Faith the dog
In January 2016, I applied to adopt a Labrador from a dog 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 the one “person” to whom I could say anything, and she would love me and never share my words. She was the best friend to our black lab boy, Toro, and a loyal companion to my husband.
Butterfly and I had been through a lot together in 13 years. We battled lyme disease at the same time 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 one of those miracle dogs who would live to be 20, but I knew that I needed to be realistic. Thus the decision was made to rescue a female lab, allow Butterfly and Toro to help teach her the ropes, and then train 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. I have always had a strong faith in God. My first battle with cancer taught me to have faith in others and faith in my own strength to fight. This cancer battle inspired me to be a source of faith for another living being.
The day after surgery, I received an email list of doggie foster pups. 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.”
I knew that this was the girl for me. The photo attached to the email showed a beautiful pup with frightened brown eyes. I wanted to be the person to help this girl learn to trust and love people. I wanted her to develop faith in my family. 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. Seeing Faith in person broke my heart. She was afraid of us, slinking close to the ground as we walked with her in the fenced in yard. She tried to hide by standing under Toro’s belly. My heart ached for what this young girl had been through, but my resolve was strong. I would do whatever it took to earn her trust, faith and love.
Training a fearful dog is a challenge. When there is no trust, there is difficulty in finding any type of motivation. 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. I made no eye contact. I stroked Toro’s head and talked to him, periodically giving him a handful of food from the silver bowl on the floor. Then I’d scoop a handful and reach behind me to Faith. I could have cried the first time I felt her nibble on my hand. We repeated this meal ritual for MONTHS! Eventually, we graduated to eating under the desk in my first floor office, and then slowly to the kitchen. She now eats out of her bowl when I place it on the floor, but she is still quirky. She will only eat 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.
Our house was a big scary place for Faith, but our back yard was her refuge. Within the first week, our yard had a path cut into the grass; Faith nervously ran the same pattern over and over and over. 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 2 weeks, I wondered, “Is it too soon to take her on a farm walk?”
The farm is only a 5 minute drive from our house, so we regularly take the dogs for walks and runs in the fields. The craziest thing happened. Faith became a different dog. We had her on a very long leash so that she could explore. She ran, jumped and chest bumped the other dogs. She appeared happy. When we returned home, she hid and was fearful once again.
During the daily farm walks, she became more trusting and more playful. 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 run between my husband and me, jumping up for pets and approval.
In the past 2 years, Faith has trekked at least 500 trail miles. She is the perfect trail dog. She never pulls on the leash that is attached to my waist. If I let her off leash to run, she comes back on command. On our weekend backpacking excursions, she eats snacks when we stop for a break and she 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!
Our shy, fearful girl has grown so much in 24 months. When Butterfly crossed the rainbow bridge in December 2016, Toro became depressed. For weeks he was sad and didn’t want to play. But Faith was relentless and helped bring him back to good cheer. In the past year, we’ve added 2 more dogs to the family, and with each adoption, we saw Faith mature and become even more outgoing. Who would have thought that she would nurture other dogs?
When we adopted dear Faith, we knew that we had a challenge ahead. But I had this grandiose vision that after a couple of months, she would trust us completely and be healed of her early life trauma. I just knew that she would have faith and trust in us because, daggonit, we were doing everything that we could to make her feel safe and loved. Faith has indeed learned to love and trust us. But I had to learn a big lesson first. I needed to learn patience. I needed to allow her to come to me on her own accord. Under the guidance of a trainer, I worked with Faith to teach her that when she is on leash, she is safe and is expected to follow my commands. When she is off leash, she can do what makes her feel safe and comfortable: hide under the office desk, run in our fenced yard, play tug-of-war with Toro or snuggle on my lap.
Every week, Faith surprises us with her courage. She now sits in line with the other 3 pups to get her daily apple slices. She ventures to be with us, even when the other dogs are nowhere in sight. She knows that when I get out my backpack, she is in for a super fun adventure. She ducks her head into her dog pack harness and politely lifts her paws to put on her winter hiking coat. She knows the term “bed time” 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! This organization amazes me in how well they rescue lost and abandoned dogs, get them to veterinarians, into foster care and into loving homes. I am grateful for their thoroughness and never-ending determination and patience!