By Amy Robinson
An epic rescue of hundreds of dogs in the Korean meat trade was underway. When more than 60 arrived at the Orlando, Florida airport, staff at the Humane Society of Vero Beach knew they would need lots of help caring for dogs that had never known human touch unless it was abusive. Introducing them to a new life with new families included setting them up in a mock living room and introducing a kind stranger. Most dogs hid or tried to escape. Some accepted petting and gave love right back. Those were quickly adopted in the first two weeks. Others, like Pippa, the shyest and least trusting of all the dogs that arrived, needed extra time, care and infinite patience.
Leslie McGuirk, dedicated volunteer for animals and a celebrated author of the Tucker dog books for children, looked at Pippa’s worried face and decided the two of them needed each other. “I signed up to be a Read and Relax volunteer, to go read to these damaged dogs”, recalls McGuirk. “I was set up with access to the quarantined area and I was all ready to start, but the very next day, I broke my wrist. The only place I could sit and be comfortable was on the floor next to Pippa’s crate. Despite how shy and worried she was, she came and sat right next to me at the front of her cage.”
Shelter staff members were amazed. Pippa showed interest in her new acquaintance but was afraid of being approached or touched. “She had the most worried look on her face; eyebrows knitted together and wrinkles in her forehead”, said McGuirk. “I realized we might be able to heal each other”. McGuirk has been at the shelter every day for six months. “It took her three months to approach me. She seems very smart to me. I wanted to engage her brain to get her mind off of her troubles, so I bring unusual and special treats: chicken, pot roast pieces, and cheese”, she said. “I count 1, 2, 3 and put three treats on the floor, each one closer to me. I would ask her to wait until I said each number for her to advance to the next treat. I realized she wants to be taught.”
Pippa remains distrustful and merely watches people as they come into her room. She has two dog friends, both much more confident, but will now peer out to see who might be there. McGuirk had a breakthrough with her recently.
“I was finally able to pet her for almost twenty minutes and she fell asleep next to me”, she says. “I try to quiet my mind and project unconditional love to her. She has never experienced anything like that, so how is she to understand it? All she could think about was the past, her trauma, and what people had done to her. For me, she is a metaphor for all of our fears”, McGuirk says.
McGuirk will not give up on Pippa. The dog still wears the worried look when she sees a person, but was observed playing with her two roommates just a few days ago when she thought no one was looking. “I feel like she could be my spiritual teacher. Pippa is very Zen; she does not bark, she is not hyperactive, and she is very observant”. Love takes time, and since Pippa’s whole life has been about confinement and fear and abuse, her journey to a happier life will take a bit longer than expected, but all good things in life are worth waiting for. Pippa’s happiness is underneath her reserve, just waiting to break free.