Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Life with Ernie

How do I describe the sweet dog I walk, named Ernie. There are as many facets to his good nature as there are whiskers on his face. No. Even more! He has the face and soul of a wise elder from some far off realm, and the heart, energy and spirit of puppies his age (he's a little over one). I may say, "He's a healer" with a grin on my face, but I mean it with all sincerity.

This little man is a rescue: plucked from the cages of a local Los Angeles shelter by his equally wonderful human mother, Lucy. His journey has been a long one, with obvious signs of pre-adoption abuse from living on the streets. The very sound of a garbage truck pulls that deep trauma out into the open and shakes his core.

When first he and I met, he had such an aversion to going beyond the walls of his new forever-home, he would lay down on the ground, belly flat, and cry. His mother and I tried our best to coax and coerce and train him to move, but getting him even around the corner was a struggle. Slowly, slowly, as he learned to trust me, we began to have lovely walks around his neighborhood.

And then came the doggy parks...

Oh, how he would run and run. The only thing he loved more than chasing balls (but rarely bringing them back) was chasing other dogs, who were chasing balls. He had a natural disposition to loving and playing with other dogs. Not a hint of aggression nor malice in sight.

But every journey has a moment. As can often happen, Ernie was learning aggressive behavior from other dogs in his immediate surroundings. One can imagine my surprise, one day at the park, when Ernie released an unfriendly growl to another dog who gingerly eyed the ball Ernie had taken to burying under one of the many benches. This was not Ernie. I had spent three days a week with him for months and months on end, and had never seen such a side to him.

The remedy was simple. Both Lucy (who was already well aware of the issue and had been taking steps to stop it) and I made sure to take him out of the growl-worthy situation immediately, and only let him play at the park when he proved he could "play nice." It did not take long for Ernie to return to his usual jovial and loving ways.

He is genuinely one of the best behaved dogs I have had the honor to walk and watch. Whether we are playing tug of war, walking, or reading viking tales when his tummy is feeling off, it's a highlight to spend time with Ernie. It is a testament not only to Ernie, but to his mother as well. The importance of a loving, invested human guardian can never be stressed enough.

With time, love, patience and training, Ernie has become far more confident in himself. Far more than that, he is the puppy equivalent of the kid who welcomes in and plays with all of the new or shy children at school.

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