What happens to a dog imprisoned in a box for the first 9 months of its life? A dog that's deprived of adequate food and water, cleanliness, warmth, and even light and air, let alone human companionship? The dog becomes traumatized, and unable to respond to the world. It reacts with fear to people, to noises, to movements, to nearly everything. That pretty well describes Emma the day she came to me 3 months ago.
Before her rescue, it's safe to say that her feet had never touched the grass, that she'd never seen sunshine, heard the call of a bird, or felt the kindness of a human touch. She spent 3 months at the Alaska SPCA (Puppy Mill Raid-14 Kerries Rescued), was placed in a home, and quickly returned. Emma was not "adoptable." Yet her life was spared. Why? Because Emma embodies a sweetness that is nearly bewitching. A sweetness so simple and tender it would stir the soul of the hardest heart. She came to me on a hope and a prayer from those who cared for her and didn't want to let her go.
The first time I saw Emma, she was cowered in the back of her crate, sitting on a gingham baby blanket edged in lace. In those first few weeks, I realized the full magnitude of Emma's rehabilitation. She refused to come out of her crate-for anything. She cringed at my touch, cowered and slunk to the ground on potty trips, or darted back to her crate. She did not respond to my voice, turning her head sideways, ears back, avoiding eye contact. And of course, she had no concept of housetraining. For the first 3 months, she remained utterly silent, and her tail stayed clamped between her legs.
Apart from her gentle spirit, Emma had a number of things going for her. She had an instinct for survival, she was intelligent, had fleeting moments of curiosity, and she was not afraid of other dogs. I used them all. I began hand-feeding to build trust. Everything she ate came from my palm (and still does), so she had to overcome fear of me in order to eat. She lost weight, but her instinct to survive won out. After a while, I noticed a curiosity awakening in her to explore new things, however tentatively-she tested a paw on the shiny granite floor, and finally sniffed the doll I had given her weeks before. Intelligence and curiosity were tools I could use to reach her. And Emma, who was terrified of people, showed no fear at all of other dogs. This convinced me that there was a Kerry inside waiting to come out. As I suspected early on, it would be her relationship with another dog that would break through her depression and bring her out of that lonely shell.
The courage and confidence of my nearly 12-year-old Kerry, Jazz, was having an effect, however small, on Emma. On walks, Emma stayed close to her. At home, Jazz began laying near Emma's crate, especially when Emma was agitated or feeling threatened. Jazz protected her, and Emma knew it. But it was Finnegan, our foster Rescue boy (Finnegan-A Medical Emergency ), who brought the first gladness to Emma's heart. All his overtures at play were met with sullen resistence until one morning, when Emma responded by pawing his face. He joyfully grabbed her ear and for nearly 10 wonderful minutes, they romped around the room like puppies. It was then that Emma made her first sound-a playful bark that surprised even her. Perhaps she had never heard her own voice.
Since then, Emma has learned dog behaviors that no human could teach. She is wagging her tail at Jazz and Finnegan, and even me. She now does the full body stretch, the body shake, and she is sniffing the ground, the bushes, the trees, and learning to appreciate the outdoors. She is learning to be a dog.
Today, Emma's tail is slowly coming up, and staying up longer. She is interested in her world, responding to my voice, learning vocabulary, and experiencing happiness for the first time. She is housetrained, and beginning to explore outside her "day" crate more and more. She now sleeps in a cuddle bed and wakes me up in the morning. She has made incredible progress from where she began.
Her biggest challenge remains her fear of people. But she no longer has panic attacks when she hears people's voices or sees them across the street. She can now pass a stranger on the sidewalk without terror, yet she has a very long way to go. She remains afraid of John, and is still sometimes cautious of me. Perhaps our biggest work lies ahead. If only she knew that no harm will ever come to her again. Yet there's a Kerry's heart that beats in her, and with a Kerry, all things are possible.