27: Miss Congeniality

27: Miss Congeniality

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Dog Did That!

Miss Congeniality

A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.

~Robert Wagner

I had just sat down after a full day of cleaning when the phone rang. New Year’s Eve was one night away and although we didn’t have any big party plans, I thought it would be nice to start the year off with some semblance of order, no matter how superficial.

I looked at the phone ID. Restricted. I knew who would be calling.

“Hi. And who do we have tonight?” I said into the receiver without skipping a beat.

After ten minutes of taking notes, I hung up the phone. My husband Jack looked at me, not bothering to ask who it was. He already knew the answer.

“It’s another rescue. I have to go to the shelter to pick her up.”

“Okay. I’ll get the crate ready just in case,” Jack said, already en route to the garage. “What type this time?”

“Shih Tzu,” I sighed. “Another little one — named Teeny.”

I wasn’t surprised to get the call so close to New Year’s. The holidays are always stressful and that especially holds true for people already in a volatile situation. For the last year and a half my husband and I had been placing and/or fostering pets through a partnership between OPIN, a local pet rescue, and The Domestic Violence Crisis Center. The program was created to help abused women with pets enter into a safe environment while they work on creating a new, stable life away from their abuser.

Prior to this program, a woman with a pet who was in an abusive situation had to choose between leaving her beloved behind in order to enter the safe house, or stay in the abusive situation in order to protect her pet. Due to housing restrictions, pets are not allowed in the local safe houses.

The problem we had with fostering small dogs like a Bichon or Shih Tzu was Max, our 135-pound Lab-Mastiff. Don’t get me wrong. Max was as sweet as can be. Not a mean bone in his body, but he was strong — very strong — and he could play rough. When he ran he sounded like a horse in full gallop.

Max played for hours in the back yard with his sister, Gracie Lou Freebush, our sixty-five-pound Heinz 57. We named Gracie Lou after Sandra Bullock’s undercover FBI character in the movie Miss Congeniality because she is so good with everyone she meets, people and dogs alike. And like the movie character, she is very protective of any people (or any dogs) she feels cannot protect themselves.

Max and Gracie Lou were as thick as thieves from the day they met. They were always together, eating side by side, walking side by side in the woods with Jack, and sleeping side by side on their bed. I can’t remember ever witnessing a moment of aggression between the two.

That was until the small rescues started coming into our home. After the usual introductory period, any dog weighing thirty-five pounds or more was fair game. They could fend for themselves. But, when one of the small ones came, it was as if Gracie Lou went into Mommy Mode. She was on guard at all times to protect the small, displaced and scared.

From the minute that tiny bundle of fur tiptoed into our home Gracie Lou would be the barrier between it and Max. If the tiny bundle got too close to Max, Gracie Lou would bark incessantly. Her back-off warnings were always directed at Max, never at the little one. She would physically place herself between them, protecting a dog that wasn’t hers and was often her senior.

That particular winter when we were fostering Teeny was when Max had what we believed was a stroke. He fell and was unable to get up. After physically carrying him to the neurologist, we knew his time was short. We brought him home. When we returned, Gracie Lou somehow knew Max wasn’t well and immediately snuggled next to him. Jack and I just watched as she showered him with kisses and groomed him as if to remove the smell of the vet and, along with the scent, any illness.

We were drained and trying to figure out how best to keep Max comfortable when all of a sudden out waltzed Teeny. We had totally forgotten about her. I was just about to run and grab her to prevent any conflict, when Gracie Lou looked up. Leaving Max’s side, she moved toward Teeny and then brought her straight to where Max lay. Gracie Lou actually let that little dog lie down next to him. Teeny tucked herself right in between Max’s front paws and stomach. Then, Gracie Lou strategically placed herself alongside Max and Teeny. Soon after, the three fell asleep.

This went on for two days. Except to eat and go outside for a stretch the three hunkered down in the living room, huddled together for dear life. The third day Max surprised us all as he lifted himself up and went to the door, signaling that he wanted out.

I ran over and quickly opened the door. We had had so much snow that winter that Jack had shoveled three different size paths for the dogs so we wouldn’t lose that tiny white bundle of fur in the snow. This proved helpful for Max, who was still very weak. He was able to lean his way along the snow-lined path for his much needed walk.

When he returned inside, it seemed as if he had gotten a new, albeit temporary, strength and he ate ferociously. He turned from his bowl and started toward his bed for a much-earned rest when all of a sudden out popped Teeny. She was heading straight toward him until Gracie Lou, sensing Max’s strength had partly returned, jumped right in between them, setting up a safe distance between the two once again. This time there was no barking, but her mothering status had returned as she placed herself as a buffer between the two during their naps.

When it was time for us to return Teeny to her mom, who had found a new home, Jack and I were sad to see her go. Teeny had proven monumental in the nursing process and she entertained the two of us while we worried about Max’s health. Also, Gracie Lou seemed to have adopted a sister.

Teeny’s mom was so happy to be getting her baby back. As difficult as it was to return her, we knew that Teeny added a loving stability to this woman’s life, a real purpose. As I told her about the events that had unfolded over the past few weeks, she seemed proud that her tiny girl was a part of the nursing process. The expression on the woman’s face as her immense bundle of joy ran toward her said it all.

~Jeanne Blandford

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