I want to tell you the story of my beautiful boy, Trey. Trey came from a very bad situation of neglect. He was a former sled dog who lived tied up outside all year round. He had a broken down, wooden “dog house” for shelter and lived on a 5’ chain. He was lucky to get food and water. He was about 8 years old at the time and had spent his whole life this way. In the fall of 2009, Humane Society International seized over 150 sled dogs who all eventually went to local rescues for adoption. Trey was in the seizure video and I cry every time I watch it. He was sad, dirty and anxious, and his only exercise was to walk circles around the stake that he was tied to.
Trey came to me as a foster dog at Dogs at Camp from BARK dog rescue. He was intact, unsocialized and afraid of the world. But also super sweet and friendly, even though he had every reason not to be. I fell in love immediately. Dogs at Camp was my kennel-free dog boarding business and he initially lived there. It is a nicely renovated horse barn so it was a good transition into a life in a house, a place he’d never been. He was sad and shut down but slowly over time came out of his shell. He was surprisingly good with dogs of all ages and sizes so he got along well at camp and became quite comfortable there. He began to enjoy life off the chain.
After 2-3 months at camp, it became obvious that while he was comfortable within the walls and structure of the barn, whenever I took him outside of it his anxiety hit the roof. If put on a leash to go for a walk, he would cower and crouch down and spin on the leash. He had no idea how to walk on a leash, or how to deal with the normal distractions of the outside world. And I live on a farm! I can’t imagine if he’d had to deal with life in a city at this point. I realized that if he was ever going to be adoptable, I had to socialize him into living in a home and dealing with the outside world. He’d had some time to decompress from his former situation, and it was time to introduce him to more things.
I began to bring him into my house a few hours at a time, leading up to a couple of nights a week. I wanted to slowly ease him into a new environment. Going slow was key. He would pace for hours in my house from my front door to my back patio doors. I would let him and just keep an eye on him because this was how he needed to deal with his anxiety. When he would go in my backyard I would watch him very closely so that he wouldn’t try to get out of the yard. He never tried to escape, but he also wouldn’t come back in the house. This was the middle of January and for weeks I would have to go outside in the snow and cold and put him on a leash and bring him back inside. He had no problem being put on a leash. His anxiety just prevented him from coming back inside on his own. Slowly he began to settle down and decompress and follow my dogs’ lead and got used to a home environment.
I tried to crate train him but he was having none of it. I still have the crate with the nose holes he made trying to push his way out of it. I decided to trust him and leave him free in the house and he never destroyed anything. He just didn’t want to be confined to a crate. I could read into this that he didn’t want to be confined after being tied up for the first 8 years of his life, but that would be a guess. And it doesn’t matter really. He didn’t like the crate, and didn’t really need it, so he was allowed freedom in the house.
Everything was new to him. The first time I had to take him in the car to a vet I made sure that someone else could drive while I sat in the back with him. He was a basket case. He cried, panted, drooled and paced as much as he could in a car. My job was to keep him as calm as possible and know that I was there for him. The more and more he went in a car the more he relaxed. This was important to me because I like to take my dogs places for longer hikes and wanted him to be a part of the family. I didn’t want him to miss out on these adventures so I slowly worked with him until he was happy in the car. I have some great photos of him hanging his head out of the window with his ears and tongue happily flapping in the wind.
After a few months of fostering and being available for adoption, Trey had not one person interested in him. It was true that he needed a pretty specific home. One that was quiet, preferably in the country, and could continue his slow transformation from a sled dog into a pet. This is hard to find. And my bleeding heart realized that I didn’t want to put him through another stressful move to a new home and environment and new people. He was spending more and more time in my house as I socialized him to home life, and becoming more and more comfortable. He was learning how to act like a domestic dog from my young dog, Jackson, and got along well in my family. The thought of letting him go upset me so I decided to adopt him. I don’t think anyone was surprised.
My life with Trey was so rewarding. Watching him go from a shy, sad, shut down, anxious dog to a happy, loving, adventurous dog filled my heart. I did nothing special for him but love him. I simply gave him the time to decompress, socialize and slowly ease into new experiences as many times as he needed to get comfortable. I trusted him and allowed him to develop trust in me in as much time as it took him. I still remember the first time he slept on a dog bed instead of the floor, and the first time he got on the couch for a nap. It was the “non-dog” couch, but I let him stay! I didn’t have the heart to move him. We enjoyed many adventures together both on leash and off leash. Watching him come out of his shell to live a normal life was beyond rewarding for me. I lived almost 7 happy years with Trey. He became a loving, confident, funny, adventurous guy that brought so much happiness to my life. Sadly, I lost him a few years ago to old age when he was about 14 years old. He began to have mobility and old dog problems and one day he told me it was time. My vet came over and I said goodbye to him in my back yard near his favourite bush that he liked to sleep under. I still call it “Trey’s condo”. He taught me so much about rescue dogs. He taught me that time, love, trust and slow introductions to new things will allow a shut down, sad dog to blossom into an amazing companion. I miss him. I’ll be forever grateful for his trust and love.