A Stranger in the House
The e-mail was brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.” The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted. Word had spread through our Aussie connections that my husband and I were interested in adopting a needy dog.
Through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. I took a deep breath, and requested information.
Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. They caught the dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy wrapped his arms around him.
The owner pleaded, “You can have him for free!”
Agreeing he needed help, Murphy set him on my lap. On the way home, he smiled. “What do you think about naming him, Mulligan? He needs a ‘Do Over.’”
I grinned. “Perfect!”
We walked Mulligan through the house to our large bathtub. Murphy and I stripped down to our underwear and climbed in with our frightened dog. This had to be a first for Mulligan; being held by a man and being bathed.
During his bath, I discovered he had no stub. Some Aussies are born without a tail, or the breeder did a terrible job of docking. But, it didn’t matter. He’d just never have a wiggle.
Soon his thick black fur shone like patent leather and his white shimmered like new fallen snow. He was beautiful. His soulful eyes reached deep into my heart. Standing patiently, he panted, and allowed us to rub him dry.
Later, I read about anxiety in dogs and learned panting, yawning, and not eating a treat indicated being overly fearful. Those behavioral signs would help me understand his stress levels.
Four days later, Mulligan had his first appointment with Dr. Hill. “I know why his original owners neglected him so young. One testicle hasn’t dropped. They could never have shown him in ‘Best of Show,’ as beautiful as he is, he wasn’t worth keeping.”
Mulligan was like a child who had been held hostage in a dark closet, with no sensual or intellectual stimulation. I pulled out my Aussie books. I had to change him from being a stranger to someone I understood. I needed to crawl into his fur, look through his eyes, and feel his quandary. Every day was an experiment.
At our first puppy training class, I wanted Mulligan to connect with Murphy. I passed the leash to him. Mulligan looked at Murphy and then to me. His eyes said, “What are you doing to me?”
The trainer walked over to Murphy. “He’s too far away from you. Jerk him. Make him walk closer.”
Murphy halted. “This is a rescued dog and has had nothing but abuse. I’m not jerking him.”
Surprised by what he said, the trainer’s eyes widened. “So, you’re going to let this dog have control over you?”
Murphy fumed. “This dog has been abused. Jerking him will not get him to trust me.”
After two weeks, Murphy confided in me. “Sheri, Mulligan’s probably always going to be your dog. And, I’m okay with that. But, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to need another puppy.”
My heart sunk. Another puppy! I collapsed on a chair. “I’m digesting what you said.”
Murphy found a kennel with Aussie puppies two hours away in Georgia. Mulligan played with three older dogs in a fenced yard while we chose the new puppy. One little guy, they called Cowboy, came out of his pack and waved his paw as if he was saying, “Howdy. Pick me. Pick me.”
He was black and white with a pink butterfly nose and no copper markings. I drove home while Murphy snuggled with his new playmate. That night, as soon as we settled into the den, Murphy sat on the den floor, playing tug with Slater.
Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting. Then Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and into the den. His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I held my breath. My hands covered my racing heart.
Mulligan sauntered right up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso, facing him. Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater, and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. After a few seconds, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.
Murphy’s eyes filled with emotion and tears dripped down our faces.
This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined. Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.