I was going to start posting Caturday pictures of Chewbacca, since he seems to be a crowd-pleaser (and I lurve mah kitteh.) I feel like the dogs deserve some attention, too. Today’s post is about Suki: a hyperactive, not-too-bright, easily stressed out Labrador/German Shepherd mix. This is weird, because Labs and German Shepherds are both notoriously smart, reliable, trainable dogs. Suki got the short stick. That’s okay, though. She’s sweet. Some of you have heard this story. I won’t be hurt if you skip it. :)
Suki has a bad habit of self-mutilation when she’s under stress–I suspect that she picked it up when she was left at the shelter, because she’d been with the same family since she was a puppy up to that point. They gave her up because “she had too much energy” and they’d just had a baby. I can totally see not wanting Suki around a newborn–she steps all over herself and us all the time. It just wouldn’t work.
When Suki is stressed out, she paws at her nose until it bleeds. I actually adopted her because of this–I saw her picture on Petfinder and her face was a mess. My last dog, Sugar (also a shelter dog), did the same thing to herself whenever she was left alone, so I knew what it was, and knew the odds of a scabby, torn-up dog being adopted were pretty slim.* (You can see in the picture that her nose is mostly pink–that’s all scar tissue, where she tore away the black that used to be her nose. Poor puppy.) :(
When I first got her she was pretty traumatized, and acted out in all kinds of ways. She’d spread the garbage all over the kitchen. She’d shred the sofa cushions. She would pee on the carpet several times a day, rather than go outside where she couldn’t see me. (I fixed that by going outside with her until she would “go potty” on command.) I would feed her in the morning before I left for work, and when I got home her kibble was untouched. I’d have to stand beside her while she ate. And she would steal food from the kitchen–but only easily-hoarded food, usually loaves of french bread. She would then bury these in the couch cushions, presumably to survive on in case I left and never came back. Every time she did something like that, though, she would get anxious–she knows that’s a Bad Dog thing to do, and it stressed her out. She would paw at her nose until I cleaned up the trash, or unearthed the loaf of bread and scolded her. Then the pawing would stop. So I came to recognize a raw, bloody nose as a sign that Suki had done something wrong.
One day I noticed that she’d been at her nose in a bad way. So I do my rounds–garbage, uneaten. Sofa cushions, untorn. Nothing hidden in the cushions, no food being saved for an emergency. Huh.
She kept at it, though. I couldn’t figure it out. Bathroom trash? No. Grace’s toys? No. She had clearly done something she felt terrible about, but what was it?
At bed time I was walking around, picking up a few of Grace’s toys, and spied something that looked like it had slid behind the cushion of the chair the Suki likes to nap in–Grace also likes that chair, and would often play there. I reach in absent-mindedly, thinking I’m about to grasp a Polly Pocket doll or something, and my fingers go squish. I pull my hand out quickly and examine my fingers. They’re covered in some kind of substance. Possibly organic. Definitely gross.
I reach back in, more carefully, while my dog sits there looking at me dolefully with her crossed brown eyes and red, weeping nose, and I pull out…a stick of butter. In the absence of bread, she had found a wrapped stick of butter that I had left on the counter to soften, and had hoarded it in a new place. You know, in case of apocalypse. Points for resourcefulness, anyway.
Suki seemed so relieved to be yelled at. Her tail thumped wildly against the floor and the pawing stopped once again.
She’s a lot better now. Her nose gets raw if we have to put her outside for extended lengths of time, like on Game Night when there are just too many people for her to not be in the way. And occasionally the trash is just too delectable and she MUST lick the wrappers of John’s protein bars.
So while Chewbacca the Cat tends to steal the limelight, and we still call Suki The Terrible Dog, and I still haven’t sewn up the couch cushions she destroyed the day after I bought the damn thing, I really wouldn’t trade her.
*If you see a dog like this at the shelter, and they tell you it’s “sunburn,” it’s not. They are not seeing the dog do this to themselves, because in the shelter they will do it when they’re alone in their run. They said the same thing about Sugar. Please adopt–that’s a dog who just needs security.