Thursday, January 19, 2012

Saving Sam: The Long Road Home

Sam came into the Colorado Great Pyrenees Rescue March 17th, 2009.  He and his brother were picked up as strays together, and they got adopted out separately.  Sam stayed in his home for 1 short year before being returned on March 22nd, 2010.  His "mom and dad" got a divorce, and there was no room for Sam in their plans.  He had lived with young children, and had no history of anything naughty.  Surely it would seem as if Sam wouldn't have to wait too long to find his true, forever home.

That wouldn't be Sam's story.  I remember meeting Sam when he came back in March of 2010.  What a beautiful, angelic looking boy; a real show-stopper.  His hair was just so naturally flowy, and his yellow eyes reminded us that there clearly was another breed mixed in with his Great Pyrenees.  At adoption events, Sam began to get a lot of attention.  I immediately bonded with him.  I remember brushing his long hair at an outside event one day, realizing my body language suggested he was mine.  He wasn't, but I sure love him.

For what seemed like a long time, Sam did fine enough around the other dogs.  Occasionally, and usually at the end of a long adoption event, he'd pick out a dog he didn't like and he'd bark and lunge.  There was a confidence about him then though, he didn't seem fearful or insecure, just exerting an alpha way about him.  Then, as is true today, he always responded quickly to his humans correction.

It was only a matter of time, though, before we had to start telling people "Sam isn't good with all dogs".  As anyone with rescue experience can tell you, the longer a dog is in rescue the harder it is on them.  They can be in the most loving rescue possible (as was Sam's case) but they still don't get the round-the-clock guidance they badly deserve.  Sam started to "sell himself" poorly at events, and sometimes Dawn would skip bringing him if we knew there would be a lot of dogs there.  So beautiful, people would reach to pet him.  He'd look up at them with those gorgeous eyes, but the minute a dog walked by he didn't like, it was over.  And so was that potential interest from the person.

He got adopted again on December 3rd of that year, and returned the very next day.  He had been taken to the house to be "cat tested", and he passed the test at the time.  The family said the next day (or that night) they were holding their cat and Sam growled at him.  Without delay, back he was.  Sam now was officially, informally marked as a dog "not so great with some dogs" and "not great with cats".  Now we really had a challenge ahead of us!

To make matters much worse,  the next thing up for Sam was a potential new foster.  He'd been at the "Pyr Farm" with Dawn & Ken this whole time.  From every exposure Sam had had to small children (and the fact he used to live with them perfectly) we felt good about Sam and little kids.  The problem was, is that Sam was changing.  Too long in rescue; too long without a real mom and/or dad was making our gorgeous boy change from this confident prince into an insecure dog who was unsure of so many things.  One night with the foster, and he was returned.  The foster mom said that the foster dad saw him grumble at their toddler.  I don't blame them for being careful, but the bigger question.. what is going on with our Sam?

Whatever may have been important in Sam's life took a temporary, big turn.  In December of  2010, our friend, Dawn Meaney died.  Dawn *was* the Colorado Great Pyrenees Rescue.  She died, and left behind many dogs in the rescue who still needed homes.  Sam was one of them.  Her husband Ken, the VP of CGPR, knew he couldn't continue with the rescue.  Core volunteers, namely Vicky and Channing, wrangled some additional foster homes to move dogs out of the Pyr Farm (Ken's house) so he could begin to address this horrible loss.  Sam stayed with Ken, for all the reasons Sam struggled to find a forever home;  he was just so hard to place.

Adoption events had to go on.  Everyone was grieving so badly, but everyone knew we couldn't take short cuts to find these dogs the right homes.  One by one they began to move out of Rescue and into homes.

We started dedicating 1 volunteer to specifically work with Sam at adoption events.  He no longer was there seeking adoption as the main goal, he was there to be worked with some more.  I often kept him by my side, watching his body language and offering praise when he interacted positively with dogs and children.  We still never really saw an issue with children, but the dog thing had gotten worse.  No longer that alpha bark, he would now just fixate on any dog and grumble quietly to himself.  He seemed scared.  The dog could be so far away from Sam, and it didn't matter.  He'd grumble at a dog that didn't even see Sam, he was so far away.  I would hold Sam and place my hand on his shoulder.  Often you couldn't even see he was grumbling, you'd just feel the subtle vibrations from his chest.  I would wait for those vibrations, and then give him a tap in his shoulder so he'd redirect and look at me.  If the tap didn't work and his grumble became a true growl, we'd ask him to lay down.  When he relaxed and was back to where he should be in his mind, we'd let him back up.  Slowly, Sam really started to get better.  He looked to us for guidance.  He really, really wanted to make us happy.
 Sam napping in Christie's car

Nonetheless, he won no hearts at adoption events.  Seeing us working with him, people would make comments under their breath, "That dog is horrible" or "that dog is so aggressive".  I hated that.  Occasionally a great dog person would come by, we'd explain to them about Sam's work-in-progress, and they'd smartly say "he just needs more training, he'll come around".  Second that.  To make things harder, we were down to only about 5 dogs left to find homes for.  So if Sam acted up, it was *really* obvious to people.

Enter Donna.  Donna had been fostering for us with other dogs, and we talked to her about considering Sam.  It was a brave move on her part;  she had other dogs at home.  We're telling her Sam isn't always a gentlemen with all dogs, and he needs a lot of guidance.  She took on the Sam challenge.  CGPR paid, because Donna graciously agreed to sacrifice her time, for Sam to go to obedience classes.  Sam didn't need obedience in the true sense;  he sat, would lay down, would come, etc. all at a first request (which is very unlike a typical Pyrenees).   We felt it would benefit him greatly to be put into situations with other dogs more frequently, and in a situation where he'd really have to listen and respond to Donna regardless of stimulus.  He got flying colors!
 Sam at Donna's house

We were officially down to about 5 dogs, and attended an outdoor adoption event.  Donna shows up with Sam.. and it was like the most beautiful man in the world walked into the room.  She had taken him to the groomer, and he was glowing.  Not only did he glow, but Sam has this natural "prance" about him.  I swear he could walk on water if he needed to.  A family showed interest, and they borrowed him to walk him by the other dogs.  Sam followed his human's lead, and didn't grumble or even look at the other dogs once.  What a showing!  Sadly, they didn't pursue adopting the poor guy.  Not yet, Sam.. not yet.

Sadly, Donna's dog Sophie began to have some serious health concerns.  Torn, we encouraged Donna that it would be okay to return Sam to Ken while she focused on Sophie.  Sophie, a 9 year old CGPR Great Pyrenees Donna had only recently adopted from us, passed away shortly thereafter.  We all felt Sophie's loss.  She was quite the lady;  old, deaf.. but beautiful, energetic, and good-spirited.  Donna needed time to grieve, but it was always in the back of me and Christie's minds...  "I wonder if she can take Sam back?"

We never had to ask.  Donna contacted us; it was really important to get her Sam back-  who she affectionately called her "Samuel Peter".  She missed him, and she knew that he missed her.  What she knew most, was that Sam needed, and needs, a lot of love and so did she.  He knew he'd help her heal over Sophie's loss, and she'd continue to help him stay on the path towards his forever home.

We would often wonder who the "last" dog would be in CGPR.  We all knew it'd be either Sam or Mya.  Turns out, it was both.  Mya is a gorgeous, beautiful dog who also is picky about other dogs.  It turned out that while Sam was temporarily back with Ken, he and Mya fell in love.  It proved to us what we already knew: Sam liked other dogs, and so did Mya.  Whether it needed to be the "right" dog, or the right circumstances, we knew we'd have real evidence to show someone that these dogs are great.  We have the youtube videos to prove it!
Donna felt a little conflicted about separating the two, as that would guarantee Sam a great foster but leave Mya short a best friend.  It had to be done.  Sam needed his one-on-one time so his temperament could continue to emerge into the amazing dog we all know him to be.

Having only two dogs left made adoption events tough.  It's hard to stand there with those two dogs and gain the attention for them they so deserved.  It was at our "last" event, with Ken, when we all got on board with the new plan.  We'd officially turn over Sam and Mya to Big Dogs, Huge Paws.  Sam could stay with Donna, and his world wouldn't change.  Neither would his connection to us, which was really important.  It's now late 2011 and Sam has been in rescue for longer than *any other dog* we've ever had.  With the support of BDHPs, they can both now be profiled on that site and get the exposure we'll need for them.
Sam and Christie at an event

We'd get emails showing interest in Sam all the time.  People fell in love with how he looked.  We wouldn't even allow them to meet Sam until we fully explained his history and his challenges.  Sam corrects so well to guidance, but it needs to be there and it needs to be consistent.  We can't have someone fall in love with his charm, only to return him yet again because he growled at their dog.  After all, so many dogs aren't perfect; why would we want to adopt to anyone who expected such?  Perfect dogs are far and few between, and most of them are only perfect because their owners take great care to give them training and guidance.  It's normal for a dog to growl at a strange dog at an adoption event surrounded by 30 other strange dogs.  It's just not "desirable".  We would urge Sam away from homes with small children to be safe, and the cat thing.. we'd play it by ear.  Anyway, I think cats are more about how the cats will react versus how the dog will.

Judy and Ron first emailed us about Sam in mid-December of last year.  I can say this without any exaggeration, I just knew they were "the ones".  It fit the scenario I'd had in my head for so long.  We just really needed people who weren't adding a dog into their lives as something 'extra'.. rather something primary.  People who had the time to really spend with him. I know that sounds like all dogs, but some dogs really do need extra love.  That's what they were looking for: someone to share all this love they had in their home with.  Judy and Ron had just lost their beloved Samoyed recently, and needed another huge white love ball to fill their home.  The one positive thing to pull away from when someone's dog passes away, is that it means that family kept their dog for forever.  They will keep Sam forever too.

There was one, small challenge:  they have a 3 year old King Charles Spaniel named Marie.  This is going to go 1 of 3 ways:  1. Sam will love Marie.  2. Sam will hate Marie or 3. Sam will be "Sam" and we know where to go from there.  Sam being Sam, Judy and Ron needed to anticipate he may get grumbly.  It may not be love at first site for him and Marie.  With patience and guidance, we've always believed Sam's goal will be to please his owners.  Additionally, Sam may never be a dog park kind of dog.  He may continue to improve with dogs as he's been, but it may not be fair to expect him to smile at every dog he meets.  This was a big deal-breaker for other potential adopters in the past.  You then also have to anticipate that you cannot adopt just any new dog, either.  Sam will have to become part of the family and he will have to be part of those decisions.

Sam came into the rescue in March of 2009.  In January of 2012, Sam finally found his forever home.  What a long, long journey.  Tumultuous not just for Sam, but for everyone in his life.  We volunteered with this amazing rescue, and got to be surrounded by dozens of big, white angels.  We got to see hundreds of them find homes.  We learned about the heart of a rescue, and we got to know Dawn Meaney and be a part of her life.  I got to adopt 2 Pyrenees to call my own, and Christie got her Pyr too.  They are our souvenirs of our time with Dawn, and of our time with CGPR. It's not just that we love Sam.  Finding Sam's home, and hopefully Mya's soon, means we can finally say what we've been waiting to say for a year.  "We did it, Dawn.  All your babies found homes."
   ----written by Shannon Murphy

Great Pyrenees angel watching over Dawn and her mother

Sam has been renamed Jack (love it), and below are some fun anecdotes from his new family, sent to foster-extraordinaire Donna!  Thank you Donna, and thank you Judy, Ron, and Marie....

 Judy, Ron, Marie, and Sam

  • Jack has been really good today!  He was an angel on our walk, and didn't care how close Marie got to him while we were out!  She got really close, and no problems!   It's clear that he misses you.  I think he probably wonders if you are OK, or if something might be wrong with you.  He looks a little depressed. . . . .but he's probably really tired, too, because I'm pretty sure he's used to sleeping some during the day.  He's  been pretty alert since you left.But we have all been giving him just tons of L-O-V-E!!!  Just heaping it all over him!!  He really seems to genuinely like all 3 of us!  I think he feels protective over Jessie, because he goes to check on her frequently!!  CUTE!!   And he goes to "make his rounds" and he checks the back yard and all over the house now and then  -  "on patrol." 
  • Well, we are just bonding all over the place!!!   Jack spent his first night . . . . you guessed it:   On our bed!  On top of us!  Hogging the blanket!   But we really loved it!  I know, what kind of weird people are we, anyhow?  He slept all night,  at least until Ron had to get up for work at 5:00 this morning.
  • He has been pretty good today.  He spent a lot of time today menacing the squirrels and birds in the backyard.  Patrolling his home.  That's fine.  
  • Just a few grumbles at Marie.  On the whole he's been holding back, I think  --  so that's good!  He has not caused as much trouble with Marie as I originally expected he might.  So, he's already ahead of the game as far as I'm concerned.
  • We didn't get to take a walk today, 'cause it was too cold for me.  But tomorrow we will.  I did get to see his Bronco Busting Play Technique in our backyard this morning!!!  I gave him a Rawhide Chew Chip and supervised him to make sure he bit it into little pieces.  When I first gave it to him he was so CUTE with it And I put some treats in his Tug-A-Jug mid-day today.   Had to show him how to get them out, but he learned fast, and got the rest of them out right away!  What a Good Boy!!!
  • We love him sooooooo much!!!!! It's working!   Jack and Marie are playing together!   WHOOOO-HOOOOO!!!!     Now, all we need to do is to teach Marie to chase Jack, 'cause that makes it more fair!   He's willing to get into that Play-Invitation-Stance and Bark at her!   She runs, he chases, and wags his tail!
If you are interested in learning more about Mya, please visit Big Dogs, Huge Paws:

Mya's BDHPs Profile

More on Mya From This Blog

More on Sam From This Blog

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