She started out on the wrong paw.
Roland and I took Molly home in late February, 1994. Despite my enthusiasm, most friends did not support this decision. Some wondered why we would upset our well ordered lives, others encouraged me to raise a puppy, yet others argued for different breeds, but everyone wondered why we would consider taking a dog with a history of behavioral problems.
Molly is a three year old Kerry Blue Terrier who by no fault of her own started out life on the wrong paw. She was placed in the wrong home where she was isolated, not socialized and as a result never learned canine etiquette.
At two years of age, when her elderly owner became ill, Molly found herself in a new home. Problems began to appear; other dogs made her excited and agitated, even at a distance. Furthermore, she had developed the characteristics of a dominant dog, and approached other dogs boldly. Sadly, many of these encounters ended in an aggressive confrontation, which set her back further. Finally the second owners decided that Molly was too much for them to handle.
She was nearly destroyed, but for the grace of the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Northern California (KBTC of NoCA). By the time Molly came into Anne Katona's possession she seemed almost beyond hope; a distracted, frenzied, nervous to the point of hysterical, barking, jumping, shaking, out of control mess.
Nancy Kallenbach Han and her husband Sang Bong generously stepped up to the plate to care for Molly while she was evaluated by Alon Geva, an experienced specialist in animal behavior modification. Alon's impression was that Molly would require a lot of work and love, but, underneath the curls, there still beat a heart of gold. However, the possibility of Molly ever having a happy, fulfilling life would depend on finding just the right home. A difficult task they thought. That's where Roland and I entered the picture.
From the moment I heard Molly's story at the Golden Gate Kennel Show I feared few people would be able to devote the time and energy that Molly's training would require. Yet, I couldn't stand by and let her be destroyed without giving her a fair chance at life; a secure and loving home, with the proper training and appropriate discipline.
When I first met Molly at Nancy's salon, Dog's Best Friend, she was very nervous and agitated by the other dogs there for grooming. When I later took Roland to meet Molly, he was skeptical that anything would undo the years of neglect and accumulated problems.
The Han's combined knowledge and experience helped guide us during the difficult process of making a decision about Molly. Sang Bong is a veterinarian and Nancy a certified master groomer, and together they breed Kerry Blue Terriers. Nancy suggested that we meet Alon Geva; she said he was a miracle worker.
We agreed to meet Alon to discuss his evaluation of Molly, which would also give us an opportunity to see Molly away from the distractions of Nancy's salon. We took her up to Alon's place, high atop the Richmond Hills overlooking Wildcat Canyon. Molly remained agitated during the short drive there, and when we arrived she became frenzied by the presence of Alon's two dogs, Brutus and Rusty.
Roland and I were impressed that Alon was able to calm Molly down immediately, and get her to listen and obey, in the presence of two dogs, with a third barking in the distance. Alon is truly amazing; a combination of Dr. Dolittle and Tarzan. We agreed that if Alon couldn't straighten Molly out, nobody could; and Roland agreed to give them both a chance.
Before we took her home, Alon worked with Molly for several days, during which time more than a miracle transpired. When we arrived at North Waterfront Park in the Berkeley Marina for our orientation, we found Molly in a down-stay while unfamiliar dogs played around her. It was clear that what Alon had done with Molly in just a few days was amazing, but she would be our dog, and it was our job to teach her to respect us both. Building and maintaining dominance over a dog like Molly would be a full time job.
When it came time to take Molly home, the prospect intimidated us. Roland and I certainly are not professional dog people, and neither of us had had a dog since childhood. We were totally unfamiliar with the ways of urban dogs, both having had self tending dogs in country settings, where my family never owned a leash. We questioned our ability to handle our "problem child".
When Alon turned Molly over to us, he warned that it would probably take several months to train Roland and me to the point where Molly would be as responsive to us, an estimate which proved to be accurate. Alon worked closely with us, privately on a weekly basis, for about three months. Our lessons were conducted in a public park, where dogs are abundant. We also attended Alon's monthly group classes for graduates, initially to socialize, but eventually Molly was working nose to nose with up to 50 off-leash dogs.
Since there are so many things to remember, we record, transcribe and review each lesson to ensure that nothing is lost in the chaos of an encounter that can spontaneously erupt. Roland and I share leash time equally, two make the job easier, and we help each other to be more consistent. Alon is teaching us to be more aware of Molly's hot buttons, to understand her and read her body language, and to always remain calm and in control of any situation.
Back home, all three of us easily settled into a comfortable routine. We live in the heart of San Francisco's financial district in a 22nd floor apartment. It is very quiet up here; and for Molly, this may be the best of all possible environments, where superfluous stimulation is removed from her life. When she looks out from our balconies there are no birds, squirrels, dogs, or passers-by to agitate her. She is quite content to curl up on the rug and snooze in the sunshine without being unnecessarily stimulated.
We supplement this quiet existence with four regular walks each day in a string of small parks around Embarcadero Center. Since this route takes us through the busy financial district, every walk requires Molly's undivided attention to a long series of heel, down, stay and take-a-break commands. I attribute a large part of Molly's success to the fact that, unlike most people, we don't have a back yard for Molly's use. Molly's training has, by necessity, become an integral part of her daily routine. This has been possible since, working from home, Roland, Molly and I are able to spend all day together.
Our walks, which total nearly four hours each day, are where the real work is done; practice, repetition and reinforcement of the lessons all three of us are learning.
Walks are also an opportunity for Molly to be a dog; to forage and explore in the bushes and ivy. As a puppy, Molly was never groomed or bathed, her hair grew long and matted, filled with dreadlocks; she resembled a Puli more than a Kerry Blue. She is now learning the patience required to stand still for grooming, tolerate her weekly bath and endure frequent brushings to remove foxtails and burrs which attach to her cottony down. One day she may even enjoy these luxuries!
Since she was never socialized as a puppy, it was unclear if Molly would ever learn to play. Her toys remain undisturbed in a basket; neither Nylabone, Kong toy, Booda bone nor squeaky toys interest her. Initially, when Molly saw a dog from afar her modus operandi was to bark and make quite a scene, but after an initial sniff, she immediately lost interest and never initiated nor responded to invitations to play.
KBTC of NoCA is an active and close knit group which we became aware of when Molly was handed over to us and Eileen Andrade, the club secretary, was there to video tape the event and deliver a copy of their newsletter, Singin' the Kerry Blues. Members seemed to understand Molly and her need for socialization, and weren't turned off by her troubled youth. We were surprised to receive invitations from members we had not yet met, for play dates with their Kerries. It was the perfect solution; allowing us to begin to introduce Molly to dogs in a controlled environment. As Alon said, we were "not just getting a dog, but the entire Kerry family".
As a result of positive experiences romping with Kerries Grant, Reggie, Sebastian, Kelly Anne, pals at KBTC of NoCA functions, as well as a cast of neighborhood canines in every shape, size and color, Molly is now easily enticed to joust or chase. She has learned the difference between aggressive behavior and mock battles where growls, barks and even mouth to mouth combat are for fun and permitted.
Molly is a real urban girl; elevators, escalators, sirens, horns, car alarms, bicycle messengers and skateboarders are all a part of her life and produce not the slightest flinch. She tracks rats across empty city plazas on evening walks, and enjoys outdoor lunch time concerts (although she seems somewhat befuddled by applause).
Molly is a popular fixture on the sidewalks of the financial district, a walking billboard who catches people's eye and attention. Each day several people stop to ask about her or reminisce about Kerries they've owned while others look on admiringly and smile at her. She is complimented as much on her manners as she is on her great style. She has made fast friends with neighborhood street vendors, shoe shine men and homeless, who all seem to have taken Molly to heart and keep an eye out for us and her canine pals. People find it unimaginable that she was once a juvenile delinquent!
There have been frustrating moments and we have had a heartbreaking setback or two along the way. Sometimes I feel we have made progress, when out of nowhere that old Molly reappears, lost in a frenzy over a strange dog.
It's not always Molly, my senses have become sharper and I am able to spot the tell tail signs of a dog from miles away. The jingle of dog tags makes my adrenaline flow and my heart pound. I sometimes find myself wanting to shy away from encounters with unknown dogs, especially when they are off-leash. Yet, we've learned from experience that when we are demanding, Molly understands and responds. Each new encounter, whether good or bad, gives all three of us more confidence, and encourages Roland and me to continue to introduce Molly to all kinds of new situations.
Recently one of our neighbors got an Airedale puppy, quite adorable, but a real handful, like all puppies. Their experience made us realize the wisdom of our decision to adopt three year old Molly, even with a few problems left to work out.
For 18 years I seriously considered getting a dog, but practical matters always seemed to get in the way. As a result I had extremely high expectations of the dog I would one day own, yet Molly has exceeded all my expectations.
I know people question whether an adult dog will bond with new owners. With Molly this has never been an issue; her only problem has been choosing between Roland and me when we have different schedules. In the heart of the city we are able to do most errands on foot, and we make an effort to bring Molly everywhere with us, even to dinner, if outdoor seating is available.
Molly is a joy, and Roland and I are delighted that she has become a part of our lives. We never seem to tire of her accomplishments. We are thrilled that she finally is showing interest in chasing a ball, and are proud that after eight months we are able to walk her off-leash even along her busy downtown route, when many of her peers will never know that privilege. Molly came at a point in time when we are able to spend ample time together; working with Alon, practicing lessons, grooming her, and showering her with attention and affection while receiving threefold in return.
Roland and I understand that this is just the beginning. Working with Molly is a lifelong commitment. Yet, after less than three months with us, Molly passed the AKC Canine Good Citizen's Test on May 15, 1994; well deserved recognition for her effort and hard work. She surprised us again on August 21, 1994, when, without any preparation, she placed 3rd out of five dogs (outperforming some dogs accustomed to the show ring) in Sub Novice Obedience at the KBTC of NoCA Fun Match.
Roland and I are thankful to everyone responsible for Molly's rescue and reformation, including the members of the Kerry Blue Terrier Club of Northern
California, especially Anne Katona, Nancy & Sang Bong Han, and our kudos to Alon Geva who has worked another miracle.