by Camela Thompson
Champ was born on a stormy Halloween night in 2001. His litter was birthed in an indoor run at the animal shelter, a few spaces away from a dog that had been brought in covered in mace after mauling its owner. The shelter water was dirty and the puppies contracted giardia. Champ's mom was feral and the puppies took after her, scattering when the shelter brought in children to socialize the litter. It wasn't the best start, so it shouldn't have been a big surprise that Champ began life with some issues.
He loves the snow.
I walked through two animal shelters before pausing at a run with a bunch of puppies. Some looked like little foxes, and some had wild, curly white hair and pink noses. One of the foxes ran to the front of the run and stood on his hind legs, putting his front paws on the chain link fence to beg for me to pick him up. I only had eyes for that dirty little boy, and I didn't figure out he was covered in poop until he snuggled into my chest. If I missed that, it shouldn't be a surprise that I also missed that the rest of the litter was crammed in the back of the run to stay away from the humans. I finally suspected there would be a problem when I got him home and he crammed himself under a couch upon seeing a roommate.
Champ has always been suspicious of humans, especially men. He's odd around children, unless they are raised with him, so we avoid small strangers. It's a little embarrassing when people ask me if he was adopted when he was older, because an abusive previous owner would explain his behavior - but it's just how he is. I used to judge people with these skittish dogs, assuming they had done something terrible to their dog. Champ taught me that some animals are naturally suspicious. I tried for the first two years to socialize him, take him to classes, and push him to change. That didn't work well - it only stressed us both out. I learned to explain to people that he needs his space. With a dog like Champ, I learned it is my responsibility to be his advocate, keep him out of social environments, and take charge of situations when he feels uncomfortable so he gets the space he needs.
He may be suspicious around people, but he has always been wonderful
with other animals. He's befriended horses, dogs, and more.
As Champ aged, he learned to trust me more. When someone visited, he watched my reaction and stood back, trusting that I would let him know if things weren't okay. He stopped hiding behind things and eventually became more relaxed, laying where he could watch but had his space, quietly observing. We would stick to activities like walking through the neighborhood and hiking, avoiding playgrounds and crowded places. I wouldn't say he would like it if I hosted a party, but he's mellowed out.
Quirks can make it difficult to live with a dog, but sometimes they make you appreciate the relationship you build with an animal even more. Champ is the most loyal dog I've ever had. He isn't clingy, but he likes to be in the same room, watching over the people he loves. As he has aged and his hearing and vision have been robbed, he's mellowed out even more. I don't think that would be the case if he didn't trust me.
Champ still greets me every day I get home from work with a shoe or a toy,
carrying it through the house to the back yard.
The old man is slowing tremendously. I don't know how much time we have left. He has cataracts, hearing loss, lumps, bumps, and many issues. He walks slowly, the Cushing's disease has wasted away his muscles, and he has some neurological problems. The vet assures me he seems happy and doesn't appear to be in pain. I agree but get paranoid my love for him will cloud my judgment and make me greedy for more time. I suppose it's a good sign that he still bosses around my husband and bounces around when he wants treats.
On his thirteenth birthday this Halloween, Champ got pumpkin with his home cooked meal and extra car rides. He asked to get up on the couch while we watched television, something he hadn't done in months. I am thankful for every day we get with him in his old age.
Do you have an elderly dog or a dog that was difficult to live with? How did the challenges impact your relationship?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.