Spring is my favorite time of year! A time of rebirth and renewal. The days get longer, the sun is warmer, the grass grows greener, and flowers begin poking up above the ground. The cold, dark days of winter give way to a milder, gentler time. This spring is especially meaningful to me because the flourishing of the season is mirrored by Kira’s own personal renaissance, her continuing emergence and renewal.
Soon we will be able to spend more time outside and my hope is that gradually Kira will learn to be more comfortable in the yard. She is like a different dog when she is outside. She is extremely cautious and spends 99% of her time under the porch steps, watching the world go by in safety.
She will follow me around in the yard, but if I turn to face her, she will take off. If I make eye contact or say her name, even from a distance, she runs. She never approaches to be petted outdoors. She moves and reacts like feral dog – watchful, furtive and fearful. When she first goes out every morning, as long as nothing scares her, she runs and bounces joyfully around the yard for a minute and sometimes plays briefly with the other dogs. Then she returns to the porch and there is no enticing her to come back out. (unless it’s to go back in the house!)
It is a good reminder that feeling safe in one particular situation does NOT generalize to feeling safe in other situations. Kira’s fear threshold is totally different outside. So this summer we will spend a lot of time hanging out in the yard, having lots of opportunities for positive interactions, and allowing Kira to get used to all the new sights and sounds. In many ways it is like starting over, but hopefully she will grow comfortable more quickly because she is a more confident and trusting dog now. It will be interesting to see how much she translates what she has learned into a new setting.
It’s also a good reminder of the role that a safe, familiar environment plays in how Kira behaves. Despite the fact that I take care of her every single day and have gained her trust, it is not ME that makes Kira feel safe. Routine and environment form the scaffolding of her new life. It is easy for me to forget that, because the other dogs take their cues from me. To them it doesn’t matter very much where they are, as long as they are with me. They trust me to keep them safe. They watch me for reassurance. They follow me everywhere. They have learned from the time they were puppies to depend on human beings. All pet dogs learn that, even those who aren’t treated particularly well. But dogs who suffer extreme neglect, abuse or a total lack of human contact have no conception of a world in which protection comes from people. I sometimes wonder if there will ever come a time when Kira will run TO me for safety, like Mocha and Obi do. I can’t imagine that right now and I’m not sure it is likely to ever happen. But given how far she has come, I believe that anything is possible.
These days Kira feels very safe and comfortable in her home. I’m honestly sometimes taken by surprise by her reactions to me outdoors because I have gotten so used to her being less fearful around the house. When I am lying on the couch she sometimes squeezes up next to me on the edge and presses herself in beside me! She comes to me when I call her and is endlessly curious about what I am doing. She barks and wags her tail and does lots of other normal dog things. She also LOVES to play!! Not with me, which she doesn’t quite understand, but with the other dogs. She is almost always the one to initiate playing and its impossible not to get caught up in her enthusiasm!
There aren’t very many things in the world as engaging as a happy collie! It’s like a big fluffy ball of pure joy. Every time I see her play, it is incredible! My great hope for her is that this summer she will learn to be as comfortable and happy in the yard as she is inside the house.
Symbols of new life and growth abound this time of year, not just in nature, but in the traditions of Easter and Passover. Everywhere we are reminded that even after the coldest, darkest times there can be renewal and redemption. As Kira steps into her first spring as a free dog, I am excited to see her continue a process of rebirth that started over 8 months ago. I can’t wait to see her grow and flourish this spring, in chorus with the rest of natural world. Kira’s spring renaissance!
NEXT POST: Trust