From hope to …

2012-11-22 00:00

EARLIEST recollections of my life were mostly pleasant to mull over. As small puppies, we spent our time suckling on Mom’s delicious milk, or wrestling in a big untidy heap, chewing tails, ears and paws, or just sitting, staring wide-eyed at the countless sights, sounds and smells around us. We tried to dominate each other continuously, thereby learning about bite inhibition and intra-species pecking order. At about eight weeks of age, when our social skills and immune systems were fairly well-developed, strange, two legged creatures came to take us to new homes.

In my case, there were three of them, known as Dad, Mom and Samantha. Their den was referred to as a house, and mine was a kennel. It seems that the smallest of these creatures, Samantha, was not very well, so believing that I could make her better, the two big creatures had decided to adopt me. In fact, I had such a profound effect on Samantha, that Mom and Dad named me Hope. Samantha changed from a withdrawn, sickly child, into a little bundle of boundless energy. With her laughing and me barking, we romped around doing all the wonderful things that children and puppies experience.

Wisely, Samantha’s mom and dad had consulted another human who knew what canine kids needed. Referred to as a behaviour specialist, he explained about critical imprinting, environmental enrichment and how extremely important it was for me to know my position in our family pack hierarchy. He also made sure I would never be scared of loud noises such as thunder and fireworks. I also met other animals of different species so that as an adult dog they would not appear to be life-threatening. My new mom and dad applied his advice and I fitted into my new role quickly; namely, a respectful, loyal companion to precious little Samantha.

Then one day my world turned upside down.

Samantha’s daddy had to go overseas and, after a tearful farewell, I ended up at an animal shelter. Due to a total lack of understanding, I believed it was temporary and that at any time Samantha would come bouncing around the corner to open the gate to my cage and take me home.

The days were lonely and the nights even lonelier. I longed for Samantha’s nearness, for her warm touch and her infectious laugh. I also longed for the wide-open spaces where we played together.

Sometimes, two legged creatures would come to my cage, but alas, none of them was Samantha. I became thin and withdrawn, hoping continuously that she would return.

Another bewildering aspect of my surroundings was how often other doggies around me would be taken, panting, and tails wagging, to another room nearby. A person with a white coat always went in with them and then strangely, they would be carried out looking like they were fast asleep.

I was about five years old when they took me to see the man with the white coat. Having no idea what was facing me, I hoped that my princess had changed her mind wanting to be my friend again. The man with the white coat knelt over me and said: “Hello Hope”. I wagged my tail in response to his kind voice and then felt a mild pricking sensation. The last words I ever heard, from the man in the white coat, were: “Maybe your name should have been … Hopeless.”

Today’s column is dedicated to the countless best friends that our vets and animal shelter staff reluctantly have to euthanase.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted via his website - Advice is only dispensed in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.


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