Monday, August 23, 2010

Calvin Takes A Treat

Those of you who occasionally kill abject boredom reading my blogs might remember my mentioning a nine year-old silver pug named Calvin (see New Age of Rescue, April 22). After a long trip in a rescue van driven by my friend, Lisa W.,Calvin arrived at a rescue barn near St. Louis. I was there, too. It was unrequited love at first sight. I was in love. Calvin was not impressed.

Four months later, I can safely say that Calvin has been one tough egg to crack. Nine years in a puppymill had produced a 14 pound pug with legs wobbly from disuse, a bland affect, and a deeply ingrained certainty that human beings are all-powerful and full of bad intentions. 

Pug certainty is a hard thing to dispel.

Like most newly arrived puppymill survivors, Calvin enjoyed the company of other dogs, but would go to the ends of the earth to avoid any human - namely, me. "Cagey" is the word i used to describe him. Calvin's eyes never left me. When I zigged, Calvin zagged. He wasn't really fast, but he knew how to avoid the tackle. When I did manage to catch him, keeping him became the hard part. Calvin writhed like a sackful of snakes - it was all I could do just to hang on.

Worse yet was trying to get medicine down Calvin. For the first few days, he would not touch a piece of kibble to save his soul. He had horrible diarrhea - a reaction, no doubt, to the incredible stress in his life - but I couldn't get any meds down him because he wouldn't eat. Not braunschweiger, not chicken, nothing. After rotating the tastiest stuff I could find through the rarefied air under Calvin's nose, I was on the verge of surrender. Calving would eyeball the dish of food, then raise his mug to give me the bad-eye. He would not touch anything in the bowl

After a week, I finally noticed him showing some interest in the puppy's food. Yes, he had definitely discovered a fondness for Purina Puppy Chow with soft morsels. At last, I could breath a sigh of relief. Calvin was eating. But if I put a pill in it, even in a chunk of something delectable, Calvin would eyeball me until I left his range of vision, then eat around the medicine. I had to smash them to ribbons, then mix them in some soft food until they were invisible.

My old standby medication delivery system has always been braunschweiger - it's yummy and really, really sticky. After a few weeks, Calvin got to expect his little bit of liver sausage every morning and evening. I found that if I crushed a pill and kneaded it into the mushy stuff, Calvin would eat it, as long as I wasn't watching. Of course, I had to sit it down on the floor first. But it worked! Through it all, I did my best to be as non-threatening as I could in every way. When  I picked Calvin up to put him in his private dining quarters, I kissed him and scratched his ears, telling him what a "good man" he was. He would squirm fiercely and try to break free of me.

Every night at bedtime, Calvin would peer into my bedroom and watch alertly as the other pugs climbed the pet stairs onto the bed. Sometimes he would leave, then come back, leave, then back again to watch the flurry of curly tails in motion. After a couple of weeks of observance, he felt comfortable enough with the nightly ritual to stay in the room with the evil human. Then one night, it happened.

I looked up just before turning off the light, and there was Calvin. True, he was in the farthest reaches of Serta country, where I couldn't possibly touch him.  But there he was. It was the first crack in Calvin's armor. He had been watching for weeks as familiar dogs climbed the steps suffering no ill effects, and a decision in my favor had been made. As nonchalantly as I could (I was euphoric), being careful not to look in his direction, I turned out the light. But I could feel his presence there, and I knew those beady little eyes were pointed right at me. Watching.

Sleeping on the bed with me and the rest of the pack quickly became a nightly event for Calvin. After a couple of months, I noticed he had moved within reach. I began to gently scratch his chin, being careful never to come at him from overhead, or to extend my touches beyond very brief intervals. I would scratch his chin and chest, then move on to the pug next door without fanfare. Calvin got to like this, and petting time got a little bit longer almost every day. Sometimes he'd become annoyed and move. Other times, he'd stretch his head upward and close his eyes. 

Every morning at 6:30am, meds were delivered for those dogs who need it, followed by breakfast for everyone.  By this time, I no longer had to crush Calvin's meds and knead his braunschweiger like playdough. He loved braunschweiger so much, he gobbled it down whole. Calvin knew the routine now and actually allowed me to pick him up for breakfast. Any  squirming was from excitement - he knew it was chow time. We were making progress.

But Calvin still refused to take anything from a human hand. Even his beloved braunschweiger was off limits if I held it out to him. I still had to drop it before he would touch it.

With the other dogs in the household, Calvin was like a calm, wise grandfather. They all seemed to love his quiet energy. He always slept in the middle of a big pug pile. Everything was subject to his sharp scrutiny. Calvin assessed everything for what seemed an impossibly long time for a dog. You could see the cogs rotating in that little brain, but nothing other than his own observations had an iota of influence on him. Calvin had been around the block a few times. He was no dummy.

A couple of weeks ago, I held out a piece of braunschweiger to Calvin, just as I always did, waiting for him to give me that look until I dropped it on the floor. Very gently, I felt Calvin's mouth on my fingers. He licked tentatively at the treat. I pushed a little. It sort of rolled into his mouth and disappeared.

"Good man!" I said. "What a good man!" 

The second and third treats went much better. Something had clicked - Calvin knew. Taking treats became routine. If the treats were not quickly forthcoming, I got the old man bark until I stepped it up. I marveled for the umpteenth time at dogs' powerful ability to forgive and change.

This morning, Calvin fell in with a pack of pugs following me out into the yard. When I bent down to greet them, he did a joyous happy dance along with his fellows. His tail does not wag, but it's held high and tightly curled. In the far corner of the yard was the pug I'd picked up late the night before, standing and staring, afraid to come closer.

"Can you have a word with her, Good Man?" I asked, being careful not to look directly into those frightened eyes.

Calvin said he would.


jacque said...

i'm tearing up, melanie. your dedication to these precious babies just melts me. "thank you" is such an inadequate phrase when it comes to the work you do...but


GenevaPugLady said...

Way to go, Calvin! =)

LI Ashtangini said...

Wow. There really ARE truly good people in this world and you are one of them!