Many know that I lost my husband earlier this year after a lengthy struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. It is a disease without cure and without chance of survival. Larry was the second half of the heart that makes up APRA, though he would never admit it. He loved “his babies” with all of his heart, and we made a promise to each other that neither of us would ever place those in our home who had no option of adoption as long as we were physically able to care for them. It’s the giving back part of what they have given us, and now continue to give me.
Shortly before his death, I was sent a picture of a little mix in a shelter asking for our help. Her eyes haunted me in a way that I can’t even describe. I have learned over the years that anytime we take a mix or another breed into our rescue, placement is difficult. After all, we are a “pug” rescue and few come to us looking to adopt a mix. I showed her picture to Larry and as was typical he said “you have to get her out of there.” I arranged transport and she was immediately taken to our vet. She was covered in demodectic mange with open wounds and infection; our veterinary team went to work and the healing began. Several days after her arrival she came home for us to begin to meet her emotional needs and we named her Niblet. It just fit.
At that point in Larry’s disease process, his day consisted of sitting almost completely still as his oxygen requirements were so high. Because Niblet had so little fur, she was cold most of the time and she sought his lap for comfort. She literally would burrow into him and stay for hours. Looking back at this behavior, I realize now that this was one of the only times she appeared to be completely secure and at peace with her surroundings.
As Niblet healed, her energy level exploded and I wondered just what I could have been thinking. She became very much available for adoption and I exposed her at every avenue I could think of to increase her adoptability. I lived in a state of being always on guard because she was always on the go. Crate training was totally not in the cards for her, as I honestly believe she could saturate every part of a 30 inch crate in a matter of a minute and the door out of the crate was always her favorite place to leave a “package.” She had no remorse, life was just hers for the taking. I have a very high tolerance level when it comes to behavior, but at this time in my life, my patience was waning and I knew that even if I rehomed her, this behavior would just send her back to us. As Larry worsened, so did Niblet’s attitude. On the day that he died, I had one of my closest friends come and get her and take her to our clinic to spend the night. I just could not deal with her screaming demands and all that was happening around me.
The months following were ones that I honestly cannot remember clearly. I know that I lost all focus on anything but the dogs under my roof. They became even more a part of me and my heart every day. Nights were the hardest when they all settled in, and the silence became a sound that was deafening. As time passed I once again realized that I was going to have to do more for Niblet than I had been doing. The months she had been with me had been months not typical of the rescue environment I typically provide, and I felt I owed her much more than I had been fairly able to give her. I am no stranger to obedience and I am a strong advocate of well mannered dogs. I had already taught her a few of the basics, but she needed more. She needed to be tested in an environment outside of my home and I needed help recognizing her needs. As many dogs as I have fostered over the years I had never come across such a mixed personality. I was at a local pet supply store one day and I ran into the store’s manager and in passing told him I needed to get a little mix enrolled in a class. I had told him a little bit about what was going on and he asked me if I had ever met their trainer. I hadn’t and he smiled and said “he is very different.”
We enrolled in a group class, but there was some confusion in the time and so, when we arrived, we were offered a private lesson. I remember now even trying to back out of it saying we would just reschedule. But there I stood with this little bean of a mix with huge ears and a tail that didn’t stop.
The trainer, whose name I had learned was Joseph, opened the door to his classroom and there we were; I knew there would not be any backing out at this point. I began to tell him about her past and the entire time I spoke, he was “hands on” with her and made very little eye contact with me. After a few minutes, and from out of nowhere, he told me how he had lost his mother, about the disease that took her, and about his life now because of her impact. My heart sank because I so understand the privacy of grief and how, at any moment, the words just empty from our souls and then are locked up again. I choked on the fear of exposing a shared grief that I kept so tied up inside. However, I very much understood. From that moment on, the focus became and stayed totally about Niblet.
In all of Joseph’s private classes he would work with her, show me what she was capable of and I would go home and follow through with reinforcing what he had done. This is not to say that she wasn’t a challenge at times for him and the word “manipulative” was soon used to describe her. With Joseph, however, he was always able to work around her in a way that seemed to make her think it was all her idea. We soon combined group classes with private and I started to fill empty moments at home attempting to fill Niblet’s insatiable desire to learn.
When our first six weeks of instruction ended we enrolled in another series of private classes and the transition of Niblet became more transparent with each learned skill. This is not to say that the stubbornness didn’t still surface. There were only certain kind of treats she would accept, and like a naughty child, when she was done with something or became frustrated with the repetitiveness of a command, she would just walk away. One day she was particularly distracted and all of a sudden I saw Joseph go belly down in the middle of the classroom. She, of course, was all over him and he totally ignored her burying his head from her onslaught of kisses. After several minutes she went into a “down” position and became completely still as they made eye contact. He was then up and lessons resumed. Over his shoulder, he smiled at me and said “we had a talk.” I had no doubt she listened. This is a man who gives his all totally to the dog, and this was a dog who at that moment gave her all totally to this man.
Joseph’s instruction didn’t stop in the classroom. He would often text me saying how pleased he was with her in class that day and offer suggestions on how to ramp up what she had learned before our next class. This provided even more encouragement to keep reinforcing her training at home. Given my responsibilities as the primary foster home and President for APRA, extra minutes in my day are few, but those minutes became totally about Niblet. As she took over my soul, the silence of being alone became more tolerable and my nights shifted toward creating a balance that allowed me in many ways to return to my safe place, my world of rescue. As odd as it may seem, I know now why those eyes haunted me. She was meant to be. This is a dog who not only knows and excels in all the basic commands, she has a bag full of tricks and the willingness to learn more. She is now completely housebroken and crate trained. This is a dog that will one day soon enter the world of canine assisted therapy.
Soon Joseph will begin a new chapter in his life and I have no doubt that Niblet will always be a part of that life, just as any dog he has ever trained has been. I am not sure that he will ever fully understand the impact he has had on my life and Niblet’s and the bond we will always have with him because of his part in turning around both of our worlds. So many times over the years I have referred to how much is “beyond the rescue.” This is not only one example about making a difference in the life of the dog; this is about making a difference in those people she has touched. Niblet entered my life and provided a much needed distraction. I just never realized how positive that distraction would be. In some small way, I also believe we made a difference for Joseph.
“Niblet’s Story” is just one example of the bonds that have formed because of the dogs we represent. These bonds are those that have become the pulse of this organization. We have always been totally about the dog and totally about each other. We have seen each other through so many life changes and we have held each other’s hands in times of our greatest needs. We have seen placements live out their entire lives with the families we have placed them with and had our hearts spill over as they ask to adopt another one of our rescues. We have reached a point where most of our placements are repeat placements. We have reached a point of the highest standards and I have reached the point where my pride is beyond words. I know that in the coming year and at this time in my life there are decisions to be made about the future of APRA. I am very much at peace in knowing that no matter what path I choose to take, I will have the support of those that have been so much a part of this incredible rescue family, and I know that support will remain for the rest of my life.
I also will never have to look far to see those eyes that once haunted, now so full of a love that is very much returned. She indeed was meant to be.
In closing, and as always, I want to wish all of you the spirit found in rescue not only during this holiday season, but in all the years to come.
Many dogs end up in shelters or worse because of what is perceived as the inability to train. Please seek the advice of an expert if you, or someone you know, is dealing with a training problem.
In 2017 we will closely be working with Joseph Honeycutt and Canine Custodial Engineers to not only increase the adoptability of dogs in our rescue program, but to offer assistance in providing a solution to rehoming when it is in the best interest of the dog.