Almost 2 years ago, my husband and I made the decision to adopt a rescue dog from an animal rescue in Maine. We had been talking about getting a dog for quite some time but the timing just never seemed right. I saw this boy’s sweet face on my newsfeed- 7 months old, crate trained, potty trained, good with other dogs… he seemed perfect. I sent in an application immediately and got in contact with the rescue owner. We set up a date to pick him up….
November 12, 2017 was the craziest day of our lives to date. I had Holiday Mini sessions planned all morning and I couldn’t get a hold of the assistant I booked for the day, so on my way to the tree farm I had them planned at, which was a 40 minute drive from home, I tried to wrangle my mom into just helping me keep the day running smoothly. Once that was squared away, I got a call from my Fiance, Mike, that his dad, who was recovering in rehab from a recent stroke, had just passed away in an ambulance ride to the ER. Our worlds SHATTERED. On top of this, we were supposed to pick up this dog we committed to later that evening 2 1/2 hours away in Maine. I had to call/message and cancel all of my minis planned for that day, some I couldn’t get a hold of, all through hyperventilation and tears. I asked Mike, through the shock and confusion, what the hell he wanted to do about this dog we made a promise to adopt. We both agreed that even though it would be difficult, maybe he would be a light and comfort in the darkness that had just come into our lives. Later that evening, my mom and I set out to Maine to pick up our Griffy boy… known at the time as Rico.
We showed up to the house and walked in and there he was… so tiny, skinnier than his photos looked and a seemed anxious/unsure. So was I. I questioned what the hell I was doing several times while we were standing in that kitchen. The rescue owner explained to us that this poor baby was abandoned to a shelter in Georgia at only 4 weeks old- which is way too soon to be taken from his Mama and litter. He then spent the next couple months of his adolescent life there, where we can only assume he was left to fend for himself most days. He then was taken in by this rescue all the way in Maine and spent the next 3 months of his life with a foster and other dogs. Then at 7 months old, we came to take him to his forever home. Needless to say, this poor pup hadn’t started off his life on the right foot, lots of moving around in his short 7 months of life, not enough exposure to people, kids or fellow litter mates and unfortunately because of this, he has developed anxiety and resource guarding- but more on that later.
On the way home, I sat in the backseat with him and it was like he knew then I was his Mama and with me, he was safe. He snuggled me the whole ride home. I was apprehensive but I was falling in love with him, too. When we got home, he snuggled me on the couch but made sure to bark at every noise he heard. I was sitting there staring at him like “WTF did I just do, is this the right decision?!” He flipped out when Mike came home and was super scared of him at first. This was already a different dog than the one I met a few hours ago.
The next few weeks were overwhelming. Griffy hated being in his crate, which we were told he had no problems with. He would scream and cry any time we pursued further crate training. He peed and pooped all over the house, which was to be expected, but he seemed to do it more when he was overwhelmed. We had people in and out of the house in those first few weeks because we were dealing with Mike’s father’s passing. We were planning a life celebration in lieu of a funeral. We were spending time with family, crying, reminiscing and feeling all the emotions. It really was NOT the best time to be bringing this already anxious dog into our lives- but we were committed. I made a promise not to give up on this boy like someone else already had at such a young age. I couldn’t imagine making his anxiety even worse by sending him to yet another shelter just because we were going through a hard time in our personal lives. I made a commitment and I was going to follow through.
Fast forward to now, we have made GREAT strides to work on Griffy’s anxiety and resource guarding. It took us a while to find a good trainer (we have been through 4) that took into consideration that the reason we got a dog was to LOVE him and have him be a part of the family, but we also knew he would need stern boundaries. At first, it seemed like all trainers were either too hard- told me I couldn’t give him love and affection, too soft- fluffy training methods Griffy just didn’t really respond to, or just in it for the money- wouldn’t work with us on specific needs and made us take full basic courses at $300+ a pop. I am proud to say that, with help of our current trainer, I am confident with taking him in the woods, out in the yard and to my parent’s off leash (but with an e-collar, we seldom need to use it however), he listens very well to commands like “come” and “heel”, he walks well on leash with a prong collar and he knows all the basic “sit”, “down”, and “stay”. We use “OUT” when he seems to be guarding something he doesn’t need to guard- treats, toys, etc. but this is more-so needed with other people who aren’t me or Mike. He’s absolutely perfect with US, it’s anyone who is NOT us where his anxieties come out the most. Right now, we are working on “BED”, so he knows that when he’s feeling uncomfortable or protective, he has a place to go and calm down. It’s been a work in progress. It’s hard because we don’t have a ton of guests often and like I said, he’s great with Mike and I.
Our biggest struggle lately is that I am 35 weeks pregnant and Griffy is very aware his Mama is in a fragile state. He has been so protective of me and his resource guarding training has regressed. He’s very uncomfortable around strangers or anyone in the house. The guarding has come back full force, especially over me. Muzzle training is now in progress when I have him on walks and will need to be utilized when the baby gets here and people are coming over. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but I will not give up on this boy. I refuse. I know that eventually our hard work will pay off and he will be the sweet boy he is with Mike and I, with everyone else who comes into his home and life.
Griffy is worlds better and more confident than he used to be and we are still working on it every day, but I am proud of the strides we have made. I constantly wonder why the universe brought us together, but I truly feel like there is a reason. If it weren’t for us, I can almost guarantee he would have been placed back in a shelter, which would only make his behaviors worse. He has taught me so much of how I will be as a mother. He has taught me patience and perseverance. He has taught me to love something more than I love myself, even when I want to rip his freakin’ head off. He has helped me learn to let the small things go. AND there is nothing better than when we get home after being out and the greeting we get from him at the door. The wiggle butt, the kisses, the snuggles, the unconditional love- it makes all the stress and frustration of his “stranger danger” worth it. Teaching him new things and watching him learn and excel is so gratifying. He is SUPER SMART and learns very quickly. This year he learned to swim! That was so much fun to teach and watch. I love being able to give him a life he might not have otherwise had.
My bottom line here is- rescuing a dog IS NOT EASY. No one tells you about how much actual work it is other than what is to be expected. No one warns you about how their background can affect their future SO MUCH. His behaviors could absolutely be worse and he could have come from worse, but knowing that there are other dogs out there who have been through worse and were able to turn their behaviors around gives me so much hope that he will excel and learn to be 100% comfortable with other people in his space. It is totally a team effort for the three of us and it is hard to know if we are doing the right things, taking the right steps, etc. but I refuse to give up on him. He really is the goodest boy, he just needs a lot more guidance than some. He is certainly lucky to have us and I am so grateful for his unconditional love.
If you are thinking about rescuing, please don’t let this post deter you from doing so, if anything I hope that it sheds some awareness on what I didn’t have 2 years ago. And well, if it DOES deter you, that’s okay too because it will save you a lot of heartache and stress if you aren’t ready for this kind of commitment. Dogs like Griffy need humans like us to save them, but only if you are 100% committed to whatever personality the universe decides to give you. I wasn’t ready for what I got in this dog, but life made sure to test me in my commitment. For me, dogs just aren’t a toy you get to return when you don’t feel like playing anymore… even the broken ones need to be fixed, you just have to have the patience to work on it.
I mean, come on, how can you resist this face?!
Mama loves you, Griffys, no matter what. We can do this.