Monday, August 20, 2012

SociaBulls: The Gift of Learning to Relax

One of the best parts of our SociaBulls group is meeting all the dogs with unique backgrounds and experiences. Enter Honor. Honor is a gorgeous, sweet, courageous gal who lives with a pitbull brother (Jason) and foster brother (Lil' Leroy). Though you would never expect it from meeting her, Honor had a horrific past: she was shot in the head with 12-gauge shot gun. Though she lost one eye, she never did lose her spirit, and has always been a happy and loving pooch. Given her background, little Honor never had proper socialization as a pup, and began showing frustration and leash reaction if she even saw another pooch from afar. 
Read below as Honor's person tells her story and works to give her the gift of a happy, relaxing life.
When I adopted Honor I expected a dog with challenges.  I didn’t know how she couldn’t not have issues with all she had been through.  In fact, several people close to me thought I had very much lost my mind for even considering a dog with such a traumatic past.  Variations of “There are plenty of dogs with less ‘history’ who need homes.  Pick one of them.” or “Who gets shot in the head with a 12 gauge shot gun and is normal and happy?” were thrown at me so often I stopped discussing my intentions with all but one person – my Dad.  From the moment I had read Honor’s profile and looked at the pictures of a dog who was moving her tail so fast it was a blur in every single shot I had resolved myself to do two things: bring her home and make a promise to her that her bad days were over.   So as far as I was concerned, there were two things that needed to be done.  The rest of the world could just mind their own business.
I remember the day her foster mom brought her to my house.  Honor was so politely inquisitive.  I remember how she carefully greeted Max, my senior pug.  I remember how she trotted around and investigated the backyard.  I remember how her one eye got huge with shock when she first saw my cats and how she backed away from them in awe.  I remember how gently she took her first treat from my hand.  Also I remember how Honor crawled up on the back of the chaise lounge in front of the big bay window and watched as her foster mom drove away without her.  My heart broke for her a little right there and then. So I did the only logical thing I could think of.  I decided we needed a distraction and a leisurely stroll in the new neighborhood was the perfect next thing to do.  So stroll we did and what a joy it was.  Ha!  This sweet, one-eyed nugget of fur WAS perfect. All the naysayers who had been bending my ear had no clue what their lips were flapping about.  Or so it all appeared.
I suppose our first few walks were uneventful because Honor wasn’t feeling confident enough to really act out.  In hindsight I see and understand this but imagine the surprise at my end of the leash when my well-behaved dog lunged at another dog for the first time.  I admit, I was very much surprised but I wasn’t too concerned.  I don’t like everyone I meet so Honor doesn’t have to like every dog she meets, right?  But then the lunging began to get worse.  Quickly.  Even as the distance between neighborhood dogs increased.  Soon a dog on the horizon was reason enough for Honor to create a scene. 
For the most part I had created our world to be an island unto ourselves.  My Dad was 16 hours and one time zone away.  The few friends I had been giving updates to were not people I wanted to hear “I told you so” from.  Fortunately, I had been volunteering with what was then called End Dogfighting in Chicago and could get some really sound advice from the lead trainer.  I was even able to bring Honor to some weekend training classes.  But having the knowledge to help Honor be the good girl I knew she was is different from putting it in practice.  Practice, actually, is exactly what we needed.  Finding willing and understanding parties to participate in practicing our good behavior skills proved the biggest challenge of all.  By mere visual appearance, Honor was not a dog a lot of people were willing to take a chance on.  Especially not complete strangers we met on our walks.  They’d rather keep their distance than risk their dog being in proximity of the lunging, loud one-eyed menace coming down the street.
Over time we met a few people who were understanding and dog savvy but arranging schedules to coordinate walks was a chore unto itself.  Our progress was minimal at best and probably undetectable to the Average Joe walking down the street.  We needed more consistency to have more of a chance.  So I consider Lady Luck to have been shining down on me the day I surfed the web right onto Two Pitties in theCity Facebook page.  And when I further read about Chicago Sociabulls, the clouds parted, the sun shined down and the birds began to sing.  THIS is what we needed!  People who understood, dogs to practice with and a commitment on calendar!  Yahoo!
Having been part of the Sociabulls for some time now I can honestly say this group was a game changer for us.  Although it wasn’t easy in the beginning.  Not by a long shot.  My Honorbelle is not perfect on leash and very well may never be but, I do have to say, her improvement is remarkable.  Walking in the Sociabulls pack has become a bit of a social extravaganza.  Honor would rather try to sniff the dog in front of her’s butt than show off her bravado and challenge another dog walking in the pack.  And on our own, dogs on the horizon don’t register on her radar.  Dogs across the street are of interest but more often than not she doesn’t think they’re worth the effort.  Dogs in closer proximity she still likes to yell at.  (Meh, can’t win them all.  We’re still a work-in-progress, after all.)  By and large, though, we now spend so much more time around the neighborhood stopping and sniffing and caring less about who is around that I fear my dog may have discovered a way to avoid exercising.  Fair enough.  In my opinion, after all she’s been through, the gift of learning to relax is the least Honor deserves and the most amazing thing for me to be part of.  Thank you Sociabulls.
Plus, join our Chicago SociaBulls  Facebook page for more photos and information about group walks. And check out the Hikabulls page where we first learned about the benefits of group walking and  this link from the DINOs (Dogs in Need of Space) group to read the discussion and see if there is a group in your area.  

Please Note: As the weather has warmed up, bikers, runners, dogs, and kids have come out in full force in many of the areas that we walk. While we had previously been introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, we've decided that in order to continue to keep our group safe and make our walks a positive experience for everyone, we are putting new members "on hold" for the summer. You can still submit an application, and it will go on our wait list in the order it is received. Once things quiet down a bit more in the fall, we will resume introducing new members a few at a time to each walk, and will be contacting people on the wait list in a first-come, first-served manner.


How Sam Sees It said...

When we first introduced Sam and Monty we just walked out the door and kept walking. We think it made all the difference to how they reacted to each other. I wish we had a group like yours in our area.


Regina Hart said...

What a wonderful way to start the week. It is so good to hear Honor's story. Thank you to her person for having the conviction to bring her home and for having the patience and understanding to work with her. I'm so glad she has the opportunity to enjoy life and to be loved.

Life_With_Alfred said...

I love her! Way to go, Honor (and Honor's mom)!

Anonymous said...

That's wonderful! It is so heartwarming to hear that Honor's person took a chance on a dog most people would pass over. And kudos to SociaBulls for providing a venue for Honor to blossom in!
Mitzvahs all around!

Anonymous said...
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Pitlandia Pooch said...

What a great story! This has given me more hope that there will come a day when my dog Athena won't be such a dog lunger! Thanks for sharing!

Two Kitties One Pittie said...

What a beautiful story! Honor has done so well on our walks, and always makes me smile when I see her. Her mom is incredibly attuned to her needs, and I feel like I learn from watching them together whenever I see them! Thanks for sharing their story!

Two French Bulldogs said...

Thanks for a good story!
Benny & Lily

Two Pitties in the City said...

Honor's mom has been such an inspiration, and we are so lucky to have them in our group. I'm always so interested to hear the backstories, because I have never seen any type of reaction from Honor since I've been on walks with her, and she really is such a happy pup. Thanks for sharing your story!

Shana said...
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