5. Tagging up at home base

Annie loved her crate. It was her safe place and she would go in there when she needed confidence and comfort. In the first few days she might venture out for a minute, but then return shortly after and settle back down into her bed. She would tuck her nose into the bumper and rub it around. I think she loved the feel of something soft on her face and this was probably her very first bed that was all her own. We didn’t close the door to her crate very often, she spent so much time in there, I wanted her to feel free to explore if and when she had the courage to do so.IMG_1217

We began calling her crate “home base”. When I called her, she would cock her head and consider what she should do. Eventually she would stand up, take a couple of steps out, but then return again to her crate. I’d give her some time, and then she’d try it again, coming out a little further and then return again to regroup. Watching her do this reminded me of my son when he played youth baseball. He’d lead off of the base with each pitch and then tag up again if the pitch was missed. Annie was “tagging up” at her base.

In the first couple of months it might take 5 or 6 tries to get her to come all the way around the house (she still refused to cut through the short hallway), whether it was to go out, eat a meal, leave the house for a walk, or try to get her into the yard so that we could then get into the car. At times it was frustrating but I was learning that she was willing to follow me, she just needed to take her time and some days required more time than others. Sometimes she would tremble in between tries, sometimes not. There was no predicting if she would come on the first attempt or the 9th.

When she began spending more time outside her crate, she would tag up if there was any sort of change. If someone came into the house, she would tag up before coming out to see who was here. If she heard one of us coming downstairs and she was outside her crate she would tag up. If she was coming around the perimeter of the house to get into the kitchen and one of us was standing in a place she wasn’t exptecting, she would get startled and turn around and tag up before she would try it again. She was gaining confidence, but she needed the comfort of her crate to give her an extra boost.

She was getting more comfortable with the leash so if we needed to go somewhere (usually the vet) and I was short on time I would give her 3 or 4 tries and then clip her on leash. Once on the leash she would follow me straight out the door. I wanted her to learn to come on her own so I didn’t do this often. After a couple of months I discovered that if I put her leash in my hand and stood outside her crate, she would follow me.   Once in the yard she might pause a few times when she saw me heading for the car and I would need to use the leash. This usually meant that she and I would do a few circles in the yard before she would let me clip her on the leash. Eventually she got to the point that she would come all the way through the yard and to the car without having to be leashed. This is when I knew we were finally gaining her trust. She felt safe with us and was beginning to overcome her fear of the unknown.


4. Making progress at home

I spent the next 4 weeks letting her do things as she wanted and tried to show her that she didn’t need to fear us. I only called her for good things, food and treats especially. When it was time for her twice-daily eye drops I always came to her. I would administer her drops in her crate but she didn’t seem to mind and eventually she would scoot to the front and put her head on my knee making it easier for both of us. Maisie and I continued to go for walks but I always announced it in front of Annie. I wanted Annie to see Maisie’s enthusiasm when the leash came out. Was I over thinking things? Maybe, but I know that actions speak louder than words so I was trying to exaggerate our actions as much as possible.


I wanted to ease Annie’s fear of leaving the yard so I would leave the back gate open and Maisie and I would walk up and down our alley when Annie was outside.  We would always stay in sight of Annie. Annie would stand on our deck and I could see her head moving back and forth while she kept an eye on us, and a couple of times she eased her way closer, almost to the gate, but she never left the yard. If I started to approach her or call her she would run back to the deck.  Sometimes I would clip the leash on while she was in the yard and just let her drag it around behind her, trying, trying, trying to get her to not hate the leash.

I tried to introduce the basement family room using the outside entrance. It was only a ½ flight of stairs and there was a big comfy couch that she could enjoy if I could just get her to go down there and through that door. I had tried to get her down there before but she put the brakes on and wouldn’t move. For days I sat down there with the door open, calling her name. She would look through the opening to see me, but if I got up or approached her at all she would run away. I didn’t want to pull her against her will, so I just kept waiting for her to do it on her own. It was February in Chicago so one day as I sat wrapped in blankets watching her watch me with cold air rushing through the house I decided to put the leash on her and give her a gentle tug, and she came down! Once I got the door closed I backed off, got on the couch with Maisie and let Annie take her time sniffing and exploring this new space in our house. Eventually she curled up on the floor next to me and went to sleep. NavigaIMG_0989ting a new set of stairs and doorway as well as learning about a new room had exhausted her but she was able to relax and had shown me once again that with time and patience she was willing to try new things. The very next day she followed me down with no hesitation, climbed up on the couch and curled up next to me as if there was never an issue.

3. Driving Miss Annie

I had postponed taking her to our vet for the first two weeks. I was trying to gain her trust and we were making some progress getting her to come out of her crate. She was getting more comfortable in the family room and she liked walking the perimeter of the yard. A few days before her appointment my husband and I tried to get her in the car just to go for a drive. I was hoping to show her that car rides don’t always mean going to new places. This was a no go. For an older dog, she is still incredibly strong. When I hooked the leash on her she would sit down and dig her feet into the ground. She was not moving! I would gently coax her, eventually she would stand up but after a couple of steps she would sit down again. I tried for about 20 minutes but we weren’t making any progress and she was getting more stressed with each attempt to move forward. I gave up and let her run away from me. She headed straight up the steps for the back door and right back into her crate. This was definitely a step backwards in earning her trust.

I didn’t sleep well the night before her appointment. I kept going over the difficulty of getting her in the car and I was trying to figure out what we should do. The solution I came to was to use the lifting sling that we had for Bailey. She had terrible arthritis in her elbows and for her last 6 months we used this to help her navigate the porch steps when she went outside. My husband used the straps to keep Annie’s front legs moving and I would lift her back-end when she started to sit down. We slowly made it down the walkway and then my husband lifted her into the back of the car. She did not like being picked up and let out a huge moan. I rode in the back with her but I wasn’t able to put her at ease. Once again, she put on her guarded expression and protective stance. We got to the vet and opened the side door for her, she leapt out of car and she was like a rocket on a leash. Fortunately my husband had a good hold on her and was able to guide her toward their door. She was so frantic she burst in and charged into an open exam room. It was a room they used for small animals because it didn’t have a lifting table but they were so kind and let us stay in there since she had picked it out. When the vet and the tech came in, we all sat on the floor with Annie while they checked her over.

She had been immunized the year before at the time of her rescue so she was due for shots and she had some lumps and bumps that were notated and measured. Her teeth were looked at and added to the list of items to keep checking for changes and signs of infection. We would need to watch her eyes closely because she has Entropian (a hereditary disease that caused her eyelids to roll inward) and there was evidence of prior injury to her eyes. She also has Dry Eye but she tolerated having her tear production checked and with the aid of her medication they were functioning normally. We agreed we would bring her back in about a month for a recheck.  The three of us were quite a spectacle as we went through the same amount of difficulty getting her out of the office and into the car, but it was over and we could head back to the safety of home.

It’s no surprise she spent the rest of the day in her crate but she came out for dinner and lay in the middle of the floor that evening while we were watching TV so she wasn’t completely traumatized by her first excursion out of her yard.

2. Annie comes home

We drove straight home. I had seen how difficult it was getting her in the car with someone she knew and trusted, I felt it would be safer if we let her out when we got home. I waited in the car with her when we stopped to get some dinner, and she picked up her head for the first time to look around. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking, she was breathing pretty heavily but at least she seemed curious.She was alert and panting for the entire trip, and when we pulled into our driveway she was ready to get out. She showed no excitement about exploring a new place. We got her into the yard and she went potty, but she was very nervous about what was going to happen. She had to go up our porch steps to get into the house. I knew she didn’t do the stairs at the other house, but we didn’t know if she knew how or was physically able. She definitely didn’t want to and she put on the brakes and sat down. Trying to move her was like trying to move a huge bag of cement but between the two of us we got her up the stairs. Now it was time to go through the door, and I was reminded that she didn’t like new doors. Again, we wrestled with getting her up on all fours and helped her get through the door. Maisie led her into our family room. I made a bed for her using the blankets we had in the car, thinking that would be familiar and I set it up next to Maisie’s crate. I wasn’t sure if we would get another crate, I was sensitive to her feeling locked up and wanted her to be comfortable. She wasn’t interested in dinner, but she did climb into the bed and started to take in her surroundings.

IMG_0858I knew this was stressful, so I decided to sleep on the couch in the same room so that she wouldn’t feel alone. She had always slept with a pack of dogs and this was very different. She panted very heavily but finally fell asleep around midnight. On three different occasions she let out a lonely howl and I knew she was crying in her sleep. She missed her pack and her home and it broke my heart. She hasn’t done that again since that first night, but it was hard to hear and it was another reminder of all that this sweet dog had endured in her life.

Over the next few days we noticed she became much more guarded and nervous when the sun went down. She wasn’t comfortable going outside unless one of us went with her. She seemed to be afraid of the dark, or that she was going to be left outside in the dark.  I slept on the couch with a dimmed light for the next two weeks until I felt she was ready to be left alone downstairs. She was restless and would come up to me multiple times in the night and breathe in my face. It seemed like she was checking to see that I was still there, so I would give her a pat on the head and she would go lie back down and go to sleep. She took over Maisie’s crate on her second day so we got her a crate with a new bed and she loved it. She would snuggle right in and spent almost all of her time in there. Even though she was restless at night, she slept soundly during the day and for those first few days we fondly nicknamed the crate her turtle shell. She would lay with her head and front feet sticking out, but when she got nervous she would pull everything in and move closer to the back.Getting her to come out of her crate was tricky. She was very cautious and it would take several tries to get her to come out willingly to eat or go outside. She wouldn’t bark or go to the door when she needed to go out, she would just leave her crate and stare at the opening leading to the next room.  There is a narrow hallway that led from the family room to the kitchen and back door but Annie was very spooked by it, she preferred to go around the perimeter of the house. This involved going through the living room and entry way, into the dining room and finally through the kitchen to get to the back door.  If I didn’t catch her cue right away or wasn’t in the room with her, she would end up peeing in the entry way near the stairs. She would be hidden from view of all rooms and she preferred this to going all the way through and approaching the back door. I didn’t really care, it was easy enough to clean up, it was just that she was so timid about leaving her crate on her own.

We would walk her all the way around every time she needed to go out and every time we fed her. I thought it was a good exercise for her to have to leave her crate to do these two things, if I brought her food to her I was concerned that she would never fully be comfortable in the other rooms of the house. We have always fed our dogs in the kitchen so we continued that with her as well.

After about a week, she would get out of her crate and lay on the floor for a bit. If I was in the kitchen occasionally I would catch her watching me through the hallway but as soon as our eyes met she would quickly get up and go back into her turtle shell. If I was in the same room with her watching TV, sometimes she would come out and approach me for a little attention and then either lie on the floor or go back into her crate. After a couple of weeks of this, I really began to doubt that she would ever bond with us. I remember having this conversation with my husband and we both agreed that although we would be disappointed if she always kept her distance we were committed to giving her as much love and attention that she was willing to receive and we vowed to make her as comfortable as possible. There would be one rule for her and that would be that Annie gets whatever Annie wants.

1. Meeting Annie

We had our home visit Saturday afternoon and within an hour we got the approval. I called her foster mom, reserved a hotel room, and threw things in a bag for Maisie and we hit the road by 4:00. It was a six hour drive and we wanted to be able to get Annie settled back in our house before dinnertime Sunday. We were thrilled!

On our way, I shot off a text to our kids, they both knew what I was up to and I wanted to share the news. Within seconds, I got a text back from my daughter saying she was in Michigan City; she was on her way to our house to surprise us for the weekend! The timing was just right because we directed her to the nearest rest area and within 10 minutes we were pulling in too. Now we could all caravan together, and  we had the option of two cars in case we needed to drive the dogs separately.

That night, I kept going over my conversation with her foster mom and the details I could remember. Annie had been 1 of 44 Newfoundlands that were rescued from a deceased owners’ Michigan puppy mill in December 2014. That was the winter of the polar vortex, with deep snow and below freezing temperatures. The dogs didn’t have heated shelter or fresh water and weren’t regularly fed. It took several trips with many volunteers to get all of the dogs and they were in rough shape. They were all scared, not well socialized, filthy with matted, patchy fur and clearly had suffered extreme neglect and had health issues as a result. It was a haunting, heart-wrenching situation, and I admire the volunteers who went in there and got all of those dogs into a safe place. NCA Rescue started a crowdrise financial campaign to supplement the funds that were used to provide health care for these dogs. Close to 50,000 dollars was spent on these 44 dogs. 50,000 dollars! And that was just in the first few months. At the time we adopted Annie, there were several dogs remaining in foster care because they were still rehabilitating physically and emotionally. I wasn’t sure what we would be dealing with, but I knew I was willing to do what was needed to provide her with a home in which she was comfortable and safe.

Regarding Annie, I was told that she was very shy but one of the sweetest dogs we would ever know. She would come when called, but not directly, more in a circle that would get smaller and smaller until she reached us. She wouldn’t come into a room with us, but would be more likely to watch us from afar. Because she was so dehydrated by the time she was rescued, her tear ducts no longer functioned and she would need eye drops twice a day for the rest of her life. She suffered from very itchy skin and ear infections, but with consistent treatment both were getting under control. Her teeth were in terrible shape. Her upper and lower front teeth were worn down to the gum line. Her canines were partially worn down and chipped and she had a couple of broken teeth back teeth but she was an eater, and she didn’t have any chewing problems. She wasn’t leash trained, they tried and tried but she was just too scared and didn’t want to follow anyone on leash and would pull out of a buckle collar. She didn’t like doorways, she had one door that she liked to use and that was the only one she would use. She didn’t like doorways? I wasn’t sure what to make of that. She slept on the couch downstairs, she never went upstairs with them at bedtime. Hmm, our dogs have always slept in our bedroom until they couldn’t do the stairs anymore, not because they preferred to stay downstairs without us. She had been adopted once, but the match wasn’t right and she didn’t adjust well , she was returned to her foster mom. While I had a hard time understanding some of her behavior, nothing I heard changed my mind. I was sure that with patience and kindness, I could help her, and she would be with a loving family until her last day. Something all dogs should have but unfortunately she didn’t know until her rescue.

When we arrived at her foster home, I quickly realized she had been in a Newfie paradise for the past year. The house had a kennel attached to the side and it was situated on several acres of scenic, open land. They had five beautiful Newfies of their own in addition to Annie. Two days prior, they had to say goodbye to their first Newfie who lived to be 12 years old. I knew they were in a lot of pain, but they were so welcoming and completely focused on our introduction to Annie. Annie was safely tucked away in her kennel, but she did reluctantly come out when called. She didn’t come to us directly but trotted around in circles. It seemed she wanted to come, but she just couldn’t. Her age was undetermined, guessed to be between 7-9 but I knew at first glance she was 9 or more. She moved beautifully, with no sign of joint pain but her gray eyebrow and chin hairs are what convinced me. She had the look of both Bailey and Charlie in their final years. I was disappointed for a split second, only because I knew our time would be limited, but that vanished just as quickly. I was already attached.

Annie was maintaining her distance with her circle so a lead was put on and she was brought close to me to lie down. I approached her slowly and sat on the floor next to her. She had no interest in the treats I had brought, although all of the other dogs seemed to think it was great that we had shown up with a bag of treats. Maisie was off greeting and running with the other dogs until she discovered the cat. She’d never been close to a cat before, and was now completely focused on this new, small creature. I was pretty sure she’d end up with a smack across the nose but she was happy and occupied while I was trying to get to know Annie.How do I describe what I was feeling? Her closed off, protective behavior was something I had never dealt with before. I could sense a barrier between us and I wasn’t going to get through easily. She was so sweet, she didn’t recoil when I came near her and began softly petting her, but she didn’t engage either. She was tolerating my presence and waiting for me to be done. I decided to stay where I was but diverted my attention to the chaos around me, the running dogs, my daughter becoming very popular because she was now in possession of the treat bag and Maisie chasing the cat. While I conversed with her foster mom I hoped that she would become comfortable enough with my presence that she might relax. That didn’t happen.

After a while, it was deemed to be bath time. She had to be physically coaxed and lifted into the tub. She knew something was going on and now a bath. She was not happy about it.   We all chatted while she was bathed, moved to the grooming table and then dried, brushed and trimmed. We received so many good tips about grooming and I stood near her during the whole process.She remained stiff as a board with a vacant expression. It was so obvious to me that she was nervous about our arrival and what it might mean for her. My heart was breaking for the sweet dog that was receiving the most loving, tender send off possible. I hoped I could someday get her to bond with us, but I was realizing that might not be possible. She had been with them for close to a year, and was still so guarded. This was going to be more difficult than I had imagined, but I didn’t waiver for a moment. I knew we were meant to be together and I wanted nothing more than to spoil her and show her that she was loved and valued. She would never be neglected or hungry again and we would be with her until her final day. I just hoped that would be enough.

The goodbye was hard on everyone. We were all a little frazzled. She had no intention of following me. I stepped aside and watched as her foster dad led her to our car. They had a very strong bond but she did not want to follow him and it took a few stops and starts to get her there. She was completely stiff when loaded into the car and it was difficult to get her positioned appropriately so that we could close the hatch. She did not want to come with us and she was letting us know.  Maisie didn’t know what to make of this whole situation and opted to ride in the middle seat away from Annie. I was so conflicted and trying to hold it together. I didn’t want them to think I was having doubts, I wasn’t, I just hoped she would eventually be happy with us. They were entrusting us with this sweet dog that was as much a part of their household as the rest of their dogs. We were taking her away from a wonderful place with people and a pack that loved her and she was terrified.

Goodbye Connie and Tracy. Goodbye Rio, Reggie, Hope, Rayne and Briar. Annie was going to her new home.


a shared life with our very large dogs

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