt that putting Maris with other dogs would exacerbate the problems. We begged her to let us have a chance, and it turned out that it was probably more helpful than hurtful to have Maris be around other dogs.
When we got to the foster home (per our appointment), the smallest Golden I've ever seen was walking around at the front glass door. I ran up the steps and I don't think I rang the bell, walked into the house and sat on the floor. Maris was cautious, but she came and got partially in my lap, and she licked my face with one very gentle kiss. The fosters were astonished because Maris had never exhibited any kind of reaction to anyone before. It was obvious that we were meant to be. We were to take her home for the weekend and bring her back on Monday if we changed our minds. I knew there was no chance of that happening. I was recovering from the worst depression I've ever had, a deep pit that I believed had only one way out. I needed Maris as much as she needed me. Thankfully, I was still around to rescue her, but in truth, we rescued each other.
Needless to say, this littlest Golden stole my heart. Her eyes gave away her lack of confidence and trust. I was able to stay home at the time, and I worked with her for months, trying to help her unlearn her drastic survivor and emotional behaviors. When she ate, I was right there beside her, constantly touching her and her bowl, letting her know that the food was hers and no one would take it away. She gradually stopped scooping up all of the food in her mouth like a squirrel and taking it away to hide and eat. I walked around with treats in my pockets that I would surprise her with so she would learn that food wasn't scarce. I kept an eye on her when she was outside so she wouldn't eat any poop. We put out a giant bucket of water, praying that she wouldn't drink every drop of it, as she was wont to do. She did not want to be touched and hated to be held or groomed. She would growl and occasionally bite if we did any of these things or if she felt threatened. I wouldn't back down, didn't scold her for reacting that way and continued to touch and stroke her fur. She was like a rag doll at first. She had no muscles to speak of, and I decided that a daily body massage would not only help her as her muscles strengthened, but would also be another way of therapy. Gradually, she lost most of her behavior issues, but her ordeal left deep scars. To this day, she does not have the exuberant personality of a normal Golden. She is quiet and subdued most of the time. She is cautious around people, doesn't run to them, and gently raises her paws as a greeting. She is anxious when daily activities are the slightest bit different and paces when anything in her comfort zone changes. But she has become, hands down, the sweetest dog we've ever had.
After all she went through as well as the problems that can come with over-breeding, I'm not surprised that she's had several physical problems. Goldens are prone to getting cancer, and Maris has had three different kinds--a rare gum cancer, a skin cancer and a rare eye cancer. We never want to do anything that puts our babies through unnecessary pain. We consider their age, overall health and look to our wonderful vets for advice on how to manage any problems. We firmly believe that the animal's quality of life is the main issue, and we try not to make emotional decisions.
We are now having to consider whether or not to have Maris' eye removed. She had half of her lower jaw removed several years ago, and she has managed quite well. My heart and my head are battling with this decision. Although I have loved every Golden we've ever had, Maris and I have a very special bond. We are soul mates in so many ways. She has been a joy and a treasure in my life. We both have been to the edge but survived our darkest hours. She and I both guard our hearts carefully. We proceed down the path of life cautiously, but we do keep going.
I know that I will lose this most special gift we've been blessed with at some point down the road. I've often said that I think God gives special needs children to very special people who can love and accept them unconditionally. I believe the same thing about Maris. She was given to me because we needed each other. Some people don't understand depression. They think it is just sadness or a phase. Those are the kind of people that wouldn't understand a gift like Maris, nor would they have been patient and understanding with her behavior. I'm so thankful that I was entrusted with this little angel.
And hopefully, God will prepare for another one to find us when Maris is gone.
(Image in this post is entitled "Golden Retriever" and is by Ron Krajewski of dogartstudio at Etsy.)