Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Guest Blogger: Patty Gongaware
It was a cold dark night in January 2012. Potty breaks were all done, so I decided to treat myself to some "puppy cuddling". A litter of three-month-old collie-husky mix puppies had come in that day, and they were such sad, scared, unsocialized little ones. I got comfortable on the Karunda bed with three of them on my lap, but struggled to get the fourth, a fuzzy gold and white girl, to come to me. Finally, reluctantly, she settled in with her siblings as I held them and told them stories of the loving families that they would soon be part of. This is my first memory of the puppy named Karma.
A few days later, an email went out asking for a foster home for the little gold and white puppy. The other pups were coming around thanks to the attention volunteers were giving them, but Karma was still very scared and shutting down. I immediately said that we'd take her for a few weeks. One of our Labs had been a very shy puppy, so we had experience with that. And I knew that being around our two gentle, older Labs would help her too.
The first few weeks with Karma were alternately challenging and rewarding.
She always tried to run and hide when we approached, ears down and fluffy tail tucked, never making eye contact. We hand-fed her each morning and evening. She'd come to our outstretched hand, grab one piece of kibble, then run away to eat it...feeding often took almost an hour! (However she had no problem chewing our shoes and socks when they were left in her reach.) As the weeks passed Karma remained wary of us, but eventually trusted us enough to pick her up, and hug and pet her. She relaxed and fell asleep when we rubbed her belly. We could tell that she was very smart. Karma quickly learned basic commands, enjoyed being in a crate, and house-trained easily. I even taught her to ring a bell on the door when she had to go out. She enjoyed playing in the snow and learned how to retrieve a stick, although she preferred playing keep-away from the Labs.
After a month with us, Karma had made lots of progress. She was still cautious around people but was acting like a happy puppy - curious, playful, and sometimes even soliciting attention from us. She became very vocal, almost like she was talking, a collie trait called "singing." Scott tapped into her husky side and taught her to howl, too! And she had stolen my heart. When the email came asking if she was ready to come back and find her forever home, I knew that she already had. On February 29, 2012 (Leap Day) we became "foster failures" and adopted our Karma; and we even kept the name she had been given at Animal Friends because it just seemed perfect for her.
Karma became more confident and outgoing with time. Like all collies, she is very intelligent and observant. And like most collies, she needed a "job."
We got in the habit of taking her to visit my father-in-law at his assisted living facility. We noticed that she was very comfortable in that atmosphere. I decided to take her to training classes with a goal of taking the Canine Good Citizen and Therapy Dog International tests. We started with basic obedience (sit, down, stay, heel, come, leave it, etc.) and also worked on how to approach people in wheel chairs, walk calmly through a crowd, and not startle if something was dropped. Karma learned quickly and in August 2013 she passed her tests! I was so proud of her!
Now Karma and I are a therapy team. We visit a local nursing home several times each month, and it's always a rewarding experience. The residents really look forward to seeing Karma, petting her soft fur, shaking her gently offered paw, and getting kisses. They marvel at how friendly and calm she is, and how sweet. They tell me stories about the dogs that they've had and how much our visits mean to them. Karma is very empathetic and always knows which person to go to, who will enjoy her the most at that time. Some of the residents can't speak, but their smiles say it all. Karma has also provided some much needed stress relief to college students during finals week! A totally different atmosphere and age group than the nursing home, but the comfort of petting a dog is something that benefits people of any age.
Karma has come so far....from a scared, shy puppy to a friendly, playful, outgoing dog who loves adults and children. She enjoys making new doggie friends at the park; going on hikes and swimming; and she's the official greeter for our Christmas tree farm each December. She gives comfort to her senior friends at the nursing home; to her Lab "sisters" when they are afraid of thunderstorms; to me and Scott when we've had a bad day. She's grown from a dog that ran from human contact to one that insistently pushes her nose under a hand for even more petting. With lots of patience, understanding and love, her personality has truly blossomed. She's such a special girl and we're so glad that she's part of our family! Her story is unique but not unusual. There are many dogs out there just waiting for the right family to bring out their best qualities if you're willing to give them a chance.