I thought I would tell you a little story about Buster this morning. Buster was a rescue dog I got from the Humane Society in Eureka, CA in around 2002. He was a St. Bernard/Lab mix, weighed 125 pounds, and shed like a crop duster in planting season. When I met him they told me his name was Captain Jack but I renamed him Buster
when I got him. He was 6 years old when we met, he had been mistreated his entire life up to then. Not the beating kind of mistreatment but something maybe worse: he had been completely ignored by humans his entire life. His former owner kept him chained up in the back yard and never spent any time with him, even as a puppy. The result was Buster had no social skills at all. For example, when we were getting acquainted at the Humane Society I brought a ball to our visit and tried to get him to play with it. I would throw the ball and he would sit still and watch it roll, then stare at me as if to say, “Why are you throwing that perfectly good ball away?” Instead of becoming socialized, he became an escape artist. One way or another, he could get out of pretty much any restraint and did so regularly. Finally his uninvolved owner got tired of bailing him out at the local animal detention center and refused to take him back. Buster was turned over to the Humane Society where he had been for about 2 months when I met him.
To say we each had to adjust to the other is a major understatement. Buster did not trust anything on 2 legs, did not depend on anybody, and spent 100% of his time trying to figure out how to get away. He escaped me quite a few times during the first 3 or 4 months we were together and each time it was really hard to get him back. I knew we couldn’t keep living like this, he was unhappy and I was getting neurotic worrying if he had escaped again or not every day. So… I made a plan.
My plan started by taking him for a long walk every day. He loved the walks, if not the leash. Every day, immediately upon our return home, I would give him a Milk Bone, GIGANTIC size. (I don’t know if any of you have seen a GIGANTIC Milk Bone, but they are made for large dogs, are about 10″ long and weigh half a pound.) He really liked this routine. After about a month of this daily exercise, I started part two of the plan: when we got home and were right in front of the gate into the yard, I would take him off the leash and he would immediately RUN into the yard, anticipating his GIGANTIC Milk Bone. I kept this up for a few weeks and then started the next phase: I would let him off the leash when we were in front of our neighbor’s house and again, he would rush straight into the back yard and wait his Milk Bone. After a few more weeks of this, I lengthened the distance between taking him off the leash and our back gate. It worked; he would run all the way home, go into the back yard, and wait. Eventually I was letting him off the leash a couple of blocks away from our house, watching him run straight home. And then, one day… it happened. He got it and I was witness to the entire process.
We had been doing this off-the-leash-running-home thing for months and months, I was letting him loose way way from our house, watching him run home. One day, as he was just approaching the back gate I saw him slam on the brakes, stiffen all four legs and skid to a stop just outside our yard. He stood there for what seemed like minutes, obviously thinking over the situation. You could just see the light bulb gong on over his head as he looked around and said to himself, “HEY! I’M OUT!! I CAN RUN!” He looked back at me, over two blocks away and helpless to stop him, looked into the yard, then looked at the freedom stretched ahead of him, waited, waited, thought about it… and then bounded into the back yard to get his GIGANTIC Milk Bone. And I never ever had to worry about Buster running away again because he never did it one time after that day.
One time Buster was laying on the grass in front of our house when a passerby said, “He looks like a lion.” Buster heard this remark and from then on always posed as a lion.
Buster went to dog heaven here in Florida when he was 13 years old and having lots of health problems. The first half of his life was miserable but we had a glorious partnership for 7 years together after that which I hope in part made up for his early life. It’s been a while since he was here but I still miss him every day.