Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nassau (Part I): The Lesson

Nassau was the beginning of my formal training in dog behavior. I didn't even believe in dog trainers. In my mind, they were all nasty control freaks that used dogs as an outlet for their inferiority complexes, forced them to perform circus tricks for human entertainment. Punishment. Whips.

I had a lot to learn. And Nassau didn't waste time teaching me.

She bit me the first time I met her.

Two days after I brought Romy home (we're talking September 2012 here), I got another call from CARF. Another stray dog that might be ready to be picked up. They needed someone to make an assessment in order to plan the rescue.

Nassau, Sept 27, 2012.
The day we met.
I think this was before the bite.
I met with the woman who'd been feeding the dog at an empty lot where she set food every evening. I got there first, and the dog--bull-terrier mix, smallish, female--came out of the scraggly bush. She approached us without fear, let me touch her without flinching. I noticed she walked with a funny kind of goose-step gait. She lifted her paws off the ground higher than necessary.

She had a dirty collar with a piece of chain attached. An escape? But she didn't seem afraid of people. Dogs--especially female dogs--usually escape because the scary unknown outside is a better chance at survival than the scary human inside. Or maybe she'd been left tied to a tree somewhere because her owners didn't want her anymore.

That happens a lot here in Curaçao.

We walked to a spot under a tree, and while I filled the water bowl the woman poured kibble. I knelt about three feet from the dog, and petted her as she ate.

(I know. Stupid.)

She didn't growl or anything, but--dang, she didn't need to. I should've caught on sooner.

"I think I'm making her uncomfortable," I said. State the obvious much, Guilie?

So I backed off. And stood up.

The empty lot where Nassau "lived". On the right you
can see a bit of the road that leads to her namesake,
Fort Nassau.
How do you get up from a kneeling position? Unless you're a ballerina, you lean forward, right? You shift your balance forward into a crouch to get one foot flat on the ground, then you straighten up. Which is what I did. Three feet from a dog that didn't know me.

I earned that bite. I did. With every ounce of ignorance and good intentions in my head.

And she was kind. She didn't bite hard. It was just a snap, a warning: MY food.

But--oh, man, it hurt.

I didn't even rub the spot, not then, because I didn't want to scare the other woman--who backed off, horrified; turns out she was already scared of the dog because, of all reasons, she looked "like a pit bull." And I needed her help.

So I explained, while pain burned up my thigh, what I just explained here: I earned it. My fault, not the dog's. No, the dog isn't vicious (what the hell is a vicious dog, anyway? any halfway knowledgeable dog behaviorist knows any dog attack is some human's fault).

Pretty pointless. The woman was impossible to find the next day for the actual rescue. No one else was available, not even a crate. CARF told me to wait, they'd round up some volunteers to help a day later--but this is like falling off a horse. You got to get back on that saddle, within reach of the maw that bit you, if you want to keep riding.

So I did it alone.

(To be continued.)


  1. Hope you had the bite checked out! ;)

    1. Haha--she didn't even break the skin, but I had an ugly bruise the size of my fist halfway up my thigh for two weeks :) You can imagine the looks I--and my poor innocent by-stander boyfriend--got at the beach :D

      Thanks for the visit, and for reading this mini-newspaper. LOVE your blog.


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