Guest Post: A Love Letter to Scuby
Here’s some of what Theresa wrote:
To my DINOS Valentine: Scuby ‘don’t touch the hair’ McConville
My DINOS dog and I met quite by accident. I’m paraplegic and diabetic and have had two previous service dogs; one contract trained and the second was a program dog. Both had their joys and their difficulties. When the second dog was lost at 9 years to cancer I was lost to the world. Getting around in a wheelchair requires considerable hand and arm strength and coordination. Wheelchair leash-work requires more hands than I can usually find. Quite literally, without the leash I’d forgotten how to move around. I hated it. I was alone and vulnerable. Not my favorite neighborhood in my head.
My friend needed cat litter and seeing how bummed out I was, insisted that I keep her company on her errand. Soon I found myself in a pet store…on Dog Adoption Day for a foster rescue group. I do love dogs so I had a look around.
Amid the kennels, cages, boxes and x-pens sat a hulk of a collie looking thing. He was quiet and still, ever watchful though calm. His left eye was multicolored and eerie to look at. I introduced my scent, then he laid a gentle glance and a paw reached out, just short of touching my sleeve. I had to know more.
Our first on-lead walk together was in-sync from the very first step. He would not pull, but watched my every move over his shoulder as he picked his way through a retail crowd. I applied as many temperament queries as I could while on the fly and was impressed by his willingness to try anything. I did what I advise others not to do; I decided with my heart and took this gentle spirit home with me. It took me all of 45 minutes to decide.
“Scooby-Doo’s” paperwork listed him as seven years old, recently neutered, Australian Shepherd – St. Bernard mix, cruelty seized and returned by TWO previous adopters because of what the Dumb Friends League referred to as “normal herding behaviors”. There was also a notation written in RED that he should be the only dog in residence!
I’ve been training dogs for decades and have always adjusted the training to suit the dog, so I thought, but after a couple of weeks of settling-in it was apparent my skills weren’t up to the challenge this dog was laying down. He didn’t fit anything I knew. I had to change. The next five years became an evolutionary process for me as a trainer and as it turned out, also as a human being.
Four months with Scuby…he was reactive to everything… And I was suddenly on my own since ‘reactive’ dogs are considered unsuitable by most ‘serious’ trainers. Cowards!
I didn’t understand his fears. I couldn’t make him feel safe, until I made the leap to consider his feelings and offer him better choices. He devised a method of communicating his needs using his stuffed toys. Prancing gaily about with “Bruce” the gray shark in his mouth meant ‘potty’. “Baby” a brown monkey was related to food and “Rudy” the reindeer was for self-soothing from loud noises.
The care-taking role of an alert/service dog seems to morph the human/animal bond and ramps it up to whole different level. Scuby taught me how to reach through fear. There is no greater trust than that.
My bar’s been raised by a dog, again…I will not let anyone forget how this damaged and unsuitable specimen activated the Lifeline device to summon rescue that day I bungled a transfer and knocked myself out in the bathroom.
He’s twelve now. Muscle is retreating from all parts of his body and his senses aren’t as keen. It’s been a couple of weeks since he’s wanted to open the doors for us…The pain of losing him is exquisite simply because he is a DINOS. They’re in our face 24/7 and they need us to be better, softer people. Their very lives depend on it.
I’m afraid that on that day when I venture outside without a leash in my hand, not only will I forget how move my wheelchair again, this time I may forget how to breathe…
Theresa McConville & Scuby 2012