Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Trust Must Be Earned

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a young boy was that trust and respect can never be demanded but, instead, must always earned. Once earned trust and respect must be maintained and never betrayed. Though this principle was intended for interactions with humans, I learned, after starting Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue (BSRR), that it applies as much to dogs and other animals as it does to humans.  

My first application of this rule, which I described in a prior blog, came while working with my first rescue, Bear. The next time involved a Rottweiler/Chesapeake mix named Nikki. This poor girl came into the shelter afraid to death of men, so much so that only the female staff could enter her cage to catch her.  If a man came near, she would cower in the corner and snap at the guy who dared to try and touch her.  Given that she was a Rottweiler mix and a dog with issues, I was naturally drawn to her.  As with all the dogs I’ve worked with, I looked at the problem and figured out solutions to reach an end goal -- the goal being that the dog is rehabilitated. To make this happen with Nikki, I had one of the female staff catch her, bring her out into the exercise yard, and let her loose with me.  I then sat near the door and had the staff member sit next to me.  For two weeks we did this, and each day Nikki would venture closer to us, and more importantly, to me.  I never tried to touch her or catch her, but, instead, let trust slowly build between us.  As time went on, I was eventually able to pet her and even to get a leash on her.  Finally, I no longer needed the female staff member, and myself and one of the male staffers began working with Nikki on a daily basis.  The transformation that resulted was amazing. 

In just about a month, Nikki had gone from being terrified of men to completely trusting Dave and I, so much so that Dave started taking her on long hikes on his days off.  One of the most difficult days occurred when Nikki was adopted by a wonderful lady out of Missoula.  Dave was heartbroken, but he knew that he wasn’t able to adopt her himself, and it was the best option for Nikki.  Later that year, we received a photo of our beloved Nikki that showed her in a whitewater raft with her owner and five men.  Nikki’s smile beamed as she stood on the raft, floating down the river during a research project in which her owner was involved. 

When she’d first come to the shelter, Nikki was almost a lost cause. Yet with time and consistency, trust was earned, respect was given, and the result was an amazing transformation.  This is typical with rescues; time and consistency and trust and respect are vital prerequisites.  These necessities, when employed wisely, can take some of the most difficult dogs and turn them into good canine members of society.

My latest problem dog is another great example of that.  Carly is a BSRR rescue that no one wanted to adopt.  She had come to BSRR from a kill shelter in California and spent two years in our group.  During that time she earned the nickname “Crazy Carly”, because she was so intense and exuberant in all she did.  In reality, she is just a high drive dog who had no past training whatsoever.  Her main negative issue was a fear of people, especially of men.  I have no doubt that she came from an abusive home.  Because of this, if anyone tried to touch her she would bite them.  Women seemed  able to earn her trust the fastest but only with lots of time invested.  When I adopted her I knew full well that I was her last hope, as BSRR was considering euthanizing her, given her ongoing behavioral issues. I guess you can say I have a soft spot for the difficult dogs, as the moment I had an opening I started the process of getting her to me. 

Once she arrived, though, it was a difficult time, just like it had been with Nikki.  The difference between the situations was that I didn’t have a female to help me out with Carly.  The first week, I had arranged to take off from work as it was Thanksgiving, that way I would be with her twenty four hours a day.  For those first few days I couldn’t touch her without her trying to bite me.   I was, thankfully, able to put a leash on her and walk her with my other rescued Rottweiler, Bradum.  These walks helped more than you can imagine.  The pack is everything to a dog, and Bradum is a calm alpha, which worked well to teach Carly that our pack was safe.  By the second week I was able to pet her, though occasionally it would trigger some memory, causing her to jump away in fear. I never reacted negatively to her responses, I just respected her and kept working toward the goal of earning her trust. 

Fast-forward two and a half years, and I can now touch, pet, play with, and otherwise work with Carly without any issues.  My current goal is to have her become comfortable with others petting her, especially the veterinarians. We are making progress, but like with many rescues, it is a slow process.  It is an achievable goal, as long as I remember the basic rule: trust and respect must be earned, never demanded, and time is my greatest ally in that effort. 

The concept of earning one’s trust and respect is at the core of both my first novel, Stranger's Dance, and my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  It isn’t published yet, but you can learn more about it at my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the final editing costs.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Comfort in the Herd

I’m not sure how old I was when I first rode a horse but I was young, very young -- probably only three or four-years-old. At least, that is my first memory being on a horse’s back.  I remember being lifted up by my mom and then handed to my dad who sat high up on his buckskin horse.  I recall sitting in front of him, amazed at how big the saddle horn was as well as how far off the ground we were. 

That was the start of my love and respect for horses, something that would grow over the years I spent on the ranch.  Though I don’t have regular access to horses now, the smells, the sounds, and the simple presence of a horse is a comforting thing to me.

From the time I was first allowed outside by myself, I would seek out our herd of a dozen or so horses.  In the winter I’d find them in the fields near our house, allowing us the ease of feeding them closer to home.  During the warmer months they would be further away, often in the broad expanse of aspen trees that followed Porcupine Creek as it cut through our ranch.  When I would get near, the herd never spooked, not if my intention wasn’t to catch them.  The horses knew the difference in my approach and could spot a lead rope a mile away.  If I was just there to say hi they would gladly welcome me into their fold, tolerating the small bipedal creature that wandered among them, petting their heads while trying to offer fresh-pulled grass. During those times with the herd, I felt a peace and contentment I still find hard to explain to non-horse people. It was such a good feeling that if I had time, I would commonly seek out the herd just for that enjoyment.  Yet there was one time that seeking of such comfort wasn’t out of enjoyment but out of necessity.
It was New Year’s Eve and my parents were holding a party at our place.  I might have been seven or eight-years-old at the time. Never being too comfortable in crowds, I typically retreated to my room to read books or play with Legos.  Perhaps it was the alcohol fueled revelry that drove me out of my normal place of solitude. Regardless of the reason, I went downstairs and put on my boots and coat as I prepared to go outside.  The entryway was empty as I donned the winter layers; the majority of the guests were in the kitchen and living room.  No one heard me walk out the front door, and with its closing I was blessed with the wondrous solitude of winter in the mountains. Though it was cold there was no wind, so I headed down our road for a bit until I could cut across the field to where the horses and cows stood quietly along the path. It was there we had spread a truckload of hay earlier that same day. The further I got from the house, the less the noise of the party could be heard until, finally, after several hundred yards, the only sounds I heard were those of my feet in the six inches of snow covering the ground.
As I moved closer to our livestock, the cows spooked and trotted a short distance to ensure that the small, blue-coated menace who approached never got close enough to harm them.  The horses though, like always, didn’t run.  Jane, my mom’s horse, approached me and sniffed deeply at my coat, searching for a treat I suppose.  A few others did the same as I walked among the forest of equine legs.  As I moved among the herd, petting them all, I talked with them. I don’t recall exactly what I said, but I do know that I spoke to them.  This was not uncommon for me, as having conversations with my animals was standard then and still is now. For over an hour I stayed within the herd, petting and talking to the horses. I enjoyed the comfort they provided and the respite from the noise and frivolities back at the house. It was only when my feet began to get cold that I was motivated, though reluctantly, to return to the house.
Once back home, I entered the front door and was in the process of taking my boots off when my mom came into the entryway.
“Where were you?” She asked, a bit confused that one of her children had been outside without her knowledge.
“Out with the horses,” I answered plainly, as I finished taking off my boots and coat.
“Well, okay, be sure to tell me if you go out again,” she requested.

“Okay,” I said, as I headed back upstairs to lose myself in a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Shipwrecked.
Despite my mom’s request, I rarely told my parents when I was going outside to be with the horses.  Perhaps it was a little of a rebellious attitude, but more likely it was simply that I didn’t want anyone to deny me the comfort of being with the herd, even if only for a short while.

Today I no longer have the opportunities to experience that same pleasure, but on occasion I do visit friends who have horses.  The smells and sight of those beautiful animals always take me back to that cold winter night and the solace I experienced when the herd had taken me in as one of their own.

If you love horses you will enjoy my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  It isn’t published yet, but you can learn more about it at my Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the final editing of it. 

Photos provided by Junia Wollman.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Second Novel


This is my first blog post that isn't about the bond between humans and animals.  Instead it is a request for assistance. For those that know me, you understand that I never ask for help until I've exhausted all options for doing it myself.  I'm at that point now with my latest writing project.  The link below is to a Kickstarter campaign that I started to raise funds for the final editing of my second novel, Lost Horse Park.  If you can help that would be wonderful but if not that is fine.  All I ask is that you share this link with others as the more people that know about it the better. 

Thanks and have a great day!