My Dog Dusty and His Story

Daily Prompt: The Luckiest People  January 18, 2014: Who was the first person you encountered today? Write about him or her.

The first person I encountered today was Dusty T. Dog. He’s not a person but he’s not a non-person, either. He’s 90 pounds, black, sleek, somewhat neurotic, affectionate and right now he’s after my coffee. He’s waited ALL NIGHT to see me again (and for the coffee). He’s a decent hiking companion. I’ve had better, but I’m not the hiker I once was, either.

How did we meet?

The Evil X was living here and my right hip was in the throes of advanced arthritis. I would have surgery soon. We went to the pound looking for a labrador retriever — why, I don’t know. I’ve been a snow dog person since Molly the Malamute/Aussie. They fit my personality and life style and who DOESN’T enjoy looking at INCREDIBLY beautiful animals? I had three Siberian huskies at the time I adopted Dusty. I even considered an alternate name for Dusty; that was “Hole in the Head” — that was about as much as I needed another dog.

At the shelter there was a seven month old puppy, lying on his stomach, looking out from the bars of the cage. X saw him first and called me over. The puppy immediately started to paw at the bars and try to talk to me. I  went to the keepers and asked to see the pup.

“He’s no pet, ma’am,” said the large, uniformed Animal Control Officer behind the desk. “We picked him up off the freeway out by Alpine. He’s been here six weeks. We’ve tried everything, but he’s never going to be a pet.”

“I live out there.” I was thinking aloud. “I’d like to meet him,” I said. “I’ve had a lot of experience with dogs.”

“OK.” He tossed his keys to a fifty-something volunteer, a lanky, attractive woman with reddish gray hair. “This lady here wants to meet number 4320.”

“Really?” she asked in complete disbelief. “He’s not, he’s…well, OK. Wait here. I’ll go get him.” I stood at the end of the row and waited for the woman and the pup.

He couldn’t walk on a leash. He was clearly absolutely and totally terrified. His tail was between his legs, he walked hunched over, he looked around constantly, furtively, his ears back and flattened against his head. “Good God,” I thought.

“Hey boy,” I said. He flopped over on his back and pissed into the air. The keeper had already jumped back.

“See what I mean? He can’t be a pet. He’s been brutalized. He’s so submissive he’ll be aggressive and terrified his whole life.”

“He’s not aggressive. The opposite.”

“He’s a pup. When he matures, watch out. Do you still want to ‘meet’ him?” Meeting meant going into a small enclosure with the animal.

“I do,” I said.

“If you don’t mind, I don’t want to leave you alone with him.”

“OK. Let me take the leash.”

“I can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Ma’am?” I thought. “Oh well.”

“Take a seat in there and I’ll bring in the dog.” I entered the chain link “room” and sat down. Dusty came in.

He sat down beside me. He put his paw on my leg. He stood up part way. He laid his head on my chest and he started to TALK. He yowled, and howled, and whimpered and made every possible dog sound except bark and growl, pouring out his heart, telling me his stories. When he finished, he sighed deeply and closed his eyes, his head still on my chest. The keeper looked amazed.

“This is my dog,” I said to the woman, resisting the temptation to add “ma’am.”

Dusty wasn’t easy. He was so happy to have a HOME that he would not go out of the gate or get into the car, even to go hiking. He LOVED his gorgeous Siberian husky sisters, and for training a lonely dog to be part of a pack, there are no better teachers. When I came home from school in the evening, Dusty urinated on my feet because I was HIS.  (I always wore flip-flops to come in the yard.)

A couple months later, when I went to get my hip surgery, I sent Dusty to be professionally trained by a woman I knew would love him and do everything she could to socialize him — Dusty went to summer camp! He hung out with other dogs, went to the beach, went along when the trainer rode her horse, went to the store, everything normal dogs born into loving families get to do. He learned how to behave and to take pride in behaving well. She taught him to walk on a leash with me so we could take walks while I was on crutches and she taught him to help me up if I fell.

Dusty is definitely not everyone’s dog. He’s fierce along the fence when strangers go by, but to anyone allowed through the gates, he’s a welcoming and affectionate host. He’s a good friend on a trail, but still afraid he’ll be left behind, he won’t drink at all on a hike. Though I keep him leashed, I know that I don’t have to be afraid of him running off or running after, though he’s been tempted by covies of quail a couple of times.

And, though he looks like one, he’s not a lab. He’s taller and more slender; he’s afraid of water and has never chased anything! I suspect, from his size, shape and bark, he’s  Doberman, Dane and German Shepherd maybe, in his distant ancestry, a lab gave his grandmother more than a passing glance.