THE LESSON OF EVE

Eve and her pups were surrendered to us by another rescue who had been asked to take several Flat Coat Retrievers that had been left at a boarding kennel for many months. Seems the man who owned them and kept them outside on his farm could not take them back as planned. We are not sure how Eve, then known as Lava, became pregnant while being boarded but it could have been when she was fostered for a time. Whatever the case, Eve gave birth December 5, 2015. She was brought to us December 8th and we settled her and her pups into the puppy cabin. When I met her the night she arrived she came close to me and took cheese out of my hand. I stroked her face and promised her she would be safe, well-loved and taken care of. Our first task when a dog arrives is to win its trust and I felt that Eve and I were off to the usual start. I had no way of knowing at the time that I was beginning a journey with a dog I did not understand, could not predict and would learn from immensely

When I returned to the puppy cabin the day after Eve arrived I was greeted by a snarling, barking, aggressive dog. Eve sat in the whelping box, protecting her puppies and she wanted nothing to do with me. I entered the cabin without making eye contact and stoked the fire in the wood stove. This activity took me close to the whelping box but I ignored Eve and went about my business. When puppies are first born the mother cleans up after them so the towels in the whelping box are damp but not soiled.  We usually change the towels four times a day but I was not going to push it with Eve that morning. I left the cabin after putting food in her bowl. My instincts told me she would become more receptive after Paul and I had moved around the cabin several times and she came to accept that we were not a threat to her pups. I couldn't have been more wrong. Each time we entered the cabin her aggressive behaviour escalated. We couldn't get near her pups and were just able to keep the fire going to keep them all warm. Paul's hand touched the whelping box once and Eve bit him. I spent a great deal of time sitting on a stool near the front door, not speaking or looking at her in the hopes that she would tire of barking and accept my presence.  That never happened.

After several days I decided I couldn't allow her to continue being in charge any longer so I calmly and assuredly walked towards the whelping box. Often dogs take on a job they are not equipped to do, like protecting their people or house and they believe they have to do it all on their own. It is actually too much responsibility for them so they bark out of frustration, confusion and in an attempt to get the job done.  By taking charge of the front door or the dog approaching while out walking we reduce their burden by taking over some of  the job they feel is theirs. By approaching Eve I hoped to take some of the space she was guarding away from her as a way of showing her I was a calm authority she could depend on and trust. Waiting for her to figure that out for herself had not worked.  I walked in her direction and her barking intensified. Just as I was about to stand directly in front of her I slipped on some water that had spilled from her drinking bowl and fell. I was now flat on my back on the floor and I am sure I did not omit a sense of authority or leadership. Eve jumped out of the whelping box and stood over me growling and snarling. I was so mad at myself for falling that I told her, in a stern voice, to get back - and she did. I was then able to slide myself backwards and out of her area. I pulled the chain link gate that separated two areas of the cabin closed and remained on the floor until I could manage to stand. 

I was bruised and ached in several places but nothing serious had happened because of the fall. On the contrary, I had inadvertently established that Eve was all bluff and bluster. She could have done some damage to me when I was vulnerable and in her space but she had simply retreated when I told her to. One more piece of the puzzle.  I knew though that I couldn't repeat my attempt to take charge because I had confused her with my previous efforts. All I could do was hope that when her pups reached three to four weeks of age she would tire of them as most moms do at that stage and she would allow me to get closer to her. We decided to wait her out and not ask more of her than she wanted to give at that time. We were still able to set the fire and feed her so we would leave the care of the pups to her for the time being. 

That plan made sense until one of her pups died. She was the smallest pup  and most likely would not have made it under any circumstances but I couldn't help feeling if I had been able to hold her and attend to her she could have survived. It is the same arrogance I display when I think a mother dog needs me present when in labour. Bush dogs that have given birth, all alone, under houses many times suddenly need me. So why not think a pup, destined by nature to die, would change course because I held it. Knowing this doesn't change a thing. 

The situation was more urgent now and I could no longer trust my best judgement. I called a few trainers and a behaviourist and all told me the same thing. I was dealing with a reactive dog and I had to get her away from her puppies. She apparently was teaching them to be anxious and fearful and they could become feral without intervention. We knew we would have to drug Eve in order to get her away from her pups so the vet prescribed what was needed. We knew too that we would have to take the edge of her highly anxious state if I was going to be able to work with her at all so meds were prescribed to calm her. As we were planning how and when to medicate Eve (she couldn't take the drugs and then feed her pups so timing was crucial) I felt more and more uncomfortable. We had never drugged a dog for behaviour before and it didn't feel right. I asked that we wait a week although I am not sure what I expected to have happen in that period of time. Still, doing nothing at that moment felt better than any of our other choices. We went about preparing for Christmas and I didn't allow myself to think too much about Eve. We cared for her but didn't try to change her. Not knowing what to do after thirteen years of experience and many moms with litters was unsettling but I had children and grandchildren to celebrate Christmas with and I wasn't going to diminish that day with worry. I would worry the next day. 

Boxing Day arrived and as I was preparing to begin the day when Paul called from downstairs. His voice sounded odd but when you live with a minimum of seven dogs at all times there usually is something to cause that certain tone in one's voice so I wasn't alarmed. I started down the stairs and knew enough to close the gate behind me to keep our dogs contained. Paul stood still in the front hall and he pointed towards the dining room. I couldn't see what he was referring to until Eve walked into sight and slunk behind Paul. I continued downstairs and ignored her. I pretended to be busy for a bit before sitting down on the couch. As soon as I lowered myself, Eve ran to me, put her paws up on my shoulders and licked my face. She was gentle, caring and sweet and I cried. Didn't entirely understand it but I accepted her attention and affection with relief and greed. 

Apparently, Paul had gone to the cabin that morning as he always did but this time when he left, Eve followed him. She sniffed the ground outside with interest and since she hadn't been out of the cabin for weeks he thought he would leave her to explore while he went back in the house. As he turned to close the door behind him Eve walked in. Her pups were three weeks old that very day and Eve clearly understood she no longer had to be so vigilant - that she could now take some time for herself. At three weeks of age pups have sharp little teeth and long scratchy nails so the moms tend to feed less and spend more time out of the whelping box. I had hoped for a change in behaviour at three to four weeks but anyone who tells you they could have predicted this outcome would be lying. 

She became Eve that day as we changed her name from Lava - she had indeed become the mother of all mothers. We began supplementing the pup's food and Eve fed them a few times a day. For the most part, Eve lived in the house with us after that. I was finally able to inspect the pups and each was well fed, healthy and content. None were any more anxious than would be expected at that age and I was beside myself with maternal relief. Eve had certainly known what she was doing. I snuggled each pup under my chin and told them how sorry I was that we had lost their sister. I explained that they all had to continue for her and live their best lives in her honour. 

I can't explain Eve's behaviour but I now respect it. She knew she had the job of a life time to do and she did it her way. Haven't seen that particular method before and doubt I will again but I no longer question her judgement. I have always believed that you are sent the dog you need and in Eve's case I think she was sent to unnerve me. She challenged what I thought I knew and showed me how much I still have to learn. She reminded me just how much we humans impose on animals in the name of knowing best and how wrong we can be. She taught me to wait and see, something I have never been good at. Eve both humbled and inspired me and I will never forget her. She showed me the way forward I am grateful. Eve is now enlightening others in her forever home and as always, I wish her sweetness and joy. Sharron