I’ve written a few times about my experience with the rescued #367 fighting bust dogs. I volunteered at the HSUS facility with a good friend of mine named Amy, and I was so grateful to have someone to share the intense emotions you experience on these deployments with. We actually just returned from our second trip to the temporary shelter and it was an even more inspiring visit than the first. Since our first deployment we have also helped in the transport and settling in of a dog that Jasmine’s House took in, Campbell. Amy is here to write more about her #367 experience and Campbell.
When Juliana asked me to be a guest writer on her blog, I was mildly panicked. What the heck would I write about? How could I put the experience of helping the HSUS and #367 dogs into words? I’m still struggling to put form and shape to the feelings I have from my deployment. The feelings form invisible strings that attach to the people and dogs who I met while there, and now expand cross-country. Invisible as they may be, I feel their tug each time I see a Facebook post, blog, or email referencing the #367 dogs.
That’s it, that’s the best way that I can describe it. I feel like I’m forever linked to the fates of these dogs and the people who have any part in helping them. We are all bonded together, sharing a common experience, and are now tied together regardless of our differences.
People have asked me, “wasn’t it sad?” Was it? If you want to know if I cried, then yes – I did. Tears were shed, and they are still shed. But they are not shed out of something so simple as just sadness. It is sad what these dogs went through. Maddening, tragic, hateful, and baffling. These negative feelings are present, but I have little room for them. They are pushed aside by much bigger emotions: gratitude, triumph, joy. These dogs are rescued.
Rescued, so they can begin the next part of their journeys. I have been lucky enough to have a bigger role in one of these dogs’ lives. Campbell, Supercam, Camalamadingdong are all affectionate nicknames that have been given to a small tan pitbull, with scarred up back legs and ribs you can still see. He lived his life on a heavy chain, probably forgotten. He lived this life for 3 or 4 years, from our best guess. Jasmine’s House has taken him in and he is being fostered by a good friend of mine, close enough for me to be able to help in his progress.
Campbell inexplicably captured my heart. He is as difficult to explain as the experience of working with the #367 dogs. He has moments of unbridled joy and affection, followed by crippling fear. Every day is an emotional roller coaster. He makes us want to cry and laugh – it feels a bit manic to be a part of Campbell’s journey. Triumph and tragedy are tied together as he muddles through and tries to figure out what is happening in his life, and as we try to help him.
There are so many stories of these dogs as they come out of the HSUS facility and go into foster homes around the country. Comments abound of “Welcome home!” but I want to draw attention to the fact that each and every one of these dogs is at the beginning of the road home. Some will have swift adjustments and take to sleeping on beds, walking on busy streets, and snuggling with humans easily. Others, like Campbell, will take hard work and dedication to support them to learn to feel safe.
Campbell is a victim of trauma. He has never lived in a home. Never been given the chance to show his affectionate side and get a snuggle. The prospect of a whole house to explore, walks outside, toys, petting, and treats that we all find wonderful and exciting can be frightening and overwhelming to a dog like Campbell. The UPS truck makes him hit the ground, and his foster mom gently picks him up and whispers soothing words as she carries him home. A few moments of butt scratches amps him up into a frenzy, causing him to bounce around the house, grabbing his foster mom, the couch cushions, anything he can get his mouth onto as he skitters across the floor. He simply doesn’t know how to handle any stimulation.
Last Friday, we taught Campbell to sit. It was an excruciating process. Using a lure caused him to mouth our hands and arms in excitement as he tried to get the treat. He wouldn’t just offer a sit so we couldn’t try to capture it that way. We tried putting some tasty peanut butter on a wooden spoon to use as a lure to train it – he simply broke the spoon in half when he grabbed it in his mouth. Finally we taught him to target plastic kitchen spoon. And he sat. Again and again, we lured him into a sit. We had to keep training short so he didn’t get overstimulated. 10 clicks, 5 seconds of attention, lots of time in between to decompress. Campbell’s life is broken into small slices of experiences so he can swallow them, digest, and manage. By Sunday, he was offering sits consistently. He has figured out a way to communicate, a way to get rewards, a way to make sense of his new crazy world and he has grabbed onto it.
By Monday he wasn’t just offering sits, he was offering downs which his foster mom had only lured him into 3 or 4 times before he started to give them up all on his own. In 4 days he went from jumping and grabbing at whatever he wanted, to asking for things politely with a sit or a down. Campbell is starting to learn that he has some control in his world. The little light bulb above his head, dark for so long, has begun to flicker.
Still, we suffer setbacks each day. He hated an exercise pen we tried using to block him into a smaller area so he wouldn’t chew up the couch, so I came over to install a tie down. The sound of the drill terrified Campbell and he spent over an hour cowering by the front door, even after all the scary things were over. Walks outside are still a struggle, as Campbell is easily overwhelmed. He can only handle very short bouts of being outside. The noise of the television or radio is too much for him to handle and again he will retreat to the front door, curl into a ball, even when it’s at a volume his foster mom can’t hear.
To be able to have such a big part in the life of one of these dogs is truly humbling to me. I struggle to live up to being enough for Cam. He makes me strive to learn more and to be better. Just as my #367 experience has done. The ups and downs we experience together so exactly mirror my feelings about the whole #367 experience that it is as if Campbell is the living version of my emotions. He is made up of sorrow, tragedy, hope, gratitude, joy, and determination.
Campbell’s progress will continue in fits and starts. Every small step forward will be a miraculous triumph for us. Every setback feels like a failure but in the end only increases our resolve to make Cam’s life better – and teaches us something new. Cam is a great teacher. He is teaching me to be a better dog trainer. He is teaching me to cherish light bulb moments. Most of all, he is teaching me to grab onto successes with my teeth and not let go.