|Returning to me after chasing down a treat.|
It's hard to believe an entire year has elapsed since my boy Thom came home to live with me and the girls. It's even harder to believe that the happy, prancing, dancing pup who races around the back yard in ecstatic figure eights when I come home from work is the same pathetic waif who could only be dragged out of his safe spot in the corner of the side yard on a leash and wouldn't even make eye contact with me for the first two weeks. Since I haven't posted an update on him since his first bath last July, I thought it might be high time to let his fans know that yes, the dog who was once afraid of his shadow is now starting to realize that this life—his wonderful, cushy dog's life—has quite a bit to offer.
Here are two points for illustration:
For an entire year, every time I have gone out to the back yard to work in the garden or pull weeds, I have invited Thomas to come with me (or more precisely, with "us," as Purrl is usually wherever I am, and Sugie will stroll out if it's mid-morning and quiet in the yard and nice weather and if it suits her highness's fancy). And for that entire year, Thomas has been content to remain curled in his corner in the side yard, out of sight but certainly not out of hearing as I usually sing loudly while I'm working in the back yard. But Sunday, miracle of miracles, as I crawled on my hands and knees between the rose bushes, pulling the tiny new shoots of plantain and Canada thistle up by the roots, I heard the now familiar and beloved sound of Thom flapping his ears. (He does this so often I had the vet check him. It's not a medical issue, just a habit.) I looked up to see him sitting, tall and content, in a sun spot a few feet away. "Tommy boy, good job! Hang out with us! We're weeding!" I said to him for at least the fiftieth time. This time, he did, nosing around until he found a sun spot in the dirt about six feet from where I was working. He stayed there for nearly an hour, listening to me sing snatches of song in between saying nice things about him.
Later that same evening, my son arrived, bringing dinner for us and a movie. Thomas had just finished his own dinner and was getting ready to trot inside the open back sliding door when he noticed the tall dark handsome man standing in the kitchen.
"Woof," he said. (Thomas, not my son.)
"Hey, Thomas. Woof!" said my son.
"Wait—what?" I said, walking into the kitchen. "Did he just bark at you?"
Up until that moment, the only time I've ever heard Thomas bark is when he's sleeping.
"Woof. Woof," Thom said again. This was not an anxious or aggressive bark, and it wasn't loud at all, just his way of saying, 'Hey, who's that in my house with my mom? Do you belong here?' I brought him in, Ezra gave him a treat, and he slept peacefully (no nightmares) on his bed for the duration of my son's visit.
And about those nightmares: He rarely has them now. Whew. Many times in the past year I have been awakened by his anxious pacing and whining after he's had a bad dream. In those times, I have calmed him by talking to him, then made myself comfortable on the couch until he can sleep again. When he wakes now, he is exuberantly happy. Morning is still absolutely his favorite time of day. Before he goes out, he flattens himself on the family room floor so I can spend a few minutes petting him and scratching behind his ears. Recently he discovered that sweet spot, just above his tail, and his eyes close in bliss when I scratch him there.
Over the past year, my mantra to Thom whenever he has withdrawn or recoiled from my touch has been this: "Don't worry, Thom. Someday you'll be a real dog. You just have to be loved enough." This is, of course, an homage to The Velveteen Rabbit. I think he's just about there. He still doesn't come up to me when I call him, but he does trot happily out of the side yard when I get home from work and call him. He now looks forward to his daily walks (instead of resisting them), and he loves riding in the back seat of the truck with the window down. Every night, I look forward to bedtime. The kitties get treats and then Thomas gets a treat... and a chew bone... and Bunny Tibbs... and a back rub.
I am daily grateful to the volunteers at Upland Animal Shelter who never stopped believing in Thom's capacity to recover. They took a feral dog and worked with him for months until he was adoptable, and in doing so they not only gave him a chance at a great life, they also gave me a boon companion who makes me laugh and warms my heart every single day.