Sunday, November 7, 2010
Was Maisy's Puppyhood Wasted? Bad Beginnings and Embarrassing Confessions
Coming from the Midwest, I am motivated by nothing if not by guilt, which means that Ian Dunbar’s message on wasted puppyhood hit me hard. I felt pretty crummy listening to him speak- I know that I did almost nothing right when I got Maisy- and I interpreted his remarks as “you screwed up your dog.”
I don’t talk much about Maisy’s origins, mostly because I’m extremely embarrassed about them. You see, Maisy was a pet store impulse buy. I didn’t even like dogs, not really, but I was out shopping with a friend who wanted to look at the puppies. I humored her, but mostly I wanted to get back to shopping. While she fawned over the puppies, I rolled my eyes. Yes, puppies are cute. Whatever. Can we go buy some shoes now?
And then I saw Maisy. You guys, she was ridiculously cute. She had these huge, mismatched ears, and she was just so energetic and outgoing, and somehow, I found myself with a puppy. I know that buying a dog at a pet store is wrong, and I feel awful that I supported the suffering of her mother. I hate that I contributed to the demand for “corgi-poos.” And I carry a lot of guilt over Maisy’s early life, because I know that it contributed to her fear, anxiety, and reactivity.
Maisy was born here, and while the facility looks nicer than your average mass-producing puppy mill, it’s hard to believe that Maisy received anything even approaching half-decent socialization. Her early life, with her “breeder,” was clearly wasted. Strike one.
She was then shipped to a pet store, where she lived for almost two months before worming her way into my heart. If Ian is right, and temperament is forged by 12 weeks, then she was doomed before I even met her. By the time I brought her home, the socialization period had closed. Not that it mattered much. As a reluctant dog owner, I’d never even heard of socialization before, much less understood the importance of it. That first month at home? Wasted. Strike two.
I did take her to puppy class, though. We went to a big box store, where everything was taught on-leash with very little play time at the end. The trainer was inexperienced, but she was supportive, and she coached me through those early days. I do wish we’d had a trainer who was more knowledgeable- looking back, Maisy’s budding issues were quite evident, and I often wonder what could have happened if she’d received early intervention. Still, I did my best, as did the trainer. Our efforts may have been inadequate, but I hesitate to call them wasted.
I also hate to say that Maisy’s puppyhood as a whole was wasted. It just sounds so… harsh. I know that her issues are, at least in part, due to the lack of socialization she received. I know that I did a lot of things wrong. But to say that her puppyhood was wasted makes me feel like her life is somehow worth less as a result. I know that’s not what Ian was trying to say- it’s my irrational Midwestern guilt creeping up again- but I’ve got tears in my eyes as I write this.
I love my dog. I love her with all my heart, and I will never regret my decision to buy her. Simply put, I believe Maisy and I were meant to find each other. I don’t want to sound egotistical, but I honestly believe that her anxiety and reactivity would have been far worse if she’d been purchased by the kind of owner that typically buys dogs at pet stores. Between that and her allergies, it’s unlikely she’d still be alive today without me. Maisy needed me.
But I needed Maisy, too. I’ve written about this before, but my life has been made so much better because of her. I have learned so much from her. About dogs, yes, of course, but also about life and friendship and love. I needed her just as much as she needed me.
So was Maisy’s puppyhood wasted? Probably. Do I wish I could go back and do things differently? Definitely. But this is the way things are. I may have failed her when she was young, and I may make mistakes again, but I think Maisy will forgive me. And in the end, the relationship that we have today is all that really matters.