This week was Graduation Day! Kira really seemed to enjoy her Fearful Fido classes and she learned a lot of new things! I have noticed that she seems more confident at home since beginning her classes. She has approached several visitors and gently poked their hands with her nose to see if it “touch” works with other people too and if she can get treats that way!
During the last two weeks of class the trainer removed the x-pen visual barrier completely and Kira laid on her mat in the open space of the room! At first it really concerned her when she realized that the barrier was gone. She pushed back against the chairs and looked anxiously around, but she had her puzzle toy with treats in it and we did some hand targeting, and she was able to relax. In last two classes we did work on going to a mat and sitting and she did great! She also did much better with walking around the room. She is still nervous and easily distracted but she is increasingly able to focus on me and walk calmly.
When we arrived for the last class, the car was parked near a sign with a silhouette that apparently frightened Kira, because she froze when she saw it, backed up, and refused to get out of the car. It sometimes takes me a minute to figure out what she is reacting to because she notices such small details about her environment. I lifted her out of the car and it turned out that the sign was fine when viewed from a different angle, so it was all good and we went on in to class.
Agility equipment had been set up around the room for Graduation Day. Kira made a bee line to her usual spot, lay on her mat, and contemplated this new development. There was also a photographer who had come to take Graduation Day pictures. During the first class, just six weeks before, this all would have been too overwhelming for Kira, but she took it all in stride and did just fine! People were able to stand nearby, talk, and move around us without her being frightened by it. Kira walked around the agility course and looked at everything, touched a few things with her nose, walked over a low jump, and even stood up on the “Pause Table (a slightly raised table)!”
This has been such a wonderful experience for us. She was ready. I wasn’t sure she was. Partly because I have vivid memories of times that she has been terrified, frantic, or shut down. The vividness of those memories makes it hard to notice that those things don’t happen very often anymore. Not very long ago, I looked up to see Kira at the fence, lined up with all the other dogs, wagging her tail, and it suddenly occurred to me how OK she was.
Graduation events invite reflection and I found myself thinking back over the past two years and all of the many tiny milestones along the way. Kira had so much learning and re-learning to do. It takes time to re-learn your life. It takes time to understand what love and trust mean if you have never lived in relationship. It takes time to discover that pleasant things exist in the world when all you have ever known is fear and unpleasantness. It takes time to learn to navigate open spaces, to live in a house, to be in proximity to humans, and to make choices for the first time in your life. It takes time to un-learn fear. It took a long time for Kira’s body to stop automatically reacting in fear. Many times I watched her internal struggle when her body wanted to run and her mind wanted to stay, or her body flinched but she still moved closer for petting or treats or just to be part of the pack.
One of the moments with Kira that that touched me most deeply was the day that I watched her walking around the yard smelling the flowers. Its something you expect from a puppy just learning about the world for the first time, not an adult dog. Yet, there she was, at 4 years old, cautiously stretching forward to investigate each flower with a heartbreaking tenderness. What no picture could capture, and what is forever etched in my mind, is her delicate curiosity and the soft expression of delight in her eyes. It both broke my heart and made it ache with happiness. Her caution and wonder in approaching something as common as a flower tells me everything I need to know about her early life and, at the same time, it is the perfect image of healing and re-awakening. Though the changes are more subtle these days, they are still happening. She is still healing. I wonder how much more she will change, what she is capable of, and who she will become.
Its been an incredible journey with Kira and I’m glad that I can look back and remember how far she has come to reach a point where she can walk through a room full of people and touch the hands of strangers in an unfamiliar place. I love that no one who met her today would be able to imagine the dog she once was. I hope that she no longer remembers that dog. I am honored to be the one who gets to tell her story. It’s the story of so many dogs, abused and broken, who have gotten a second chance at life.
Happy Graduation Day Kira! I am so incredibly proud of you, my sweet, brave girl!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave one is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
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