A dog offers loyalty, trust and love in exchange for being treated with integrity and compassion.
What do we mean by trust? Roget’s Thesaurus defines the word (in part): “Trust – noun: Absolute certainty in the trustworthiness of another: belief, confidence, dependence, faith, reliance.”
Accepting that this is a book called Learning from Dogs doesn’t prevent me from using two examples of trust from other animals, a wolf and a horse, before offering a personal experience of a dog learning to trust.
This true story was told to me by DR when we were living in Payson, Arizona. An amazing true story of a relationship between a wild wolf and a man. A story of a particular event in the life of Tim Woods; brother of DR.
It revolves around the coming together of a man sleeping rough, with his dog, on Mingus Mountain, and a fully grown female Grey Wolf. Mingus is in the Black Hills mountain range between Cottonwood and Prescott in the State of Arizona, USA.
DR and his brother, Tim, belong to a large family; there are 7 sons and 2 daughters. Tim had a twin brother, Tom, and DR knew from an early age that Tim was different.
As DR explained,
“Tim was much more enlightened than the rest of us. I remember that Tim and Tom, as twin brothers, could feel each other in almost a mystical manner. I witnessed Tom grabbing his hand in pain when Tim stuck the point of his knife into his (Tim’s) palm. Stuff like that! Tim just saw more of life than most other people.”
The incident involving the wolf was when Tim was in his late 40s and, as mentioned, was living rough in an old shack up in the Black Hill mountains. The shack was simply a plywood shelter with an old couch and a few blankets for the cold nights. The dog was a companion to Tim, his guard and a means of keeping Tim in food; the dog was a great hunter. But Tim was no stranger to living in the wild.
“Tim was ex-US Army and a great horseman. There was a time when he was up in the Superstition Mountains, sleeping rough, riding during the day. At night Tim would get the horse to lay down and Tim would sleep with his back next to the horse for warmth.
Tim was up on Mingus Mountain using an old disk from an agricultural harrow as both a cook-pan and plate. After he had finished eating, Tim would leave his ‘plate’ outside his shack. It would be left out in the open over night.
Tim gradually became aware that a creature was coming by and licking the plate clean and so Tim started to leave scraps of food on the plate. Then one night, Tim was awakened to the noise of the owner of the ‘tongue’ and saw that it was a large, female grey wolf.”
DR went on to explain that the wolf became a regular visitor and Tim became sure that the wolf, now having been given the name Luna by Tim, was aware that she was being watched by a human.
Then DR continued, “Over many, many months Luna built up sufficient trust in Tim that eventually she would take food from Tim’s outstretched hand. It was only now a matter of time before Luna started behaving more like a pet dog than the wild wolf that she was. From now on, Luna would stay the night with Tim and his dog, keeping watch over both of them.”
Not that I doubted DR’s retelling of the account of Tim and the wolf but, nevertheless, the next action by DR had me in floods of tears. For DR then showed me an unaltered photograph taken in 2006 showing Tim lying back on a blanket with his dog across his waist and there, sitting on its haunches just behind Tim and the dog, was Luna the wolf.
DR underlined this miraculous story by saying that he remembered Tim being distraught because, without warning, Luna stopped coming by. Then a few months later back she was. Tim never did know what lay behind her absence but guessed it might have been because she went off to have pups.
Unfortunately, this wonderful tale does have a sad ending.
Back to DR, “About two years ago, what would have been 2007, Tim lost his dog. He was awakened to hear a pack of coyotes yelping and his dog missing. Then tragically some 6 months later Tim contracted a gall bladder infection. Slowly it became worse. By the time he realised that it was sufficiently serious to require medical treatment, it was too late. Despite the best efforts of modern medicine, Tim died on June 25th, 2009, just 51 years young.”
DR’s closing words to me were: “So if you are ever out on Mingus Mountain and hear the howl of a wolf, reflect that it could just be poor Luna calling out for her very special man friend.”
One would have to go a very long way to come across a better story of such fabulous trust from an animal towards a human.
The second example of trust from an animal other than a dog is from the Spring of 2014. About that time, we decided that we had sufficient acres of pasture to have a horse. We were put in touch with a horse rescue centre, Strawberry Mountain Rescues, near Roseburg in Oregon; about an hour north from where we lived. Soon after arriving at Strawberry Mountain we took a liking to a 15-year-old gelding. His name was Ranger and he had been found abandoned in the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon, subsequently arriving at Roseburg. Ranger had a delightful temperament plus his age was a bonus as both Jean and I were the wrong age to be taking on a horse that might outlive us.
A week before Ranger was brought down to us, there was a telephone call from Darla, who runs Strawberry Mountain, asking us if we could take two horses.
This other horse, Ben, was a younger horse that had been ‘rescued’ on the orders of Darla’s local Sheriff because of Ben being in private ownership. It turned out that Ben had been subjected to starvation, to beating and there was evidence that he had been fired at repeatedly in the chest with an air-gun. The Sheriff’s office took away Ben and placed him under the care of Darla. Very quickly, Ben had formed a close relationship with Ranger and Darla was in no doubt that Ben’s relationship with Ranger was part of his journey of returning to a healthy, confident horse. We couldn’t say no to taking both Ben and Ranger despite Darla explaining that Ben was a very wary horse, especially nervous of men and that I should never make any sudden movements around Ben, as much for my own safety.
Unlike Jean who had owned and ridden horses in her younger days, I hardly knew the front from the back of a horse. I decided to approach Ben as I would a new rescue dog.
In less than three weeks, Ben had recovered sufficient trust in men to allow me to stroke his neck. Six months after having Ben and Ranger with us, I can put my face against Ben’s muzzle and stroke the area on his chest that is covered in scars from the air-gun pellets fired into him.
If only us humans could learn to trust in such a manner. Indeed, many persons would harbour anger and distrust in their hearts forever.
So now to dogs.
It’s easy for me to understand the trust in a dog when I look at Pharaoh, my German Shepherd. For he has been part of my life since a few weeks after he was born in South Devon, England, on June 3rd, 2003.
So my experience of Pharaoh doesn’t really offer any insight as to how a dog that has been cruelly treated by other people learns to trust a new home. I had to wait until 2010 to learn the lesson of trust from a dog.
I first met Jean, my wife, in Mexico; to be precise, in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico. We met just a few days before Christmas, 2007. Despite Jean, as with me, having been born in London, indeed we were born just twenty-three miles from each other, she had been living in Mexico for many years; since Jean and her American husband, Ben, moved down there twenty-five years previously. (Ben died in 2005.)
Very quickly I became aware that Jean was well-known for rescuing Mexican feral dogs. At that time that Jean and I met, she had sixteen dogs, all of them rescues off the streets in and around San Carlos.
In September, 2008, I travelled out to Mexico with my Pharaoh and, subsequently, in the February of 2010, we made plans to move from San Carlos to Payson, in Arizona; some 80 miles North-East of Phoenix. Primarily, because we wanted to be married, and to be married in the USA.
Just a few days before we were due permanently to leave San Carlos with all our animals and belongings and journey the 513 miles (827 km) to Payson, AZ, Jean went outside to the front of the house to find a very lost and disorientated black dog alone on the dusty street. The dog was a female who in the last few weeks had given birth to puppies that had been weaned. That was obvious to Jean because the dog’s teats were still somewhat extended.
The dog had been abandoned outside in the street. A not uncommon happening because many of the local Mexicans knew of Jean’s rescues over many years and when they wanted to abandon a dog it was done outside her house. The poor people of San Carlos sometimes resorted to selling the puppies for a few Pesos and casting the mother dog adrift.
Of course, the dog was taken in and we named her Hazel. Now, rationally, we humans can’t even start to imagine the emotional and psychological damage that a mother dog would incur from having had all her puppies stolen from her. It’s very unlikely that we could imagine the damage a human mother would receive from the violent loss of her young baby.
The one thing that it would be reasonable to assume is that our latest addition to our dog family, Hazel, would initially be a bit wary of ’the species that walks on two legs’!
Once Hazel had been fed and watered by Jean, her coat inspected for ticks and generally checked all over, the next step was to introduce her to some of the other dogs. It all went very smoothly. Then in the evening, when we were sitting down after our evening meal, Hazel came over to the settee and looked up at my eyes. In a way that couldn’t be put clearly into words, I sensed a lost soul in Hazel’s eyes and a desperate need for some loving. Those thoughts were paramount in my mind and, I hoped, available for Hazel to read via my eyes.
Then after a pause of half-a-minute or so, our eyes still locked together, Hazel climbed up next to me on the settee and carefully and cautiously settled her head and front paws across my lap. I caressed and stroked her for much of the rest of the evening. When Jean and I went to bed, Hazel jumped up and went to sleep, and stayed alongside my legs for the whole of the night. Setting a pattern that has continued to this very day.
How did Hazel know to trust me? Only Hazel knows the answer to that one. But ever since that day, nearly five years ago as I write this, the bond between Hazel and me has been perfect. In fact, as I write these words, Hazel is asleep on the rug just behind my chair.
Our society only functions in a civilised manner when there is a predominance of trust around and about us. When we trust the socio-politico foundations of our society. When we trust the legal processes. When we trust that while greed and unfairness are never absent, they are kept well under control.
Having trust in the world around us is an intimate partner to having faith in our world. For without trust there can be no faith and without trust there can be no love.
Unlike the previous chapter on love, no list of behaviours come to mind that allow the growth of unbridled trust. Maybe trust flows from the actions of love. As in one only gets back what you put out.
All that does come to mind is never wavering from offering trust to others and never accepting anything other than trustworthy actions from others.
For eventually that would lead, lead inexorably, to a world where trust was accepted as if it was the air we breathed.
The final thing that comes to mind is always remembering this lesson from our dogs and, by implication, from their ancient ancestor, the wolf.
Returning to that beautiful story of Tim and his wolf, Luna, may I plead that if you ever hear the howl of a wolf, please will you allow yourself to disappear into your inner thoughts for a few precious moments and know that tens of thousands of years ago there was another Tim and another wolf: the start of the long relationship between man and dog.
Or, perhaps, the next time you gaze deeply into your dog’s eyes, sense that first Tim cuddling up to that first Luna and know how far trust has brought us and our dogs.
2,318 words Copyright © 2014 Paul Handover