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Faith

Let’s adopt another dog!

In January 2016, I applied to adopt a dog from a Labrador rescue organization.  My best girl, Butterfly, was turning 14 that year, and I knew that she was not going to live forever.  Butterfly was my hiking companion, a nanny of sorts to our 4 kids and a furry, loving confidante.  She was the best friend to our black lab boy, Toro, and a loyal companion to my husband.

My best girl Butterfly hiked over 300 miles on the Appalachian Trail at age 13.
My “best girl” Butterfly

Butterfly and I had been through a lot over the course of 13 years.  We battled lyme disease together and beat our individual cancer diagnoses at the same time, too.  We celebrated our love for the outdoors by running together on the family farm and trekking thousands of miles on trails.  I had hoped that she would be a miracle dog who would live to be 20, but I knew that I needed to be realistic.  Therefore we decided to rescue a female lab and allow Butterfly and Toro to help teach her to hike.  We were approved to adopt and in early February began the searching process. Our Adoption Coordinator learned about our lifestyle, listened to our requests and  shared many options over the course of a couple of weeks.

Sadly, during this same time period, I was diagnosed with a second primary form of cancer.  My prognosis was good, and therefore I insisted to my husband that we continue our plans to adopt.  My faith in God is strong and consistent.  During my first battle with cancer, I learned to have have faith in others and in my own strength to fight.  This cancer battle inspired me to be a source of faith for another living being.

Faith the dog

The day after my cancer surgery, I received an email list of dog adoption options.  One possibility stood out to me:

“Beautiful, sweet, healthy and adorable 2 year old fox red girl who weighs around 43 pounds. She needs to put on a few pounds to fill in her ribs some but her fosters are going to help her with that. She was an owner give up to an area shelter who had kept this sweet girl and her mother, in a 10×10 pen and fed them through a trough. Even with 2 years of minimal human contact, she is learning to accept human attention.”

My heart jumped as I read the description and looked at the photo of a beautiful pup with frightened brown eyes.  Instantly, I wanted to be the person to help this girl learn to trust, love and have faith in people. The fact that her name was Faith, sealed the deal.

We drove 5.5 hours to meet her on a Saturday.  My husband, youngest daughter, Butterfly, Toro and I were welcomed into Foster Judi’s home.  Meeting Faith caused my heart to ache.  She was afraid, slinking low to the ground as we walked, periodically trying to hide under Toro’s belly.  My husband was hesitant to take her home, but my resolve was strong.  I planned to do whatever it took to earn her trust, faith and love.

Faith had hardly any human interactions for the first 2 years of her life, so she was quite afraid when she met us.
Faith, meeting us for the first time on February 27, 2016

Training a fearful dog

Training any pet is a challenge.  But working with a fearful dog felt like an impossible feat! Faith’s fear was greater than her desire for food, toys or attention.  

She was in our home for 36 hours before we could get her to eat.  I sat in our upstairs bedroom hallway with my back to Faith, making no eye contact.  While stroking Toro’s head and talking to him, I’d alternately give him a handful of food from the silver bowl on the floor and then pass a handful behind me to Faith.  I could have cried the first time I felt her nibble the food in my hand.  We repeated this meal ritual for MONTHS!  Eventually, we graduated to sitting together under the desk in my first floor office (her favorite hiding place). And then slowly made it to the kitchen. She now eats out of her bowl when I place it on the floor, but only after the other dogs have finished.

Prior to her time at her foster family’s home, Faith had not had exposure to toys or playing with people.  It took her a long time to play with us, but within only 2 days, she had learned to play with our dogs.  Watching her romp and wag her tail gave me hope that she would come out of her shell.

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I was working in my office and heard a little squeak behind me.  Faith had finally picked up a toy and was playing.

The great outdoors (or is it great outdogs?)

Our house was a big scary place for Faith, but our fenced backyard was her refuge.  Within the first 2 weeks, Faith nervously ran the same pattern in our yard, cutting a figure 8 path in the grass.  She preferred being outside and we had great difficulty getting her to come into the house.  She never wanted to walk past us at the door, so we installed a doggie door in our laundry room.  It was the perfect solution for our shy girl.  When Toro and Butterfly entered the house from the patio door, Faith ran through the laundry room door, slinking stealthily through the kitchen to meet the dogs in the office.

After a couple of weeks, we introduced her to a farm walk. Our family farm is only a 5 minute drive from our house, so we regularly take the dogs for walks and runs in the fields.   Faith was tethered to a very long leash, allowing her to explore the grounds safely. We anticipated skittish behavior, and instead we walked with a confident and playful pup! Faith ran, jumped and chest bumped Butterfly and Toro.  

We introduced her to hiking, and although the first trial didn’t go very well , I could tell that she liked it.  The more we worked with her outside, the more outgoing and trusting she became.  It is funny how she would hide from me in our house, but when hiking she’d trot by my side.

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Faith and Toro, our rock stars.

From fearful to faithful

In the past 2 years, Faith has trekked more than 500 trail miles.  She has perfect trail manners, never pulling on the leash that is attached to my waist.  When running off leash with Toro, she hovers close to us and comes back on command..  During weekend backpack excursions, she eats snacks when we stop for a break and is the first one to eat her food when we set up camp.  In our tent, she snuggles so closely to us that she practically climbs into our sleeping bags!

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Free hugs for Dad

Our shy, fearful girl has grown so much in 24 months.  When Butterfly crossed the rainbow bridge in December 2016, Toro became depressed.  But Faith was relentless, helping Toro recover and deepening their relationship as fur siblings.  In the past year, we added another dog to the family, and hosted several foster dogs. With each new pup, Faith has become more outgoing.  Who would have thought that she would nurture other dogs?

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Faith snuggling with puppy, Nova.

Dog training = life lessons for dog parents

When we adopted Faith, we knew that we had a challenge ahead.  But I had a grandiose vision that after a couple of months, she would trust us completely and be healed of her early life trauma because, daggonit, we were doing everything that we could to make her feel safe and loved.  Faith has indeed learned to trust us.  But I had to learn a big lesson first: patience.  Under the guidance of a trainer and behavioralist, we practice daily techniques to develop her trust and obedience. It was and still is work that requires consistency and patience. But she is worth the effort!

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She is still learning

Every week, Faith surprises us with her courage.  She joins the other pups to get her daily apple slices and ventures to be with us, even when the other dogs are nowhere in sight.  When I get out my backpack, she excitedly runs to me to join in on the adventure.  She ducks her head into her dog pack harness and politely lifts her paws to put on her winter hiking coat.  And when I announce that it is “bed time” and she runs and finds her spot before I can even pull down the covers on my side of the bed.

Finding Faith and having her in our lives has been a blessing.  I know that she will continue to grow.  And I will patiently await her progress.

Special thanks to Lab Rescue of the LRCP, a tremendous organization that rescues lost and abandoned dogs, provides medical care, training through fosters families and specialists and placement into loving forever homes.  I am grateful for their thoroughness and never-ending determination and patience!

Faith the dog loves hiking on the Appalachian Trail, especially when it is a multi-day backpacking trip in the south.

Enjoy the following interview of my hiking dogs

God-loving, healthy lifestyle enthusiast, mother, grandmother, animal obsessed and married to my best friend. Life is good!

2 Comments

  1. Hi Cori, This is Serena (Hope’s Mum). I really loved reading your blog post about your experiences with Faith over the last two years and it gave me insights into Hope too. I was really struck by how we have both received so much from our dogs and that while they are very different (because of age and previous experiences) they are perfect in temperament and personality for our respective families! I also found it striking that you mentioned how fitting it was for you to find a dog named Faith, as I would say the same thing for me with finding a dog named Hope. When she came into Our lives I had had a very tough few months for personal and professional reasons and I can honestly say that Hope brought hope back into my life. Normally I have always preferred more “creative” names for my pets, but in this case I felt it important not to change it, first because Hope had had enough change already and clearly knew her name and second because I felt it was an important message to me. I have no idea if Hope and Faith are their original names but they were clearly meant to be. Hope’s 2 yr anniversary with us is not until May 17, as she was adopted to another couple first and then returned to LRCP (which mystifies me as she is perfect!). She has had some challenges, primarily a little aggression around her personal space and fear of other dogs, but she too has blossomed in the time she has been part of our family and loved to rough house with my fiancé and get cuddles from me :) Thanks again for sharing your insights and for the reminder that things always happen for a reason. I am so grateful for Hope and her love, companionship, personality and intelligence every day. Please tell Faith “happy gotcha day!” From Hope, Serena and Cory. Best, Serena
  2. Cori Strathmeyer Reply
    Thank you, Serena! I am so happy to hear you feel the same way and that your experience with Hope is a great one! :) We follow Hope's posts on facebook so that we feel some connection for Faith. Please stay in touch!

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