Thorns to protect the rose, part III

In parts one and two you met Milo, my little board-and-train student. In the beginning, I had trouble connecting with him but Milo was an unusual rescue and I was his last hope. After three days of frustration, an incident with a bone threatened to prevent him from ever trusting and relating to humans—but instead of creating a divide, it brought us together. In a literal heartbeat, I came to see this needy, desperate little dog as mine.

Within twelve hours of the bone incident, Hurricane Sandy hit. Trees and wires were down everywhere and we were confined to the house. Unable to gab on the phone, watch TV or spend time on the internet, we had some serious family time and Milo thrived on it.

Milo switched from reactive to yielding, from snapping at the other dogs to extending gestures of play and relatedness. Professionally, I was a little chagrined that only my family witnessed this miraculous change — it was truly a made-for-reality-TV type transformation— but still the entire event made my heart swell with love and pride. Could this be, I thought—it is like a different puppy altogether.

So why? And how? Am I that good a trainer?

Truthfully, I think it had little to do with training, and everything to do with Milo’s (or any creature’s) capacity for love. Before I was able to break through his guard, Milo had not viewed himself as a loving creature because no one had taken the time to tender and care for him. With a mother who died at birth and people who were rarely home, he survived by instinct alone. Before our connection, he lived a life of extremes: hunger was often left unsatisfied as a newborn puppy, so eating became an obsession. Interaction was scarce in his developmental stages, so when it was offered, he was frantic to sustain it. Isolation had been the rule of thumb; the pain of solitude and fear of isolation nearly drove this little puppy out of his mind. I thought as I watched him those first few days, that he was a little too far gone—that his desperation and fears were insatiable.

But life proved me wrong again. For a solid week I held this now limp and exhausted puppy to my heart, stopped crating him altogether and thanks to the storm of a century, basically kept him with us 24/7. We bought him a raincoat, took him into the grocery store concealed in my sweater and basically treated him like our newborn baby. Mind you it’s not a course of action I’d recommend or use with any normal puppy, but Milo was no normal case.

And then the fateful call. As Milo was a board and train, he was not ours to keep. The day was fast approaching. It was time for Milo to home. His time with us was a success so why did I feel so sad?

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