The black dog with white-tipped tail and chest, a retriever and Labrador mix, barked incessantly as our family strolled through the animal shelter, begging for attention. We had come to see the pup in the cage next door, an eight-month-old named Mergatroid, posted in a picture online. As we exited with him, the black dog sullenly slumped in his cage. An exuberant bundle, Mergatroid pulled and yanked uncontrollably, nearly felling our youngest son. His energetic bounding would rank too excessive for our teenage kids and working parents. Returning him to his cage, we again meandered the aisles, hoping to find a pup to gift for Christmas. The black dog leaped, and barked sharply. His liquid brown eyes pleaded for a chance. He wiggled joyfully when a volunteer unlocked his enclosure. Outside, after racing with our high school son, the canine happily pressed his skinny black body against our legs, all six pairs of them, like he belonged. Rejoicing to find a pup that already had attached to the children, we happily signed the forms. The staff snapped our picture, relieved he was chosen. Their eyes reflected concern for us and him. We should have heeded the check-out papers, which warned of coming trouble.
The papers stated the black canine, aptly named Shadow, had been adopted for ten months, and then abruptly returned to the shelter. Though house trained, he had behaved aggressively toward other animals, and usually was restrained in a kennel for at least four hours a day. He also would require socialization and obedience training.
Unsteady and shaky, Shadow traveled uneasily in our van and threw up in the back. At the pet store, while we quickly gathered dog supplies, he jumped at every sound and peed in every aisle, marking unfamiliar territory. Upon arriving at his new home, he skittered nervously on the wood floor. And jerked, as he scoped the recliner, freezing anxiously near the steps. He would not descend them. At our patio door, he cowered at the dark and scary looming out there, and retreated. As we lured him with treats to the newly-purchased plastic kennel, Shadow adamantly planted his paws, nails scraping the kitchen linoleum, his eyes petrified. On the soft cushiony doggie bed, he did not lie. He chewed it with his canine teeth, snarling. Soon shredded fluff coated the carpet. Leery of this huge creature and apprehensive of his obvious Alpha dominance, I firmly said he could not sleep on the cream-colored couch, because he would shed black like crazy. With piercing orbs, Shadow gazed at me and defiantly climbed onto the couch, promptly curling in a tight ball. Repeatedly, he was told to get off the couch, but always climbed back on. He won that battle, I surrendered. For nearly a week, he slept there, barely moving from his safe corner, barely rising to eat or to go outside. He did not like venturing outdoors and scrambled to escape the winter wind, quickly zipping to safety on the couch.
Very soon after being rescued from the shelter, Shadow exhibited signs of his former distressed life. Only a few days into his new place, Shadow bolted out the open front door and raced down the street toward a busy intersection. Frantic, my daughter and son dashed after him, scoping every neighbor’s lawn and property. I pleaded for God to intervene. Anxious moments ticked by. The pictures in my mind flashed horror, if someone would hit our crazed dog. They returned, to retrieve a vehicle, as Shadow had darted behind some business buildings west of our house. My heart sank. Again, while pacing the front driveway, I prayed. Our neighbor watched from his doorstep. Then, answered prayer. The huge black dog loped down the sidewalk, and bolted into our driveway, panting heavily. Only after a few days with us, he returned home.
But his assertive behavior alarmed me. When visitors came, he growled at them, and leaped up with his front legs, his nose in their faces. He barked at solicitors coming to the door, yelped at bikers riding by, and chased our neighbor down the sidewalk. He grabbed pizza out of our hands and scarfed it down. And hid bagels in the couch. When we attempted to walk him, Shadow charged ahead. Once, yanking the chain, he dragged our youngest son, who was eleven at the time, on the sidewalk, and dashed away. Noticing our distress, an alert mail lady somehow sweet-talked our escaped dog to her truck, holding his collar until we arrived, breathless and stressed. To most, he loomed an overgrown menace. Scary memories rocked my mind. About ten years prior in another state, while delivering papers to earn extra money for our family, I approached a house, where a large German shepherd mixed-dog was chained in the open garage. He snarled at me, yanking. The chain snapped, and the dog lunged at me, his eyes fiery. His teeth clamped my leg. He bit hard. That dog could have devoured my tendon and thigh bone, if God had not divinely intervened and protected me with His armor.
Back in Colorado, as our dog Shadow exhibited many assertive behaviors similar to that dog, I feared we had made a terrible mistake. He didn’t chase balls or romp like normal dogs, he seemed tense and anxious, he startled easily, he growled at everyone who entered our home. When I attempted to walk him, he yanked my arm. Wearing a chest halter, he lunged at other dogs and people on the path. When we left the house, Shadow sagged, his ears drooping, his sad brown eyes begging us to return. Sad and depressed, he hunkered homely and scared. When thunder rumbled, he raced into the house, panting, eyes terrified. He didn’t seem to be the dog we wanted. Crushed, I pondered the devastation if we were forced to return him to the shelter, just like the previous owners. Yet as my teen-age son stroked his black fur lovingly and spoke to him like a long lost companion, I knew we could not relinquish him.
On a day when Shadow had lunged and snapped at several dogs on a mountain trail, my husband firmly and repeatedly made him sit in the snow and behave. Though the walk spanned hours, Shadow slowly responded, relieved that someone expected him to act civilly. One day when clouds loomed and thunder boomed, he scrambled into the house, frantically jumping on the bed where I rested. Understanding his anxiety, for I struggled most of my life terrified of storms, I calmly pet him. He finally relaxed and snuggled close. Over an entire year, with firmness and lots of positive attention, he’s transformed. We own a dog, who has become what we initially wanted, one who truly is a great companion.
When we open the door, he wags his tail excitedly. He follows us everywhere, down the hall, into the kitchen, into the bedrooms. He even ventures downstairs to greet his teen-age buddy. When I cook, he lays on the floor, right by the stove, expecting delicious scraps to drop his way. He’s protected our family, the original six whom he picked at the shelter. As my husband, who grew up with a dog, affectionately scratched his furry neck, Shadow began to curl up and moan contentedly, almost like a cat purring. One morning, my husband called him up onto our bed, playfully roughhousing. Ditching his favorite corner on the couch, Shadow now regularly sleeps there, his long body stretched between the two of us, snoring like my husband. When I arise early to spend time praying, Shadow clicks his toenails on our wood floor, settling in close to me, sometimes resting on my feet. Using a Halti, a special tool that gently restrains the dog’s muzzle if he pulls, we can more easily stroll with him. If other dogs bark, he rarely responds anymore. He enjoys sunning himself on the deck. And like a normal dog, he plays, teasingly chasing a rawhide bone thrown between the kitchen and living room, or roughhousing with the boys.
Those pleading eyes and assertive bark, which originally lured us at the shelter, kept calling, demanding attention. And through persistence, he has changed from scaredy dog into permanent Shadow attached to our home and embedded in our hearts. No longer petrified of the dark, he ventures boldly, his eyes shining bright, inviting us to join him in playful delight.