These are the guys we often refer to as "our first-borns". Tim is in the front and Orv is behind.
In January 2006, A and I finally agreed to adopt a dog. We knew we would definitely adopt from a rescue or shelter and we were looking specifically for the hard to adopt dog; the ones with medical issues or a senior. For weeks I looked at available dogs on Petfinder. Finally I came across a Japanese Chin for adoption. I had never even heard of the breed and I immediately fell in love with that face. I did some research on the breed and A and I agreed to submit an application to adopt. We jumped through all the hoops and sat waiting (somewhat impatiently) for a dog. Four months later we were on vacation in Florida and received an email that there was a dog for us; Timmy the Timid.
We spent several hours on the phone with his foster mom, Barb, discussing Tim's background. He was a puppy-mill dog, only out 4 weeks and although he was still very shy and unsure, he was learning to trust. We planned to go and meet him on a Friday. Thursday we received an email from Barb asking if we would ever consider adopting 2 dogs; Tim's brother Orville had been sent to another foster home but that home couldn't handle his extremely fearful behavior and he was not thriving. We said we would consider it.
Timmy was extremely shy and his body language was submissive. He peeked at us around corners though; scared but curious. Orville though was completely different. He was feral and so scared that he cowered under a table with the most huge fearful eyes I've ever seen. Barb had to corner him to pick him up and he would thrash his body and eventually go stiff and submit from pure fear. It rates up there as one of the most truly heartbreaking things I've ever witnessed. I sat there for hours holding this trembling pup and visiting.
Barb told us that Tim and Orv were 2 of 6 dogs the rescue had picked up from a puppy-miller in Nebraska. The miller had contacted them and said he had 6 dogs, if they wanted them come get them or he "would get rid of them". These 6 dogs were pups being held back to see if they would make good stud dogs. At 9 months old they were already too big. The rescuer picked up 6 dogs crammed into a wire rabbit hutch they had lived in most of their short lives; they had never been handled (with any care), they had never walked on grass, their toes splayed from always standing on wire. Orv wasn't really a candidate for adoption yet but his only comfort was Tim and they really wanted the two of them to go to a home together. We knew the chances of them finding a home together was hard enough but with Orv's special needs it would be nearly impossible. We knew it was going to be a big job and we accepted the challenge even though we didn't know what the hell we were doing.
Sunday we brought home these two and the real fun started. Tim was very shy and timid but he so wanted to be with us and little by little we gained his trust. Orv was the complete opposite. He cowered on the back of the sofa trembling and would have such severe anxiety attacks even when no one was near him. He would practically injure himself trying to get away when we approached him. When we finally did pick him up he would thrash and wail then stiffen and submit. It was hearbreaking to even have to take him out to potty. Their foster mom was an angel and so full of support and ideas. I read everything I could find and contacted every dog trainer just trying to find someone to help me help him. One so-called trainer actaully had the nerve to tell me that Orv was probably too damaged to be saved and I should have him put down. Deep down though, I knew he could be "normal" because everynight after we went to bed we could hear the two of them playing. We actually went as far as to set up the video camera one night to record their nocturnal activities. There was Orv on that video, up walking around with his tail up and wagging, wrestling with his brother and exploring his environment.
I won't lie and say I never felt frustrated and ready to give up. After three months our vet recommended an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication and we decided to give it a try; five months after we brought Orv home we finally started to see a change. We had a break-through. I was home alone and Orv was having an especially hard time that night. I was so frustrated that I just sat there on the sofa sobbing and asking him what can I do to help you/make you understand. For the first time ever he approached me and licked my cheek, then bolted back to his corner of the sofa.
Little by little we took small steps. After nine months in our home we could pet and pick him up without a major panic attack. Just over a year he finally learned to go down the stairs and started to play with his brother outside. We took him off the medication and he continued to improve. It took 2 years to go on a walk more than one block from the house and finally greet out backyard neighbor. At every step we would say this is the best he will ever be and then he would surprise us by getting better. In his third year in our home he has finally come to fully accept A, come to us and cuddle, roll on his back for a belly scratch. A refers to him as our "zen" boy because he has the most peaceful, calming effect on us. These things all sound pretty mundane to the average dog owner, but to us it is nothing short of a miracle.