Rescue: Training the Things We Take for Granted

WM Preacher splootLethargy. Sweltering with a non-specific stickiness. Flies. More flies. Dilly-dallying. These are the wilting Dog Days of Summer, named for Sirius, the Dog Star. No connection to the napping habits of dogs so deflated by the heat that a sploot position on the linoleum is the smart choice.

Preacher Man is having a good summer. I haven’t been able to find the toenail clippers and sometimes a good day can be best described by what doesn’t happen.

It was two and a half years ago when this rescue dog arrived like a mail-order bride at the local airport. Preacher Man left a trail of kind hearts and burst eardrums in Texas.

He has a tendency toward the incessant operatic bark; a clear ringing tenor that rises seamlessly above his inhales and exhales. Or it might be a previously un-diagnosed case of canine Tourettes. It’s a syndrome fairly common among horsewomen as well.

In my experience, rescue dogs fall into two categories. Some are pragmatic; they stand in the front door taking a long look from the couch to the kitchen, assessing the possibilities. Immediately satisfied with the accommodations, they circle three times and fall asleep hugging the cat.  Everyone resumes a peaceful routine with just a bit more dog hair in it. Everyone gets to feel magnanimous.

The other category is like entering long-term addiction therapy with your new stalker. Sure, herding dogs are a bit of a challenge on the rescue spectrum. It’s their job in life to make sure everyone stays together so there’s a testy balance of guilt and hysteria at finding themselves in rescue. “No!” Preacher howled to the ceiling, “This incarceration is a big mistake.” The jailers at the rescue shrugged; all the dogs desperately plead their innocence. Jailers agree.

WM, Corgi selfie stickPreacher Man was named for loving the sound of his own voice just a bit too much. He’d been in and out of a few too many packs and he was crazy with the shame; he believed he couldn’t survive that failure again. He was confident that trying too hard was just the ticket.

As for me, I began to train the things we take for granted. The everyday habits that define normal. My first task was convincing Preacher that the cats were not agents of the devil. I know what you’re thinking; it’s pretty much true, but we are not a species-racist farm. We do not tolerate intolerance. We have a goat to prove it.

On day one, there’s the big tabby cat sitting nonchalantly in the doorway and Preacher warned me like an air raid siren all day. Every hour-and-a-half or so, he paused to catch his breath and I gave him a cookie. It’s positive reinforcement for the split second of quiet but positive training also requires a split second of hindsight… that instant of connecting the dots but Preacher knows if he slows down even that much, his past might catch up. Instead he thinks that I have given him the cookie to keep his strength up in battle, and the one-sided fight begins again. Eventually Preacher wins when the cat gets bored enough to leave. Preacher settles under my chair, confident that if he can just keep up the bark work, he’ll prove he’s indefensible. Or indispensable. One of those words.

Preacher barks especially loud, if that’s even possible, at meal time. The other dogs, a little pudgy around the middle, don’t quite believe the call to arms but it seems like a good idea to join in. You wouldn’t want the short dog to get all the food. Their conversation soon degenerates to name-calling, and by the time I’m there with bowls, it’s more like a controlled explosion.

How am I doing at training Preacher to be normal? It’s about now that I decided to take the high moral ground and pretend he was never housebroken in the first place. I did it for my own sanity. And his.

The hardest training had to be done after dark when the monsters roam. I guess I thought all corgis slept belly up and snored like your weird uncle. Preacher spent the first year sleeping under the bed. The second year, he came out and tentatively pressed his backside into my ear, keeping one eye open, ready to launch across the room in attack mode should a mass-murderer or a stray cat wander by in the dark. After an hour or two, he went back under the bed. It was just too much responsibility, even for him.

But lately Preach manages to sleep through a couple of nights a week. He still has to face the door, but sometimes the back of his little flat head presses hard against my cheek. Sometimes in the dark, his nose rises up and falls back toward me. All the way back, like a contortionist, till his white throat glows all the way to his belly. I exhale long and he flips around on the bed like a sturgeon out of water. We forget where we came from for a little while and our inner puppies wrestle until we fall into a fearless sleep.

WM Corgi backNormal is like gravity; a steady force for balance.

Come morning, Preacher Man is back on task, ferocious that the Dude Rancher is using the bathroom. I remember to let him out before I sweep. Preacher seems to know an alternate use for broomsticks and he’s trained me a new normal on that.

In this oppressive season, it’s easy to find danger at every turn. To feel that the world is a scary place and any connection we have found will fray and break. Sometimes amid the stress of fearing for the worst, we let our habits change, and before we know it, purrs sound like growls. It’s hard to imagine that in a still quiet moment, you could just trust yourself. That in a moment of vulnerability, you could feel safe.

What they don’t tell you about rescue is that it’s an inside job.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Equine Pro

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

39 thoughts on “Rescue: Training the Things We Take for Granted”

  1. Wow. Lots of insights here (rewards are sometimes nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies), and the important reminder that a person’s or dog’s or cat’s or horse’s behavior won’t change unless the person or dog or cat or horse decides change should happen. Then there’s the lucid prose that gave me a smiling start to the day and the weekend (happy Friday!). I don’t ride any more, but I give thanks for this blog every time I read a new post.

  2. What a gift you have for writing and of course for your insight, communication and love of animals. Thank You!

  3. Poignant, provocative right to that last line, ‘…rescue is an inside job.’ ….indeed. Thanks for this and the soft heart that followed.

  4. Pingback: “Life is a parable about life” (Anna Blake) | Suzassippi
  5. air raid siren… funny because it’s true. Preacher Man should meet Manic the Min Pin – it seems they have a like calling in life to sound the alarm should anything of note take place. Like a snowflake falling or the sun shining or an apple reaching it’s peak second of ripeness 200 yards away…

  6. Wonderful blog as always -and strangely enough as I read it on my phone I saw my Jack Russell rescue shimmy into a pile of horse poo and do “the world famous shoulder coating manoeuvre” and laughed to see her happy and carefree enough to do something so gross! How balanced am I?????

    • You have the exact right kind of mental health for JRTs. Not sure how you do in French restaurants, though! Hehehe. Thanks Dee.

      • Well, I’m happy to be credited with any mental health at all lol. Jackers- you’ve got to love them. I never had small dogs before these 3 “finds” and disparagingly referred to them as “foot stools”. Am trying to convince husband that in reality I actually only have one and a half dogs. Not 3……..and have room for more…..?

    • Around here JRTs may be referred to as Jack Russell Terrorists. The “world famous shoulder coating maneuver” invariably happens on our twice daily appointed rounds. I know I’m on top of my game when I manage to aim Q away from the extra stinky things. ;D

  7. That was one of the best parts of this great post…how he got his name…if that isn’t the most creative and hilarious reason behind a name EVER!

    Thanks for this great post… addictive does describe your writing…as is the inspiration it evokes.

    Oh and here’s to having (at least once)loved my own voice just a little too much…

  8. Great blog Anna. Relates directly to life at the moment, all those frightened people howling at the ‘enemy’. love your stuff, thanks. Christine, cold, in Australia.

  9. I really needed to read something like this today-after having a fall from a horse yesterday (so feeling a bit battered and bruised! ). This cheered me up no end!! I have a rescue JRT who keeps me endlessly amused-life would be so dull without her! Thank you for your ‘musings’ they keep me entertained! x

    • JRTs make corgi owners seem positively sane! Thanks, Frances, and hope you are on the mend and back in the saddle soon.

  10. As always, well worth the time to read. I admire your way with words and your obviously deep understanding of the critters (human and otherwise) of this planet.

  11. Apparently we are living parallel lives including the goat. The only exception being a cattle dog rescue instead of a corgi. Her behaviors so familiar to those of the Preacher, that I think my former theory that she was heavy on dingo genetics, is wrong. She must be a Cattlecorgi! Your blog is an essential part of my week. Thank you for validating my existence….sometimes those around me lift an eyebrow at my pursuits.

    • It gets worse, Laurie. I’m new to corgis, but there were Spam and Hero, both cattle dogs… I don’t know your age, but I’m coming up on 62. Eventually it starts to look like that weird eyebrow position is just normal. Take care, my sister. Scratch the goat for me.

  12. Your story about Preacher Man both broke and warmed my heart.
    I’ve only had one rescue, a female who’d been tied up & mistreated forever before we took her. She didn’t trust anyone. Though she became a sweet and loving family member, she couldn’t stop escaping and running free until we would drive by and she’d happily jump in the car. We built a 6′ chain link fence. We put electric wire on top. The electric wire FRIED a squirrel, but Goldie just jumped half way up the fence and scrambled up and over. Sadly, she was hit by a truck one day, but she didn’t suffer, and she was SUCH a happily loved dog for years, and her final moments were spent doing what she loved best – running free.
    You brought back the best memories. I want to do it again. Thank you!

    • I think love always has to have a healthy dose of acceptance in it; rescue dogs teach it so very well. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  13. Thank you for this, Anna. Over the years we have had many rescue dogs. Parts and pieces of Preacher Man were in all of them. They all had something going on that was new to us and made us wonder what had happened before they were ours. Easy to make guesses about that.They have been loved for their eccentricities as well as their loving behavior. Our Daisy worries about the night sounds and is terrified of thunder and sharp noises. She sleeps in the bathtub with the curtain pulled for privacy (safety?).Our Schnauzer little boy has so many levels of barking – from woofs – to barks – to screaming squeals. Someone once told me it makes her nose hairs curl! One thing is certain: he will have the final word. It will be a quiet “umph”.
    I agree that rescue dogs teach us so much. Really, all dogs do. I cannot imagine not having one or more in my life!

    • It’s like they reveal another world inside of our own, sometimes better and sometimes not, but real and right here. Thanks, Jean. Hope you are well.


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