Saturday, 8 June 2013

Where you been so long?

The first week we had Bertie

A year ago today, we had one dog. In about 5 hours' time, we will have added a sweet white Siamese cat and a fluffy, smart, tiny puppy.

Bertie was a rescue dog from Animal Control (the pound), and we kind of got her by accident. We'd been discussing getting another dog, because we both wanted to and because I also wanted to have my "own" dog to bring up, teach, and generally love ridiculous amounts. We thought we'd get a young dog, but old enough to be house-trained and past the crazy puppy stage. We also thought we'd get her from one of the no-kill shelters, rather than CMACC, which has to regularly euthanise animals in their care because there isn't anyone to take them home and they don't have the resources to keep them all. 

So, when we decided to visit the pound after a coffee at FABO, I had it in my head that we were a) just going to look, b) only going to adopt an older dog, and c) not getting a cat. 

None of that happened. We saw Bertie (after meeting two other dogs), fell in love with her and decided to take her home, and added a cat to our adoption papers too.

I remember feeling excited, nervous, protective, and somewhat overwhelmed when we brought her home. I remember being amazed by how tiny she was, and how willing she was to come with us. She was 9lbs and 13 weeks old. She had been spayed four days previously (WAY too early, but that's how Animal Control do it), and her tiny belly was totally shaved bare.

The next 6 weeks were a blur of crate training and general training. I'd read a plethora of literature about bringing up a puppy and living with dogs; I'd researched food and toys and vaccines and health care; we'd bought everything she would need for the first few months of her life with us. Nothing prepared us for how smart Bertie was, nor how bad her separation anxiety was. B could learn a new trick (sit, stay, jump, lie down - you name it) in two or three tries, and she was so attentive. At night, although she generally was pretty good with not messing in her crate much (certainly she only pooped in there once, and that was when she had an upset stomach), she barked constantly. I don't mean just for the first few days while getting used to sleeping in the crate; Bertie yipped with fear, and possibly anger, ALL night until we went to get her in the morning. We were good and didn't give in until she was fully toilet-trained, but it was so hard. Not just wanting her to be happy, but also needing a good night's sleep to deal with keeping her busy in the day!

After she was toilet-trained, she slept in her bed next to ours, and the change was incredible. She slept through the night with no problems. She would wake up ridiculously early (she still does), but she wouldn't be barking and crying all night. It seems she just had a very big problem with being apart from us when she knew we were still in the house. This trend has continued when she's been at the vet with me (where I work) and I've left her in one of the kennels or the outside run: she seems to know I am there and goes absolutely insane, barking and jumping around, until I come back. She seems fine when we leave the house and is often sleepy when we get back, indicating that she's resting fine without us, but when she knows we're around but she's separated from us, she goes nuts. She's a lot better these days, but it still stresses her out, and if she ever needs to stay at the vet for any reason, Dr. Johnson has her ideal dose of acepromazine ready and waiting for her.

Aside from these issues (and a mild serious obsession with eating poop), Bertie has been a happy, healthy, brilliant dog. She's smart and sociable; she loves to play and meet new people and furries; she trains like an absolute dream; and she's super affectionate and funny. We call her 'Bagpipe Dog' because of all her ridiculous noises, usually made when asleep or sleepy. She's also demanding, alpha female, stroppy, highly strung, and has been a bit nippy (we're guessing that's the collie in her) - but it all makes her who she is. And I adore her. There's no denying how much Ben and I love that pup.

Learning who Bertie is has been an absolute joy. Yes, it's been stressful and worrying at times: sometimes I've been so tired that I don't know if I can stay patient with her, and utterly terrified when her anxiety presents as stress colitis requiring barium, X-rays, and the possibility of surgery (if there had been an obstruction). She's a little ball of anxiousness, and sometimes it gets the better of her. The joy comes not just from her good days (which far outnumber her bad), but from helping her through the bad, and showing her she's fine just as she is. It's a lesson that she's taught me - acceptance of what you are - that I don't think I'd learned effectively before. Management and understanding are key, not thinking you're broken or beyond help. Funny how a crazy fuzz monkey finally got that message home to me.

Another thing I will be eternally grateful for is that B got me into running. This was recommended as an alternative to chemotherapy for Bertie's anxiety: she's a shepherd/collie mix of some sort, and so this means she needs 'work' to do. Doctor's orders were to purchase a doggy backpack, and hit the road before the day begins. The idea is that the backpack gives a sense of purpose to her breed, and that the exercise helps to tire her out. The backpack can also be weighted, to expend more energy and build strength.

Although it was hard at first, the fact that she needed this to help her stressy little brain made me persevere. It didn't matter if I was out of breath, unfit as hell, and having to walk about half of the paltry 0.6 miles I started off doing in late November 2012: Bertie needed to do this, so there was no question of doing it. She was my reason, my inspiration, and my encouragement. We now run five times a week, a minimum of 1.2 miles a morning, and often 2. This Sunday just past I ran my first ever three-miler. I now love running, and I love spending time with B running together. We have a little routine after each run where we sit at the top of the steps outside our house and have a chat and a cuddle before going back inside and starting the day. I keep mini training treats in my running belt and she will 'high five' me to get one or two, as well! It feels very special to share silly, sweet moments like that with her.

B's continued to grow into a fantastic adult dog. A combination of a late growth spurt and muscle accumulation from exercise means she's now the same weight as her longer, generally bigger 'sister', so she's a healthy, strong 45lbs. She's still anxious, but that's just her. She's cuddly, sweet, playful, clever, happy, silly, and downright beautiful (not that I'm biased at all!). 

This is just the story of B's first year. I don't know how to really put into words how much I love this dog. She's my friend, my kid, my running buddy, my saviour, and a creature that encourages me to be my better self. She's taught me selflessness, paranoia in a way I didn't know existed, made me laugh ridiculously, and never stopped keeping me on my toes. I love you so, little shep'. 

From this morning.
Happy one year, B. I'm so glad you adopted us.

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