Beau, a German Shepherd who had been neglected by his previous owner, sticks by his new human, Larry, who gives him lots of attention.
Animal Tracks is a series of articles exploring the human/animal connection from Noah’s Ark Animal Foundation in Fairfield, IA. For information about dog or cat adoptions, visit www.noahsark.org or call (641) 472-6080.
When I first saw him, he looked worried. His furrowed brow and uncertain eyes gave his regal face a haunted look. I would come to know that this was a dog who was spooked by change until he got his bearings. And that day his world had been turned upside down.
The large German Shepherd had been running away on a regular basis. He always showed up at a neighbor’s house where they played with him and fed him—and eventually called his family asking them to come and get him. Sometimes, when the family showed up to retrieve him, they were rough with him. The neighbors noticed that the dog never seemed too excited about getting in their truck.
One day, when they called the dog’s family to report his whereabouts, the family said they weren’t coming to get him. They’d had enough; the dog was on his own. Fortunately, the neighbors called a friend who was a volunteer at the shelter where I also volunteered as dog-intake coordinator and breed rescue liaison. She took him home, and then called me.
As I drove up to my friend’s house, I saw her sitting on the porch with her children. The dog was sitting on the porch, too, but wasn’t interacting with any of them. Instead he was repeatedly scanning the street and sidewalk with nervous eyes.
He was a stunning dog, in spite of his worried expression, rough coat, and emaciated frame. But, aside from being agitated at the strangeness of his surroundings, he seemed perfectly friendly and jumped into the back of my car readily.
My plan was to take him to the shelter, but first I thought I’d stop and show him to my husband Larry, as he’d grown up with German Shepherds and loved the breed.
When I opened the back door of the car and the Shepherd leapt out, he immediately loped over to my husband, gave him a cursory sniff, and then began exploring the parking lot where we stood. I could tell Larry was impressed. He turned to me and said, “I want him.”
I was surprised. We already had three dogs and Larry often complained that that was too many. Plus, this dog was huge—it would be like adding two dogs to our menagerie! But I didn’t argue; I was pleased that Larry wanted a dog for himself.
So Beau joined our family. It wasn’t easy at first. We soon learned that Beau had been “reverse house-trained.” His first family had not given him regular opportunities to visit the great outdoors. Then, when he made the inevitable mess inside, they would get mad at him and throw him out the door. He was an intelligent dog and made the obvious connection: go to the bathroom and then you get to go outside. We had quite a time convincing him it actually worked better the other way.
But what was worse was his utter lack of interest in people. He loved the other dogs, but had no use for the two-legged members of his new family. Larry was deeply disappointed by Beau’s aloof disinterest.
Over time, Beau got the hang of being housebroken and established his place within our canine foursome. He was such a handsome dog that people constantly stopped us in the street to comment on his beauty. But still, his heart remained shut. He had no love to give to us. And when he looked at us, there was no spark of joy in his eyes. The lights were on, but no one was home.
What could we do? We did our best to love him and hoped we might reach him someday.
Then one day about four months after we got him, I glanced at Beau and was startled to see that he was following Larry closely with his large brown eyes. He seemed to be studying him—learning what actions signaled a chance to go for a ride or presented the possibility of a walk, treat, or a scratch behind the ears. It was as if he suddenly realized that people had things to offer him—things that might not be half bad.
His interest in all things Larry began to snowball. Swiftly, it became Beau’s mission to keep an eye on my husband at all times to make sure he didn’t miss any opportunities for doggy fun or excitement.
Larry didn’t let him down. He knew what big dogs liked to do and where they liked to be scratched. He threw balls and sticks and went interesting places. Beau soon started whining if Larry left him behind. And when Larry finally returned from those solo jaunts, Beau was beside himself with joy. The floodgates of Beau’s love had opened. The dry disinterest fell away and his heart began to bloom.
Today we call him Velcro Beau, because he sticks so close to Larry’s side. Every day when he wakes up, he stretches his long body luxuriously and then finds one of us to receive his morning rubdown. He lays his ears flat against his head and shyly pokes his large nose against an arm. This beautiful big dog, overflowing with affection, lets us know he is ready for some serious lovin’.
I am grateful that although he is clearly Larry’s dog, he has included me in the circle of his love. Often, while rubbing his large chest, I lean over and touch my forehead to his. Then he lifts his paw, places it on my arm and sighs with pleasure. We stay that way for a while, just enjoying our connection.
When we finish, Beau jumps to his feet, his eyes sparkling and his large tail waving wildly. It’s time to eat or play. Or go to work with Larry. Or have some other kind of wonderful fun.
To our delight, that skinny, worried dog has become an exuberant and devoted companion. Beau knows that life is good when you live with people you love.
Reprinted with permission from Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul. Carol Kline is co-author of the recently released Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul.