This is Kira’s second Christmas with us! Her first Christmas was so special, but it was also fraught with worry: How would she react to a strange lighted tree in the middle of the living room? Would friends and family coming to visit be too overwhelming for her? Would the holidays be too scary and unpredictable for her after 5 months of carefully managed structure and routine?
If you read last year’s blog post, you will know that it turned out alright. When I put up the Christmas tree last year, she peeked out of her crate and watched the others dogs closely to see if there was cause for alarm. When she saw them carry on with their daily lives, completely unaffected, she decided that this new development must fall into the category of “strange, but normal, things that happen when you live in a house.” She was bewildered, but not overly alarmed, by her stocking and she was very pleased that she got new stuffed ducks! We were fortunate that Christmas arrived at a time when Kira felt secure enough to handle the changes.
Kira’s second Christmas is so different from the first! She is still stunningly sensitive and far more cautious than your typical dog, especially to sound and movement, but she has learned to navigate changes so much better and is far more resilient. This year she curiously watched me get out the Christmas decorations and even poked her nose tentatively into some boxes. She is always front and center for holiday treats and she has managed to steal at least one Christmas cookie. She even didn’t even seem to mind wearing the reindeer antlers for the Christmas picture! The tree doesn’t bother her at all and she laid close to it to watch me hang the ornaments. This time last year she was just beginning to tentatively lay on the dog beds, now she lays all over the house.
Kira has learned to love toys of all kinds. She has become a bit of a toy hoarder. She was excited to learn that Santa brings new toys to good puppies. Her favorite game to play is “keep away” with Obi. She brings a toy and drops it in front of him and then as soon as he picks it up, she tries to get it back. They take turns chasing each other and stealing the toy from each other. (Several ducks have been casualties of this game.) If Mocha takes the toy, they both just stand and sadly watch her take it away, because nobody will dare to take a toy from little dog.
Sometimes Kira and Obi chase each other around the house and she gets so excited that she leaps into my into lap, gives me kisses, and then jumps back down and continues to run. The first time she did it, I was stunned because it was such a change from her normally reserved manner, but the more comfortable she becomes, the more her playful side emerges.
This year Kira has found her voice. She hardly barked at all for the first year. Now she barks to communicate all kinds of things. She barks when she is excited for dinner. She barks at Obi if he breaks the rules, especially counter surfing, which she considers an egregious offense. She barks at the neighbor when he walks past the window. She barks if there is something unusual in a room that shouldn’t be there. Last week it took me a long time to figure out why she kept peeking around the couch and barking at the living room. I finally discovered that it was because I had hung a hat on the door knob that wasn’t usually there. Once I moved it she was happy again.
Last year’s bewilderment and caution have turned to curiosity and interest. The best way I can describe it is to say that she is so much more alive this year. We celebrate the holidays with a happy collie who continues to learn and grow and to surprise us with new things. She is incredibly intelligent, deeply thoughtful, sensitive, and loving. That such a dog would be so mistreated, caged for years, and bred for profit is unconscionable. That she is willing to extend love and trust after such a life is a miracle.
As the holidays approach this year there are many rescued puppy mill dogs in brand new homes who will struggle to navigate the season. My heart goes out to all of these homes as they try to balance celebration with sensitivity to the needs of a traumatized dog. Some rescuers will not put up a tree or decorations this year because it is just too much for an already frightened dog. Some families will wake up early on Christmas and spend the first hour patiently coaxing their fearful dog outside and then reverse the process and work to coax them back in. Owners and fosters will offer a special holiday treat to a dog who will freeze in fear….gifts of toys to dog who has no idea how to play. They will whisper a soft, ‘Merry Christmas,’ to a trembling dog who has never approached them or made eye contact. They will cry over these dogs.
It is especially hard to see so much brokenness at a time that is supposed to be magical. It is heartbreaking, in a season of giving, when every good thing we have to offer is terrifying. It is a harsh reminder of how much puppy mill dogs have suffered when we see the stark contrast to our own dogs, who happily anticipate toys, treats and presents.
To all of the rescuers, fosters, and adopters of puppy mill dogs I send my thoughts, my prayers and my deepest gratitude for what you are doing. You have given a puppy mill survivor a place of peace, love, and safety and that is the greatest gift you could ever give. It is a gift that restores to them what the puppy mills stole – lives of dignity and value. It will take time for them to learn to accept that gift.
In a world with so much suffering, may we bring love and healing and create spaces in which miracles can happen.