(Post by CATHRYN WELLNER)
Tires crunched on the driveway leading to our ranch house. A red van drove up to the house and stopped. I came outside to greet the visitor.
I recognized the man who emerged from the van. He was the father of the young family who had purchased an Akbash pup from us nine months earlier.
“Do you want her back or shall I shoot her?”
He opened the back of the van and let out a thin, cowering dog, teats engorged with milk, head down, tail tucked between her legs.
Selling Shira into horror
The family of four had made several trips to the ranch, wanting to buy a guardian dog. We had one who was a good candidate, a gentle little female who preferred the company of humans to sheep.
We had some reservations but couldn’t quite pinpoint them. The children were calm around the pup. The parents seemed like reasonable people. So we finally sold the three-month-old female, with the proviso they have her spayed as soon as she was old enough for surgery.
They went off happily, and we hoped we had made the right decision.
Like a dog trying to be invisible
The dog who now stepped out of the car looked as if she were trying to make herself invisible.
I saw her full teats and spluttered, “You were supposed to spay her.”
“She got loose. I drowned her pups in a bucket. Anyway she barks. She runs away. She’s disobedient, and she bothers the neighbours.”
He climbed back in the van and drove off.
I slipped my finger into the dog’s choke collar. She followed along easily.
Wanting to give her some adjustment time, I put her in separate kennel, along with Blue, a neutered male and the only unsold sibling. He was a quiet, sweet-natured dog, and the two of them settled in easily.
Slow road back to emotional security
I began working with her, taking her along when I fed the sheep or checked fences. She never strayed from my side and responded easily to simple commands.
She and Blue returned to the stall readily, but she always looked at me as if she feared I would never return. When I did come back, she would jump on me and wind her legs around me. Her uncut nails were carving grooves on my chest and arms.
I wrote to a friend: “She has wrapped herself around my heart. She needs a family who will love her beyond reason and still the insecurity that makes her fear the love will be withdrawn.”
For weeks I didn’t name her, fearing I would become too attached, knowing we couldn’t afford to keep her. Finally, a friend suggested I call her Shira, Hebrew for poetry or song. She was making my heart sing, and the name stuck.
Finding unconditional love for a wounded dog
No matter the cost of feeding another dog, I was determined to hang onto Shira until I was 100% certain a new owner would love her unconditionally and keep her forever. A friend who worked at the SPCA, and who had purchased one of our Akbash pups, kept watch for the right person.
Then one day she sent an SPCA volunteer to see Shira. The young woman met the whole Akbash family and spent time on her own with Shira. She fell in love. So did Shira.
Shira trotted off with her new owner with tail high, ears alert. She stopped once to look back at me, then hopped into the truck.
I made the woman promise to bring Shira back if it didn’t work out.
Making it work
“We’ll make it work”, she promised, and she did. After three months of puppy freedom, nine months of hell, and two months of healing, Shira had a home where she was loved and respected, where she had space to run and livestock to protect. She became a devoted guardian dog and loving family member.
I felt lonely for Shira after she left. So did Blue, who was too bereft to accept comfort. He kept looking for her in the kennel, then running back to me. When I invited him on a walk, he pulled away and ran back to the space they had shared. He settled down in the hay and looked at me with big, sad eyes. That night he howled his loss.
So did I, though only inwardly. Shira had wrapped herself thoroughly around my heart, but she deserved what shelters always call “a forever home”. Now she had it.
Cathryn Wellner, Kelowna, BC
Along Cathryn’s meandering career path have been stints as a French teacher, a school librarian, an itinerant storyteller, a university instructor, a community developer, a communications consultant, and a project manager. Then there were the years as a farmer, rancher, and arts organizer. She’s a citizen of two countries and has lived in five. The upside of all that change is stories. Now she’s settling down to write them: Catching Courage Cathryn Wellner Story Route This Gives Me Hope Follow her on Twitter: @StoryRoute