52: The Dog that Lives under the Table

52: The Dog that Lives under the Table

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

The Dog that Lives under the Table

Fun fact: Most dogs need to be “socialized” — have positive experiences with humans — before fourteen weeks of age, or they may always feel shy or afraid around people.

I was just going to look when I went to the animal shelter. I had lost my best friend, a Jack Russell named Katie, to kidney disease. I knew we could never replace her, but I felt a new dog with its own personality would help fill the emptiness in my heart and home.

The dogs were excited to see visitors and vied for attention, barking and jumping up on the viewing glass. But one dog sat in the far corner, head down, ears drooping, tail tucked, and body shaking. The longing in his soft brown eyes drew me to him. The shelter volunteer said he had been in an animal hoarding situation with forty-seven other dogs. Being invisible was his way of surviving.

I went home without him but I was back the next day. I named him Gibbs after the character Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS, my favorite TV show.

The moment I put Gibbs down, he raced around the den looking for a way out. He dove under the dining table, ignoring his carrier and the bed we had so carefully placed in a corner of the room.

We finally put the dog bed under the table, complete with a soft worn towel and a small teddy bear for company.

Gibbs was skin and bones. My husband tried all types of commercial dog food, but finally resorted to home cooking. He made a great meatloaf with beef, rice and cheese. Gibbs loved it. We learned to place the food on the floor. Gibbs would grab a bite and head back under the table. I guess the big dogs wouldn’t let the small ones near the food dish.

My husband calls him feral. He grew up ignored, a puppy that never learned to play. Scared of people. Gibbs flinched at any sudden movement, afraid to trust, but most of all, never knowing affection.

My daughter Kathy and granddaughter Kelly came over to meet the new member of the family a few weeks later. “Where is he?” Kelly asked, looking around.

“Under the dining table,” I replied.

The three of us got on our hands and knees, peering under the table as we struggled to get a glimpse of my new pet.

“Why is he under the table?” Kelly asked.

“He lives there and won’t come out while we’re here,” I explained. “He’s terrified of everything.”

“He doesn’t look very happy,” she said. “You know, Gram, when I was collecting supplies for the shelter, there were all these puppies, jumping around, giving kisses, wanting to play. Were they all adopted when you got there? This one is so sad.”

My daughter crawled under the table, trying to pet the timid, quivering dog. “He won’t even let you touch him.” Kathy shook her head in disbelief. “If it was me, I would take him back.”

“I can’t do that. I don’t think anyone else would have him. Everyone, even animals, deserves a chance.”

“What’s his name, Gram?”

“Gibbs.”

Not making eye contact, Gibbs drew farther back under the table, putting as much distance as possible between himself and us.

“Why did you pick this one?” friends and family asked. “He needed me” was the only answer I could come with. “Look into those eyes. He wants to communicate. He just doesn’t know how.”

My son-in-law said to think of Gibbs as a fuzzy fish. “You feed him and watch him. That’s it.”

My friend Kwan said that God sent me Gibbs to teach me patience.

It’s been more than two years. What others consider small steps, my husband and I consider major victories. Gibbs still doesn’t eat out of a dish, but he will eat off the placemat — no more hiding under the table to eat. While he won’t take food from my hand, there are times he will run up and snatch string cheese dangling from the tips of my fingers.

He has found a second haven, a spot wedged between the wall and the end of the couch, close to us, but not too close.

Gibbs’s day is spent running from the table to the hidey-hole, dodging anyone standing in his way, still sleeping under the table at night.

When it’s just my husband and me in the evening, sitting in our chairs and watching TV, Gibbs will come and lie down on the carpet. Not next to us, but near enough to be a part of the family — as long as no one moves, that is.

Some days when he’s comfortable and feeling secure under the table, we can scratch his head. Of course, we have to move slowly and only for an instant.

Gibbs’s saving grace is being housebroken. “Outside” is the magic word. Ask if he wants to go outside and then get out of the way. He races around the room, comes to a screeching halt at the back door and does what we call the “potty dance,” jumping into the air and spinning around in circles until we open the door. He’s still not sure if the yard is a safe place, so either my husband or I have to go outside with him. While sniffing and inspecting, looking for that perfect spot, he keeps a watchful eye on us, making sure we’re still there.

The sounds of dogs barking in the distance, neighbors mowing grass, kids at play, or cars driving by send him running back to us. While we can’t touch him, Gibbs will softy touch our legs, letting us know it’s time to go in.

I hope someday Gibbs will jump up on the couch next to me, let me pet him, give me doggy kisses, and even snuggle. I want to go for walks and play fetch.

Until then, a brief tap of a paw on my leg, a soft nose rubbing against my hand, a soulful glance that says “hey, I’m here” will do.

You can’t hurry love.

~Jeri McBryde

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