When Kona Met Cassie or Sleepless in Pearland
Friends For Life
A common movie premise is two main characters who seem different and thus don't get along at the start. The audience, however, sees many things in common between the characters. We watch hopefully while the characters interact, waiting for them to discover what we already know: they are perfect for each other! It is a bit frustrating at times, for us in the audience. We are forced to be patient while the plot unfolds, holding our breath for that magical moment. Such it is with real life at times, even in the dog world.
Kona was a dog that was in his prime, and we thought that he might enjoy a playmate near his age, a pup who could offer the kind of interaction that we couldn't give him. The wrinkle was that Kona, a rescue himself, had previously had some mixed experiences meeting dogs. There was the incident with the loose male unneutered husky during one early morning walk...the wonderful time he had playing with a boxer in the neighborhood...the young golden retriever who lunged and barked at us at close range while his inexperienced owner was drug helplessly along....and so on. With puppies and smaller dogs, Kona was a benevolent uncle who played gently at the intensity level of his little charges. Still, his mixed experiences with dogs his own size made introductions tricky, and due to his sporadic interactions, he was a bit socially awkward.
Adopting a small dog would add furry fun to our household, but would not give Kona the play time he craved. First step was to think through what kind of dog might work for us: energy level, age, and personality. Short hair or long hair can also be a consideration for many of us in the human world. And it was important to list any doggie rehab issues that we were willing to manage or train around. Then, with that information, I sent my adoption request form to Friends for Life. I asked the staff at FFL to recommend a few dogs for us to meet, and indicated that I was willing to wait for the right match.
Enter: The Behaviorist
The Behavior Manager, Melissa, recommended Cassie, a two year old gray pittie. Energetic in play yet with a calm style of greeting others, Cassie got along well with other dogs, and even liked cats. She was an optimistic dog who saw a stranger as a potential friend, despite what seemed to be troubled beginnings at the hands of other "two leggeds". She had some skin issues, but with good nutrition, living indoors, and a bit of medication in the short-term, her exterior would glow and much as her personality. I fell in love with her sweet nature and eager kisses....oh dear...I had to remind myself that Kona would have to be just as smitten as I was or we would have to keep looking.
Kona: Peace out, girl.
We matchmakers set up the blind date on a Wednesday. Melissa and I were joined by an experienced behavior volunteer, Tammy. Melissa led Cassie down the street, with Kona and Tammy following at a distance of about 10 feet. Cassie was eager to see the handsome gentleman following her, but Kona was distracted, even antsy as if he was late for another appointment. While he did a great job "checking in" with Tammy (looking up for direction and affirmation), he didn't seem to want to interact with the beautiful girl ahead of him. After walking with one following the other for about ten minutes, we walked in broad circles so the dogs could see each other. We offered Cassie some treats to keep her distracted and her head away from Kona, and invited Kona to sniff her tail. He did, because he was asked to, but then quickly moved away. Throughout, Cassie was eager to check out Kona (wagging tail with wiggling butt, relaxed face, mouth partially open and head tilted at times). Kona, however, seemed conflicted and unsure. He would whine a bit and tap his feet, and then look away from her, and to us for direction. He would do a quick play bow, his play spin, and then a bark and a lunge in her direction at what seemed too forceful for what we thought would be like play. Then he moved away and looked elsewhere. He was ready to go home.
A Sleepover Ensues.
Realizing that a first date can be rough (and a blind one at that!), we set up
a second one the next day. We used the same process with linear and
parallel walking, this time we were able to walk a bit closer together, and we
got a similar result as the day before. Cassie was interested, but Kona
just seemed torn: he desperately wanted to play, and yet he was afraid
that Cassie might not really be a friend. Melissa felt, after
watching Kona, that it was possible that he would be more comfortable at home.
What an interesting observation, to allow them to continue introductions
on Kona's "home turf", and a suggestion that is typically counter to
best practice on introducing dogs. But each dog is an individual, and we
should respect that just as much as we respect that each human is unique.
And so in this particular case, given what she had seen of the dogs to
date and Kona's history, she suggested that a familiar venue might help the
introductions proceed successfully. With Melissa's advice on how to proceed, I
took Cassie home the next day with instructions to keep the dog separated but
to continue walking together (each dog with one human) at as close a range as
we could while avoiding any adverse reaction from either dog. We would
not allow the dogs loose together in the house or the yard, but rather all
interactions would be supervised, and on leash.
We invited a few of Kona's favorite humans to stay with us over the weekend, so that we would have some additional help in keeping the dogs company while separated. It was, after all, a scary adventure for Cassie as well, going with someone she barely knew to a place she had never been before. What courage she showed, greeting all of these new people with sincerity and an open heart, with no real idea what might come next. I was impressed with her strength of character and her cheerful approach to life. I still hoped that Kona would eventually see her genuine spirit and trust in her to be a friend. We went on several walks throughout the day as planned. We let Kona set the pace of interaction, with his leash loose enough so that he could decide how closely to walk near Cassie. Cassie and I spent the night in a spare room; I didn't want her to be alone on her first night in a strange place. One of the humans staying with us suggested we give up and just not get another dog. How long could we do the separate thing, anyway? Aren't dogs supposed to just get along, or just not? Why not just put them together and see what happens, good or bad? But I was not willing to give up until we completed what we had planned with Melissa. We would not be dismayed, we would be calm and steady, and follow our instructions, and be patient. On Monday, after three days of home trial, I would report back to Melissa, and we would decide what next. Three days was not much to invest, after all, for the potential of a lifetime of happiness.
And Then Something Amazing Happened...
The following day, our second day in the home trial and the pup's fourth day of
knowing each other, proceeded the same way with a pack walk in the morning and
again at mid-day. We observed that the dogs continued to voluntarily walk
more closely to each other, with now an occasional "body bump" and
would even sniff the same spot at the same time. No muzzle licks or nose
touching, but definitely more relaxed. That Saturday
afternoon was a beautiful one and we decided to sit outside together
with each pup on a leash. That's when something amazing happened.
We were lounging together on the patio, the dogs sitting on leash, one on each side of the group of humans. Kona stood up and stretched. He walked into the yard as far as his leash would allow. We dropped hold of his leash so that he could wander about on his own. After all, we had many humans to stand between them if needed, and Kona had not been initiating interaction anyway. Kona, realizing he could move about, chose to walk across Cassie's line of sight at a distance of about six feet, facing away from her and looking out into the yard. He then looked back over his shoulder at her and gave her a tail wag. Cassie perked her head up. Then he took another step, looked back at her over his other shoulder, gave another tail wag and a little butt wiggle. Cassie stood up, looked at me: can I go?
We soon had two frolicking dogs to entertain us while we humans took turns expressing amazement at how similar dogs are to humans in their need to trust one another before being willing to engage. We marveled at how joyful both pups looked, each realizing that they had made a friend, and how that is similar to humans, too. We reflected on how important it was to be patient, to allow the interaction to proceed at the pace set by the dogs, and not to have rushed them.
Don't we all have different rates at which we
are comfortable hugging others or sharing personal details? Why would a
dog (or a cat!) be any different?
Movies usually have happy endings, real life is less certain. We got our happily ever after, in this case.
Why The Happy Ending Here?
I think it was because we asked for
advice on making a good match, without much regard to the breed and with a
focus on personality. We followed the instructions we were given.
And most of all, we were patient. The patience was certainly the
hardest part, especially to stay the course in the face of so much "well
meaning" advice. But oh doggie, was it worth the wait!
Both dogs now happily sleep next to each other, drink from the same water bowl, share toys and romp endlessly. They are blissfully happy, as am I, since they wear each other out. And the bonus is that both of these rescue dogs now have a forever home where they are loved, snuggled and adored.