Our youngest son claimed he needed a big dog to fill a big hole left by his older brothers leaving for college and his Grandpa passing away. He’d found just the dog, at the local shelter: a two-year-old Saint Bernard, the size of my husband's Prius. Goofy, loving, and desperate to get out of the slammer, Gus leaned on me so hard I almost fell over. I couldn't say no. It occurred to me that Gus was an answered prayer, in a furry disguise.
Gus was fine-- for about a day, until it became clear that he had lots of baggage. He was sick. Unneutered. Had a pronounced limp. Had likely been neglected and abused. Was terrified of gunshots and thunder. He was territorial, and suddenly wanted to bite everyone that came to our house. We methodically addressed each problem, but we couldn't fix the aggression . Our huge dog was becoming a huge problem.
The pound said they would take him back--but a biting history would be a death sentence. We scoured rescues all over the country. Time after time I heard the same advice: the dog has to be put down. Still, we did not have the stomach to destroy the big, dumb, dog-- or break the kid’s heart. Me, the prayerful one, did not wish to spit in God's eye, in case Gus was my answered prayer. My husband just never gives up on a dog or a problem, for that matter. He's a good fixer.
We got lucky. A friend directed us to Marty at Rajun Kennels, who listened to our story and agreed to give him a chance. Marty trains problem dogs on the Central Coast of California. And he is awesome. Gus was a good student. He hasn’t tried to bite anyone for nearly a year now. With time, he is learning that he is safe and our home doesn't need such enthusiastic defending. He goes back for refresher courses. We stay vigilant. The stakes are high.
Gus will always be a challenge. He's lazy, dumb as a stump, has poor vision, lousy hearing, and tries to sneak onto our bed every chance he gets. He crashes into chairs tipping them over, nearly knocks us down when he bounds up to greet us. He snores like a tractor and leaves a trail, like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs, of drool and hair. His bark is so thundering it stops my heart. His breed doesn't live long. His time to be a problem or answered prayer-- with anyone-- will be short.
I don't believe holes left by beloved people can ever be filled, but you can plant new love beside the hole in your heart, and it does help. Bad dogs love just as well as good dogs, maybe better. Gus is the most affectionate, grateful creature on this planet. Gentle with cats, chickens, and Grandmas. Joyfully accepting belly-rubs from each new friend . And he makes me laugh, every single day, even when I 'm grumpy and annoyed with life. Howling his funny dog songs, making ridiculous faces, begging to sleep on the couch, racing in circles through the orchard, until he turns too tightly and falls over—then bounding up for another go. I haven't laughed so much in years.
Why am I writing about Gus, the problem dog, on a stream blog? Because, Gus's favorite thing of all-- next to sleeping in the middle of the kitchen on his own pillowy bed--is playing in water. Splashing, cavorting, wallowing, fetching sticks, swimming. But this was before our creek dried up in the drought. Now Gus looks perplexed each time we walk the dry streambed. Where is all that wet stuff?
It’s been a long dry spell, but there are storms stacking up on the horizon and the ground is getting saturated from light rains earlier last week. Way upstream, I'm told, the stream is beginning to flow.
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.