Today my daughter was having trouble with one of our kitties trying to being dominant over her. He was trying to boss her around. My recommendation to her was to ignore him. Limit her petting of him and have him sort of miss her touch. He is incredibly adorable and it is difficult to not want to touch his soft fur, squeeze him and kiss him on his fuzzy ears. I told her, “you must resist him, let him know what it feels like to not feel your love.” The mention of this stirred up a memory I had not thought of in YEARS. It reminded me of a dog I once knew, Tasha.
Some that know me well know that when I was 17 I used to work as a volunteer at The Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, TX. If I was not at School, Work or at Home I would more than likely be found here. Some that knew me then used to refer to it as “Maritza’s Menagerie.” I absolutely loved it there and it was not unusual at all for me to pack my lunch and for “senior lunch” I would go sit on the play fort at the WAO and oversee the animals. One day when my job was done I had stopped by the owner’s home to say bye and when I walked out to my car to leave a man got out of his vehicle and walked up to me, he had a husky, on a rope. It was not uncommon in this area, unfortunately, to find animals that had been dumped. Usually it was cats or pet rabbits and occasionally dogs. So I thought it was interesting that the guy brought the dog with a rope for a leash. She did have a collar, being that I was the only person around he asked me if we accepted dogs at our facility. I told him, “no, I’m sorry.” So he shared his story with me. The short version is that he and his wife were having a new home built and their former home sold early and they would have to live with his in-laws until his how was finished which would be approximately 6 months. He really didn’t want to give her up, but the in-laws, already having two dogs of their own, did not want his dog at their place. He checked into boarding and he felt it was too expensive so opted to find a place for her. At home I had my own dog, Ivan, an Alaskan Husky. He was a cross between a Malamute and a Siberian Husky, but to the undiscerning person he was a Malamute. I had a large yard and plenty of time on my hands so feeling pity for the man’s situation I offered to board the dog for the man at my place as long as he agreed to vet the dog as needed and provide food for her. He enthusiastically agreed. I reached my hand out and presented the back of my hand and suddenly Tasha dropped her nose and stared a horrible stare with piercing beautiful blue eyes that stared deep at my eyes, that unnerved me for a second, long enough for her owner to intervene and pull her head away. He told me, “oh she doesn’t like hands.” A little confused and needing more info, I inquired more as we went to the pet store together and picked up a few supplies. A large bag of dog food, a dog tie out and some other odds and ends and then we went to my place and set her up. He told me that she had never bitten anyone except one person. He told me she just simply did not like hands. Not really understanding what he meant about this I decided to go ahead with the arrangement, I figured we’d get that issue sorted, somehow.
The man told me more about his beloved dog. Her name was Tasha, she was a 6 year old Siberian Husky. Purebred and unpapered and not spayed. She had never had a litter. She only ate Gainesburgers and that was all, “because that’s what she liked” he told me. I told him that I could break her of that and start her on regular kibble. He fed her in a specialized bowl with an “ant moat” because she would often guard her food and not eat it until she was “good and ready.” After setting Tasha up at her new set up at my place we exchanged phone numbers and other pertinent info, vet numbers and so forth, and he went on his way. Feeling like a good Samaritan helping this guy in need I went to the back yard to console Tasha who was in a totally new situation, probably feeling sad and afraid. I walked over and spoke softly to Tasha who was huddled up against the tree she was tied to. She was curled in a ball and had a nose to the ground, the same look she had given me when I offered her my hand at the Animal Orphanage parking lot. Then she broke loose, charging right for me at full speed. She had a 15 foot tie out and I was standing 10 feet away from her. Somehow, to this day I still don’t know how I managed to fly out of her grasp but I was airborne and landed on my feet JUST out of the reach of her snapping jaws that were intent on ripping my calf apart. As soon as I hit the ground I felt a surge of retaliation and I chased Tasha aggressively back to her tree. She did not expect that out of me and she ran and cowered, this time BEHIND the tree. I was like “GREAT, 6 months of this? What did I get myself into?” I was not happy with the situation and would have to figure out a way to handle it.
My own dog, Ivan the Alaskan Husky was only 10 months old, sir fluff and stuff. Very playful and he had been lonely with my hectic schedule. I would walk him regularly so I assumed that Tasha would be a nice addition to his existence. It was too soon to do introductions. First I had to get Tasha to accept me before I could rationalize her meeting Ivan. So every day I came out to feed the dogs. I put Tasha’s food down with a commanding presence and then I would walk over to my floppy puppy, love on him and take him for his walks and play time. Tasha was reduced to staring at us going about our business. I didn’t know at the time, but I was unwittingly learning the role of “dog dominance.” If two dogs disagree they can do 2 things, (1) fight or (2) ignore each other. Since I sort of won the first fight by chasing her down to the tree, I was now doing step 2, ignoring her. Still showing kindness by offering her food. I didn’t just give her any food though, I gave her the yummiest, tastiest food with an ounce of love. She had been eating Gainsburger patties for who knows how long. I had bought her “Gravy Train” and wet it down with warm water. Secretly she really loved it. I rarely came back to find food sitting idle in her bowl.
Weeks went by and we had all settled into a routine. It had gotten to the point that when Tasha saw me coming with her bowl, she would now greet me by standing up, yawning and stretching and wagging her tail in approval. I still did not touch her or visit with her much. Until one day … I was on a typical day. I had gone to school, gone to work, and after work I would stop by the Animal Orphanage to do the evening feeding. Feeding the Big Cats was a difficult event to miss out on! This day when I arrived the owner of the facility, Carol, told me that my Mom had been trying to frantically reach me, “something about a dog being lose and your brother is going to get rid of it.” I could only imagine what could have happened. My skin crawled as I stopped in my tracks, hopped in my car and hastily headed straight home (this was before the time that everyone had a phone). I arrived home and no one was there. On the drive home I had time to stir up some ideas and inner strength. I had to come up with a way to … face the infamous and vicious Tasha. We had a showdown, and this time… I would not have the protection of a tie out to stop her teeth from ripping me apart. I came in the house, put my things down. I made my way to the back door and through the windows I could see Ivan bouncing on his tie out, excited to see me and a little worried. As I prepared to go outside I saw his concern was more than warranted because I was wondering where Tasha was, but as soon as I was prepared to open the door Tasha trotted out from the side of the house confidently towards Ivan. She walked up to him and postured. Ivan greeted her excitedly to which she returned a nasty session of dominant thrashing bites. It was all I could take to see her ripping into my puppy so I ran out there bravely and YELLED at Tasha to STOP! This did make her stop, immediately. She turned around and looked at me, then trotted off, away from Ivan. I stood there confidently, prepared for battle. I needed to get her tied back up because allowing her to be loose and constantly attacking Ivan was NOT a viable option. I came up with a plan. I went back inside and prepared Tasha and Ivan’s dinners. I went back out and fed Ivan, by now Tasha was out of view. I did not know where she went. I put her food down where I normally put it, then turned around to see her materialize out of a bush on the side of the house. I took her bowl and placed it in the middle of the porch and confidently but not sympathetically called her to eat. I stepped about 2 feet away from her bowl but still faced her, square on. She in turn, confidently trotted up to her bowl, sniffed it and then walked to me. I did not move but was ready for a fight if necessary. She sniffed my HAND and then she slid her head up into my hand so that my hand now rested on the top of her head, in between her ears. I returned the affection and pet her reluctantly back. She wagged her tail and returned to her bowl and ate, all of it in one sitting. No need to worry about ants. I was able to take a leash and clip it to Tasha’s collar and I did not return her to the tree at once. I took her out, for a walk. She thoroughly enjoyed her walk (Ivan was a little jealous, but I walked him after). From this day on I took her out and walked her. I could approach her and clip her collar and pet her head. She greeted me and showed her approval each time.
Because of all the hullabaloo about Tasha the day she had gotten loose, unbeknownst to me her owner was now freaked out and decided he needed to just find her a home. Some friends came by and we were going downtown to the Riverwalk in San Antonio, but they wanted to see the infamous dog. I did not know it at the time, but I had done a disservice to poor Tasha. I took this man back there and I told him not to touch Tasha. Well this 6 foot tall plus guy walked over and defiantly touched Tasha. To my surprise Tasha was ok with that, until he rubbed her back. Even I had never ventured to do such a thing. She retaliated to his touch by quickly sinking her teeth into his middle two fingers on his hand. I was furious with this guy for pushing the poor dog to her limits. I was furious with myself for allowing Tasha to be violated like this. So the owner of Tasha had placed an ad in the paper offering Tasha up “free to a good home.” Who would not jump at the idea to snatch up a “free” husky. Her owner, to my STRONG disapproval, accepted the first offer. A young couple from the local Army base. I pleaded with Tasha’s owner that all was well. That Tasha was fine, that everyone was over reacting. He had already set the ball rolling. With a HEAVY heart I watched as the couple pulled up in their car. I held back tears and obediently I brought Tasha’s food and other belongings to the couple. They loaded the things in their car. I brought Tasha and put her in the car. She sat in the back seat. I forgot an item, but I had my nephew nearby and asked him to run back to the backyard to get that item. He came back empty handed. So I instructed the people firmly to NOT touch Tasha and I would return promptly with the last item. I RAN to the back yard and as I rounded the corner I heard a YELP. My heart sunk, I did not think that was possible as my heart was already dreadfully low, I knew what had happened. The man did not listen, he reached out and offered his hand to Tasha and she in turn bit him frightfully hard. In once sense I was relieved and my heart temporarily lifted. Naturally the couple would no longer take Tasha. So I took Tasha out of the vehicle, collected her items from the car and happily, yet regretfully returned her to her place in the yard.
A few days later, the owner contacted me and let me know that the vet would be by in a short while to collect Tasha to have her tested for Rabies. I pleaded with him to NOT do this. I told him, she does NOT have rabies, she is not sick, she is misunderstood. He would not listen. He was afraid that too much damage had been done. The vet showed up, they loaded Tasha into the back of a pick-up truck. My eyes welled up, in order to test for rabies, the dog would be euthanized. Her head would be removed and autopsied to check the brain for signs of rabies. This was it, I had failed Tasha. Crushed I watched as they drove off. I wished people would have listened to my words. They were not vain words, they were truth. Tasha was misunderstood, plain and simple. No more walks, no more pats on the head, no more tasty dishes and bowls licked clean. She would be no more.