We brought Guinness home from the shelter about two years ago. In preparation for his arrival, I bought a gate to put at the head of the stairs from the deck to the yard. I had in mind that he, like our previous dog, would like to be outside, but I didn’t want him to have access to the neighboring yards. About two weeks ago, he ventured off the deck on his own, finally brave enough to go exploring without a human companion.
We know almost nothing about the first eighteen or so months of Guinness’s life. We know that he was in a shelter in Mendocino before he moved to the SPCA in San Francisco. Obviously, he started out someplace. That makes our home the fourth place he has lived.
“Frantic” best describes Guinness when he first arrived. Every time someone came into or left the house he jumped, pounced, and madly twirled in circles. Our efforts to calm him only added to his excitement. In the park, he enthusiastically approached other dogs; his boisterous play sometimes becoming aggressive. He was never hostile toward new people and never shied away from strangers.
It took him months to settle down. We didn’t know if he was, by nature, a frantic, boisterous dog that sometimes got carried away and played too rough, or if he just needed consistent love and discipline.
Fortunately, we now know that he is, by nature, a sweet and even-tempered animal who expects little more from life than a smile, a few scratches, the occasional biscuit and regular walks in the park. Now, he approaches other dogs with either caution or a friendly wag of the tail to invite them to run with him in endless circles through the park.
Over the time he has been with us, we have concluded that he was not abused, but clearly neglected and desperate for love and attention. With consistent discipline, we have convinced this 88-pound creature that he is not, as he once thought, a lap dog.
Not surprisingly, as we have adjusted to Guinness and he to us, I have thought many times about the uncertainties foster parents and children face as they learn to know and trust each other. Guinness had no reason to expect that we would treat him well; and we didn’t know if he could become the companionable pet we wanted.
In my work as a clinical psychologist and Director of A Home Within, I repeatedly remind people that it takes a very long time to build relationships. As someone who adopted an animal who had been abandoned, I have consistently been surprised at how long it took for him to feel securely at home. He is a constant reminder that even if we could hurry love, you can’t hurry trust.
By Toni Heineman