One of my favorite autumn activities is “Kira Watching.” It’s better than any TV show! Last September I had a collie who would only venture a few feet from her crate and freeze if anyone so much as looked in her direction. This year have a happy, playful, curious, cuddly collie with a completely infectious love for life.
Watching Kira’s joy at discovering the world is endlessly fascinating. She continues to be delighted by pretty much everything that happens and especially things happen every day: breakfast served at the same time each morning, toys gathered up and put back in the toy basket every night (I sometimes find her just standing and looking happily into the toy basket). She loves racing out into the yard when I get home from work every day. And I love to see her joy, this girl who spent so many months huddled in her hiding places, watching the world go by with such intense, crippling fear.
This autumn Kira has entered a phase of “practicing”. Like a toddler who walks around chanting a new favorite word, Kira rehearses new behaviors by practicing them over and over again. I think maybe the true test of patience comes at this stage, when after the 100th time she does something I have to remind myself that it is important for her to repeat behaviors, that it’s a part of learning, and that she will move on to something else when she is ready. Her most recent “discovery” was that she could push the door to her crate backwards and come into the area beside/behind her crate, which is where my reading chair is. It’s not extremely relaxing to read while a collie literally runs back and forth over and over again to practice her new skill!
Kira is now my most energetic dog. She is the dog who is always excited for the next thing and can’t bear to miss anything. She is the first in line to go outside, the first one awake in the morning, the first to jump up and follow anyone who moves – person or dog – to see what they are doing.
Now that she is braver, she can actually be a little bit pushy. She doesn’t seem to grasp the word “no.” (either that or she is really good at faking it!) She has learned that words can communicate that she is supposed to DO something, but struggles with the concept of a word meaning DO NOT DO something. When I tell her “no” she just stares curiously at me and in 30 seconds she tries the behavior again… and we repeat… many, many times. She also has no concept of manners, turn taking, or personal space. This annoys Mocha to no end and she gets growly and grumpy with Kira sometimes. (which doesn’t phase Kira one bit) If a dog is being petted, Kira also wants to be petted. If someone is sitting on the couch with me, Kira also wants to be sitting on the couch. If everyone is going outside, Kira wants to go first. If anyone is eating, Kira wants to share their food. If someone is laying in the spot she wants to lay in, no worries, she just lays on top of them!
She is a huge fan of cuddling and loves to be petted. I remember how excited I was when she first began to come into my bedroom in the mornings and quack her stuffed duck. About a month ago, she started putting her front paws on the bed and “giving me” her duck (by dropping the wet duck on my face) in the mornings. Now when she hears the alarm go off, she jumps right up next to me on the bed and lays down beside me, wagging her tail and giving little kisses. I wrap my arms around her and rest my head on her soft fur. Amazingly, she doesn’t get tense or freeze or panic or run….she cuddles. Every day it melts my heart. She pushes her nose against me and nuzzles and tries to be very close. It is just so amazing.
She is very attached to her family. She especially loves Obi and they have become very close. They play together, lay together on the beds, and one of them will often lean down and kiss the top of the other’s head as they walk past. She follows Obi wherever he goes and will stop to wait for him to follow her. They share toys and play games. She is very, very clever and is always the one that invents, and then directs, all the games that they play. Obi is a willing, happy follower.
The person she loves most in the world is my nephew. She has overcome many fears out of a desire to be close to him. If he is in the house, she is always within two feet of him. When he plays with his little action figures she watches attentively, following every movement of the little people, and trying to understand what they are doing. She leans forward to sniff them curiously and you can see her trying to work it all out. Sometimes the little people climb on her and she is very pleased to be included in the game!
I sincerely hope that she doesn’t remember her old life. I hope that when she startles now, that it’s just out of an old habit, not a memory of some past horror. I hope that this life she has is the only one that fills her thoughts and her dreams. I have pictures everywhere that were taken over the past year. At the time they were taken, they represented great progress for her, but now when I look at them I see a dog poised to flee, always tense and suspicious. In every picture she is positioned for a quick escape, alert and watchful, and her expression tinged with concern. I rarely see that dog at all anymore.
There are times, like the moment that I put a leash on her and walk out the door, when shadows of her old self return. She is still afraid in unfamiliar places, but she is no longer the dog who came to us – trapped alone with her fears, trusting in nothing, believing in no one. The dog she is today is a dog with anchors in her life, with touchstones and things that she trusts. It is still hard for her. She panics. She is unsure. She wants to run and hide, because it is what she has always done. But when I say her name she stops and turns to meet my eyes. That one single thing makes all the difference in the world. That split second shift of attention from fear to something safe will allow us to step forward together into the scary places.
She trusts me. She trusts that when something scary or bad happens, someone will keep her safe. The world might not be safe, but if you can trust someone to take care of you, it feels a whole lot safer.
Its such a cliché to say that love changes everything, but that truly is the difference for Kira. Someone loves her. She loves someone. Actually, she loves many “someones.” She loves her family. Love really does change things.
I wish that all of you who have read Kira’s blog could meet her in person. When we began this journey with her, we didn’t know how it would unfold; we simply hoped that she could find some measure of healing. I don’t think anyone expected such a transformation in her. I didn’t. Not all stories have happy endings. Some days I hear so many sad things, about so many dogs, that I think my heart will just break. I think that the reason that I am so absorbed with “Kira watching” is that her story turned out to be our favorite narrative, the one that we so want to believe in, but sometimes begin to doubt in a world filled with fear and violence. It’s a story of love’s healing power. Of hope and possibility. Of the survival of something small and vulnerable, against all odds. It’s a story of redemption. That’s the story I’m reminded of every time I see Kira wagging her tail or stopping to sniff a flower. It’s a good story. It’s a story that I need in my life.