Three weeks ago I adopted a dog called Riva, the grandfather of my border collie puppy Audrey. I certainly hadn’t intended to get another dog quite so soon, but when I visited the puppies, I mentioned to the breeder that I’d like to get a second dog at some stage and she told me that after many years of breeding collies she’d decided to stop and would reluctantly need to re-home a few, specifically those with easy temperaments.
I fell in love with Riva immediately. It seems that everyone does. Even people who aren’t really dog people. Even people who are afraid of dogs. There is just something about him. He is such a gentle soul. Although only 5 years old, because he’s grey and I usually introduce him to people as Audrey’s grand-dad, people immediately assume he’s old. And there is something vulnerable about him. Maybe because he’s been suffering from the canine version of a nervous breakdown.
Due to his exceptional temperament, the breeder assumed he’d come up and settle in over the weekend. However he arrived in the back of a horse-truck, straight off the ferry, traumatised. And until yesterday, I’d been seriously considering – on a daily basis – sending him back, because it just seemed as if it would be the best thing for him. He was spending most of his time in his crate. He startled at every noise. 99% of the time he’d cling to me, a shadow at my side, then very occasionally, terrifyingly, he’d run. Once he miraculously made it safely across State Highway One. A couple of times at night, taking him outside on the lead, I had a sense that if I let him off he’d try and run back to Nelson.
His not coping, has taken the breeder completely by surprise. She’d been so very sad to send him away, she loved him dearly, but she genuinely thought that because he’s such a social dog, moving up here would be easy and the best thing for him. Neither of us anticipated his reaction. Over the last few weeks, he’s seemed so unclear about where he is and who he is. The look in his eyes has reminded me of family members lost in dementia, the fear of being disconnected from yourself.
I’ve wondered, at times, what I was doing wrong. Unable to figure it out, as life here is pretty idyllic for canine friends. Acres to run around in, company, frequent runs on the beach, meaty bones, a cat that actually likes to be chased. It never occurred to me that I might be giving him too much space to run around in, too much freedom, too little structure.
Earlier this week a dog whisperer came to visit and he gently suggested that for a week or so, it might be a good idea to walk Riva around the boundary on a lead at least once a day. Let him get used to his new territory. Walk and feed him at the same time everyday. Allow him to retreat to his safe space, his crate, when he needs to. Take it slowly and gently.
I’ve only just remembered that for two weeks after I moved here, I’d walk around the boundary every morning and evening. Get a sense of the place. Find my rhythm. Find my space. It was at least a fortnight before I went for a run on the beach.
I’m not sure whether it was simply two days of more structure, or maybe after 3 and a bit weeks he’s finally starting to settle in. Maybe it’s the Australian Bush Remedy – Emergency Essence – he is an Australia pup after all…But last night he padded into the kitchen with a completely different look in his eye. He seemed, suddenly, present. While his body has been here for 3 weeks, it’s as if his spirit has just caught up with him and structure has, I’ve absolutely no doubt, has made a huge difference.
So often, it seems to me, we forget that we’re animals. Human animals with big brains and wondrous technology at our fingertips, but still animals. We’re much more instinctive than we give ourselves credit for. We’re considerably more attuned to our environment and the creatures we share it with than we realise. Adopting Riva has been a challenging but valuable lesson in how we as fellow critters, respond and adapt to change. A reminder that when we move, when significant things change – homes, jobs, relationships – a little bit of structure can go a long way.