People sometimes say when you rescue a dog, you don’t know what problems you might be taking on. Personally, while I see their point, I do think reducing a dog to his past experience is only half the story. Just like people, there’s the nature vs. nurture element. Maybe the rescue had a rough beginning, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a sweetheart of a soul just waiting to curl up on your lap.
Case in point: Slate. My friend Carol rescued Slate when he was four or five years old, I think. I know he’s nine now and has been with her at least four years. And Carol will be the first to tell you that this boy is still trouble . . . but only in an irresistibly endearing way. Or, endearing to big-hearted Carol, anyway.
You see, Carol and Slate are a love story. After losing her beloved Dewey (Carol’s a retired librarian, so don’t you love the name?), who she had raised from puppyhood, she wasn’t sure any pet could ever take Dewey’s place. Dewey was a princess of a Wheaten terrier. Silky, sassy, sweet – but definitely the ruler of the roost.
We all were surprised when Carol met Slate at the local dog shelter a few months later and decided to take him home. First, she lives in a small condo. Perfect for Carol and little Dewey – but Slate was 70-plus pounds of dog sporting an overgrown coat of 60’s shag carpet.
Do you remember Barkley from Sesame Street? That was Slate – but, yes, in a slate shade of gray. He had a reputation for chasing cars and mailmen, as well as an inexplicable fury toward runners. When the doorbell rings, Slate throws himself at the front door, howling in warning to anyone who dares threaten his domain and precious Carol. He lived with several owners before being left at the pound by an exasperated elderly couple who couldn’t deal with his shenanigans on their farm.
Oh, he can be a handful.
But conversely, once convinced of your good intentions, Slate wants to show you his toys and happily accepts scratches behind the ears. He’s a big baby who is delighted to be your friend, and Carol, his rescuer, his hero, is obviously the love of his life.
And like any swain, Slate wants to be with Carol at all times. In fact, he has been known to go to extremes when prevented from being by her side. One day recently Carol decided to tackle cleaning out her garage while her cleaning lady was working in the house. The woman knows and is comfortable with Slate, so the dog stayed inside while Carol worked in the garage.
Slate knew Carol was nearby, yet unreachable, and apparently tried to find ways to escape the confines of the condo to search for her. His first stop was her bedroom, where his pawing at the window resulted in a hole in the sheers. Carol came inside, reprimanded Slate for his bad behavior, and closed him in the guest bedroom (where Slate actually sleeps) and returned to the garage.
When the cleaning lady moved upstairs to work on the bedrooms she heard clattering and whining behind the guest room door. Not only had Slate torn a hole large enough in the lace curtains to get half his body through it, but he was wrapped – and trapped – in the fabric and the curtain rod was bent in a V from his attempts to escape. Both women regret not having grabbed a phone to take a picture before rescuing the dog from his dilemma.
Slate usually excels at escaping from confinement. When Carol put up a baby gate, backed up by the scary vacuum cleaner, at the top of the stairs to keep Slate out of the living room, she did think to pull out her camera phone when she discovered him on the OTHER side of the gate when she got home.
As much as Slate hates being away from Carol, probably the worst possible situation in his life is when there are loud noises, like thunder or fireworks. That’s pretty common with dogs, but what makes it inadvertently amusing with Slate is this big dog’s ability to be exceptionally agile in the face of fear.
A thunderstorm in the middle of the night last summer sent Slate flying onto Carol’s bedside table. She woke to find him sitting with his head under the lampshade, yet somehow not disturbing a small tray displaying beach glass on the same surface.
If the frightening noises occur when he’s in the living room, Slate’s favorite safe place is perched on the narrow top of the back of the couch. Now, that makes sense for a cat or (in my house) maybe small dogs, but when Slate stands on the back of the couch, it’s kind of like seeing a calf or small pony hovering over the living room. I’m not even quite sure how he manages it, but he does, and must find some degree of comfort from that precarious position.
Probably my favorite story about Slate, though, is his bedtime routine. Every night Carol invites him to jump on the bed with her and he is happy to cuddle – for a while. After about ten minutes or so, he’s ready to claim his own space in the guest bedroom, but apparently he’s reluctant to hurt Carol’s feelings. If she is staying awake reading for a while, he may eventually slink quietly off the bed and out of the room, looking guiltily at Carol (you know how dogs can get that guilty look, right?) as he creeps away. But it’s clear that he feels bad about leaving Carol alone.
In respect for his sensitive feelings, Carol now closes her eyes and pretends to sleep so Slate can amble off to his own room without remorse. As she peeks under lowered lids, she watches him quietly jump down and trot off to his own room with nary a backward glance. With Carol safely asleep, Slate seems to believe that he can put down the mantle of responsibility for his mom and their home until the morning.
I’ve only rescued dogs. Never raised a puppy. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to do so, frankly. But I can testify that the love I have for my boys, and that Carol has for Slate, is a joy, and a gift to both human and animal. So Happy New Year to Slate, to my Mick Jagger and Little Richard, and to all who rescue these sweet animals and welcome them into your hearts and lives.
The Boys say, “Woof” to that.