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Autism: Please, Not Again!

02 Aug

So we did go camping. I had a lot of anxiety over this through the year as I couldn’t figure out a way (that I could afford) to keep ‘my girls’ safe during the trip – and to keep others safe from them. It isn’t that they are aggressive dogs, but they are defensive, and that often looks the same; for Clara especially.

Clara is my baby. She loves to cuddle. She loves to be held. She curls up in the crook of my arm like a newborn baby as I walk, or rock, or talk to her. She is tiny. She is cute. And maybe, people think, this is why she doesn’t behave well with ‘others’ around. Yet for as long as I have had her, I have never allowed her to jump at people, nip at people, behave in negative ways. She does get in trouble for such things – and she is smart enough to know what I mean; I can see it in her eyes. But she still does it, so I warn people away.

July 2017 023

Clara not wanting to leave ‘bed’ to visit while camping.  July 2017

Clara doesn’t like different. She doesn’t like new. It took me three weeks, and many liver treats to fully win her over. Thirteen months since we got her, my husband still hasn’t made it that far. He can give her treats. He can hold her leash while she is wearing it, maybe. He can be in the same room. He can even talk to her. But that is about as far as it goes. My son doesn’t even get that much. We are happy if she doesn’t bark at him when he comes up the stairs.

Clara is ‘my girl,’ and she has decided that as far as people are concerned, I am enough for her.

Maybe she wasn’t socialized well when she was young (she was nearly 3 years old when I got her, and came from a house with many other dogs.) Maybe something happened before I got her that frightened her (they did try to adopt her to another home before mine, but took her back after 10 days for she wouldn’t come out of the corner where she was hiding.)

Whatever the reason, she doesn’t allow people close to her.

“She might nip,” I tell them. (Please give her space.) So far she hasn’t hurt anyone. She has scared and surprised many when she suddenly lunged at them. I don’t know that she would hurt anyone – but I also am not convinced she wouldn’t. So… please stay away.

I love my girl. She is comforting, and caring, and loving, and absolutely the one I needed to help me through and past – even if I didn’t know that when she first came to me. But she is a one person dog – and (much like myself) it will take more than your confidence that you are ‘good with dogs’ to gain her trust. In fact, nice as you probably are, it is unlikely she will ever give that trust to you.

Molly is much more laid back. Much calmer. But it is rare that Clara will give the chance to get close to her. So Molly likely wouldn’t nip – but Clara would do it for her. Best to leave her alone, too. We are her ‘pack’ I suppose, and she would quite possibly give her life to defend us (all 6.5 lbs of her.)

But she is cute – and that cuteness is almost an overwhelming temptation for dog loving children who don’t understand that not all dogs can be won over by kindness.

Such was the case with my niece’s 4 year old daughter who was up camping the same time we were. We all warned her, but she had no fear. She knew that she wouldn’t hurt ‘anyone,’ and was convinced that she would be able to get Clara to see that. After all, she was able to sit and pet Molly while my husband held Clara’s leash out of reach.

Alas, such was not to be the case.

I was sitting on a camp chair. Clara was on the ground resting. Her leash was wrapped around the arm of the chair to shorten it (there were a lot of people up at the time) and I was holding the end, also wrapped around my hand. The girl came from behind us. We didn’t know she was coming until she was there – but Clara was aware. She barked, and jumped at her before I could pull her back.

Away the girl left, in tears and badly frightened.

I took my girls, and left too; I needed alone time. Perhaps they didn’t see the tears I cried that day, or feel the fear in my heart. Perhaps they didn’t know how badly triggered I was in that moment, or how afraid of what would be done to ‘my girl.’ Perhaps they thought I didn’t care… Or maybe they saw all of it. Maybe they knew what it reminded me of. Maybe they saw me then, too – for that happened only feet away that time so long ago – and yet not long at all.

I talked with her father later that day.

“Has Clara ever nipped you,” he asked me.

“Once when I first got her,” I answered, “but so far it has just been scary, and she hasn’t hurt anyone. I don’t know if…”

“She didn’t hurt her,” he said. “She was just scared.”

But had we been there with another person – the one who was there that other time – the one who… but I can’t talk about that now. Had she been there… had it been her child… it wouldn’t have mattered that Clara “just scared her,” she would have had my dog put down.

My children stolen. My ‘baby’ murdered. I don’t think I could bare it again. I don’t think I could live – no, not even live – through such pain again.

Not again.

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