The world changes when you’re loved special

by Kristin on May 8, 2009

in Love, family & community

Maeve cuddling up with our Very Scary third grader.

We’ve had our dog, Maeve, for more than a month now. A week or so ago, as we were headed out for a walk, we passed by my next door neighbor, Jane, who was sitting on her porch.

“Look at her!” Jane said. “She positively prances! She looks so confident, like she owns the world.”

Jane is a hard-core dog lover, and even teaches some training classes. I was pleased that our neighborhood canine expert could see Maeve’s progress.

“Yep,” I said, “she seems to have settled into her life with us.”

“She’s acting like that because she knows she’s loved,” Jane continued on, all matter-of-fact. “She’s been taken care of before, but she’s never been loved special, like you love her.”

Loved special. As soon as she spoke the words, I knew Jane’s theory was true. Being loved special was life’s magic elixir. It had finally worked its way into Maeve’s bloodstream, becoming a part of who she is.

The rough puppy months

Maeve, who is probably about eight months old, was born at a puppy mill in Indiana. From what I understand, puppy mills are typically places where many dogs are kept and bred in poor conditions, without concern for the health of the mothers, just for the purpose of making money off the puppies. All but three states—Pennsylvania, Missouri and Indiana—have regulations against them.

Maeve was rescued from this puppy mill by someone from a no-kill shelter. The details are fuzzy because we never spoke to the person who made the rescue. I always picture a masked bandit who swoops in, maybe on a white horse, scooping up neglected dogs and riding with them into the sunset. Something tells me it wasn’t quite such a dramatic rescue, though.

After the rescue, Maeve lived in a shelter or some sort of kennel for a few weeks, before moving in with a foster family; she lived there for a couple of months, before moving in with us. Somewhere along the way, she was called Kelsey, which struck me as a name no one we hang out with would ever give their child, but I really don’t think it negatively affected her.

When Jason and I first met Maeve, in her foster family’s home, she was very sweet and docile. She was also tentative and maybe a little sad. Life had been unpredictable and hard for her. She didn’t quite know where she fit into the world. I imagine she found ways to cope, and learned to not expect much from her little life, but she certainly wasn’t able to reach her full potential.

The dogs at her foster home were her close companions, but she wasn’t so sure about the high-energy, loud little boy who also lived there, and whose friends often came over for light saber fights. We were warned in advance that the pup was tentative around kids, but she wasn’t the least bit aggressive. Anyway, our three girls are very mellow and great with animals, so we weren’t concerned.

A new chance with a forever family

During her first couple of weeks with us, a variety of things worried Maeve: People riding by on bikes. Street cleaners and recycling trucks. The basement stairs and the unknown world that awaited her at the bottom. Most of all, Maeve was worried about children. Particularly children under the age of 12 who made loud noises and unexpected sudden movements.

When I tried to walk her by a yard where kids were playing—even if we stayed on the opposite side of the street—she began desperately pulling at her leash, begging me to turn around and take a different route. You can imagine how traumatic the morning walk to school was for her, with kids hopping out of cars, calling to their friends and charging noisily to the front doors of the school.

But even the most careful, slow-moving, calm children sent Maeve slinking into another room, ears back, tail down. When it came to our three girls, she was fine around 12-year-old H, only slightly worried about 11-year-old Q, and did everything she could to avoid 9-year-old S.

I can admit it now: I was a bit worried. And stressed. Maeve seemed like the perfect dog for Jason and me, but we got a dog in the first place because of the kids, not because we felt a burning need to care for and worry about yet another living creature. And S was starting to develop a complex because the dog didn’t seem to like her, no matter what she did.

One day, when we were in the back yard playing with Maeve, and I felt we were starting to make a tiny bit of progress, the neighbor boy came over and ran thundering up and down the slide on our climber, waving some sort of sword. I thought Maeve was about to go into cardiac arrest. Where was the doggy defibrillator?

Patience + love + consistency.

But time is a balm. We worked hard to muffle the many startling things about life. Our main technique was taking all the nooks and indentations where worry and fear might otherwise settle in Maeve, and filling them with love and affection. With all of the family-wide snuggling we did on the sofa and the bed, Maeve right at the center, there was little time for her to focus on imaginary or past fears.

And then, suddenly, it seemed to click for her: “This is my family—my forever family,” as animal shelters like to say. Somehow she knew all five of us were ultimately focused on what’s best for her, and that she could trust us, and feel secure no matter what was happening around her.

Now Maeve prances, as Jane said, head and ears up—even when we walk by the line of cars depositing kids at school in the mornings. She’s curious, rather than worried, about every new thing she sees and hears. And at the end of the day, when Saskia comes running up the sidewalk toward us, often with several little friends in tow, Maeve wriggles and whimpers for joy.

Now that I think of it, being loved special probably has the same affect on all of us.

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  • Daisy

    I have a warm feeling in my tummy just reading this. We’ve rescued bunnies (I’m allergic to dogs, more’s the pity), and they give back more love than we could ever imagine.

  • Tracy

    I think you are right, being loved special does make the difference for all of us.

    Maeve is gorgeous and your little girl’s braid is really beautiful.

  • Jody

    I agree with this concept. It’s amazing to know the feeling when you are wanted, needed and loved. I think it’s true for any species on the planet.

  • Janet Roper

    From what I’ve observed, some of your core beliefs are family and community. These, I believe, you communicated to Maeve from the first time you met her. She picked up on those and knew that’s what she wanted. Kudos to you on sharing your commitments with her and giving her a forever home. She now reflects your commitments and values to others through her well being and happiness!


  • Dave Thurston

    There is something more to this. . . something simple and brilliant. Something that if articulated in just a few words would most definitely be a “rule to live by”. Some kind of cross between the Golden Rule and You Reap What You Sow and Better to Give than Receive.

    I love when I see a dog (or any living thing) turn the corner and realize “Wow, there are people that want to be a part of my life . . . just because I am who and how I am.”

    Good writing. Thanks much.

  • The Modern Gal

    My own pup went through this kind of transformation, having had a horrible past life before being found on the side of the road by her rescuer with broken bag legs. She was so timid and easily spooked at first, but now she’s the most confident, happy (and sometimes stubborn) dog on the block.

    I think it’s easier to see in dogs, but certainly a concept that works for humans too!

  • Kristin T.

    Daisy, I love contributing to warm tummy feelings! I have to admit, I was hoping this post wouldn’t be too sappy for my readers. (How/where do you rescue bunnies?)

    Tracy, Happy Mothers Day to a mom who clearly loves her kids special! (And aren’t braids the best? I will be very sad when she stops requesting that I braid her hair.)

    Jody, I’m glad you brought up the “wanted” and “needed” aspect of being loved. It’s not like we’re being martyrs caring for our dog. We need her and want her here, too, because she gives so much to us. It’s reciprocal, a concept even a dog seems able to grasp.

    Janet, I had never before thought of an animal reflecting our family commitments and values. I love the idea! That she can somehow reflect those important things to others is remarkable, but I believe it is true. Thanks for your insight.

    Dave, it does seem like the larger truth here is some combination of the three maxims you brought up. And I really appreciate how you put this: “Wow, there are people that want to be a part of my life . . . just because I am who and how I am.”

    Modern Gal, wow, it sounds like your dog really went through a lot! I think you’re right about the effects of love being more evident in dogs than in people. Dogs wear all their emotions where their sleeve would be, if they had a shirt. People tend to embrace a lot of coping mechanisms that involve burying fears and hurts rather than letting them go and believing in the possibility of something better.

  • Mother Shaffer

    Love hearing stories about rescuing animals in need. Makes me want to rescue about 100 more, but then my husband would surely stop loving me special!

  • Kristin T.

    Mother Shaffer, I love your dog rescue story, too, with its very happy ending. And your comment about how your husband would stop loving you special if you rescued lots more dogs gave me a good laugh. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Detlef

    I love this post and its happy ending. I found it by searching for “PORCH” on your blog ;)

    Like we humans dogs define themselves through the community they life in, their relationships to others beings. I like how in this case love and learning could overcome earlier negative conditions. Sometimes that can be very difficult.

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  • Genevieve Charet

    AAAAAaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww…that’s all I have to say. Funny, I think I’ve used the term “loved special” with my man before, haha.