We didn't have the best start with Gracie. I'm sure she was pleased to be out of her last house - where she was attacked by another dog and never got enough food. But our house is full of laughter, jokes and rowdy games ... loud and fun, but hardly a relaxing environment for dogs.
Over the first couple of weeks we worked out that she was deaf, had suffered a stroke or brain injury, had separation anxiety and urinary incontinence. She started displaying humping / hugging behaviour, as well as jumping up and barking. I found it a overwhelming (at 6 foot tall). But when it happened to my six year old, Gracie's legs would be around my daughter's shoulders ... which can be pretty frightening.
Then she bit me. Not hard. But I think it was a warning message that she was getting more and more stressed. This brought me to a crossroads - although I wanted to do the right thing by Gracie I would never forgive myself if she hurt one of my children. Very sadly, I started going through my options to find Gracie another home, with people who had more experience with rescue dogs. But I also got some advice from friends and family:
My cousin's wife (somewhat of a child-whisperer) said "just love her as much as you can". My mom said that if we could make it work then she was sure that Gracie would form an important part of our family.
I started learning how to train a deaf dog, and we found a supportive trainer to help. What a shame that no one had invested this time before! But I was feeling really down one day ... when my kids were frightened to come downstairs and I was trying to keep the cross-species peace. Then my sister (a lifelong dog-whisperer) called and said:
"I know you can do this. You will have to work hard at it. Don't worry too much about the bite. Gracie has been through a lot and is very stressed. She is trying to decide if she can trust you. It may take up to a year, and you will have to work at it. But if you can get her to fall in love with you, I know that you will be able to train her. And you will see how much love that dogs have to give."
We decided to take it week by week, to see if we could turn things around. We agreed that everyone in the house had an equal say in the situation. As the little people were most vulnerable, they needed to be on board. So we decided to put it to a family vote, and insisted that it be a unanimous decision.
Since then, things have been improving. I didn't know if she was forming a bond with us until we picked her up after holiday from a short stay in the kennels. It still brings a smile to my face ... I've never seen a dog do cartwheels with excitement before!
It is a challenge that she's deaf. Based on her age and lack of training (to date), it is unlikely that she will ever be off a lead in public. My husband accidentally let her out the front door last week and it took us an hour working as a family to catch her again. But my first thoughts when she got loose quickly went to the ID that I had made for her. I knew that if a stranger caught her, they would have a better idea of what to do when they read on her tag that she was deaf. And engraving our name and phone numbers was the best way of getting her returned safely to us. It brought me some comfort, as I picked up the trail of neighbour's rubbish bags she had strewn down the street.
We've voted a few times this summer to gauge how the family is feeling. And I'm really pleased to say that we're now unanimous ... Gracie will stay with us! We've learned to love and appreciate the things that make her unique: the one black toenail, the cheddar farts, and how it sounds like coconuts when she smacks her chops together. She's as bonkers as the rest of us and an official part of the Butler clan!
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