It has been a week since we moved to our new home. Strangers appeared on the front lawn. She froze. Gasping, shrinking into her lead watermelon form – rooted into the grass beneath as if the world was tearing away. I silently lowered myself – enveloping her with my arms, breathing in deep to firmly…close the gaps…shut away the world.
Piece-by-piece her heaving slowed, her quivering calmed, she eventually let escape a dry exhale. She leaned her forehead against my chest, tears staining her cheeks. Her head made way to peer up lifting a paw, as if asking me to carry her. I believe at this point, I became her human. It has been 13 months since that day.
Today was the first photo of the perky confidence I know Nikita has. As romanticized as it seems – getting our Nikita to this point has been nothing short of a Yin and Yang experience. Nikita was found in a high kill shelter in Korea destined for euthanasia. I found her through FKD as I was looking for a dog to add to our family. We were merging households and a dog would be great company for my aging parents. Initially, I enquired about another dog – but she was not available. But Doolly (Nikita’s previous name) was. I saw her sorry, skinny body in her pictures, her pointy ears and wide anxious eyes and said yes with no hesitation.
3 days later we picked up Nikita from the airport. She looked tiny in the corner of her carrier, completely resigned, the size of a small watermelon. We gave her a quiet space of her own and eliminated all traces of her previous life. She emerged slowly at her own pace. We established a daily simple routine, quiet and predictable, minimizing touch only to a gentle hand in daily grooming and to carry her upstairs to her bed.
By trade, I am a Manual Osteopathic Practitioner. By habit, in one of her initial grooming sessions I gently analyzed Nikita’s body and found evidence of a terrible life: broken rib, misaligned lumbar vertebrae(with back leg atrophy), a lazy eye (from possible head trauma), twisted tail (bent 90 degrees), left wrist discomfort, and most debilitating were her anxiety attacks. I was able to repair her body. Her anxiety however needed more time.
Nikita is on one end of the extreme spectrum of rescue animals. Her trauma manifests both physically and mentally from triggers by everyday things (doorways, the wind, sudden movements) poignantly retelling sad chapters of her previous life. With a regular schedule of healthy meals, regular grooming and quiet time for her to assert herself – she gained a healthy amount of weight and has blossomed into a quiet sweet dog, clean and organised. She is a vocal pup such in the way of Shiba Inu. Every human in the house has a unique series of woofs, squeaks, and growls when she greets them while wagging her tail. She did not need to be house trained and does not tolerate learning new tricks. Fair enough.
There is always someone at home; however, Nikita would exhibit resource-guarding of the couch space where I sat when I came home; including nipping everyone in a 1 foot radius of “my” space. Subsequently, the family became scared to interact with Nikita and would rather ignore her than be bitten. As a family group we decided it was time to get a companion for Nikita with the following rationale:
1. Fear of other humans: if the new pup has no fear she could use the new pup to buffer her own fears.
2. Resource-guarding: behaviours surrounding keeping people away from a thing can be neutralized by a distraction of a new pup by way of territory enforcement.
3. Fear of open spaces: walking with a wing man (dog) can alleviate the pressure of being the only dog in her walking pack.
4. Food fussiness: Nikita eats only what she sees the humans eat, probably identifying as a member of our pack. Having the new pup eat dog food may encourage her to eat the same.
5. Stimulation: Nikita is a motherly soul. Having a younger pup (since Nikita is 5 years old) to boss around will get her moving instead of staying in her corner the whole day.
So we adopted a younger, fearless, sociable dog.
Written by Candice Ohrablo