Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Gift of Guru


Okay, my last post about Guru wasn't completely dishonest, but I do feel compelled after coming to grips with the full brunt of my agony of the past week by filling in some details. Much as I appreciate the many condolences about his departure, I fear some people think he has gone to a new home where he is getting the care and training he needed to succeed. I'm sad to report that's not the case, and I've gone through the roller coaster of emotions with rescue dogs that can range from joy to heartache. In this case it was the latter, mainly due to human stupidity.

Let me start at the beginning.

Two months ago when I got the unexpected call about a basenji being placed with me, I didn't fully understand that I was even being considered as a foster dad then. The rescue group needed a place for this very troubled pooch to be calm since previous assignments had not worked out. After three failed placements where he had attacked other dogs, people and finally trashed the house of a dogless house, there was no other option. What was not expected was that after showing agitation and panting when he arrived, within five minutes he was calm. After 15 minutes he was snuggled up next to me, and I agreed to give him a last chance.

Our time together alone was perfect. He responded to every command. In the rare case where he tried to chew something or jump where he wasn't supposed to, he obeyed on the first command. We had some good initial walks. Adoption seemed imminent.

But signs of aggression started emerging. I started investing in trainers, the first one bailed, the second said it would take months, maybe years and thousands of dollars and still might not work. I kept paying and moved forward. When I was in New York, he attacked the sitters who refused to return. I tried a supplemental trainer.

There seemed to be signs of improvement, with him even looking back at me for guidance on our walks. And then we'd pass another dog or jogger and he'd growl, lunge and sometimes grab a person's jacket as I became the target or increasingly hostile scorn and cursing in the neighborhood. I opted out from walks and let him keep in the house and yard, only to have to deal with him wanting to tear down the fence when he heard the dog next door.

My pleas of placing him with a more experienced foster through the rescue group got a response that the only option was that he'd have to be put down since he was, in a word, unadoptable.

Details of his troubled past started emerging. He was probably the product of a puppy mill. He was placed in a pet store where he left unattended much of the time and in a pen where he lay in a bed of his own feces. No one seemed interested in buying him, and he was marked down to half price and finally adopted by a woman in suburban Sacramento, an Iraq war veteran with severe physical and mental scars from the war.

She projected her many issues on to him and put him on anti-depressants. She made him her protector and baby, pitting him against various significant others and family members who moved in and out of the house. Only this week did the rescue group learn that there had been previous attempts to have Guru turned over to them because of his aggressiveness.

Had I known all of this, I probably never would have brought him in. But I only saw the full potential of his aggressiveness over the past two weeks during several close calls and a blood dripping biting incident last Saturday. At the same time, he became ever more affectionate with me. But the question remained if he might one day turn on me remained.

The only option offered to me by L__________ with the rescue group was having him put down, something I refused to consider until I was away this week and could gain some objectivity. I ached when I made the decision but knew it was right.

The second I walked in the door, he greeted me with an ecstatic whimper that seemed to say he loved me more than life itself. The last 18 hours with him were excruciating and glorious as he showed me so much love and appreciation. I longed for him to show a dark side so I would be further convinced that I was making the right decision.

I had come to perceive L_________ with the rescue group as heartless, even though she kept emphasizing that she was dealing with 200 adoptable dogs in desperate need of homes and this was a dog that no one would take or that it would be a great risk to put him in another home. I opted out not going with her to the vet, knowing I would likely collapse. I just asked that she make his departure as quick and unemotional as possible. Then I thought she was awful when she greeted us cheerfully and petted Guru as if nothing was wrong. She smiled and said that it would be a quick procedure and that she would be back in 45 minutes. How could she be so emotional? At least Guru seemed calm and confident as he walked away with her, and he disappeared from my sight forever.

Nearly two hours passed before she returned. I was sure that my wonderful, kindly vet had intervened and was going to take Guru into her own home. My heart sank when the doorbell rang and there stood L____ with the empty collar and leash. She had an ironic smile and shook her head silently as she walked in, hanging her head as she settled in my leather wingback chair. Finally she broke down in tears and said, "This was one of the hardest endings I've ever been through." Guru required several injections of sedatives before he was finally out, and L________ had bandages on her arms from where he attacked her.

She remained for more than an hour as we bonded over stories of wonderful pets in our past and I moved from seeing her as someone with a heart of stone to a saint who drives easily 2500 miles a week rescuing basenjis from wacko owners, shelters and danger. And, of course, she does it all as a volunteer out of the love of the basenjis. Most of the stories have happy endings, but sometimes there are cases like Guru -- wonderful, loving, gorgeous basenjis who have been so damaged by ignorant humans that think they are their babies and not canines needing protection, boundaries, rules and affection. Humans and animals operate in radically different worlds and too many people fail to see that place where we do connect is precious and should not be misconstrued as a place to fulfill our own dashed dreams.

By the time L________ had left, I'd agreed to become a volunteer with the rescue group, one possible assignment being helping a 28-year-old man who this week learned he is HIV-positive and may have a support basenji.

When I made the arrangements for Guru's procedure, I decided to have a private cremation afterwards so I could scatter his ashes in my back yard with my cats and give him a memorial stone. The thought that he was no more than another discarded and unwanted animal was more than I could deal with. In his two months with me, he earned his right to be honored next to my two wonderful cats who shared my life for 20 years.

My intent was that I was going to adopt him Tuesday night, a bit of news I could add to the jubilation of knowing we will soon be saying President Obama. As I heard about the continued news about the polls, it made me cry knowing that this won't happen.

A basenji will, indeed come into my life. Every time I cherish my time with him, I will thank Guru for teaching me that every moment of frustration is worth it, that nothing can equal the joy of seeing that little curled tail relax and wag. I don't think I will ever be at peace with the decision I made. Many times I have regretted it and wonder if there might have been one more resource out of there that might have helped Guru succeed. He reminded me that I still have the capacity to love and endure trying circumstances. I picked one of the most difficult breeds to foster and one of the breeds' most challenging members. But I don't regret a minute of it.

Thanks for enduring this long post, if you've made it this far, and I will try not to obsess on this sad chapter again soon.

UPDATE: Thank you to the many old friends and new ones who have expressed such compassion. If you would like to honor the memory of Guru by making a contribution to help more basenjis find wonderful homes, you can visit this page on the Basenji Rescue and Transport (BRAT) site.

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At 5:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your story and love for Guru is so touching. It is so difficult seeing so many wonderful basenjis being treated so horribly. Thank you for opening your heart and home to one who so desperately needed you. I know no words can ease your dispair, but know that quality over quantity is the mark of humanity. As Ghandi said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals." You, kind sir, are a measure of greatness. I only home more people in our great country can open their eyes to the love a pet can bring, even if only for a brief and fleeting moment.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Suzanne said...

Those of us in rescue work know your heartache and share your pain. Take joy in the good times you had with Guru - those memories will get you thru the very sad times. Thank you for helping one of our beloved breed. Take comfort in knowing Guru is now at the Rainbow Bridge, happy and healthy and playing with all the other Basenjis ( and other breeds too I'm sure ) just waiting until the day he sees you again and you cross the Bridge together. As I read your story my heart aches for you as I have walked in your shoes before - the good memories are what will get you thru!

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know how you feel. I am a rescue volunteer and have one basenji on death row because of human stupidity. Peatri is a sweet loving basenji that loves to play like a large dog and cuddles with his humans alot. The puppy mill that raised him, had him with large untrained dogs. Peatri learned pack mentality quickly as he is reallly smart. Right now he sits in a room with 5 other dogs with no problems except for the minor grrs from the Alpha B who is making sure everyone knows their place.
But, Peatri was left unsupervised in his first foster home. He killed a very sick weak basenji that was harassing him from day one. He was moved to me and due to my own brain laps into stupidity, attacked another which was found to be sick as well. If it wasn't for his attack, I would have never know she was sick to start with. The anibiotics proved how sick she was. I just thought she was just really old and getting ready to dye. I was angry and greatful at the same time that this had happened. My little girl is now extremely healthy. Other than that, Peatri has no agression to anything but tiny and weak dogs.
Needless to say, if I don't find Peatri a home by the time his quarentine is up, I have to put him down. I can't keep two packs in my house. Peatri gets along with all the other dogs except the weaker ones and the small dogs on the doggie walk route.
I feel for you. I know I am going to be extremely upset come November 4th. Peatri is the second dog I will have to put down this year. The first had untreated cushings and she was sent to me to die. Mischief is burried in the family pet cemetary at my mom's house. A beautiful flowering bush is over her. Say a prayer that election day is an all around rejoicing day for a dog name Peatri. And I will be praying that you will continue to help the basenjis that were misunderstood, not trained correctly, and abandoned. I know I will. I have others here that still need me.
Take care!

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Bashirs Momma said...

My heart goes out to you. It is so sad that some dogs have suffered from human ignorance and unkindness. But it is reassuring to know that there will be others who will benefit and thrive from the hearts and caring of rescue volunteers like yourself.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Tania said...

My heart does go out to you.
I had a similar experience when I adopted my daughter's dog, a Rottweiler mix. I had loved her for many years and my I felt bad for her. She was kept outside, on a chain, with a dog house for shelter.
When I got her becuase my daughter and her family moved, she was so sweet and loving. She was great with me, my cats, and my male basenji. Then I got Cleo, a little female terrier mix. After attacking and injuring Cleo 3 times over 2 months, nailing a friend who tried to protect Cleo, and then injuring my girlfriend's female dog twice, without any provocation that we could identify, I put her down. That hurt.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Basenji friends - Thanks for all the kind words of support and sharing your own stories. Guru really was a guru who taught me how to be a better foster dogdad in the future. I'll never forget him, and will hold him in my heart forever.

At 1:51 PM, Blogger Aunty Christ said...

He's so beautiful, and this story makes me so sad. The time and care and thought you put into making Guru's last two months a time of love and stability are admirable. It breaks my heart that his earlier caretakers did not provide proper homes for him, denying him the chance to be a good dog.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Aunty - He was a good dog, and sadly he was doing what he thought was his job, to protect me. It is so sad that his aggressiveness was not him intending to be mean but trying to be my protector because he had come to love me.

At 9:02 PM, Blogger joe said...

Oh! Words aren't adequate right now, but thank you for putting into words all the emotions experienced in this situation. You have my sympathy.

And I wish you wouldn't feel the need to say, "I'll try not to obsess on this sad chapter" -- write about it all you want if that's what you need.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Joe - Thanks for the supportive words and willingness to acknowledge the importance of indulging in my grief or else it could consume me. I'm actually fine, but I miss that boy so much. Our time together in life was so brief, but I bonded with his wounded, generous soul on a very deep level. I loved him so much and always will. He's the first canine I've had since childhood,and he unearthed something very precious inside of me that I've let lie dormant for too long. I won't besmirch his memory by letting it go back into hiding.

At 4:36 AM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

thank you so much for this loving and thoughtful post. grief shared is grief lessened.... I hope your burden is a bit lighter.


At 7:02 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Mouse - Thanks. I also feel that all the support have been like virtual petting of Guru. His aggression has disappeared, but his wonderful love has not.

At 10:46 PM, Blogger WAT said...

Oh God. Fucking balling here.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

WAT - Exactly what I've been doing the past three and a half days. It hasn't gotten any easier.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Joy Keaton said...

Oh Gregg, I have been so busy I haven't been reading the blogs and I started catching up on yours tonight, starting from the most recent. So now I get here and ... omigod, I'm so, so sorry. I'm just weeping like a baby here. I am so grateful I have never had to make this kind of decision, but I know many who have and it is always heartbreaking - and especially so in a situation like this where you're doing such a good thing, and it is no fault of the dog but the fault of stupid, stupid people who did him wrong. I'm sorry to be so late in sending my love. I'm so sorry things had to go this way.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Joy - Thanks for the kind, loving words. I was concerned that as a dog lover you might feel I was being lazy. Having had to make this decision about my two cats over the past two years, it was really hard. But they were both nearly 20, had long wonderful lives and were facing horrible, inoperable tumors and seemed to be begging me to help them make a graceful exit. Having to make a decision about a gorgeous, healthy loving dog who had the fatal flaw of wanting to kill any creature that came within a few feet of me was so much harder. We were together only two months, but he touched me so deeply.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Squirrel said...

My dad was a dog person and his dogs loved him and were very well trained by him... but he did tell me of one dog (a cocker spaniel named "Ring" that turned on him several times --for no reason) It broke his heart to have to put Ring down (the old fashioned way --this was back in the 1930's.) Ring had nipped/ bit a few people too, so he had to take him for that long drive out to the countryside and put him down. On the bright side he had many great companion dogs and cats (and rabbits)

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Squirrel - It least it did not have to be done the old fashioned way. Guru taught me a lot, and I am anxious for my next foster.


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