Chapter Six - Rescue-ish
Fall was a hint in the breeze when I first laid my eyes on my future dog. He, like his siblings and mom, was in a small fenced in backyard. It had tall weeds, one ragged tree, and back steps that had clearly been dug under and was serving the purpose of shelter.
Trash had been strewn over the mostly dirt area, and, when the man stepped down off the rickety brown steps and asked me which I wanted, I clenched my jaw. This was a mistake, I told myself as I looked at the state of everything. The dogs had wild eyes, tucked tails. If they weren’t starving, I imagined it was only because they gorged on whatever trash and leftovers were thrown out the back door.
“The black one.” I jerked my head to the bigger black puppy out of reflex. My previous dog had been black, and it was a nostalgic color that drew my attention in that split-second decision. The puppy's pudgy middle spoke more of worms than a proper meal, and he was staring anxiously from behind the skinny tree trunk.
The man grunted out a response as his three boys clamored into the backyard as well. What was already a crowded affair quickly became chaos as the man practically dove at the dirt to catch the black puppy. It yelped, then snapped razor-sharp teeth with a growl too vicious for its size. Then it ran with practiced ease after drawing blood and curses, diving under the stairs where it hunkered down.
“Are you sure you want that one?” My friend who had brought me here—as unknowing and horrified at the conditions as I was—muttered from behind me.
I shot him a steely look, and Sage, my future husband, fidgeted beside me, silently trying to process what was happening.
The monster in man’s skin tried to grab the puppy again and nearly drew back a nub.
“It’s fine,” I said with a voice quivering in barely restrained rage. “Don’t grab it.”
He wheeled around and seemed to have spotted something else. “What about this one?” Another lunge, and this time he lifted up a yelping creature successfully by its neck skin. Later, jokingly but accurate, my husband would describe the first time we saw our dog as gazing at a starved New York rat. Beady eyes, ribs showing through, scaly tail, and teeth perfect for biting.
I stepped forward to the fence and hurriedly took the ugly creature from the man and held it against my chest. It smelled like trash and dirt, but it was warm and still under my careful grip.
“Are you sure you want that one?” The man echoed my friend with a skeptical look. Was he surprised this runt had any life in it at all?
No, I wasn’t sure I wanted this one. I wasn’t sure that this skeleton of a creature would be a good fit for my husband who’d never raised a dog before. I wasn’t sure of anything…with one exception: I sure as hell wasn’t giving this dog back to that animal.
I knew that look was on my face as I turned to Sage, adjusting my grip on the silent creature. Did I say anything to him? Did I even need to? I can’t remember. But he was mine—ours—and that was just the way it was going to be.
We took him to a vet the next day, since it was closed by the time we got back into town. He needed a checkup, shots, and we had to see if he needed his tail amputated. It really was scaly like a rat’s, but had also been broken in two places, giving it a ninety-degree angle at the first break, then basically another nearly ninety-degree angle in the same direction at the second break. I was worried—though the dog had yet to vocalize anything—that it was causing him pain or would in the future. The vet informed us that he was made of more worm than dog, and needed to be put on a de-wormer, maybe more than once (it was three times), and that he was at least three months old. He also told us what we knew about his tail, that it had been broken at least twice, but they were older breaks, already healed and didn’t seem to be causing him any pain. The vet said that we could still remove it, if we wanted to for aesthetic purposes, and we quickly declined.
So what if it was ugly? It was his, it wasn’t causing him pain, and we weren’t going to put that puppy through anything he didn’t have to be put through.
We didn’t name him at first. It was hard to come up with something when the dog had such little personality, and when it looked like it was the perfect little plague carrier. But as we finally drove home from our friend’s house and back to our apartment, we contemplated names. Nothing sounded right.
Then I was struck by a thought. “I want to give him a name bigger than him.” One that could show strength where maybe the puppy could never show himself. And with my love of space, we gave him the name of Jupiter’s fourth moon: Io.
(Years later I figured out that Io was a goddess, not a god, and I had named my male dog after a female moon…it’s a secret we’ve never told him. Sorry, pup.)
We arrived home to a grumpy old cat who didn’t seem to care one way or another about him the first day but hissed at him the second, and a load of complications we weren’t prepared for.
He was an abused dog, who, if you moved too quickly to pet him, would wind up screaming while cowering. It was the cause of quite a few tearful breakdowns for both me and my husband. We tried to crate train him, and that, too, was like we were torturing him. We had to work, though, and be able to leave the house, so we dealt with what we had.
I read article after article about how to help him, and we took him out to socialize. Petco went okay for the most part, but you could tell he was nervous. The dog park was okay until a child started following him around and picking him up despite the fact I told her and her mother many times not to do that. He was stressed, and I was stressed, which made him more stressed.
Eventually, it came out that Io just wasn’t going to be a people kind of dog, or another dog kind of dog. That his fear led to aggression and he wasn’t above going for the chomp on someone who crossed his path (especially men).
It was a point of agonizing despair for a while, and fear. We lived in an apartment, what if someone came in without our permission? We couldn’t bring him on trips with us because he hated all things human (not that we blamed him), so what could we do?
We worked with the vet, so he would be okay with being boarded, and after a few complications, it smoothed out nicely and he no longer had the words “will bite” highlighted on his chart. (They call him the “special boy” to this day, and he has quite a few female vet tech fans.)
I did research and more research to try to see what we could do to help him with his fear aggression and kept getting a result for an away training camp. They took in all sorts of dogs, and cost a good deal of money, but the results were guaranteed.
I talked to my mom about it, and though I know she struggled with the fact we had a dog that would never be a “family” dog she told me what happened to a woman who took her dog to one of those camps. It was still a very good dog after, but its personality was never the same.
And cried some more.
And then, one day while watching Io and Sage play together after they had come home from a neighborhood walk (because we trained him to ignore other walkers and animals and just be in the moment with us and as long as people didn’t come within a few yards, he did wonderfully with just a few barks to let them know he was not a fan of the closeness), I realized he was ours. Just ours.
Yes, there would be inconvenient times and we wouldn’t be able to have people over, but this dog was now a healthy, happy dog.
We couldn’t look at him without him wagging his tail or giving us happy “snarls” (smiling by showing his teeth with a full-body wiggle of delight).
There wasn’t a need to change him.
We took on the responsibility of a dog, and no matter what, we’d follow through with that responsibility in the best way for Io.
So, nearly nine years later, and with a few complications life throws us for his health (Hello random blood clot in the spine during ball chase that caused ((luckily)) temporary paralysis and gave him two torn CCL’s. He’s now about 85% recovered, which is as good as he’ll get but the vet considers to be perfect, and so do we since his quality of life is still 100%.) But, here we are. With a dog that is exceptionally perfect for us, healthy with the cutest tail, and who is the happiest, most intelligent dog I have ever met in my life. He sparks more joy and comfort in my small duo family than I think most people get to experience.
And as for the creature who passed him over the fence to me…?
I didn’t get the pleasure of being the one to call the authorities and have those dogs taken away. But I did get the fortunate news that along with losing the dogs, karma decided to rear in his life. He lost his job (which is where my friend was acquainted with him from), his wife left him and took his kids with her, and my friend had heard through the grapevine that his house burned down.
And, as far as Sage, myself, and Io are concerned, serves that monster right.
Io Hill - The eater of fruits and veggies, squeaky toys, and any unlucky home intruders.
Born July 8th, 2011 - Rescued October 1st, 2011