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Give Me Hope!

January 15, 2013 - Amy Jo Hanna-Eckenrode

Among my current crew of five rescue pets that permit me to share my house with them, "Hope", is my 25 lb. ball of chaos. Part aardvark, part badger, part fox, and a whole lot of long-hair Dachshund, Beagle, and Collie, she is a little mixed-breed bundle of love tainted with Tasmanian devil.

Found as a stray nursing 7 puppies, Hope was rescued by kind neighbors from the cold of winter. A temporary home was found for her by my vet's staff (thus the beginning of my entanglement) to care for her brood until they were weened. Her puppies were successfully, and quickly, adopted into loving homes, and I, ... well, I inherited the rabbit-obsessed, mini-Cheetah beast.

Hope and I have been co-habitating for almost a year now and in all honesty she really has come a long way. The little girl had few manners or little understanding of how to impersonate a domesticated house pet. Her worst habit, aside from pottying inside immediately upon coming back in from doing her business, was and still remains that she is one of the stealthiest, fence skimming, operatives I've ever encountered. She makes Evelyn Salt look like an amateur.

It is her obsession with rabbits, however, that gives me my biggest challenge yet. Once she hones in, it's all over. You can actually see the radar waves radiating from her head. The worst and most embarrassing part is that she has actually escaped my fenced yard with me standing only feet from her.

Once she falls into the 'hunting dog trance' there is no snapping her out of it. For the first couple of months she could dig a tunnel and slither under the fence before I could finish calling her name. After successfully lining my yard with a less-than attractive ring of rocks, she began to figure out how to maneuver the stones some weighing almost as much as her.

Eventually, Hope decided to begin listening to my demands to stop digging and slithering. Possibly because she started to feel bad for me. However, the rabbit-filled-paradise-of-a-yard next door was too much. She soon began scaling the fence. Her agility almost impressive if it wasn't for fear of her safety.

She has brought gently-carried baby bunnies into the house and mouthful after mouthful of fur (from some very unlucky, bald rabbits). This fall the unforgettable, piercing shriek of a rabbit sent me charging out into the yard only to find Hope successfully cornering a full grown rabbit. She was nose to nose with the stunned creature who could barely breathe out of fear just waiting for me to give the divine signal of acknowledgement. It ended well for the rabbit, but that's a whole other story.

It's been an unbelievable experience with Hope, having always had a house of senior Goldens who were put-out simply by having to relocate a yard or two when the position of the sun shifted.

We've gone through a clothes line, a metal cord, a galvanized wire rope, 4 collars (including an indestructible Lupine) and 3 leashes.

I call Hope a Velociraptor-Dox because of how cunning and intelligent she is. Like the prehistoric Rex you can literally watch her figure things out. (to quote a line from 'Jurassic Park').

For the past few months we've actually had a stretch of calm as Hope seems to settle into her new life with us. Or, she has decided that my certifiable frenzy is much more annoying to deal with than the discipline itself.

Until last night.

I had just roused Hope from her deep sleep for one last potty break and herded her and her brother, Oakley, a 100 lb. Golden, into the yard. It was unusually quiet outside as I gathered garbage for the next morning's pick up. It could not have been more than two minutes before Oak hurried to the door and gave me 'that look'. Oak was nervously prancing with just a bit too much of an ecstatic look in his eyes. I knew immediately that Houdini was on the hunt. And, she 'had' been doing so well.

Until now, I have been fortunate to immediately spot Hope a yard or two away in full hunt mode. She has never ventured from the block and her safari has never lasted longer than five minutes. For that I've been beyond thankful. My worst fear is for anything to happen to her. But, like a bloodhound, there is no breaking the intensity of her pursuit once initiated. I've actually picked her up attempting to 'snap' her out of her trance. I've even discussed having an Invisible Fence installed by my friend who carries the line and has great success with it.

This time was different. I couldn't sense Hope's fleeting presence or spot one shadow of her tailwind as she zoomed from alley to neighboring yards. Fearful of searching too large an area in case she came back on her own (which she has also done several times... as if nothing had happened....) I reluctantly widened my scope.

After what was becoming the customary five minute mark passed, my stomach began to churn. Hope had always remained within eyesight. Not tonight. Complete silence. No rattling fences or battered branches. No sound of a crazed dog wildly vying for first place in the Boston Marathon. The deepest sense of fear engulfed me. What would I tell people? My family? The vet? Those that rescued her? The 911 crew I was ready to frantically call?

I knew Hope was in her rabbit-obsessed trance and that when I did find her it might be a vile mess. Death is not pretty. Especially at the hands of a saber-tooth, dachshund-beagle. But there was not a noise on my street. Except from me. As my panic mounted so did the pitch of my voice. My poor neighbors.

As I picked up my pace, rushing up and down the street and alley, searching out front and back even rounding the corners thinking she was becoming more confident in her hunts, I feared the worse. My heart sank. I was becoming one big glob of unglued irrationality. Every time I passed by the house, Oakley and the three cats watched with great interest -- Oakley, with sheer giddiness. It had been easily three hours. Or, actually about 20 minutes, but the clock of panic was frozen.

As I paused for one moment in an attempt to gather some semblance of composure, I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye. Low and behold, out of nowhere, the Velociraptor appeared scurrying towards me with a look of world domination. Her mouth was crammed full of something. Whatever it was, it was huge and she had won. I was not ready to face what my little episode of National Geographic's Wild Kingdom had brought home. Whatever it was, it was locked within the confines of her jaws and she was not about to relinquish her grand prize.

As she audaciously attempted to scoot past me in order to head to the backyard to safely secure her kill, I grabbed her collar and instinctively reached for whatever grotesque remnants might remain. That's when I saw it.

Protruding from all corners of her mouth, dripping like a faucet of red tomato sauce. It was... lasagna. A huge, really nice looking hunk of lasagna. She had captured and killed her finest acquisition to date. Far better than the bunnies, rabbits, birds, flies, stink-bugs, and all things wild -- Hope had assassinated a huge piece of lasagna.

I had no idea where she found it or where to begin to look for the possible mess she had probably created retrieving her kill but it was truly a good looking piece of lasagna. As I automatically wiped out her mouth with my hand, she stood no chance of retaining even a morsel with the adrenaline that was pumping back through me.

Into the house we went to the delight of all the other animals who sniffed her up and down for the whole story. With one more 'NO' for good measure I gave her "the look" (it always worked for my mother). She wagged her entire back side and with the biggest smile on her face, released two low grumbles chastising me for interfering once again with the mighty laws of nature.

Nobody was more sorry for the loss of the lasagna than Hope herself, who anxiously waited for it to re-appear. I was exhausted. The neighbors had once again witnessed the horror of my bedtime appearance and utterly ungraceful charge up and down the street.

Our journey will be a long one as I continue to work with Hope to find a balance within her boundaries of pure animal instinct and my human desire to domesticate her enough to keep her out of harm's way.

Hope has taught me more than any other dog that she is just that -- a 'dog'. That she is animal. Although at times, I'm quite certain that she is only one chromosome short of being able to talk.

She is one of the most loving, happy dogs I've ever been blessed to care for. She is full of endless cuddles, kisses and love. She thrives on affection and praise. And, she loves to learn. You can tell.

But, alas, Hope is a dog. And, she has come into my life to teach me just how amazing and acute animal instincts and behavior are and how they've helped this species evolve, adapt and survive in this convoluted world we humans have created.

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