The world lost a very special, very loved little brown dog this week.
My first meeting with Oscar was when Vet Tech Annik brought him over to our building, along with his “girlfriend” Squeaker. Annik had taken on the dogs as a project, and was determined to help them both gain enough confidence to pass their Canine Good Citizen tests, so they could be adopted into homes of their own. Every single day, without fail, she would pick up the dogs at lunch and take them on outings. Today it was to experience the noisy environment I work in.
It was immediately obvious that Squeaker was extremely nervous being in a new place. She gave all the signs of a stressed, fearful dog. All the while Oscar stoically sat, staring out the front door….no signs of stress…no lip licking, yawning, or actually any sign of movement at all. I mentioned how much better he was handling the whole experience and was stunned when Annik corrected me immediately. “Look at him” she directed “he is completely and totally shut down”. And she was right. When Oscar was stressed he just checked out and went somewhere far, far away in his own mind.
My husband Kevin began joining Annick on her daily outings, helping her work with both dogs, but concentrating on trying to help Oscar, who was very frightened of men. He walked hundreds of miles with that boy. Oscar would go almost anywhere to follow Squeaker….she was his bravery. I joined the team too, and started having both dogs as “office dogs” once or twice a week.
It was an easy transition to move him into my office when he needed a place to stay after Squeaker had ACL surgery on her leg. How much different could it possibly be to have him in my office full time? A lot actually. Oscar didn’t know how to function without Squeaker. He was afraid of literally everything.
We worked every day to help Oscar learn the skills he needed to go into a home. But it is very difficult working with a dog who won’t take a treat from you, and doesn’t want to play or receive affection. What in the world do you use as a reinforcer? Trainer Pat Whitacre worked with us to help us fined ways to help Oscar learn. Mostly we just worked to gain, and keep his trust. Without a loving relationship, no forward motion was going to be possible.
The day Oscar walked up to me as I worked at my desk, and nudged my knee for some attention was one of the highest points of my life. After literally months of being together 8 hours a day, he had finally decided I was safe. From that point on, he made tremendous gains. But it still took a massive effort to get this little brown dog through his CGC.
Besides his discomfort with new people (the CGC test requires handling by a new person and a couple of “crowd” tests) Oscar had two major hurdles: he would do a “fly by” when asked to come….heading straight at you and then veering at the last moment, and he HATED the feeling of sand on his stomach and refused to do a down on the ground. It took repeated efforts to get him through these two items.
On the day of his actual CGC the tester allowed us to do the “stay” and “come” portion of the test first. If he was going to pull his idea of a joke by running past me, there was no sense in continuing. He nailed the test items, coming right to me when I called. We left the “down” portion of the test until the end. When the time came, I gave the cue, and Oscar turned his head away from me…..I almost panicked, but tried one last time: “Oscar, down”. He heaved a sigh and lay down. I promptly burst into tears. Oscar had passed his CGC.
It was just a short time later I was told that a potential adopter was coming to meet our boy. For those of you who foster, you know how difficult this is….a dog you have poured so much work into…is anyone really good enough to be his family? I typed up a letter to this unknown person, trying to give her a sense of who Oscar really was.
Dear Potential Adopter:
When Oscar first came to live here, he spent all of his time in a corner, or under my desk. We’d have to drag him out to go for a walk. He refused to eat in front of us, and I’d have to leave his food in the evening, so that he could eat once we were all gone. If I touched him, his skin would twitch like a horse with a fly on its back. He refused to make eye contact with me, and would stare off into the distance if you looked at him.
Taking him for walks could be an exercise in futility. He would walk 2 or 3 steps and then just stop. The only way to get him going again would be to pick him up and set him down again a few steps later, or to pull him a step or two. If there were people in sight, nothing could convince him to walk in that direction.
Slowly, over time, these behaviors started to change. He now runs to me in the morning for a good butt scratch. He goes for walks with Kevin without hesitation. He will even take treats from strangers. He is still very scared and shut down if he doesn’t know a person, but the time it takes to get comfortable has gone from weeks to a few days.
It will take Oscar some time to get comfortable in new surroundings. He is very nervous and unsure of anything new. It will take him a few weeks to know someone enough to trust and respond to them. But this is a wonderful dog, who truly deserves a home of his own. I can’t tell you how amazing he is.
There are a few things to keep in mind about Oscar:
- He is scared to death of cameras. Even if he is with someone he loves and trusts, cameras (even cellphone cameras) cause him to flee instantly.
- Oscar has absolutely NO aggression. When he is uncomfortable, he just “goes away” mentally. You can see that he has checked out.
- Oscar likes to have a safe place to hide. I have never had a problem getting him out of these safe places, although sometimes you have to pull him. Again, he shows NO aggression.
- Oscar loves car rides. The problem is getting him out of the car at the end!
- Crowds and groups of people terrify him
- He loves the packaged bones that you can get at Pet Stores
- He loves to destroy stuffed animals.
- He prefers jerky type treats to biscuit treats.
- He loves a fluffy bed.
- His favorite way of being petted is a butt scratch, followed by a body massage. He is not all that fond of being petted on the head, unless he really trusts you.
- He does love to tear up paper and will pull files off my desk to tear them up. Garbage cans are another favorite.
- He has only had one accident in my office, and that was when it was storming, and I think he was afraid to go outside.
- He hates bread or a lot of other things that most dogs like. But he will do anything for cheese.
- Loud noises bother him a lot.
Thank you for being willing to give Oscar a chance. It will take awhile for him to respond to you, but once he does, it is amazing. I have never felt so honored as the day he came to me for affection. This is a remarkable dog that we love very much.
It only took one meeting with Rachel to know she was the right person for Oscar. I sobbed like a baby as we loaded Oscar into her car, but it wasn’t because I was worried about her as his person. Only that I was going to miss him so desperately. It was instantly apparent that Rachel was the one. The two of them were meant to be together. Rachel was willing to let Oscar live life on his terms, and arranged her schedule around his needs. She was the most perfect home possible.
We were very fortunate to have built a relationship with Rachel so that both her and Oscar became part of our extended family. Kevin and I were able to visit them on several occasions. Rachel called him her Potato…and it was the best possible name for him. The happiest I ever saw him was when he was living with Rachel and her mom in Colorado. He had a little dachshund friend, and played with that dog all day long. He looked so happy when we visited him there. It made me tear up to remember how far he’d come.
This week Rachel had to say goodbye to her boy…this dog she had spent so much time with, meeting his special needs, earning his trust. She let us know that it was time to let Oscar slip away. I know how devastated she is……and I ache for her pain. Please keep her in your heart……She needs your good thoughts right now.
One very special little dog is finally free from fear……