Monday, October 3, 2016

Labrador boxer mix: one year-old, high energy, no kids, no cats, might be a sociopath.

Yesterday I had my volunteer shift at the refuge. It was a great fall day, overcast, only slightly cool. We didn’t have many dogs to take out over our 3 hour shift, only 9, two of which are elderly as fuck.

The day went well, we were able to take extra time with the dogs, which was nice. One, Kounaï, a large white husky got a deluxe brushing by me. He seemed to like it, and me. Huskies cannot be bothered. They have the independence and unimpressed gaze of cats. I don’t love huskies. They generally only have eyes for their masters and just can’t be bothered by anyone else. Kounaï has grown on me though. When I brushed him he’d do this weird thing where he’d stare at my face really intensely. At first I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing (lol) so I stepped back to see how he’d react. He ended up stepping forward towards me and lining himself up so I could continue to brush him. So I did.

Things changed when we took out one of the last dogs. I had taken him out last week, and he seemed alright, just a little anxious and barky. This week though he soon became fixated with me. This was a tall boxer labrador mix, roughly 100 pounds. He began getting up on his hind legs and trying to wrestle me. The more I pushed him off, the more excited he got. Eventually, I had to pick up a plastic patio chair to use like a lion tamer. He wasn't trying to hump me, he was trying to grapple.

One of the employees came out, and said one of the folks looking to adopt him wanted to see him. I said sure, but that we were having problems with him. I guess she assumed it wouldn’t be too bad (since it’s known he has a lot of learning to do, he was a rescue that wasn’t socialized).

He soon started to ignore the three other women in the yard and just would not leave me alone. I even pushed him hard. Kicked him off me. I tried to explain to the animal trainer/employee that he only seemed to jump at me when I pet him and was nice to him, and the more I pushed him the more encouraged he seemed. He seemed really happy. It wasn’t aggression, it felt like affection. He seemed overjoyed. The rougher I was with him the happier he got.

Last week his feet had been wrapped, this week they were not. That meant that the more he tried to grab me (he really tried to bear hug me, but dog arms aren’t meant to bend in) the more his wounds opened, so I was becoming smudged with traces of his blood. It began getting worse, and he bit down on my arm a few times playfully. Not directly on skin, since I was wearing a thick sweatshirt. Eventually though, as the women around me tried to get him to do other things (chase a tire, play with a kong) he got even more nuts and really grabbed my arm. I grabbed the chair quickly that time.

The employee stepped in and played with him after that, and they asked me to write everything down in his file. It was a shit end to the day. We ended up taking one dog out after him, a tiny little jack russel mix named Milou. He was sweet, but could probably smell the stress on me and didn’t seem into it.

I went home and did some chores, to my own surprise. I was exhausted and needed a drink quite honestly. I did not have a drink though, since I don’t know anything about alcohol and had stuff to do.

I ended up doing some laundry, making muffins and having dinner. Then I took a shower and tried to go to bed at a reasonable hour, which I more or less succeeded at, though I could have slept more, since this morning’s wake up was difficult.

Today, my arm is a little swollen and bruised, and I can see the teeth marks.

I wrote to the volunteer coordinator and let her know, further underlining my point that I don’t think this dog can be adopted by just anybody.

The thing is only one, he isn’t totally full grown yet. He’s still lanky and awkward.

What was upsetting about the encounter was when I took the dog back to his enclosure. When you put him back in his cage, he sits quietly and just stares. He’s very calm. When I discussed it with the employee who witnessed everything she said she’s worried he has deeper issues.

It had me thinking about where he came from, a puppy raised in isolation. It made me think about what would happen if the same thing happened to a human child. In those cases, types of personality disorders and sociopathy are often present. 

I don't think he can tell between positive attention and negative attention. He's just happy to have interaction.

The more I work with these dogs, the more I see how traumatised a lot of them are.

I think of my brother’s dog, and how if you put him in a place like that, he’d be miserable, and who knows how he would react. He's sensitive and neurotic. He'd be miserable there.

I think about my own dog who passed away a few years ago. When a friend invited us camping once, his brother decided the dog should sleep outside. This is a dog, who for 9 years of her life, slept on a queen size tempur-pedic with my mother. So, of course, he put the dog on the deck and she whined and howled. This infuriated him. I got so upset I took my sleeping bag and slept out on the deck with the dog, which immediately burrowed into my sleeping bag. This dog. This entitled, spoiled bitch (she really was though, she stole my hot dog once), this brilliant dog (she pretended there was someone at the front door so I would leave my hot dog unattended), what kind of things would she do, to cope after a trauma (losing family, abandonment) and being put in a refuge?

I think I’m surprised by the emotional work. I enjoy it, I do, but it’s heavier than I expected it to be. I think I expected to use it as a therapeutic space for myself, and my own healing. It is that, but it’s also work, it's also engaging the traumas of others. It’s a lesson in many things. Patience. Empathy. Observation. Kindness. Presence.

It can be overwhelming when you try and think of all of it all at once. All of the need. But when I see things as little bits, it helps. Every little bit helps.


  1. Bless you for trying! My dog, a pit bull/boxer/lab mix does the same sort of thing. She gets very excited and jumps up on me, mostly. I call it enthusiasm but the guy out jogging whom she lunged at didn't think it was so cute.

    1. Apparently this week he's doing much better - so my fingers are crossed it was just a bad day for him.