My husband is fond of telling people, "The first time I met Champ, Camela had a list of rules for meeting him. There were weeks of instructions on what to do and what not to do. When it came to her family, she just drove me over there with no notice at all."
He isn't lying. Champ has special needs. And quirks. And imaginary demons chasing him. It isn't easy being Champ, and it certainly wasn't easy being our (Champ and I were a package deal) roommate in college. In addition to holding a grudge that would put a Hatfield or a McCoy to shame, Champ acted as though murderous thieves were coming for our food stash and it was his solemn duty to demolish it single handedly. I purchased many replacement loaves of bread, was stunned that he figured out how to open the fridge, and nearly cried when he destroyed the baby locks. With genius comes insanity. Champ was the mastermind behind butter thefts (he had a glorious coat), and made enemies by refusing to be friends with anyone other than myself. He was never mean, but he trusted only me.
My family always had at least one dog. I trained them, showed a few, and one even visited nursing homes and schools. They were happy, stable animals that did well in crowds and around other animals. When I met people with a skittish dog, I assumed that they had done something wrong. The most reasonable explanation was that the dog had been abused. It never occurred to me that a dog could start out in life a little off.
Champ was never abused, unless you count leaving him in a cool car with the windows down while I went into a store (he would). I adopted him from the pound at nine weeks old. I was able to confirm that the whole litter was weird. Their mother was brought in feral and warmed up to humans again after being adopted. Some of the puppies had a harder time adjusting after spending their first weeks following their mother's skittish lead.
In the past, I would get embarrassed because I needed to step in when people wanted to pet him and let them know he just wanted to be left alone. The rare times he did something naughty (other than trashing the kitchen), a harsh word could send him groveling, which looked suspiciously similar to a cower. I tried socializing him as a puppy, forcing him around people. I tried training classes and behavior conditioning and prozac. Years and years were spent trying to find a way to communicate to my crazy boy that the world was not out to get him. A trainer wouldn't listen as I yelled at her to stay back in an agility class and he flung himself from an A-frame, falling several feet and limping to lean against my legs for comfort. It was the tipping point. I finally realized what Champ was trying to tell me all along. He would never be a people "person." My introvert was who he was and I could either continue torturing us both, or just accept him as he was.
Champ would not be left behind on the beach. If the raft was good enough for me,
it was good enough for him. The raft promptly sank from someone's toenail gouges.
Despite - or maybe in a funny way because of - the numerous times destroying kitchens, stealing food, and shunning humans, Champ has been my once in a lifetime four footed buddy. He is the most loyal animal I have ever had the honor of being owned by. I didn't intend to get a dog. My ex-boyfriend talked me into going to two humane societies. I had made it to the very last cage of the very last kennel when a little dirty puppy walked up to the fence and raised his paw. He snuggled into my arms and rubbed his face against my neck. Volunteers gawked and I later found out it was because the puppies shrank from human contact. When I got home and he saw my roommate, Champ shoved himself under a couch.
My old man - enjoying the lake
Champ doesn't get into much mischief anymore. He has been in my life for twelve and a half years. His eyes are clouded with cataracts, he is a cancer survivor, is on meds for atypical Cushing's disease, and only wants to walk around the block at a very leisurely pace. Champ doesn't have much time left, but he still enjoys life. He insists on searching the neighborhood for apples, loves car rides, and has calmed down around people despite growing deaf and blind. He's not outgoing, but he stopped hiding years ago and he has never so much as snapped despite his desire to just be left alone. He also mercilessly bosses around my husband, which is his right.
When I first met Lance, I told him Champ was in my life first. If they couldn't get along, the dog would win out. I didn't need to worry. Champ chose Lance, too. Seven years ago, on the first night he met my future husband, Champ fell asleep with his head resting on his feet.
Leave a comment to discuss your once in a lifetime furry friend. Do you agree that the hardest won friends are the best?
Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.