THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF CHULA
It seemed as if no one in the world really cared. A young dog with a troubled mind faced the world alone, shuffled around from one place to another because she didn’t fit in…anywhere. No one wanted this furry little misfit. Finally she found herself in a local shelter. They had all thrown in the towel and given up on her. She had run out of time.
Many years ago, a woman named Pam and her family had a border collie with unusual markings, solid white with a black teardrop shaped patch over one eye. Ollie was a dog who was loved and very fondly remembered. When Pam noticed a border collie in a shelter who looked nearly identical to her beloved friend of the past it shook her to the core. She could not escape the obvious connection.
(Above) Pam and Migel’s beloved dog Ollie
Pam ended up removing this carbon copy from her past from the shelter to foster her until a perfect, permanent home could be found for her. Everyone called this dog Cricket. Pam was informed that Cricket was totally deaf and had shown some aggression towards other dogs. It seems that Cricket had bitten a woman in a prior foster home who was attempting to break up a fight between her and one of the woman’s own dogs. Pam’s grown son who visited on holidays, had a dog so she felt that this wouldn’t be the right addition to their family. Since she was currently dogless herself though, this was not an overly pressing issue in her foster situation.
But in reality, these were the least of Cricket’s problems. Almost immediately Pam discovered that her new foster dog had some major oddities. A strange compulsion to pounce repetitively onto the floor as if her brain and body were being altered by an alien remote control, and a frantic need to snap at flies that weren’t there revealed that this dog’s problems ran deeper than Pam ever could have realized. What looked to her vet like a strange seizure disorder, I later diagnosed as severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, widely known as OCD.
I have certainly seen OCD in dogs before. Border collies seem to have more of a predisposition towards this than other breeds. Having lived with border collies for many years, I’ve even had to deal with this in one of my own dogs, a rescue border collie named Kip. So I have traveled down this road before, not only with clients’ dogs but also with my own.
To be honest, I was not optimistic about Cricket’s future when I first talked with Pam. Complete deafness, dog aggression and severe OCD all in the same dog seemed to be a steep mountain to climb. Who in the world is going to want a dog like this? By the time she found my website and emailed me, Pam had already contacted several local trainers and behaviorists for help and no one would give her promising news or even a ray of hope. Since Cricket’s future now rested in Pam’s hands and she had nowhere to turn, I decided to meet this complicated dog for myself. After all, everyone deserves at least a chance…
I knew from the moment I first met Pam and her family and Cricket that something quite out of the ordinary was about to happen. This was either going to be one of the most magical and inspirational behavior training jobs I was to ever do, or it was going to tear my heart out. I was not alone in believing this. By the time I met Pam she was not only fully emotionally invested in the dog, but she was also trapped. Cricket’s future now rested in our hands. Failure to help her would cost Cricket her life and lay heavy on Pam’s conscience, not to mention my own.
Indeed the OCD was obvious. Starting with pacing back and forth and a slight cock of the head while staring at the floor, Cricket left this planet. The wild pouncing would begin, over and over and over and over and over again. It was trance-like, driven from deep within her. While outdoors in Pam’s backyard another oddity revealed itself. Cricket would stand there like a normal dog one second and then “bolt”, racing back and forth along the fence in a huge repetitive sweeping motion, much like a pacing lion in a zoo cage, only at 100 miles per hour. Her face glazed over as she flew across the ground. It was like her tail was on fire. She was unreachable in this state. She had left this planet again.
Pam was fully committed to seeing Cricket’s rehabilitation through. Finally, an angel had come into this troubled dog’s life. There was tremendous work to do, and Pam and her family were the ones who would have to do it. My goal was to give them the tools necessary to bring these changes about and coach and encourage them through the troubled times that I knew were ahead. I worked with Pam and Cricket for several hours during my first visit. We were seeing changes almost immediately. We were able to go into the strange little world that Cricket had created for herself and bring her back here with us for short amounts of time. Then we lengthened the time that we asked for normalcy. Cricket complied. Pam’s husband and son joined in. This was to be a family project.
Stress often exacerbates OCD. It is classified as an anxiety disorder. This was somewhat true for Cricket. Being shuffled around from one foster home to another and finally to a shelter, Cricket’s spirit was in a constant state of chaos and stress. But I noticed that boredom was even more of an issue. As soon as Cricket’s bright mind had nothing to think about, she went into that special little place of hers and started pacing and pouncing. She had been tied out on a short chain at some point in her past which is likely when and why she developed this behavior as a coping mechanism to busy her quick mind. Anyone reading this needs to be aware of how much mental stimulation a border collie needs. The brighter the mind, the more stimulation is needed. That is why OCD can be problematic in this breed.
Due to her deafness, Cricket learned hand signals for tricks and obedience commands. I also recommended that Pam enroll her in tracking lessons (ground scent work) because I wanted to see Cricket start using her nose, like a normal dog. Pam was happy to do this and quickly signed up to work with an accomplished local tracking trainer. Cricket desperately needed a JOB!
During my second visit we started asking for normalcy from Cricket for longer stretches of time. She thrived on the mental challenge of staying in this world with us. Her brain finally had something to concentrate on. The OCD behaviors had become so ingrained in her that she was only able to achieve this at first for short periods of time. But this soon changed as Cricket began to learn a new way of being. She also had to learn two other important lessons, how to relax and how to be loved. These were the two most important lessons that Cricket would learn.
Time has finally become an ally for Cricket. She has wormed her sweet, quirky little way into the hearts of this loving family. It became clear that this was to be her new permanent home. Renamed Chula (Spanish for cutie), she has finally found a place where she fits in.
(Above) Cute little Chula. Her likeness to Ollie is uncanny.
What an incredible story this turned out to be. A spirit from the past who still lived in Pam’s heart connected her to this troubled soul of the present, catching her attention and saving a life. One cannot help but ponder the bigger meaning of this.
With progress marching along slowly but steadily, Chula faces a wonderful future full of hope, fun and most importantly, love. Someday she will lead a normal life when the demons of her past have melted away. This special, dedicated family has amazed me and given me hope for nearly all seemingly impossible situations. This truly is an example of humanity at it’s best. I am proud to have been a part of it.