We celebrated Izzy’s fourth birthday quietly last week. Just the two of us. I don’t think he even knew it was a celebration until I brought out the new bone. It took him about five minutes to eat it. So much for that.
I’m not the kind of person who usually celebrates dogs’ birthdays. I mean, I know generally when my animals were born, but I’m not going to make a cake and have a party and announce the day to the world. Dogs don’t care. Cats care even less. But Banfield (where Izzy goes to the vet’s) sent me an email to tell Izzy “Happy Birthday,” and that kind of got me started thinking about the day, the time that has passed, and the many changes Izzy has gone through during the past three years (he came to me when he was 9 months old, so I don’t count that first year in “our” memories).
He spent his first year with very little human contact, which is probably why he loves other dogs so much. They were his companions until he came to live with me. In fact, he was so poorly socialized that I didn’t have to pay for him. The person who ‘sold’ him to me knew that he would be a challenge, and she was right. “You can have him for free,” she told me, “as long as you promise to work with him.”
I did. But I didn’t know how difficult it would be or how long it would take for him to trust humans.
For the first three months, Izzy would not come near me. I couldn’t pat him, and when I forced him to sit in my lap or to let me touch him, his body stiffened and he pulled as far away as he possibly could manage.
I’m not quite sure when that changed, but finally, he found his way to my lap to ask for love and would look at me directly instead of in a sidelong fashion.
It took a lot longer to habituate him to other people. He loved dogs much more (and still does).
My next door neighbors are the ones I credit with socializing Izzy. Deb and Danny never gave up, constantly talking to Izzy, sitting on the ground in order to touch him, and going for walks with us so that he would “feel” their presence. It worked. Three years later, he still gets excited when I mention their names, and when Deb came to visit us in this new house a couple of weeks ago, Izzy tried to turn himself inside out to get to her.
Still, when someone new comes by, he will jump and bark. My new guy, Louis, is a bit frustrated by the fact that Izzy doesn’t want Louis near me, but we’re working on my four-legged friend. Giving him treats when he sits quietly works most of the time and reminding him that he’s a dog who lives with humans rather than vice versa works, as well. But it’s a work in progress.
I wish Izzy understood that dating is difficult as it is, and he’s making it even harder. Thankfully, Louis is going to stick around for a while and knows that Izzy is “family,” so he (Louis) has to figure out how to get this stubborn little Shichon to chill out a bit.
After I got Izzy, I had the opportunity to rent a little bungalow five minutes from work, so we moved–which was probably the best thing I did because Izzy didn’t do well alone in my apartment all day.
I kept a journal of our first year in Roxboro, and I’m now working on rewriting it, making the story more of a narrative that might someday find its way into a publisher’s catalog. Rereading that work reminds me of how much Izzy has learned since arriving in a crate to the Raleigh-Durham airport one hot early summer’s day. He has gone from being terrified to get out of the crate and say hello to “owning” his new house and making friends with all of our new neighbors.
He especially adored Ellie (and her human, Peggy), always perking up his ears whenever I asked him if he wanted to take a walk to see her.
It’s been an uphill battle for this first four years, but I’m proud of my little guy, of the commands he’s learned, and the way he has adapted. We have a mutual love-fest going on that I know will continue for as long as we’re both around.
They say dogs are humans best friends, and I truly agree. They are also our rescuers, even though we might be the ones doing the initial rescuing.
So, Happy Birthday, little buddy. And thank you for coming into my life.