When I saw a newspaper ad offering a female Saint Bernard to a good home, I made an appointment. The dog’s name was Rose. Her owner had abandoned her, moved away, and called his girlfriend telling her to get rid of the dog, he didn’t want her anymore. Rose had been given away five times already and was brought back within a week each time because nobody could handle her.
When I met Rose, she rolled over, clearly asking me to pet her. But when I reached for her, she barked hysterically and rolled back onto her belly. She wagged her tail but watched me all the time. She gave off such mixed signals, I knew she had been abused. Pet me, pet me, but don’t touch me! I petted her head and she rolled over again. I moved slowly and touched her gently, talking to her all the time. The girlfriend said she was surprised Rose let me near her. Her owner was a big man and thought it made him more macho to beat on a big dog. I decided Rose would not be coming back to that house.
We put Rose in the car, and she curled up as tightly as possible on the back seat. When we stopped for gas, the service station attendant stuck his hand through the window to pet her. Rose freaked. With her frightened hysterical barking, he quickly withdrew his hand. At that moment I felt her fear and aloneness. Here she was being given away again. What new form of abuse awaited her from these strangers.
When we got home, I turned Rose loose in the house to look around. Almost immediately she found an escape and headed upstairs. I understood she needed to be alone, to find a safe place that could be hers, that no one would violate. She found a large fluffy rug in the bedroom and claimed it as her own. She hid upstairs for three days, only coming down to eat and go outside.
When she discovered nobody was going to make her come downstairs, she gained the courage to sneak down on her own and explore. The smell of supper brought her out of hiding and she would sit by the table and “speak” for handouts. After supper, she vanished like a ghost.
During the day I went upstairs and worked around her. Sometimes I petted her as I went by her rug but if I stopped and knelt down to pet her, she took this as a threatening gesture and barked at me. I backed off and walked away, sometimes in frustration. I came to understand she had definite boundaries and I had to respect them.
She would not tolerate being touched behind the middle of her back or hips. Except when we were out in the yard playing. If she knew it was play, it was OK. I grabbed her tail and then ran, and she chased after me. I dropped to the ground and covered my head and she barked and mouthed my hands but never bit. It was a game, it was safe. She loved to have her chest scratched. She allowed her head and ears to be petted. Sometimes she seemed almost normal.
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One day my husband was sitting on the couch watching TV. Rose walked over, climbed up and plopped herself down on his lap. Naturally, he put an arm around her, and all hell broke loose. Rose erupted into hysterical barking inches from his face. She jumped off the couch and headed upstairs for her rug. My husband swore and threatened to shoot her.
That weekend was spent with the two of them in a stand-off. I tried to explain that, because of the abuse, she was not capable of reacting like a totally normal dog. She was six years old, and she had probably been abused for most of her life. It was going to take time. He was still angry and pointedly ignored her. She watched him and knew he was not happy.
Two nights later he was on the couch watching TV when Rose tiptoed over, jumped up and settled in his lap again. He said, “What do I do?” I told him she was trying to make up, to let him know she still wanted to sit with him. Just let her be without trying to hug or pet her. Just let her sit there. It was awkward but, in that moment, they seemed to come to an understanding.
It was five months before I felt Rose trusted me enough to let me take her to the vet for her shots. Even then, I had to hold her head so she wouldn’t bite him while he worked around her rear end.
I wondered what else I could do to make Rose feel at ease. The lady who gave her to me said Rose grew up with a collie and they were great friends. The neighbors had collie pups and I asked if I could have one. Big mistake. When I brought home the little bundle of white and brown fur, Rose took one look and ran upstairs. Her eyes accused and asked me what the heck I was thinking.
As long as the pup was too little to climb stairs, Rose was safe. But the day came when I had to put a barrier across the bottom step, and soon even that didn’t work. Nishka invaded Rose’s hideout. By then she was used to the fact that he lived there, but she didn’t have to like him. She made it clear that the rug belonged to her. At mealtime, she “taught” him that he was to wait until she went to her bowl before he went to his.
When summer came, we began getting ready to move and I started the long process of packing boxes. Rose observed the preparations and disappeared upstairs. Her muzzle broke out in a rash. She knew what moving meant–she was going to be abandoned or given away again. There was no way to tell her that wasn’t going to happen. When we loaded up all the animals on the last day, I could feel her surprise. She was actually going with us. I think the day we arrived at our new place was the day Rose finally knew she had a home.
One precious day a friend came to visit, and, to my surprise, Rose took her hand in her mouth and began leading her around the yard. My friend asked what she should do. I told her to just go with her, she was taking her for a walk, showing her where she lived, that this was her place. It was a very Saint Bernard thing to do. I never saw Rose do that with anyone else.
Rose was six years old when I got her and she lived six more years. Eventually, she and Nishka became friends, although she always let him know who was the top dog. We went for long walks in the woods and she learned to come to the barn without barking and terrorizing the animals.
In her old age and infirmity, Nishka became her guardian, barking to let me know Rose wanted out or in when I was working outside. They even played together sometimes. When she couldn’t walk and had to be put down, I buried her in the woods she loved. For two days afterward, Nishka went out all by himself to visit her grave. It took another couple of weeks for him to stop waiting by his bowl before eating.
Rose learned to trust me as much as she was capable of trusting anyone. Still, it broke my heart every time I went to the wood box to get a stick for the fire, and she hastily disappeared into another room. I learned to turn my back and hide the wood while carrying it to the stove.
One thing I missed the most was being able to hug her. When the vet left that day and Rose lay wrapped in a blanket by the woodshed awaiting burial, I uncovered her and gave her the embrace I could never give her in life.
Story submitted by an anonymous dog lover from Cataldo, ID.
Rose’s story was originally shared on The Animal Rescue Site. Share your very own rescue story here!
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