Dana, Sparky’s foster mother, arrived with a skinny, shivery little bundle in her arms. She put him down in the front hallway, with lots of encouraging words and gentle pats. But, it didn’t help much. His tail was firmly tucked between his legs, his ears were back and he wanted nothing more than to crawl back into her arms.ter to
She told us that it would be fine. Sparky would adjust, he simply needed to get used to us. She explained that if it didn’t work out, after a two-week “foster to adopt” period, we could give him back. She also explained that he had been adopted before, or fostered by others, but it didn’t end well. He was nervous and fussy and needed lots of attention, which proved too much for some would-be owners.
As Dana walked out the door, Ben and I, with Sparky unhappily cradled in my arms, looked at each other with a mix of trepidation and hope. The next weeks were a blur. It was like bringing home a new baby. We couldn’t tell what he wanted, couldn’t read his behavior or understand what he needed to be comfortable. We tried everything that Google and our local vet could recommend –pheromones for dogs, soothing sounds, doggy treats, anti-anxiety clothing, special bedding, pink pills, white pills, and cheese—wonderful, glorious cheese.
In the end, we learned that the only thing he really needed was lots of love and patience. Slowly, he learned to trust us and we learned to read him. Today, we speak the same language. We know when he needs to run, to cuddle, to whiz and to walk. We know what he’ll like and what will scare him silly. We are acutely attuned to his expressions and movements. Ears cocked and eyes wide mean one thing; ears cocked and eyes slightly squinted mean another.
More fascinating, Sparky is also keenly attuned to us. Any change in our tone of voice or demeanor creates a corresponding response in Sparky’s behavior. If I am tired or sad, he curls in my lap but continues to look at my face. If I am cross or stressed, he begins to shiver and pace like a skittish colt—watching my every move and staying close enough to observe but not close enough to be touched.
Together, we make a family. We all adjust for one another. Ben and I have completely and gladly altered the way we plan our lives—making sure that someone is around so that Sparky doesn’t spend too much time alone. Our upcoming vacations are designed to be road trips rather than flights to exotic places, to ensure that Sparky can go with us. We buy food, make meals, plan weekends and indulge in activities all designed to incorporate Sparky fully into our lives.
We have learned so much in the past twelve months. We are more patient and more present. We listen more, take time to cuddle and appreciate little things like long walks, streams shallow enough for six-inch legs to paddle, and poo bag stands in every park. We now have a little friend who is perky and playful. He makes us laugh out loud and brings tears to our eyes. He delights us with his prowess and surprises us with his intelligence. He frustrates us with his fussiness and thrills us with his speed. Google informs us that Sparky, given his mix of breeding, is likely to be with us for another wonderful 15 years or more. We plan to fill those years with a host of adventures, hundreds of long hikes, chewed up tennis balls and an investment in many dozens of lint rollers… and of course cheese…wonderful, glorious cheese!