• Susannah Colt

AMBER TO THE RESCUE Chapter 1 - From Suburbia to Paradise

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Eight years ago Amber came into my life as a rescue. She’d been living in a small house in the suburbs with a fenced in back yard the size of a postage stamp. The fence was a five foot privacy fence which, compared to Amber’s 16” height, was totally insurmountable. Nevertheless she tried and tried and tried to jump over it. No matter how hard she tried she could never meet that pesky neighbor dog who teased her mercilessly.

Her exposure to the outside world was limited to looking through the picture window in the living room. She had to get up onto the back of the couch to look outside. Her view of the neighborhood, which was out of bounds to her, gave her plenty of opportunity to bark at everything and everyone that moved or made noise. This annoyed her already frazzled owner, who had four young rambunctious boys and a husband already underfoot. Amber was like a fifth child whose shadow she could never escape. There was nowhere for the mother to turn for peace, quiet, or solitude.

When I was introduced to Amber, I was living on a 200-acre horse farm as its caretaker. Sadly, all the horses were dead and buried, along with the two last dogs that had been rescued by the elderly farm owners, whom I also cared for. The farm had always been filled with quadrupeds of all sorts (horses, dogs, cats, lambs, and cows). When the last dog died it left a huge void that needed to be filled, so when Amber’s mother asked if I wanted to adopt her, I jumped at the opportunity.

Amber was four years old when she moved to the farm in 2013. By then she had developed many bad habits, like jumping up to greet people, leaving a railroad track of claw marks running down their thighs, much to my chagrin and embarrassment. But then I remembered when she did that to me the first time I met her and her mother just laughed. Only time and patience would break her of that habit.

She also came with a serious case of separation anxiety. Now, this disorder has its benefits and downsides. The major benefit is that she never ran too far away from me when I walked her around the farm. At first I put her on a long leash to walk her around, but within a few days it was obvious to me that her need to be close to her human outweighed any instinct to bolt into the deep woods. Fortunately, she did not have hound mixed in amongst her various breeds, which are speculated to be boxer and lab. I’ve never had her tested, so that is pure guesswork. Instead of catching a scent and running away, Amber would wander away from me but always keep me within her sights, like a human toddler exploring her environs.

The downside to the separation anxiety was realized when I would leave her in my apartment on the top floor of the barn. The barn was situated across the street from the main house, only about 50’ separating the two structures. According to the other inhabitants of the farm, if she sensed someone outside, she would bark and bark incessantly. She, being a smart dog, knew that barking always elicited a response. Indeed, when someone heard her barking they invariably came and got her and brought her to the main house until I returned. I don’t know how many times I came home to find my dog missing. No matter how much I implored the neighbor not to come and get her, they always did. No wonder Amber barked. Her reward was getting to visit the old folks next door, whom she quickly grew to love, especially because they dropped treats down on the floor for her to vacuum up.

On the few occasions that Amber did not wrangle an invitation to go to the neighbors, I invariably came home to the wall to wall carpeting ripped away from the exit door. Amber’s former owner suggested I try crating her and gave me the crate they had used. I know people swear by this method, theorizing that it is a place where the dog can feel safe and settle down while alone, as well as prevent destructive behavior, but it seemed counterintuitive to me. I had freed her from the confines of her tiny suburban existence and was intent on not imprisoning her any further.

After fastidiously repairing the carpet a few times and erecting barriers I thought were impenetrable, the last straw came when I arrived home one night and couldn’t even get into my apartment because the ripped up carpeting completely blocked my entry. I decided I had to do something radical. I consulted a carpenter friend who gave me a few pieces of install-it-yourself fake wood flooring that he had stored in his shed. I strapped on my knee pads, cut out the offending carpet, laid down the wood floor, and stood back to admire my handywork. Amber, who was a smart dog, knew that she had been outfoxed and finally ceased tearing up my house.

Other tricks I tried to relieve her anxiety included leaving marrow-filled bones smeared with peanut butter. She obsessed over them to the point of cutting the corners of her mouth on the sharp edge she had chewed into the bone. The solution to that problem was the discovery of a bone-shaped Kong toy, which I also filled with peanut butter, adding dog bones as an additional treat. No more cut mouth and it seemed to calm her enough to eventually forget that I’d abandoned her.

Eventually, Amber and I fell into a fairly consistent routine and her anxiety subsided because I always came home. And every time I came home her greeting was as exuberant as the first time we met, only this time I knew how to avoid the track marks on my legs.

I discovered the key to a dog’s happiness is reliability and routine.

Coming soon: Chapter 2 – Amber Discovers Drugs and Squirrels

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