The first thing we knew is that his name was Blue and he was considered the godfather of a pack in Northern Ontario.
It wasn’t just the colour of his arctic blue eyes, it was a deep radiating sadness that seemed to surround him like a transparent cloud of anguish and heartbreak.
Blue is the epitome of still waters that run deep. Before he arrived from the far north of Ontario we were told he had aggression: people, dogs and possibly other animals. If we didn’t know better this dog sounded dangerous.
Blue had one friend in the north who was trying desperately to save his life. Given Blue’s iconic mistrust in people he hadn’t made friends and he was being hunted for euthaniza.
All this turmoil going on under our noses and we were happily cuddling puppies and grooming horses.
We got the call on a Saturday that Blue would be arriving the next day. Our knee jerk reaction of accepting a possibly violently aggressive dog into our foster care program was a little daunting.
Luckily, Gus had guided us through this process and we felt able to care for another “mini-Gus”. Coming in we knew Blue would be a sanctuary animal and not one we could adopt out with his history.
Blue arrived and was disturbingly quiet. He didn’t interact. He didn’t show a single hint of body language that would give us an idea of his behaviour.
He was completely dissociated. Shut down. He sat in the corner and refused to interact. He stayed that way for weeks. No tail wag. No interest in eating. No interest in walking or talking. Barely signs of life. We considered the possibility that he might be sick. Many of the northern dogs come down with some unusual parasites.
We booked an appointed with Dr. Rachel and gave him the once over: bloodwork, vaccines, fecal tests, OPG (to test for giardia), microchip, heart worm test and drontrol for deworming. This is known as the BCFS Special at Thorold Vet Hospital.
The results came in a few days later: nothing. No worms. No heart worm, Blue was healthy, so his issues were all mental and emotional.
Blue had been beaten and possibly tortured in the far north. He was the alpha male of a large pack of dogs and he ran his pack in a quiet, deadly and efficient way.
I brought Blue into my house and he curled up on the floor and didn’t move. Clearly the only thing I was worthy of was being ignored. This went on for days.
It happened slowly. One morning he wagged his tail when I patted his head in passing. Then he started following me around the paddock when I fed the horse – but only when I wasn’t looking.
Finally, he began coming to me for cuddles or cookies, and once the trust was built he became my shadow. He looked at me with trust and maybe the start of love.
On our walks he started to venture farther, but stayed close to me at night. He made me feel safe; like having Jackson Teller from Sons of Anarchy decide he was going to protect you whether you needed it or not.
He never played with the other dogs. He watched them. Carefully.
I had no idea how deep Blue felt about me until the one day I was working with Sawyer….
Sawyer has guarding issues when he has a toy or food. I’m using two tactics to show him its okay to abandon his toys and food. The one is trade off – a cookie for a toy. The second method is to physically push Sawyer off the guarded item (do not try this at home).
I had tried the treat trade-off and Sawyer wasn’t interested, so I stepped forward and encouraged him to take a step back. Sawyer did step back, but not without growling and snapping at the air. This was considered positive for Sawyer as he wasn’t lunging anymore and I was about to praise him, that would end his growling when Blue stepped in.
It happened in an instant, like an alligator attack, Blue launched himself at Sawyer and sent him flying. Sawyer never knew what hit him and Blue was gone before I could take a breath.
Dog behavioural training is about timing and nobody does it better than another dog. Blue didn’t hurt Sawyer, he just let him know that it was unacceptable to growl at me and don’t even think about biting or attacking.
From a distance Blue glanced at me and then walked quietly away.
Wow. Did Blue just correct Sawyer in a way Sawyer completely understood? Sawyer has never challenged me since.
Still waters ran deep in this dog and I felt a strong connection. We could never place Blue in a home with children, other dogs or perhaps any place where aggression might happen.
Perhaps Blue had seen enough trauma in his life. Perhaps he has PTSD and needs the stability of BCFS. Perhaps Blue was meant to be a permanent resident of our sanctuary.
After speaking with Dr. Rachel who also noticed Blue’s lack of interaction and body language that was concerning, she suggests he stays with BCFS and is not adopted out.
I suppose Blue maybe our mini-Gus?
The similarities are uncanny…