After countless rejections by numerous other shelters and adoption agencies, someone had finally shown interest. I was exchanging emails with his foster before I knew it. We arranged to meet in the parking lot of a local Home Depot a few weeks after I first applied for him. If all went well, a dog I’d only read about in emails would be coming home with me.
March 23, 2015 was the day I met Dipper. It was there in a parking lot that I sat on the cold asphalt with him in my lap. He wasn’t excited. In fact, he struck me as oddly emotionless, avoiding eye contact and looking at anything but us. It was only when my father reached down to pet him, as his foster explained that he wasn’t fond of men, that he showed any sort of affection: he stuck his face directly into my dad’s palm.
We brought him home after that.
His foster had explained some of his quirks: he walks with a permanent bow-legged stance in his hind legs, like they’re permanently stiff; she suspected it was the reason the shelter thought he was hit by a car. He rarely barks or growls, and smiles instead of snarling, a behavior known as submissive grinning. We quickly learned that he flinched at the slightest sudden movement. All of the signs of past abuse were there.
“Someone definitely did a number on him,” I remember her telling us.
The longer we had the little dog, the more his submissive tendencies became obvious. If you’d approach him, under any circumstances, he would promptly lower himself and roll over. Sometimes he’d even pee. All over himself. I’ve since learned that’s called submissive urination.
For me, waking up next to a furry little face is one of the best things life has to offer. It was one of the things I looked forward to the most when I began looking for a dog. Unfortunately, I quickly learned the hard way that I’d adopted a chronic bed wetter. The slightest touch in his sleep would prompt him to pee.
I’ve had my share of experience with abused dogs. My previous pet, Tashi, was also abused by a former owner, but he reacted to his abuse in an entirely different way. While Tashi turned to aggression after his experience, Dipper didn’t have a mean bone in his body. It amazed me that two dogs that looked so much alike could be so different. In ways, it was disappointing. I’d had an unrealistic hope that a new dog would immediately pick up where Tashi left off. The gratitude and love that I was told I’d receive from an abused rescue simply wasn’t there with Dipper.
But over time, he improved. The quirks that were remnants of a former life of abuse transformed into little signs of love. He grins for food and visitors. He’s learned to play with the toys he used to only guard–he’ll even bring you one when you walk in the door.
More importantly, I’ve learned to love the things in him that simply can’t change. That bow-legged stance that our veterinarian says is probably the result of a puppyhood spent in a too-small crate doesn’t hurt him, but I think it’s endearing; it makes him walk like a cowboy.
I get a little bleary-eyed when I look at that first photo of him, or when I think of the life he must have had before entering the shelter. That his life could have ended there is astounding to me.
I like to think he’s much happier now.