Emilee, The Throw Away Dog

Emilee - The GRREATest Gift!     When I answered the phone I had no intention of taking another foster dog. I had been through three of them since Bear died and my 11 yr. old, Windy, was having nothing to do with any of them. She was not eating, not playing, not even wagging her tail when you petted her. I was so afraid that losing Bear would cause me to lose her too. As each foster dog came into our home, she greeted them with a surly growl and a snap if they tried to disturb her silent vigil over Bear’s favorite resting place. I had pretty much decided that I would have to wait until she died too before I could get another dog.
     “Sam, do you have a foster right now?” the familiar voice asked.
     “No… but…” was all I got out before he continued.
     “Then you have GOT TO COME GET THIS DOG!!!”
     Now I knew Cy, and he and Shaaron could pretty much handle any foster dog that came along so I was intrigued by his urgency. “Why? What’s wrong with it?” I asked apprehensively.
     “If you don’t get this dog out of this house tonight, I’ll never get her away from Shaaron and we don’t need four dogs!” “That’s what’s wrong with her!!” He continued, laughing.
     So I jumped in my car and drove the 20 minutes up to their house, wondering to myself if she was as good as Shaaron and Cy thought she was. It was the week before Halloween and the air was brisk and cool. I knew that there was an Adoption Day coming up in 2 weeks so I didn’t have to worry about having her through the holidays. I could handle a short-term foster to help out a friend.
     When I got to their home I was greeted by this petite chestnut flurry of ball chasing excitement. She was a bit overweight and her fur was thin and brittle. Her ears looked like a hound’s and her lower teeth occasionally caught her flews in a toothy smile, but the heart was unmistakably golden.
      “This is Emilee, spelled E M I L E E” Cy announced. I knew at once why he was so anxious to get her out of there, she looked like a younger version of Shaaron’s favorite dog, Katie.
      We played ball while Cy gave me the rundown on her. She was 3 years old and an owner ‘give up’. The product of a divorce, the husband got the dog in the settlement. He then drove her from Boston to his elderly mother’s home in West Virginia to stay, ‘until he got settled’. The old woman didn’t want a dog and was rather afraid of them. The dog was constantly getting into the trash and other mischief. The old woman kept her crated most of the time and disciplined her by beating her with her cane. (Surmised by her reaction to crates and sticks). Eventually, she had started defending herself, growling and biting at the old woman. So she switched tactics and bribed her with biscuits to make her drop what she had. (reinforcing the aggressive behavior.) 
      Finally, when the son decided that he didn’t want the dog back, the mother took her to the pound to be euthanized. The shelter contacted GRREAT and Cy drove out to get her. They stopped at the vet’s on the way back because the records said that she had seizures but didn’t show what  medication (if any) that she was on. She got her shots, Phenobarbital to control her epilepsy and now was ready to go to a foster home.
      The papers at the shelter said that she was given up because she was “aggressive and untrainable”. I didn’t see any of the aggressiveness and I knew that any dog, so enthusiastic about playing ball could be motivated to do anything if taught properly. So I took her home to meet Windy.
      She was so happy to meet my husband and to see another dog to play with that her tail looked like a furry propeller. She pranced, played ball and smiled all over herself but Windy was not impressed. Windy lay on the end of the couch with a sullen expression as Emilee danced around the room in front of her. Occasionally she would get a little too close and Windy would let out a low growl and give her a nip. Emilee never retaliated, or even acted like she noticed, but just continued on her whirlwind romp.
      “Are you sure the papers said she was ‘aggressive’?” my husband questioned.
      “Maybe we just haven’t hit the trigger yet.” I replied
      The next morning while I was eating breakfast I heard the bathroom trash basket hit the floor and a moment later Emilee trotted across the room in front of me with a mouth full of tissues and Q-Tips. Now, I have never had a dog that I couldn’t reach in their mouth and take whatever they had, (although I had encountered enough of them at the animal hospital where I work that I should have known better). I jumped up from the couch and reached down to take her ‘cache’ with a wrinkled brow and a gruff “Emilee, give me that.” Her teeth missed my fingers by a hair’s breadth. Only my vet tech reflexes saved me from a nasty bite. There was no warning growl, no roll on her back, no remorse in her wide-eyed stare, just a serious “I don’t think so” snap. She re-gathered her prize and stood there defiantly watching me.
      I knew that any sign of fear or anger at that point would just make it worse and I would have to gain her respect and win this encounter if we were to go on from here. So, I grabbed the afghan off the couch, threw it over her head, and in one deft move flipped her legs out from under her and pinned her to the floor with my knee gently, but firmly against her neck. She struggled for a few minutes and meanwhile, dropped the mouthful of trash to try and bite me again, but she couldn’t move. Pretty soon she stopped struggling. All the while, I was talking to her softly and stroking her to calm her down. Finally, she gave up and relaxed. I slid her around away from the trash and sat on it as I let her go.“Good girl!” “What a good Emilee!” I said in my highest, happiest voice. She was obviously surprised by this response, but ran to get her ball to take advantage of my change of mood — all forgotten. That’s when I knew that she wasn’t ‘untrainable’ at all, she was just ‘untrained’.
      Over the next few days I tested her boundaries and taught her new ones. I bought a muzzle and made sure that she always got a reward (of ball playing) as soon as it was taken off. I gave her a bath, I trimmed her nails, and I taught her to sit, lie down and ‘drop-it’. The only thing she would give up willingly was her ball, so we used the ball to build her vocabulary. Bring it, give, leave it, stay, all were learned quickly and easily. On lead she was so excited that she had a real problem with ‘heel’ but it was more like she just had no patience for it, than not understanding what I wanted her to do. When I reminded her to heel, she would do so for a minute, then suddenly bound ahead and wag her tail as if to say, ‘okay, that’s enough of that boring stuff’.
      She was also making progress on other fronts. Everywhere Windy went in the house, or out in the yard, she had a little red shadow. Close enough to make her presence known, but just out of reach. If Windy layed down, Emilee would lay next to her, about 2 feet away. Windy still wasn’t eating normally, but she was very interested in what the new girl was eating. Emilee started leaving a little food in her bowl at each meal, and when she walked away Windy would hurry over to see if anything was left. She would eat that even if she hadn’t eaten her own food. Within a few days Windy’s old appetite was back.
      One day I saw them lying side by side and watched as Emilee rolled her beloved ball across the space between them. Windy grumbled and walked away. Emilee grabbed up the ball and followed. This scenario was repeated over and over until Windy finally picked up the ball and started chewing it. Emilee whined as if to say, “No, don’t hurt it, throw it.”  I took the ball away from Windy and gave it back to Em but she just rolled it back to Windy. Within a day she could take it gently from Windy’s mouth without getting bitten, and soon, Windy was pursuing her to get the ball. I was overjoyed.
      The following Saturday was the adoption day. Bathed and brushed, her fur glistened in the autumn sun. Only 2 short weeks on decent food, with proper grooming, and her fur was soft as velvet. I was almost sad that I had to give her up.
     There were a lot of dogs there that day, more than I had seen at one adoption day. People came up and petted her, asking questions about her, but as soon as I got to the part about the epilepsy you could see them ‘turn off’.
      Her turn came for the tattooing of her GRREAT number. I held her head and talked to her softly as they prepped the area by shaving her. She lay quietly, licking my hand, sweetly. However, the moment the tattoo pen touched her skin she was transformed into a Tasmanian devil! She thrashed around making it impossible to tattoo her. She growled, she screamed, and she tried to bite us, even after we muzzled her.
      With five people holding her, one on each leg and me at her head, we couldn’t hold her still. After about four letters, the tattooist declared that it wasn’t worth the stress on her and that it might send her into a seizure (the dog). That was the end of it – she won. The couple of people that had considered her before this little performance quickly disappeared by the time it was over.
      At the end of the adoption day, 19 of the 21 dogs available for adoption had been adopted (a new record). Understandably, Emilee wasn’t one of them. I felt so bad for her, like I had let her down. I had failed to show the potential adopters how wonderful and special she really was. She didn’t seem to mind, though, and happily played with her squeaky toy in the back seat all the way home. That was her last adoption day. I adopted her the next day. (It would be months before she trusted me enough to let us finish her tattoo).
     The day before Halloween she had her first, and to my knowledge, only seizure while in my care. After that, I made sure that we gave her phenobarb on a regular 12-hour schedule. She adjusted to the medication and it never even slowed her down.

Alex and Emilee
Smiling Golden Pals Alex and Emilee

     I marveled at how smart she was – and how driven. In January I adopted a 9-month-old male. I put him right into a training class because he was so wild and unruly. I practiced with him every night and when we got to the hand signals, I realized that Emilee was responding to them before Alex and she had never been to a single class. I knew that she could do anything and I tried to think of activities she might enjoy. We started doing ‘neighborhood agility’ at the park and she developed a real affinity for slides. I encouraged the kids to play with her. They would hide her toy and she would go find it. Then we started playing hide and seek with them and she really enjoyed finding them and playing ball with them when she did. (That’s what gave me the idea of training her for search and rescue).
     Last year a woman contacted GRREAT for advice about helping her 6-year-old daughter overcome her fear of dogs. I knew how well children responded to Emilee because she was so small, and so wonderfully soft. She would play with them for hours and really listened to them and interacted with them. I have seen her take hand signals from a 3 yr. old. So I offered to bring Emilee over to work with her.
     The first time we visited, Kasey ran screaming to her room when she saw the dog. We stayed for a couple of hours, her parents sitting on the floor, throwing the ball down the hallway for Emilee to retrieve. It took half of the visit to get her to come out to the living room. She stood on the couch with a white-knuckle grip on the back. When Emilee brought the ball to her mother who was sitting in front of the couch, Kasey would gasp and try to climb higher on the back of the couch. Eventually though, she became more interested in the game we were playing with this non-threatening dog, than she was afraid. When Emilee ran down the hall Kasey would lean over the end of the couch to peer down the hall after her. But as soon as she ran back, Kasey resumed her safe perch on the back of the couch.    

Emilee and her friend
Emilee and her friend are enjoying
themselves at the playground

     By the end of that first visit though, Kasey was standing behind her father on the floor while he played with Em. By the end of our second visit, Kasey was throwing the ball herself. On our third visit we all went to a nearby park and Kasey and Emilee played hide and seek. A little boy came up and asked if he could play too. Kasey showed him how to throw the ball for her. She had become quite the authority and she and Emilee had become good friends. Her parents have now put in an application to adopt a GRREAT dog of their very own. Thanks to Emilee, another golden will have a happy ending.
     A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had tried to commit suicide and a K-9 search and rescue team saved her. I made some calls and found a volunteer group that let us come and try out. Emilee was a natural! I felt like a lead weight around her neck and worked extra hard to get into shape and learn the things I needed to know so we could be an effective search team. We train mostly in wilderness locations but work some urban areas too.
     At one training, I found out how fearless she really is. We were learning to search for people in abandoned vehicles at a local junkyard. We didn’t hear that a ‘junk-yard-dog’ was on the property. Emilee works off lead so she can search places I can’t go. She was checking out a car as I walked on up the row, when a large Rottweiler charged out of his well-hidden doghouse straight at me. It startled me and I gasped and froze until I saw his chain. At that moment, a copper streak charged past me and headlong into the Rottweiler’s ‘circle of access’. As he came up short on his chain he reared up and she hit him full in the chest with hers, snarling. I screamed “EMILEE!!”     

Emilee enjoying herself
Here is Emilee enjoying herself
as she plays in the water!

     At that, she turned to look and me and the Rottie grabbed her by the leg. I heard her yipe and ran in to beat him off of her but she bit his ear and he let her go. As she backed out of his reach, I called her and she limped back to me. I checked her leg and though it was sore, it was not broken or even bleeding. I couldn’t believe she attacked him like that and walked away without a scratch. I just hugged her and cried with relief.
     That was 2 years ago. Now, we are one test away from certification as an operational search team, qualified to participate in searches in wilderness and disaster recovery. Next summer we will be continuing our training to specialize in water search. (The only thing Emilee loves more than searching is WATER!) We have our own ‘yakboard’ that has an area where she can stand in the front so her nose is only a few inches above the surface. She loves to go out on the local waterways, although we are still working on the command ‘stay-in-the-boat’. At least with the yakboard she can get back aboard without tipping me in.

Search Dog Emilee
Emilee's Deput, '99 National's Parade of Rescue Dogs

     We have started doing ‘joint’ demos representing both GRREAT and Mid-Atlantic DOGS Search and Rescue. She enjoys them so much. Anyone who will play the game with her is her ‘best friend’. In 2001 I will be taking on the job of Public Relations Representative for Mid-Atlantic DOGS and we will have even more opportunities to spread the word about ‘throw away dogs’ who can be trained to save lives.  
     I know that our search career will probably be short and I will have to get a pup soon to train up behind her as she ages. She already has that silvery ‘angel-shine’ coming up around her muzzle making her look older than her 6 years.
     To think that someone gave away this precious time with her, just threw her away without giving her a chance. Thank G-d I belong to GRREAT so I could rescue her, and share her life. Thank G-d she’s giving me a chance to help others. We are both very lucky.

Entry written by Sam Connelly, Secretary, Retail Leasing Department, Baltimore, Maryland
GRREAT Fundraising Coordinator and Foster Home
Mid-Atlantic Dogs Search & Rescue 2001 Public Relations Coordinator, SAR Volunteer
* Fourth Place Award Recipient

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