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Friday, February 5, 2010

SQUEAKY

I decided to post the following story here, because it follows the story just before it. Three years after my brother Gary died, his wife, Faye, passed away. This is how the tale was published:




Last October, I inherited a 12-year-old, fearful dog named Squeaky. The death of my widowed sister-in-law, Faye, left Squeaky an “orphan.” Just prior to her surgery, Faye had said, “If anything happens, will you take care of Squeaky for me?” Of course, I said yes.

I dreaded taking on a fourth dog and no one in my family wanted to have Squeaky, a known biter and a dog who hated everyone except Faye. She had never once let me pet her. Squeaky tended to bite from behind. While my brother Gary was ill, Squeaky would hide while the hospice nurses visited, then chase them to the door, barking and snapping. More than once, I had been forced to jump between Squeaky and her terrified quarry. At my sharp “No, ma’am!” she would veer off and go hide behind a sofa.

Friends urged me to have Squeaky put down. But, although she was 12 years old and hard to handle, I just couldn’t put down a relatively healthy little dog, who might have several years of good living ahead of her. Then, too, this was the one thing I could actually do for Faye. I knew it meant more to her than anything.

When I got Squeaky, she hadn’t been touched by a human hand for about a month. A friend of Faye’s had lived in her house and kept Squeaky fed, but she hid when he came in and never let him touch her. Her veterinarian was actually afraid for me to take her, so he gave me a strong sedative (not for me, for Squeaky). I slipped it into her food and sort of “herded” the subdued dog into the crate for the trip to my house.

Fortunately, I had access to a wonderful dog trainer. She met me at my house as I arrived with a drunken Squeaky. I felt I needed help introducing Squeaky into the household. I have Silvie, a 5-pound poodle; Michelle, an 11-pound poodle; and Gizmo, a 13-pound Shih Tzu. I was truly afraid that Squeaky might injure Silvie and knew that she would bully Gizmo, and tangle viciously with Michelle (Queen of the World).

My husband, teenaged daughter and son, and I were afraid to walk past Squeaky, since she always attacked from behind. We did a little dance with Squeaky – the “please don’t bite me cha cha” -- approach, turn as you pass and back away.

For two weeks, poor Squeaky grieved by walking incessantly. She walked around the house, upstairs and down, only stopping to nap in her crate. Old and fat, weighing 19 pounds instead of the recommended 9 -10, she would stop on the stairs to pant for a while, before trudging up to the top. I suppose she was looking for Faye and home. It was sad.

If one of the family looked at Squeaky when she entered a room, she made a quick U-turn and disappeared. If we spoke to her, she ran. Of course, she wouldn’t come to me when I called her, and no way would she come past me to go outside for elimination. She apparently waited as long as she could and then “went” as she walked, like a horse. The only way I could get her outside was to lure her into her crate with food and then shove it to the open door. From there, if she left the crate, she was outside. After she eliminated, I would praise her and let her in. She would scurry past me and begin her pacing again. I wondered whether she was senile.

The trainer suggested that I feed Squeaky all of her food, even canned dog food, from my hand. When I knelt and softly called Squeaky, holding out my hand and carefully not looking at her, she would creep cautiously near me. Then she would bob back and forth with fear and indecision and finally nuzzle my hand. We did not know whether she would snap at my fingers, but she was gentle while taking the food. She began to trust me more and more. I am happy to report that she ADORES me now. Food was definitely the key to Squeaky’s heart.

Gradually she let me touch her. A little rub under the chin was acceptable. Later, a gentle pat on the head. However, she had forbidden spots which, if touched, elicited a snap. The spots moved around, apparently according to her mood. Yesterday, “don’t touch the ears!”, today, “okay, rub the ears, but don’t touch the tail,” tomorrow, who knows?

She has bitten me hard only once. Who would think a 12-year-old dog could bite so quickly (like a snake striking!), and so hard that she not only punctured my thumb, she also left a white mark on my thumbnail, as if I had hit it with a hammer! But I have learned the signs and observe them carefully when I bathe her or trim her hair. First, she looks away from me. Then she makes her little eyes bug out. After that, she might growl or just lift her lips in a warning snarl. I have to give up my pride and put a muzzle on her if she gets to the growl or snarl. Surprisingly, she will stand calmly and let me fasten the muzzle on her. And when I remove it, she apparently harbors no hard feelings.

We have trained Squeaky not to chase our company and bite them. Friends and strangers alike are asked to help train her by whirling around, pointing a finger, and shouting “NO!” when she attacks. Being fearful, Squeaky skids to a halt and runs away. Since chasing people is not fun anymore, she has stopped - mostly.

I credit the trainer and my vet for good advice on handling Squeaky. Her weight is down to 11 pounds and she is pretty healthy and happy. She shadows my every step and keeps her eyes on me. When I look her way, she “smiles”, a most loving and pleased expression, accompanied by ears that fold back and a wagging tail. She does wrangle with the other dogs, but things are working out for her. I have come to love her and enjoy her antics and she enjoys a household with dogs, a bird, teens, and parents – lots going on all the time.

Squeaky is curled up at my feet as I write this, relaxed and at home. I think Faye would be pleased.

(Squeaky died about a year after she came to live with us. She was 13 years old.)

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