July 20, 2004 ~ Falling in Love with a Montague
Montague (Monty), a German shepherd mix
I have known sixty-seven wolves, wolf-dogs, and dogs through my work at the rescue. With every single one of them, my relationship has been very different.
Some of them are easy to love--I love them from the first time I meet them. They are so sweet, so loving, we fall naturally into an easy friendship. Delaware, with his quiet kind look, who jumped up and licked my face on my first visit, nuzzled against me as I scratched him. Zodiak, who will curl up next to you and fall asleep.
Others are very hard to love. Like Mama, who barks and barks and barks at you with that angry mean look in her eye and will try to bite you as soon as you turn your back. Your ears start ringing from the barking, and it takes a great deal of commitment to keep going into that pen day after day to feed, water, scoop up her poop, when you often have to wonder if she'll ever so much as be ambivalent about you, let alone love you.
I must admit, though, I do have favorites. My favorites are the ones whose trust and love I have to earn. The ones who have been abused or neglected or simply have never had much human contact, so are timid. How profoundly touching it is to be given the trust of one of them.
Monty, scared of the camera (and Morgan)
The first time I came by Montague (Monty) and KK's pen, they stood back by the far fence and watched warily. But every week, KK would come a little closer. It's a beautiful sight, watching a wolf's fear and curiosity battle with each other. She'd tremble and stretch toward me, finally reach her breaking point, and retreat.
Eventually, KK would sniff at my hand and then run away. After that, L. tipped me off, told me that KK was much more friendly if there wasn't a fence in between her and you. Ah. So I went in their pen, and sat. By the end of that time, KK was sitting in my lap, but Monty would come no closer than the safety of the shelter in their pen, and from there he would sniff and sniff and sniff. If I looked his way he would run.
KK giving kisses
KK loved me to pieces over the next few weeks, so happy to have a human paying so much attention to her. To me she was submissive and loving, to Morgan, she was mischievous. She hadn't quite accepted him as someone to respect. When he wasn't looking, she'd try to untie his boots, delicately biting and tugging on the strings, while watching him out of the corner of her eye with what I swear was a smirk, as he said, "Hey! KK, no! Off! Mine!" Or she'd wait until he wasn't looking, and pull on his shirt. A few times, she tried to steal his glasses. To me, she gave a loving, happy look; to Morgan, it was always a playful smirk.
I spent a lot of time sitting in the pen with KK (who would try to curl up in my lap, silly wolf, she is too big for that) and she'd nuzzle me and beg for belly rubs and kiss me all over. As I paid attention to KK, though, I would talk softly to Montague, who was always hiding in the corner or hovering nearby with uncertainty.
After two weeks, Monty would come up and sniff me, then run away. After a month, he would let me scratch him under the chin, but if I made any loud noises or sudden movements, he'd bolt.
KK, and Monty allowing me to scratch under his chin
Two months later, L. and Morgan were working a little ways away, and L. looked over at Monty and me and said, "Well I'll be damned."
You see, Monty was playing with me. He'd give me the play invitation, turn and run, and I'd chase him. Grab his rear. Then I'd turn and run and he'd chase me, back and forth, back and forth around the pen. When we stopped, I'd scratch him all over, give him a bit of a belly rub, he'd lick my face, then he'd want to play again.
"He's never played with anybody," L. said, watching with a smile. "Monty! Montague! You like Melissa, don't you?"
From that point on, whenever I pulled up in my car, Monty would start pacing with excitement, watching, hoping I'd come up and say hi. In his pen, he would not leave my side. No matter where I was in the upper compound, he would stand at the closest corner of his pen to me, his eyes would follow me, ears at attention, that hopeful and loving look on his face. And if I turned his way, Oh! Excitement! Wagging of tail and licking of chops and eyes so bright! "Oh! She looked at me! Heaven!"
Monty watching me, hoping
While it was wonderful that he had come to trust me, that he was being so open and loving with me, I knew it wouldn't do him any good if he only allowed me to approach and still wouldn't trust any other humans.
Monty was scared senseless by Morgan, for some reason. We decided to make our next project getting Monty to accept Morgan. And what a project it was!
When I went into the pen with KK and Monty, Morgan would come in with me and sit right next to me. Monty, always wanting to be as close to me as possible, was torn. "I want to be next to you and get lovin's from you," his whole body said, "But please, please make the scary Morgan go away first!" I felt like such a traitor.
But, finally, his want for my attention would overwhelm him and he'd come to my side that was furthest from Morgan, and I'd praise him and pet him and give him love. If Morgan moved, he'd bolt. After a few weeks, Morgan could move without Monty bolting, though Monty would look at him with those fearful eyes.
Finally, after a few weeks, if my hands were on him to steady and reassure him, Monty would grudgingly let Morgan touch him. And, with another month's time, he'd even let Morgan approach him on his own.
And then, KK was adopted. I cried that night. I loved Missy KK deeply, and I was so very happy that she would have a permanent home, a loving home, but so heartbroken to know that I would probably never see her again, an eight-hour drive away. Once you've worked closely with one of these animals, gained her trust and helped her heal, it's a bond that you can't just forget, can't just let go. That connection is established for good. It has been months, but I still both smile and feel a lump in the back of my throat when I let myself think of Missy KK. We get updates from her new mama; KK is very happy and thoroughly loved.
KK, joining in on a howl
After KK left, Monty was terribly lonely. His bond with Morgan grew much stronger; now that he had lost his long-time pen-mate, he was desperate for love. I started taking him for walks occasionally. He was ecstatic. He had not been out of that pen in months, and to walk across fields! To roll in dirt! To pee on fresh trees! To run up trails! And all with his favorite human! He was in heaven.
After a while, I started to notice something. When complete strangers would come close to his pen, Monty would still hang back like before, but there was now a certain eagerness to his look. After a while, he would even occasionally come up and sniff a stranger, before he ran away.
The change, the transformation, from a scared and neglected animal to a possible companion animal--it was underway.
Monty needed a new pen-mate. First we tried to introduce him to Cierra ( both on leads). She snapped at his butt, though, he growled and snapped back, we pulled them apart and he leaned against me, trembling. "Save me from that rude wolf-dog!" he said. Trying again later, the same thing happened. That pairing obviously wasn't going to work.
We moved him into a temporary pen next to Meeja, to see how they did. They got along okay. We decided to wait several weeks and see. I continued giving him walks. He continued to improve.
And Sunday, Morgan and I took both Meeja and Monty out on leads to see how they would get along in person, without a fence between them. They had a great time, got along spectacularly, and we put them together into Monty's pen while we built a larger pen through the afternoon. We'd look over to see them playing or just sitting together companionably.
At one point, a full-sanctuary howl started up. And Monty, quiet Montague, who had never made a sound aside from a very, very quiet growl when Cierra bit him, never barked or even whimpered--he started to howl along with Meeja. Softly, at first. Then a little louder.
L. and I sat watching, astonished. "I've never, ever heard him do that. Not even with KK," I murmured.
What a treat, to hear Monty's voice for the first time. Before me was a completely different animal than the one I first met last February. The Monty whom I met was timid, scared of everything, fearful of the world, untrusting and wary of humans. This Monty, though, he is confident. He is still timid, but his timidity does not keep him from making new friends much more easily than he had before. He is openly loving toward me and now a few others. He is eager for human companionship.
Monty has found his voice, his howl.
Since Monty and Meeja get along so well, this may mean that Monty's days at the Rescue are numbered. Meeja came to us for sanctuary while her owner constructed a pen to meet new legal codes. Her owner hoped that while she was here, Meeja would find a good playmate. Meeja's mama expects to take two animals home. Now it is looking like Monty will probably be the second.
Oh, of course I am torn about this. I'm thrilled that Monty will have a home, a family. But Monty is, indeed, my favorite. I've never been so touched by an animal's unfailing love before Monty gave me his. Gaining his trust was such a struggle, but it is that struggle that makes his trust all the more precious to me. I am honored by his love, by the way his whole body lightens when he sees me coming. A large part of me wished that the home and family that Monty could go to would be mine.
But I do not have a home to take Monty to yet, and he certainly deserves a home.
This is what rescue work is about. Loving them as hard as you can, so that they can heal, and then letting them go. Letting my heart break over and over again.