A Dog, a Book and a Second Chance
When we first adopted Hero, we were warned that he was a reactive dog. Soon after he healed from the shotgun blast that filled his spine with shrapnel and destroyed his right eye, he was placed in a kennel with dogs who would terrorize him and steal his food. Ever since, he has been aggressive toward other canines and swift to violence. This has made the task of training and socializing him very difficult. Because he cannot be left alone on the property to play and explore like other dogs, we have been forced to keep him on leash outdoors at all times.
Strangely, walking on leash has had the effect of calming Hero. It's almost as if being under human control makes him feel safer. Managing him can still be tricky, though. He's willful, and strong from herding cattle. A standard collar and leash haven't been enough, so we have evolved from there to a pronged collar to the special shoulder-and-chest harness he now uses. While this has enabled us to manage him more easily, we were still stymied by his frequent attempts to bolt and attack livestock and any wild critters that happened onto the property.
I recently found Spencer Quinn's novel The Right Side in the local library. The Right Side tells the story of LeAnne Hogan, a military veteran recently returned from Afghanistan where she lost her right eye. While the meat of the book revolves around LeAnne's search for a missing girl, much of the story focuses on LeAnne's convalescence. Spencer Quinn obviously did a great deal of research into the experiences of returning combat veterans in general and the effects of partial blindness in particular. LeAnne is helped in her quest by a mysterious black dog who "adopts" and accompanies LeAnne on her journey. Knowing that he is covering her blind side helps her overcome many obstacles, including her own sense of rage and inadequacy.
Reading and discussing the book with Becky has opened a great many doors for me in dealing with Hero. I came to understand that much of his rage came from fear - the residual fear of memories in the kennel, but also fear of not knowing what was "coming at him" from that sector of his sight that is now lost.forever. We have no way of knowing how this damage might also have impacted his self-image and sense of personal adequacy. But it isn't difficult to accept that, no matter how basic a dog's intelligence may be, Hero is likely beset by knowledge that he is "less than he was" and all the frustration and anger that knowledge entails. Understanding this has made us more patient and forgiving where training him is concerned. I now also understand that, when we walk, I should keep to his blind side as that gives him an added sense of personal security. The act of walking in tandem has taught me that I am part of a team with him, and that Hero relies upon me for much more than guidance and discipline. He relies upon me to demonstrate trustworthiness. He relies on me to be his right eye.
I am very blessed to have the chance to work with this remarkable dog. The difficulties and annoyances that come with the task are minor compared to the satisfaction and affection with which I am rewarded. It's also a good reminder of the fragility of trust and how we vulnerable we are when we give ourselves to one another in faith. And there is a lesson, too, about the power of perseverance and courage. I think Hero has a great deal more to teach me. I look forward to learning those lessons.