living with a dog outside of neutral – part 1

This 7 part article series received a DWAA nomination, February 2013!

the introduction

I have been wanting to sit down and write this for a long time, long time as in years. It’s still very much a relationship in the present, but it is the past that I have been thinking about. I haven’t been able to find my voice with this particular story until very recently. In all fairness, this is Franny’s story to tell. If she could put pen to paper it would be a definitive guide for dog handlers. I will do my best to tell this story with the unapologetic and raw manner in which she lives.

Each post will include part of our story together, what I learned,  the training/teaching, or totally misguided blunders that I implemented. I have no idea how many parts there will be in this series, again this is the first time I have felt open enough to write about it.

We had just experienced extreme loss, the kind of loss where it feels like the carpet is pulled out from under you, and you find your self in mid air knowing you are going to crash, and crash hard. I couldn’t seem to function on any type of normal level during the day, and yet I was managing to take care of two young children, my babies. I knew I needed to do something to heal my heart, take a deep breath, see with clear eyes again, but was at a loss for what.

Animals have always, literally always, been a part of my life. It is my connection to this world in some way. I feel myself, grounded, and free when I am around other living beings. It’s not that I dislike my own species, on the contrary, it’s just that the non human speaking beings and I seem to understand each other on a different level. Does that make sense?

So I started looking for a dog, at shelters, private rescues, on the street, and in the paper. Everyday I would take my babies and we would go to look and visit. It was hard to really see and get to know any of them through swollen tear soaked eyes though. I know most of the shelter workers at the time pitied me, which I hated, I didn’t want there sympathy, I wanted to feel better again, a connection again.

About a month into this daily search I saw a dog, one who had apparently been there the whole time, but one I had never noticed. It’s almost like one day my blurry vision cleared and there she was. Relaxed, laying down against the fence, soft eyes, and seemingly unaware of the bleak prospect of living at the shelter. I bent down and put my finger through the fence and she very gently licked it, just once, and then looked at me. In my heart I knew she needed me!

When I went to ask about adopting her, I was informed there were three families that had submitted paper work for her, a waiting list of sorts. I totally understood why. So I continued my search. Two weeks later I saw that she was still there, and again went and asked. She was available, the families who had applied weren’t approved for some reason. I simply said, and I remember this so clearly, I want her. Twenty minutes later I walked out with a dog named Fran. I have no idea why they didn’t make me wait, or fill out the extensive forms, perhaps they were happy that the crying lady finally found a dog?

As soon as she jumped in my car I realized on some deep level that she didn’t need me at all, I was simply an accomplice in a jail break. I knew I was in for something, but didn’t  quite understand the scope of what life now had in store for me.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Teresa says:

    I love your writing style………I was sucked into the drama of love at first site and then you slapped me awake with your ‘jail break’. The few times we have encountered Franny, she has been amazing and what a treasure in your lives. Love, Teri and John

  2. Kim says:

    Ooooh…You had me at “…she didn’t need me at all…”. THAT is the recent reality check I’ve had with Holly…I can’t wait to hear more!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Kim, it’s a humbling feeling isn’t it?

      1. Kim says:

        OMD Yes! I’ve tried to bond with Holly…she likes me, she likes doing things with me, she really enjoys having a “job” to do with me…but she does not *need* me, or any person, and constantly lets me know it. She wants no comforting from a human, she’d live outside if I’d let her, happily catch, catche and provide for herself. She’d prefer it if I’d just let her go her own direction on our hikes instead hiking with me. After many, many years of living with a dog of her complete opposite, Holly has humbled the hell out of me!!

  3. Nancy Tanner says:

    (from Martha) Nancy- I have been wanting to write to you for a while and have just not been able to get the words down… I didn’t know if you wanted to post this letter on your blog or the paws and people site so I am sending it directly to you to do with as you see fit.
    This may be a bit rambly, as I get kind of emotional thinking about how far Ollie and I have come, and after such a great trip to the desert last week (where he rocked!) and the continued improvements I have seen with him coming to work with me in the last few months… I am very fortunate that he fell into my lap.

    I just want to say thank you, I am incredibly fortunate to have found you after getting Ollie, my very first border collie… I thought I had an inkling of what it would be like to raise him and train him, and I was way out of my league in no time! Luckily, I found you and have had the good fortune to continue to work with you through the bumps he and I have had in the last four years. As a resource to help us keep building a relationship and frankly, keep him from getting too bored and me losing my mind, you have been a huge help. I always feel so good after coming to see you to find new ways to challenge and work him and you tell me how well we have done together, it has always been reassuring for me to come and see you. Thank you.

    If you have other dog owners with a dog who is going to take more commitment and work than they were maybe anticipating for but are willing to put in the work, please tell them how much it is worth!! Having a dog that is very reactive among other things has taught me that it takes so much more to be a good owner/companion. For a dog to flourish it goes far beyond food, water and occasional training. In fact, it takes a crap load of training and continued commitment to being better at meeting the needs of my dog!

    Ollie and I are still a work in process and will likely be for our whole lives together! But, I have found that is part of the fun! He is my number one and one of the best things in my life. He has grown so immensely in the last four years, it is humbling to look back and see the potential for chaos that was there if I hadn’t put in the time and effort with him. Is he perfection? Heck no, but I don’t think that is what I would want anyway and he is pretty perfect for me.

    If someone gets a little more than they bargained for with their new dog and they are willing to put in the work, please tell them that it is so worth the effort!!!

    Thanks Nancy!

    Martha and Ollie

  4. Now I am curious, on what happended after the “jail break”..

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Her story will be unfolding over the next couple of weeks… hope you can join in…

  5. Bosun Dawg says:

    Leave us hanging just when it was really getting good – would you? 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      hahaha – it gets even better, or I should safe more adventurous… both good and bad.

  6. Kay says:

    Please tell me the rest of this story is coming tonight??? I can’t wait to hear more!!!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      hey Kay, it is coming over the next few weeks. Hopefully I wil lbe able to get out what is most important to me…

  7. Joyce Zahn says:

    Love your writing Nancy, can’t wait for the next chapter on Franny.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Joyce,
      tell the girls hello from us… the story will keep coming in chunks over the next few weeks…

  8. cbyron1027 says:

    I know exactly how you feel. It makes complete sense. I found my Rosie after my 23 yr old daughter moved out, my 17 yr old daughter had gone to college and our 14 & 10 yr old dogs had passed away- all in a matter of less than 4 months. Probably not anywhere near the pain you are talking about, but I get it. My husband and I had promised each other a break from dogs. Then one day I came home and my oldest daughter had come to visit with her dog. I realized that when he ran to the car to greet me, it was the first time I had smiled in a month. The search for a new dog started at that moment! I’ll be a “faithful reader”!

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