Some of you will have already met the fabulously scruffy Matlin CrazyEars McScruffy … the newest member of the scruffy pack. This blog entry is as much about Matlin as it is about ‘why Matlin’ … because I certainly had not intended to add a third dog to the pack, and was definitely not looking to add more stress to my already mounting workload with scruffy dog shifting into the high gear of fall season, dealing with a rapidly aging Matea, and caring for an ailing Merrick.
Needless to say, the perfect dogs almost always come at the most imperfect times. Why should young Matlin be any exception?
First, a little about this gorgeous girl of unknown lineage. From what I have gathered, Matlin was brought in as a stray in Hillsboro, Texas at 3 1/2 months of age. She was pulled by a rescue and then taken to Dogs Etc. of Texas. While there, Matlin had a lot of great social experiences with other dogs in Dogs Etc.’s wonderful communal care, but it doesn’t seem that she had as much outside world exposure, or exposure to men and children, as these are her main fear triggers. At the same time, some of her wariness and reservation could certainly trace back to breed, if she has some Briard in her lineage.
I have always had rescues and adopted animals … and with both Murph (my original) and Merrick I have dealt with significant fear issues and lack of exposure, as well as severe abuse. Don’t get me wrong, from 4 to 11 months of age, Matlin was brought up by extremely loving hands and hearts … but her skittishness and fear of new people, men, children and many real-world elements is beyond any fear I have seen in the hundreds (if not thousands) of the dogs I have dealt with first- and second-hand.
When I first met Matlin in person, it took her a long time (what felt like close to an hour) before I could actually touch her. After not even two weeks (and only 10 days home with me), she is able to greet some people within seconds, and be petted immediately. Others – like men – take a lot more time. And just today, for the first time since I’ve had her, a child gave her treats and petted her quite calmly.
Fortunately, Matlin is still young and malleable, and through frequent pack walks with larger groups and smaller groups, she is gaining confidence. I only wish my own pack wasn’t so aged and ailing; Matea and Merrick would be the best teachers. Alas, they are unable to manage the walks that Matlin so desperately needs on a daily basis.
So hey, if you’re in my area, and you have a calm, stable dog and would like to go for a walk sometime, drop me a line!
But perhaps I should start at the beginning? The answer to: “why Matlin?” Why this dog? Why now?
Well, the truth is Matlin is my survival dog.
For those who follow SDP on Facebook, you’ll know that Matea isn’t getting any younger. She will be 15 in January. I already didn’t believe she’d make it through last winter, but she is a trooper. She has neurological issues, bridging spondylosis which pretty much has her spine fully fused at this point, a tumor on her shoulder that is invading muscle and nerves, resulting in her bearing most of her weight on her one good front leg. She’s stone deaf, has IBD, has another tumor in her lungs, quite probably has degenerative myelopathy, and still, she takes a licking and keeps on ticking … but I know she’s not invincible. On top of that, Merrick’s health has been deteriorating; his liver is shot, and he is being managed through diet and meds … small meals five times a day, and numerous medications six times a day.
When I almost lost Merrick in May during a liver crisis, well, let’s just say, I didn’t handle it very well. The reality is, I have struggled with chronic pain and depression for years … decades really … and it’s not getting better. It’s been a tough year … and almost losing my boy put me far too close to that edge of the abyss where I have dangerously teetered a few times in the past.
As Merrick regained some stability in his health, I just knew that I needed to put a plan into place … that without a plan, I could very well self-destruct once my girl and my boy were gone. I was not looking for a dog, but merely looking to set in motion “the plan”.
And that “plan” was actually a puppy. Yes, me, the person who is an adamant ‘rescue’ person had finally found valid reasons to – just once – contact a breeder for a puppy. Mind you, this came after several long weeks of relentless inner moral battle. The thing is, my life is dogs. And I live to experience everything I can about them … different breeds, different drives, different issues, different training methods … and I certainly have experienced my fair share. But what I haven’t yet experienced is raising a puppy! And at 51, I kind of felt that it was now or never.
Add to that, the breed I have always wanted is rare — the Berger Picard. There is no way I would ever get a Picard in rescue or even as a return to a breeder. So … I researched breeders, of which there are very few, and even found one who was raw feeding / low vaccines. I knew I’d be on a lengthy waiting list, and that was fine … I was hardly ready for another dog anyway. Yet something caused me to hesitate contacting them. And then, just when I was about to begin reaching out, I started to see more and more people around me buying puppies … and, to be honest, it just broke my heart. There was no way I could possibly purchase a puppy.
So … I will never have a Berger Picard (although one might argue that Matlin looks like a half-sized Picard) …
… but you know what? I got something better. I got a dog that I will learn WAY more from than any puppy … just like all of my other adopted and rescue dogs. Yes, she has some issues, but I will learn from them and our bond will be even deeper than a lot of puppy-people can imagine because of the issues she and I are conquering together. I know this because of the incredible bond I have with Merrick and what I have helped him conquer. I know that he would not be the dog he is today – nor would we have the bond we have today – if we had not had to do the work we did.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Disillusioned by all of the puppies, I realized there was no way I could buy a puppy, but I also knew I needed a plan in place for myself. So I went onto Petfinder.com one night. Just one night. All I wanted to do was assure myself that when the time came there would be dogs for me to choose from.
Oh, and I should mention … yes, I realize one can adopt puppies, however what a lot of people don’t know is that I’m actually allergic to 90% of dogs! The last thing I’d want to do is adopt a puppy and then find out, as they grow up, that I’m allergic to them. So with allergies in mind, the breeds that I can plug into a Petfinder search are limited … and I do have to open the search to “Anywhere” otherwise I get almost zero hits. And that’s when I found “Daphne”.
These are her photos at 6 months of age. She is now 11 months, and originally I was sad that she wasn’t still the young age as posted … but honestly, she’s just perfect the way she is.
Of course, the only thing that wasn’t perfect was the fact that she was in the Dallas area, 2250 kms away! Still, I wrote Devvie — the amazing woman and heart behind Dogs Etc. of Texas — never for a moment thinking she’d consider an out-of-country adoption. And I have to be honest, for the past couple of years, as I’ve watched Matea grow older and weaker, I often worried – deeply – about the day I would need another dog. I have helped so many of my clients and friends through their own losses and grief, and I have played a role (sometimes small, sometimes larger) in assisting some of them to find a new 4-legger to fill that hole. But what I have discovered is that dealing with some rescues has been nothing short of a nightmare: rejections for the silliest of reasons, an utter lack of follow-up in some cases, or a complete runaround … leaving one to wonder whether you are dealing with an actual rescue or, in fact, a hoarder. I have shared my clients’ and friends’ disappointment and frustration … and in some cases, sadly, they even gave up and purchased a puppy.
I have to say, though, when it comes to my own adoptions, I have been truly blessed. Yes, I had to battle to convince the Barrie SPCA to allow me to adopt Matea over 14 yrs ago (in spite of her being trial adopted and returned by others!) simply because I lived two hours away. And when trying to adopt a smaller dog a year after, I did get the run around from different rescues myself and ended up going to a shelter for Morley. But with Mirabelle (in spite of having dogs in my home) and with Matlin (in spite of being out of country), I have been truly and utterly blessed to have crossed paths with the most incredible rescuers. Maggie (in Mirabelle’s case) and Devvie (in Matlin’s case) trusted their hearts and their guts instead of some strict protocol, and to my dying day I will love, respect, and adore these women for that.
Devvie is easily the most kind, generous and classy woman I have ever met in the rescue world. We could talk for hours on the phone, and meeting her in person made me wish we weren’t so anxious to get back on the road for the long drive home so that she and I could spend some more together. Devvie knew the second I wrote her that Matlin was meant to join me and the scruffies, even though she had never done (or possibly even entertained) an out-of-country adoption.
Aiding in the whole adoption was my Dallas connection, Teresa Berg, fellow photographer and friend for years. We arranged to have her meet with Devvie and Daphne/Matlin along with a trainer for an assessment before I committed to the long drive down.
And what a drive it was! I did mention the 2250 kms one way, yes? And you wanna bet I tried to figure out other modes of transport, but in the end the easiest — and the best for Matlin — seemed to be to just drive down and get my girl. I could not have done it without former client and friend Cindy … whose bladder – thankfully – is as small as mine and is the relative equivalent to a half of a gas tank of a Toyota RAV. Honestly, in spite of a migraine most of the time, in spite of pretty much constant rain, and in spite of the stress of what I was about to take on … I had a lot of fun! (And yeah, maybe I need to have a real vacation sometime to see what real fun is like?) I also could not have done this without my assistant Karin taking care of the scruffies here at home, of course, waiting so patiently for my return.
The drive home with Matlin was not without incident of course. While a consummate little traveler …
… not fifteen minutes into our drive and just on the Dallas express tollway (with no way off!), Matlin pooped all over her crate. When a Princess has to go she has to go! So when we were finally able to exit the tollway and get her washed, pull out the poopy blankets, and settle in again, Cindy picked out a most appropriate pillow for her at the truck stop …
Matlin has been with me for thirteen days, and home now for eleven of those, but she has already come a long way. She was quite nervous of any toys that squeaked, and would instantly stop playing if she heard a squeak. Today, she has conquered the squeak, and is obsessed with the scruffy dog session balls, squeaking them to no end! She has created this herself – with a little help from Merrick – and I will continue to build on it so that I have a great tool to draw on when encountering real-world fears.
… and her slight underbite often gives her that look of a smile.
As for how she’s getting on with the rest of the pack … I’m amazed. Merrick of course was easy. She was ‘in’ with him the moment she jumped out of the car, although they do vie for my attention when it comes to fetching balls, and with a suspected herniated disc, Merrick is not allowed to fetch balls right now, so it’s tough. I did think it would be at least a couple of weeks before I introduced Matlin to Matea. Matea can be reactive to other dogs until she realizes they aren’t a threat … so I knew Matea just needs time. But then I started to feel that the longer I waited the more suspicious Matea would become, so I had to just make the leap. And to be honest, there’s been no incident, complete relaxation, and only mild frustration on Matlin’s part as the old girl refuses to play with her.
This photo was taken during our second yard session together …
… and now I feel beyond confident to have them in the house and yard together when I’m with them.
Of course, Mirabelle is a different story. Matlin has a high prey drive to chase. This isn’t new to me. Matea’s prey drive is/was higher, and it’s to chase and kill. So Matlin’s is a cake walk. I just need more time with her. But when she first saw Mirabelle, I had just put her in her crate … Matlin barked excitedly at Mirabelle and then let loose her bladder. Good times. Mirabelle then spent the next two days stalking around the house yowling and growling.
Today, things are MUCH better…
… but I am vigilant about not allowing Matlin to chase.
As I said, while I didn’t plan to have a third dog, and it’s certainly not the “perfect time”, I’ll admit there is something very special about having Matea and Merrick play a role in Matlin’s life.
This little girl has so much to learn, so much confidence to gain, so many adventures ahead of her, and so much life to live.