I often refer to Lobo as my “game-changer” dog. He was my first solo responsibility dog, my most favorite sidekick, and one of my greatest teachers.
We did everything together. Errands. Walking. Hiking. Jogging. Hanging out. Sleeping. Picnic-ing. Journaling at the park. I eventually started meeting other folks with dogs. We’d hit up weekend gatherings and play dates. Doggy happy hours and birthday parties (don’t judge). I met a lot of great folks who shared a ton of useful tips and information with me about raising a dog. The importance of exercise, socializing, training and discipline, etc. Who the best vets in our area were. Pet insurance. All of this was completely new to me, and I ate it up. It was through these channels I learned about a guy out in California who was starting to take the dog world by storm. A certain fellow by the name of Cesar Millan. He was just starting to make a name for himself and I was hearing remarkable things. This was pre-TV show and book deals, but his name was burned deeply in my mental filing cabinet.
When Lobo was turning the ripe ol’ age of 3, a stork appeared with another blue blanket.A cinnamon-colored baby with golden, amber eyes. I named him “Tucker”. And although it took Lobo a little bit to warm up to him, he eventually did; and the two became inseparable. Lobo took little baby Tucker under his paw and taught him everything he knew. Heck, he did the bulk of the training. It was the 3 of us against the world. My boys. Oh, how I loved them so.
Just 2 weeks after Tuck came into the picture, my husband and I decided to call it quits. As soon as the divorce happened, and all the glorious changes that came along with it, it was like a switch flicked in my boy. Who was once a very social, happy-go-lucky dog, became the polar opposite. Although there were a select few dogs he’d never turn on, everyone else was fair game to him and his sworn enemy. I didn’t know what to make of it. What was happening?!? This heightened my anxiety levels even more, which, of course, exasperated his.
I was desperate to get my Lobo back and sought the help of a number of different trainers.They all harped on “obedience” training (which is “brain training”). He knew every single cue and command out there and had a laundry list of tricks he could execute seamlessly. But while he was well “trained”, he was still not well “behaved”. There were some critical ingredients each and every one of those trainers missed while they were busy treat-popping and brain-training: 1) the state of mind aspect, 2) behavior shaping, and 3) the human ingredient. The part * I * played in all of this. The thought to get in touch with this Cesar fellow flickered across my mind, but my attempts to find him were unsuccessful.
I didn’t know what to do, so – like most folks- I began avoiding potential issues.In my mind, Lobo was now “dog aggressive”, so I readjusted my day-to-day to accommodate this story and prevent the possibility of scuffles. I couldn’t walk both him and Tucker together anymore because of Lobo’s pulling, lunging, and blatant reactivity on leash. It was too much for me to handle, so I’d go running with Lobo and wear him out; then swap him out for Tucker and take Tuck out for socializing and play or an off-leash hike. I didn’t want Tucker to miss out on playing with, experiencing and learning from other dogs.
After all the dog training sessions, rent, etc., I’d gotten to a point where I couldn’t afford where I was living in anymore. I had to move once again and was up against the same issue as I was in the beginning. Most dog-friendly places available for rent already had other animals living there, and I couldn’t bring an animal-aggressive dog into the mix. I had my hopes set on one last trainer. A 2 week board and train behavior modification program with Lobo. This had to work. It just had to.
I sent Lobo to training with fingers, hairs, and toes crossed, and started looking for other places to live.I found a room within my price range not far from where I was living. The gal who lived there was my age, going through a divorce herself, and had 2 cats and a dog. We met, the animals met, and all hit it off. Lobo was the remaining piece for this to work. I explained what was going on and she suggested we give it a shot. If it didn’t work, we’d simply cross that bridge when we got to it.
I was receiving great reports from Lobo’s trainer. He was living with other dogs without any issue and responding very well to the program. I had very high hopes.
I’d moved into my new homeand, not soon after, the day came for Tucker and me to be reunited with our beloved Lobo. I was so excited to see him and witness all the changes and new behaviors he’d adopted! Life was going to be exponentially better now. My Lobo was back. And he was better. Finally.
Well, all those new behaviors that were instilled in him? All flew right out the window as soon as he returned to me. I didn’t get it. I couldn’t and didn’t understand. What was happening? What the hell did I just pay all that money for? He, of course, didn’t get along with my roommate’s dog, and wanted to kill the cats. Everyone and everything was a threat to him, and it was affecting him emotionally, mentally, and physically (he’d developed chronic diarrhea and we were having to go out several times a day and night so he could relieve himself. I couldn’t afford to take him to the vet, so I tried to help him with a bland chicken and rice diet. I didn’t know better at the time).
My room was corner-to-corner trash bags of my clothes and belongings. Hardly any room to move. And Lobo couldn’t set foot outside of it. I kept him in there so he wouldn’t hurt any of the other animals. Whenever we left my room, he was on a leash. The thought that I may have to find him another home crept into my awareness, along with feelings of guilt, shame, sorrow, betrayal, etc.
One night, very late in the evening, my roommate came homewith her new boyfriend after a night out on the town. As they stumbled in, I was heading out with Lobo on lead to use the bathroom. It was around 2:30 a.m. He’d woken me up scratching at the door. When they got to the top of the stairs, her boyfriend came over and said, “Ah- so this is the problem guy, eh?” Then he stuck his hand in Lobo’s face, and you can guess what happened next. Lobo clamped on and blood went everywhere. I was mortified; I didn’t think it was in Lobo to do something like that. I simply couldn’t believe what’d just happened. My roommate was yelling at me, at the dog, saying that Lobo wasn’t welcome in the house anymore and ever again. I took Lobo outside, fell to the ground and sobbed. What was happening? What was happening to my boy? Why couldn’t anyone help him? Why couldn’t I fix it? What am I notdoing? And, what do I do now?!
The tears wouldn’t stop coming. I was at a complete loss. I had no family. No one I could ask for help. I went down my rolodex of friends and asked everyone if Lobo could stay with them until I could figure out what to do. I asked friends of friends of friends and was desperate for help. I even called my ex and begged him to let Lobo stay with him until I figured things out. You wouldn’t have to lift a finger, I pleaded, I’ll come by every day and walk him, feed him… I’ll take care of ALL his needs, I just need a place for him to stay. Please. I’m begging you. I have no other choice. “I’m sorry, no,” he said.
The following morning, Lobo, Tucker and I met a friend with her dog (one of Lobo’s oldest and dearest doggie pals) at a local park.I couldn’t stop crying. I didn’t know what to do, who to call, where to go, etc. And to top that off, he’d now bitten someone, which added to the story. My friend listened to me cry and tried to comfort me the best she could. Then she finally said, “Kim- I know you don’t want to hear this, but you might have to think about putting him down.” What?!, my heart bellowed, No! No- that’s not an option. “You’ve tried everything. You’ve tried training, placing him temporarily… and now he’s bitten someone and isn’t allowed back in the place you live. You can’t keep living like this, nor can he,” she said with tears in her eyes, and as gently and sympathetically as she could. Was this how my life with Lobo was going to end? Was this really happening?? I couldn’t make a decision like this. No, I just couldn’t. There had to be another way. Something else I wasn’t thinking of…. there just had to be.
As the morning slid into the afternoon hours,my friend stayed by my side and was with me during the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life. Nothing compared to this. She met me at my place, I snapped a few more shots of Lobo and Tucker together (one pictured below), I took Tucker inside, then we left with Lobo to the animal shelter.
I was hyperventilating and was crying harder than I ever have in my life.My entire body was convulsing and shaking. I could barely walk. My friend completed the paperwork for me… I couldn’t do it. Physically or otherwise. We were instructed to drive around back and through the gate. I spent a few last minutes in the back of the van with my Lobo. My precious boy. It was a tight squeeze with all the shame. Guilt. Sorrow. Feelings of betrayal. Doubt and second-guessing. Self-loathing and judgment. All shared space with us in those final moments.
I lead him into the building and was directed to a cement space with a chain-link gate. He walked into the space, and I closed the gate behind him. He turned back around with a quizzical look on his face. My sobbing continued. He knew something wasn’t right. He walked his front paws up the gate and stuck his little gray nose through an opening between the chain-link and concrete wall. His tail wagged a few times, then slowly fell still. I told him I loved him. How sorry I was I failed him. And told him I loved him again. Then I turned and walked away. His cries bellowing over mine. I reached my friend’s van, and fell into the seat, sobbing uncontrollably.
This is really tough for me to write. Revisiting this. That was a very dark, very difficult chapter in my life. And while I don’t believe in regrets, this story will always be a source of great sadness for me as I find myself sitting here saying to myself, “If only I’d known then what I know now”… but that’s impossible. And I shouldn’t do that to myself. Life is a journey. A process of learning. Growing. Becoming. And unfolding.
Lobo was one of my greatest teacher and a crucial, pivotal learning experience for me. Not soon after, I started seeing Cesar Millan everywhere. He’d just started publishing his teachings, message and work, and even ended up with his own TV show, “The Dog Whisperer.” I devoured everything I could get my hands on that he put out and started thinking about my relationship with my dogs in a completely different way. I started to see where I went wrong in my dynamic with Lobo. Lobo wasn’t crazy. He wasn’t a vicious dog. His reactions were a direct response to what he was receiving from ME. I was in such a chaotic state and frame of mind at the time, that it was only in his nature to “fill the leader void” in the pack. It’s not personal, it’s primal. There’s a natural order and a natural structure to how everything operates in the animal kingdom and in Nature. Every pack, every group needs a leader, and that leader (if we insist on living with dogs) must be the human. I certainly was in no condition to be that for my pack of boys. I’d failed them. I wasn’t meeting their needs, or my own. This is where the lesson sank in, and where Lobo became the teacher.
We get so caught up in our every day lives and dramas, that we tend to live completely disengaged and disconnected from our true nature. Who we are at our core. Who we are as energy. When we understand dogs and how they process and “see” the world, we begin paying attention. We are their primary source of information in this world. They’re looking to us for their cues, guidance, directives, and how to feel about each and every scenario when enter them into. Everything we do with them is some form of dialogue and some type of conversation. We “say” far more without speaking at all.
Who we are in the dog world is scent and energy. What I represented in Lobo’s world was weakness. There was no “Captain of the Ship”, and someone needed to take the wheel. I was constantly nervous. Anxious. Stressed out. Emotional. I was totally out of control and had lost my grip. Lobo recognized this and assumed the vacant position as leader. A role I quickly slid out of as life got the best of me. A role he wasn’t prepared to take on himself (no dog is) which created even more instability, imbalance, stress, frustration and anxiety. This is a very far from instinctual world they’re living in with us, and they don’t understand how to navigate and make sense of our world like we do.
Dogs. We domesticated them, we need to assume the responsibility of fulfilling their needs. Helping them connect those necessary dots. They’re not born understanding what *we*consider to be “appropriate’, polite, or respectful behavior. The onus 100% falls upon us to teach them this; but we can’t teach without first understanding how to communicate clearly and effectively (hint: it’s not verbal).
We need to educate ourselves on how to meet their needs so we can avoid more situations like the above. Avoid more dogs getting bounced around from home to home, dropped off at high-kill shelters, unfairly judged and labeled, etc. When we understand how to meet and provide for their needs, learn how to step up in the manner they need us to, and begin to understand the varying, influencing ingredients that shape and condition behavior (a manner of expression; the external manifestation of an underlying, internal driving force), quality of life significantly improves for all.
The day after Lobo transitioned,Tucker and I took a walk down the streets of Old Town Alexandria (Virginia). We were on its main stretch of road, King St., when we came upon an unbelievable thing. Written across the sidewalk in bright pink, spray-painted letters was the word “LOBO”. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a man sitting on a milk crate playing the trumpet, and I asked him if he knew how that word got there. What it meant? He replied it’d been there all morning and he didn’t know. Tuck and I ran up to the local CVS, purchased 2 disposable cameras and emptied both rolls. On that word (see below). I like to think this was Lobo’s way of letting me know all is well, he’s at peace, and very much still with me.
Remembering you today and every day, my sweet Lobo. You sacrificed yourself – redirecting and re-routing me on my life’s path- to give me the wake up call that I so needed. It’s because of you why I do what I do, and how I do it. It’s because of you I’m able to, now, help others who are in a similar place. It’s because of you I can empower and better equip the people dogs are depending on, release dogs from unfair and unwarranted judgment calls, and clear up misunderstandings. I love you and thank you from the depths of my soul for all that you were, all that you shared, and all that you taught. You’re with me in every client case I take. I look forward to the day we reunite and I can kiss your gray, heart-shaped snout. Until then, I pray our story will touch the lives of others and share a much-needed message. I bow to you, dear friend.
Relief and quality of life starts here.
Dogs don’t change until we do.
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