I walked with a friend of mine this morning. She had her new rescue dog with her. The dog was a black, female lab. My friend has had the dog for less than six weeks.
"Of course, Foxtrot (the dog) went into heat the first day we brought her home," my friend said. "Three weeks later, we finished with that, waited a week and had her spayed. It's been pads and cones."
She and I laughed.
The dog was sweet with me, tail wagging and generally happy until my dog got close to her.
"She has some issues with being aggressive to other dogs," my friend cautioned.
"My dog's friendly," I said.
But Foxtrot didn't care. It was as if someone flipped a switch. Foxtrot's hair went up on end. She bared ferocious, white teeth, growled and then lunged at my dog Lily's neck.
Lily's a tough tomboy lab, the roughest player on the block. Occasionally, she'll hip-check a 100-pound golden retriever when they're both racing for the same ball. You've got to admire a gal like that, but within a half-a-second Lily hit the deck and flipped on her back.
"Don't bite me, don't bite me, don't bite me. I come in peace."
My friend yanked her dog away from my cowering pup and explained that her dog had been attacked as a puppy by another dog and that the previous owners had never socialized Foxtrot after the attack.
Lily held still on her back, belly in the air showing complete submission while Foxtrot sniffed. I saw Foxtrot's tail start wagging. I watched her transform from wrath back to sweet.
My friend and I started to walk, and the dogs pranced beside us. We kept them separated, and Lily looked happy enough. About 20 minutes into the walk, Lily snuck in a quick face lick on Foxtrot. "Friends?" I could see her asking.
It was a brave move.
Foxtrot tilted her head and looked at Lily. I could see her thinking, "Growl or wag?" This is a question we all face at different moments in our daily lives.
Foxtrot wagged her tail and kept walking. "Friends," Foxtrot seemed to answer.
My friend sighed in relief that killer dog did not reappear. So did I.
"It's important we get her experiences where she interacts successfully with other dogs," my friend said. "It could take awhile, but I'm committed to her. When it goes well, she learns to trust." I admired my friend's willingness to work with the fear.
Lily and I walked my friend and Foxtrot to their home. Before we parted, both dogs sat for a treat, and I felt like I had been given a treat. I'd had a glimpse into kindness and the importance of taking small steps -- whether it's a lick on the cheek, or someone who says, "Ok, tough stuff happens in the past, but we're committed to brief interactions of kindness to rebuild trust." I don't know what touched me more -- my friend's dedication, or the hope that one can rebuild trust.
Lily getting ready to go for a walk.
Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of The Tiffany Box, a memoir about becoming a mom to her children and then to her own mother. To read more about The Tiffany Box, please visit http://www.amazon.com/The-Tiffany-Box-Kathleen-Buckstaff/dp/0988764202