Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Clues from Oscars Past

The strangest part about having a rescue dog is knowing he had this whole life before you and not knowing what that life was. Oscar hasn't been my dog for very long, but he feels so much like part of my family. But before he was my family,  he was someone else's family. He was found as a stray, so there is no way to prove that his mother wasn't a stray who raised her pups on the street. But his sociability and comfort in the company of strangers and his complete understanding of what joys lie within a refrigerator make it clear he had lived with someone.

Part of getting to know Oscar is finding clues to his previous life. The way he immediately perked up when we opened the fridge for the first time in his presence showed that there was someone who had sneaked him human treats from that glowing, chilly box. Even more, the way he begged for food, right next to me, looking at my food with big imploring eyes. He is smart though. It didn't take him long to stop this habit when he realized it did not get him any treats from me. But he had learned just as easily from someone else that it had worked. Maybe he had lived in a family with kids who shared with him bits and pieces of their dinner and favorite snacks. Maybe he lived with an befuddled gentlemen who would absent mindedly leave the fridge open so that Oscar had free range.

Oscar came out of the shelter knowing the command sit and having a clumsy understanding of lay, that he still always seems a little confused about when asked to preform.  But he didn't know shake, which I taught him, and he still needs to learn 'here', 'drop it', 'leave it' and a few more of the more practical and less showy commands. I loved teaching him shake. You could feel it click for him, when he knew what I was asking. He doesn't just lazily lift his paw, he springs it up high. It's pretty cute. Just as I worked diligently on 'shake' someone else had worked with him on 'sit.' Someone else had found his favorite treat and taught him what they wanted from him.

I work with rescue dogs, so I know how common it is for a rescue dog to suffer a wide range of issues such as separation anxiety, fear aggression and food possession. These are not unique to rescue dogs, but more common. A dog abandoned by the people he once considered family is more likely to be anxious about this happening again. A dog relinquished from a shelter is more likely to come from a home where he is thought of as disposable, as not sentient and is thus more likely to be mistreated which leads to issues like fear aggression. A dog fending for itself on the streets and then in a shelter is more likely to find his food sacred as he does not know when he will have food again. It makes me feel lucky my guy is so well-adjusted. Not to say we don't have our challenges, but his happy disposition and his eagerness to share affection make me think he had someone in his life that loved him and showed him how humans are suppose to treat dogs, which makes me wonder how he found himself in a shelter.

When Oscar came into our home, he had just been recently neutered. This too is a clue from his past. Was he not neutered because of ignorance on his past peoples part? Neutering is so important in the quest to keep dogs out of shelters, but not everyone knows this. Did his past people want to neuter him but they couldn't afford it? Did they think taking his balls violated some code of masculinity? Did they think it would change his personality?

Underneath his collar is a little scar where fur doesn't grow. I wonder what possibly could have happened to leave that little spot. Did he get in a fight? Did someone use a prong collar that somehow injured him? Did he get cut on a fence trying to escape somewhere? For humans, scars tell stories that we can tell, but for Oscar, his scar tells a story I will never know.

At the rescue where I work, I wonder the same things about these dogs. Did someone teach Addie Luc to stretch her legs out and wiggle like a seal to get attention, or did she learn this on her own? Is Chuco's fear aggressive because someone hurt him, or because he is so overwhelmed by being in this new situation? Does Blueberry have separation anxiety because someone left him alone too long, or on the flip, someone never put him down, thus never teaching him what it meant to be alone?

I wish pet psychics were real (and who knows...maybe they are) so I could have them come and reveal all the little mysteries about all the homeless animals. But sometimes I think it is better that they don't. Those lives they had whether happy or sad aren't theirs any more. They have new lives now. For the dogs at the rescue, they are waiting for their person, they are waiting for their life to begin. But all the dogs find their homes eventually and get to start those lives. For my Oscar, he is in his life now. He is my buddy, my best dog. I can't know his past but I can do everything possible to make sure his now and his future are happy and safe.

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