You may remember that back in September my family took home a small dog, Monkey, who we hoped would seamlessly become one of the pack and join our family. At the shelter, we noticed that he gravitated more towards our four kids and me than my husband, Barry. But given how much he had been through—from the streets of Kentucky to Felines & Canines in a matter of days—we cut him some slack and figured he was just nervous.
Barry immediately became the only person who fed him, hoping the road to gaining his trust was through his stomach. Monkey watched from afar, and refused to eat in Barry’s presence. My husband then tried crawling on the floor, making himself as low as he could, in attempts to show Monkey that he was not a threat. Monkey’s reaction was not what we had hoped for…he barked and ran away so fast his little legs looked like Fred Flintstone driving a getaway car. It seemed that no matter what Barry tried, Monkey was terrified of his every move.
We gave Monkey some time to come around, and thought eventually it had to get better. But at some point we realized that while we loved this dog, Monkey was just not thriving in the chaotic environment a family of six provides. (His belief that King Kong was alive and well and feeding him on a daily basis didn’t help.) We sadly discussed that the true meaning of being a foster home is doing what’s best for the animal, not the humans. So we put out a call and attempted to find him a quieter home.
Time passed. After each failed home visit, he would return, seemingly just a little bit happier than when he left. Then, after we went away for Thanksgiving and left Monkey and our dog Tula at daycare, it seemed as if there was a tiny, yet noticeable shift—like our coming back for him meant he belonged somewhere, maybe for the first time in his life.
So, here we are, nearly six months out from the day Monkey came home. Somehow we are making it work, learning his quirky ways like an awkward, strange dance, with no one leading and no one quite knowing the steps. Yet we are all willing and eager to learn.
From all of my work with animals and my past experiences, I know that on some level this frenetic four-legged mutt is here to teach me something. I stare at him while he is in his deepest sleep, twitching and fluttering his eyes while dreaming. I ask him silently, “Why did you come into our lives at this moment in time? What gift do you have for me?” And then I think about what I would tell Monkey if he could understand English:
You don’t fit into my idea of the “perfect” dog for our home. You exhibit odd behaviors that are foreign to me—seeing imaginary things around you, creating invisible borders and barriers in the house that you will not cross.
Is it your fault you don’t understand our human household? That if someone drops a paperclip at the other end of the living room you jump up and run for cover? I am confident that most of your reactive, erratic ways served you well and protected you while you were living on the streets. You had to be crafty, sneaky, fast, as small as possible, and at times ghost-like. That is how you survived.
But now you live in a safe house. You can count on healthy, delicious, raw food every morning and every night. You have a plethora of options for warm, cuddly places to snuggle up and rest peacefully, without the worry of being jarred awake, having your safety threatened throughout the night. I know it will take a while, but we are not going anywhere. We’ve got your back now.
And it hits me: I can relate.
I too have often felt that I am the only one I can count on in this world, even when there are people in my life, right there in front of me, offering to help. I know how hard it can be to let people in, and to fully receive love.
And while Monkey remains an enigma, I learn more and more each day I spend with him. With compassion, I tell him, “Let’s work through this together; slowly letting our guard down, getting real, and allowing others to support us in our success. I promise we will be okay.”
He may never understand my words, but I do believe he feels my energy. I see more and more moments of calm, and he has made great strides in just the past few weeks. I’m confident that over time Monkey will settle in to a rich life filled with comfort and ease, no matter where his journey takes him.
You never know where love will find you, or where you will find love—