#195 Takoda

GSRNE #195
Adopted in June 2007 

Takoda was found as a stray wandering the streets of Swansea, MA and ended up in the local shelter, who contacted GSRNE in November 2005 after efforts to find his owners proved fruitless. As with all of us who do foster or adopt, I would so very much love to know what his history had been prior to that. I choose to believe that he was loved by a woman somewhere, but got lost on a trip, or perhaps the husband didn’t care for him. His behavior with women (loves us) and men (scaaary folks) lead me to that conclusion. I hope that Glenn and I are doing a job that would make his original Mom happy – I think we are.

How did we end up with him? Glenn had a German shepherd, Heide that would take a whole article of her own to describe – a wonderful dog, and the one that hooked him on Shepherds for life. I had a Golden, Rusty, who was my “heart” dog. We care about and love all of our dogs, but a heart dog is special, the bond so extraordinary that when you lose them a piece of you is gone. A canine soul mate, if you will.

When Rusty died in December 2006, I thought that I could never look at another dog, but soon the hole in my life became unbearable. I couldn’t bear the thought of “replacing” him, so we decided to foster for GSRNE and help a dog go to his forever home. We thought, since we both had experience with training, that they’d send us a typical young surrender – you know, a 1-3 year-old whose owners had no idea what they were getting into with this breed. We’d work with it, train it to a little obedience, teach it some house manners, and off it would go, leaving both of us with a glow of pleasure at having helped a dog and me a little further away from the pain of Rusty’s passing. We went through the nerve-wracking interview process for becoming a foster home – would they think we were a suitable home? Would Heide’s behavior measure up? She had a history of dog aggression, but we’d worked very hard with her on it. When we were approved, it was clear they had a dog in mind for us, and we would get our foster task quickly. We did, but it couldn’t have been further from our expectations. We knew because of Heide’s alpha (read “bitchy”) behavior that it would be a male, as that’s what would have the best chance of being accepted by her, but that’s where the similarity to our foster dream ended. Takoda was a very large, somewhat overweight gentleman aged about 10 who had been brought back into the foster program after having been adopted out for nearly a year. After first being brought under the GSRNE umbrella from his beginnings wandering in Swansea, he’d been fostered for nearly a year. A diagnosis of Lyme disease that required treatment before he could be adopted was followed by a seizure, which required more treatment and observation over time so that a prospective adopter would know what they were getting into. Finally an adoptive home was found that was willing to take on the age of this dog and the possibility of seizures. After a move by the family to a city, and an incident of growling at someone in the household, the family sadly surrendered him back to GSRNE. After nine months they loved Takoda very much, but their circumstances made a possible bite too much of a risk to take. Takoda is sound sensitive, hates bustle and confusion, and turned out to have contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever, as well as testing positive for Lyme again. No wonder he was a bit crabby! Apparently he’d gotten both diseases in the country, and then moved to a big city with all its stresses. When we came onboard for fostering in January 2007, he was in a kennel being treated for both, and not flourishing in a kennel environment, as most GSDs do not.

He was so sad; it was as though he just didn’t believe anything good could ever happen, not permanently at least. Despite the best efforts of the girls at the kennel to walk him when they could, the muscles in his hind end were not in good shape. Glenn said we probably wouldn’t have to worry if he ever got loose – Glenn could catch him pretty easily at the rate of speed Takoda could work up. Heide seemed to know that this dog needed us and that she had to accept him into the house. She did, but that’s as far as it ever went. They never really warmed up to each other, just learned to live politely together like two dissimilar strangers in a rooming house. Tolerated but not loved. Takoda was so confused, by everything it seemed. We’d take the dogs someplace in the car and when we arrived back at our house he’d get up, peek out the back of the Jeep, sigh, and go back in it and lie down again. ”Nope, this isn’t the right place,” he seemed to be saying. Or maybe it was, “This isn’t where I thought I was going.” He did not acknowledge his name by as much as a twitched whisker when called. If you wanted him you had to go get a leash, clip it on, and gently tug to get him started along with you, whether it was out of the Jeep, out of the house, or back into the house. Nothing was good enough to get him excited, not even food, although he certainly ate well enough at meals.

After a while of this monotone living we looked into taking him off the Phenobarbital. Since he had never had a second seizure, our veterinarian agreed it wasn’t necessary, and it might be contributing to his lack of emotion. He’d also finished his treatment for Lyme and Rocky Mountain and seemed a bit better physically, but perhaps that was just because he and Heide were taken on a couple of pretty good walks each day, and he’d slowly begun to build that muscle tissue back up. At first he needed a boost into the Jeep, but then began to hop up by himself, which was heartening. Under our vet’s supervision we slowly weaned him off the barbiturate, but it only helped a little. He seemed less confused but no happier. Takoda still didn’t believe good things would ever happen to the likes of him.

Strangely, I never really worked with him in obedience in any way. Every animal I have ever had a relationship with, part of that relationship has been the excitement and give and take of training. Koda, well, he just never seemed interested, so I didn’t push it. He learned house manners of course, to wait for an invitation before going through doors, to sit for dinner and the like, but nothing further. He still would not respond to his name, happy noises, toys, etc. He did seem to want to be with me whenever he could, at least to be in the same room. Glenn still seemed to be a little scary despite working carefully with him. We loved Takoda, but we didn’t really understand him. At one point, while socializing him, we took both dogs to a small local flea market. Although undemonstrative up to this point with us or anyone else (although perfectly sweet), Takoda suddenly showed the first signs of animation we’d seen. He spotted a woman 50 feet away, and his head came up, his tail lifted in joy and actually WAGGED, and he pulled on the leash tugging to get to her. I allowed him to move towards her, but when we got within about 10 feet, it all disappeared again. He positively slumped. It was clear to me that he’d thought he recognized this person, and when we got closer her scent tipped him off that it wasn’t who he thought it was. He was very sad, and my heart went out to him. I would have given nearly anything to be able to reunite him with the person he thought he’d found again, but the shelter hadn’t succeeded, and the trail would be pretty cold after so much time.

In April 2007 we went to GSRNE’s silent auction, and brought the dogs to leave in the car as the weather was cloudy and cool. Takoda had a lot of fans since he’d been in the GSRNE system unusually long, and we knew they’d want to see him. He spent the day with folks coming out to the car with us, he and Heide hopping out to be petted and admired, and hopping back in. He was kind of getting to like all the attention and pets, and the cookies didn’t hurt, either. We ran into his previous foster mom, who had loved him very much and would probably have adopted him if her personal circumstances had allowed it. She burst into tears at hearing that he was doing well and was actually right outside in the car, and that she could visit with him. Out we went to the car, and Koda saw us coming, sitting (illegally) in the driver’s seat and sticking his paws across to lean into the passenger’s seat ready to greet the guests – when he suddenly recognized his former mom, and drew back into the driver’s side, refusing to come out of the car. After a few moments and some coaxing from both of us, he got out. He really was happy to see her, but after a moment leaning up against her, which had been their means of exchanging love, he got up, wagged while looking at her, and came over to me and sat at my side. Another clear communication from Koda – “ I love you, other mom, but I really just want to not get passed around anymore.” We didn’t realize what we had done until then. Poor Koda wasn’t stupid. What happens when you are a rescue GSD and you spend some time with people, then go someplace in a car where lots of people look at you? Well, you go home with another set of folks in another car, don’t you? And maybe you never see the last set again? Right then and there, amidst the tears of both me and the first foster mom, and if the truth be told, Glenn’s too, we committed to adopt this dog. I promised him right then he would NEVER go anyplace without us again.

We officially adopted him at the member’s picnic in June. And we’ve kept our word. We only vacation where dogs are welcome; he’s spent every night since then with one or both of us.

Glenn and I bought 75 acres in Maine on January 4, 2008. He and Heide pretty much moved up there right away, and Takoda and the cats and I stayed in Revere while I continued to work until mid May. Takoda developed some digestive issues during this time and had to either go to day care – which stressed him out and made his diarrhea and vomiting worse – or had to stay in the car so I could take him out several times a day. It was thought that he had Irritable Bowel Disease, one of the auto-immune problems that affect our breed, but since he’s been in pretty good shape for several months now, we think he may well have been surreptitiously eating the top layer of cement around the pool in Revere. Did I mention that whenever he is upset, he licks the floor or ground, crunching up dirt, gravel, ice, snow, or things that I simply don’t want to know about? And he was upset at the pack breaking up.

Once I moved up here full time, his life got good again: long walks in the woods, sometimes with Heide and Glenn, sometimes just me and Koda. It’s so rural here he doesn’t need to be leashed – he may still not acknowledge his name, but he won’t go out of sight of me voluntarily. We spend a lot of time together, and he is happy to help me with anything – he helps cook in the kitchen, assisting with bowl cleaning and taste testing. He helps me relax and read, keeping the couch warm. He likes to mark trails around the woods, and if we occasionally flush a woodcock, he is happy to quietly observe their flight from on the path. Since Heide passed away in August, it was lonely for a little while. It was clear that he missed her, and we were distraught as well. Glenn said the only thing to do would be foster another one. In October we got Ysa (eeh-sah) to work with. Here’s the dog we thought we were getting the first time we fostered! She is just over a year old and full of beans. At first she and Takoda were not certain they wanted to be friends – she is a high energy, faster than a speeding bullet, rowdy little girl, and Takoda is a non-interactive geriatric with degenerative myelopathy that makes it hard for him to walk at times. Well, they may be unlikely friends but friends they have become. Ysa has taught Koda how to play – at least how to chase her, that’s the only one he’s picked up although she keeps trying to get other concepts across. She’d love to play keep away, and roughhouse, and bite-your-butt-and-run – oh wait, she does play that, that’s why he chases her! It’s wonderful to see. We say she has “youthened” him. He is happy to get up in the morning, goes out the door at a jog, and chases her all over creation, doing his best to keep up. He has developed a funny little running bunny hop to keep up as much as possible, and although his rear end fairly frequently goes out from under him on turns, he just levers himself back up to continue the chase. Glenn says wisdom and guile out do youth and speed – Koda fakes her and manages to bite her butt every now and then. I wonder what he’ll think when she finds her forever home? Maybe we’ll have to get another foster for him.

We walk and visit neighbors all together, and the dogs even got invited to part of a New Year’s Eve celebration, where they were very well behaved. At least Ysa was, at one point Koda was found to be cruising for ice cubes in the champagne ice buckets.

I often wonder why I never did any obedience training with Takoda – he still doesn’t always acknowledge his name, and his only trained behaviors are to sit, give his paw, and wait till he’s released to dive into dinner. I think I know the answer – he was sent to us to live out his golden years happily, enjoying every day, knowing he will never get in a car that doesn’t come back to us. Little did I know that in return, he would find his way into my heart, and make me enjoy every single day a little more than I otherwise would have. He’s taught me that you don’t always have to have a reason to have a friend, or a specific task or interest to share with them – sometimes it’s ok just to be friends.

Carol and Glenn Visser

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