Lessons in Survival

Our dog makes the greatest companion, on our journeys near and far.
Our dog makes the greatest companion, on our journeys near and far.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
— Roger Caras

Imagine running to rival the speed of light, sleeping on hard earth each night, going for three days without food and fighting for your meals before you eat them.This is the type of environment my new dog was bred to survive. She’s an Australian Cattle Dog mix, and the very blood in her veins tells her how to survive the harshest conditions — conditions she might have found in the Australian outback.

Meeting our Australian

When we first met Josie, my man and I were high on life. Everything was going our way, with rewarding careers falling into place and our dreams gradually coming into sight. I was sure that the timing was right to introduce a new pet into our home, even one that would require so much patience, training and respect as a young dog.

At the adoption event, we immediately knew that Josie was the one. She was one of the first dogs we saw when we walked into a large store that was hosting more than 100 dogs from a local animal sanctuary. She had personality, she was cute, and something about her disposition said that she could not take it any longer in her temporary home.

That, and there was something special about looking into her eyes, as if this full-grown puppy made a psychic connection with us because she knew that we were the ones too.

We rescued Josie that morning, even though we didn’t fully intend to come home with a dog right away. She was perfect! She woke us up the very next day, with no training, to tell us to take her outside. One paw reached up to touch my shoulder as I laid in bed, and that was it.

Josie had a quiet wisdom. She crate-trained for our long work days, took walks with me in the morning, played with dogs in the fence each night, passed a dozen rabbits and squirrels and didn’t even let her first bark until weeks after she came home.

Something snapped

Suddenly, on the day of the accident, we were all changed.

The confident woman who had trained Josie to sit, shake and do a handful of other cool tricks was a mess, wandering aimlessly in the dark of night, struggling to grasp at reality and searching for a reason to go on living. The man who was learning for the first time how to be a dog-owner and loving Josie so openly was chasing after his woman trying to bring her comfort. And the full-grown pup was carted off to a stranger’s house for a week, left to wonder why everyone was so upset and what would become of her future.

When I returned from the journey to my home state to mourn, in shock, for four family members killed in a crash, Josie was a nervous wreck. A little less than a month of trust and respect had been cast into doubt, and gradually, the anxiety manifested itself in her behavior.

Coming back from the abyss

Over the summer, our perfect dog became this frustrating mix of fears and anxieties, which often mounted into her using her teeth on our skin and clothes to show us what she needed.

She would go for three days without food, eat only when she was famished after using her teeth on our hands, and lash out at the door — clawing our skin and biting our shirts — when we would return from work or offer to take her outside. There were days when we doubted our abilities as dog-owners, even with my lifetime of experience with dogs, and we almost gave up.

I hit the wall.

In a desperate attempt to save my home life and my relationship with my man and my dog, I called a personal dog trainer. Within two weeks, we were scheduled for “Leadership Training” and we worked with one woman to try to call Josie back to us, to renew her trust and her comfort at home.

It took a firm hand, but it turns out that the only thing we were missing from our mantra of daily training, daily walks and twice weekly dog park visits was our leadership: Confidence in our ability to create a loving home.

The qualities we had instinctively known were important when life was going well had been lost to a summer of grief and despair, and our difficult relationship with our rescued dog bared all.

Lessons in Survival

While a dog of a different breed might not have had high energy needs, a resilient resistance to eating and a tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behaviors without attention, Josie has taught us lessons that have helped us survive our grief.

She has taught us the importance of confidence, respect, forgiveness and unconditional love, even in times of great weakness. She has taught us to take care of ourselves, to take care of her and to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.

In fact, without Josie’s stubborn approach to life — that life must be continuously exciting and home must be next to perfect — I don’t know if I would have survived all the pain.

Her distinctive personality — and her extensive list of needs — kept me going at a time when little else could. I had to get out of bed every day because she needed me to, and I had to work with her because there would be no recovery for any of us if I did not.

At first, I thought we had gone wrong, bringing Josie into our home at the worst possible time. But now, I know that Josie came to us in March, a month before the horrific accident, for a reason.

Especially now that she has overcome her destructive behaviors, now that she cuddles more frequently and now that she showers us every day with love, I am so grateful for my Australian Cattle Dog.

Now I know that Josie was a gift.


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