Gus: Learning Patience or Gus’ Second Chance
I’m a junkie when it comes to perusing photos on my local animal shelter’s Facebook page. As a school teacher, I have even more time to indulge during the summer. Two years ago, I clicked on a picture of dog called, “Barley.”
Barley had curly strawberry-blonde fur, the same color as my hair. But, Barley’s brown eyes looked empty. Inside them, I saw fear, disconnect and a deep sadness.
I called to see if he still needed a home. He did.
I never considered fostering him. I knew he belonged in the Hooker home with my Cockapoo, Booker T. Washington, and Faith, my Bernese Mountain Dog. So, even before meeting him, I stopped at the pet store for treats and toys.
With liver bites and chicken strips, in my pockets, I went to Furburbia. When I entered his kennel, he hunkered down and made himself as small as he possibly could in the corner. I approached holding a treat out for him. He didn’t look at me. He looked away. His whole body shook.
I scooped him up. Beneath my hands I felt his entire body go rigid.
Barley was one of ninety dogs rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri by a Utah rescue group. Then, he became one of eight that came to Park City, Utah to find a forever home. When I arrived, he was the only one left. They told me no one wanted him because he was so frightened.
“He may never be a ‘normal’ dog,” is what they said. They also told me that he was a “runner,” and I’d need to keep him on a leash.
Barley was placed in a kennel and lifted into my dog-friendly Honda Element.
At home, I put Barley’s kennel in the backyard and started to introduce him to his family.
While his fur was the color of Barley, I knew he needed his own name. I started calling him “Harley,” because, even though he was scared, he was tough.
Harley wouldn’t leave his kennel. When I pulled him out, he’d run back in as quickly as possible or run to a corner of the backyard to sit, shake and cower.
I placed two kennels in the house. Harley would run between them.
However, starting that first night, he slept in my bed on the pillows. No kennels in the bedroom.
After a few days, I took the kennels away. He found a spot, behind the railing, on the stairway landing.
“Harley” didn’t suit him. He didn’t respond.
From his perch, he watched me visit with a friend at the dining room table. I said, “I think his name is ‘Gus.’” And, he agreed. Gus picked up his head and looked right at me.
Named for Captain Augustus McCrae in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Gus just needed a second chance.
One morning, in the fall, about three months after Gus arrived, I heard a scratching on the hardwood floor in the living room. I peaked down the stairs and saw Gus jump on the sofa. I was ecstatic.
Since Gus and I have lived together for 729 days, the growth I witnessed was gradual. He went from surveying the scene from the stairs to sitting on the sofa when friends visit. He went from walking on a leash to bouncing from place-to-place and marking his territory on a walk.
Gus attached to his sister, Faith. He still gets his cues about behavior from her.
In the morning, Gus jumps off the bed and stretches. His downward facing dog pose is better than that of the best yogi. Then, when he hears me open the drawer with the leashes, he bounds from the door to the sofa and makes happy sounds.
When Gus runs after his brother, his ears flop. Watching Gus run makes me happy.
After two years, Gus doesn’t like to snuggle with me. He won’t take treats from my hand. In fact, I can’t even get him to take a bite of steak off my fingers. But, he did take turkey from me last Thanksgiving.
Occasionally, Gus poos on the floor. Sometimes, he marks the corner in my master bathroom. I keep a bottle of white vinegar upstairs and downstairs.
On July 15, 2010, Gus’ life started. We don’t talk about his life in a puppy mill. Instead, each night, when I tuck him in, I tell him “This is your house. This is your bed. These are your pillows. This is your family. You will always be warm, safe, dry and loved. You will always have plenty of food.”
While he may not be what others call, “normal,” he’s got his own Facebook page and whole lot of fans.
Some people get dogs because of the unconditional love they give. Gus loves in his own way. Gus is a teacher. He taught me patience.