The World's Worst Dog, A Treasure Chest of Memories
"Good dog," I pleaded as the whirling dervish at the end of my tangled leash lunged at an unsuspecting passer by.
The dog was snarling, snapping and (by all appearances) nearly foaming at the mouth.
That was my introduction to a rescue dog named Treasure. I searched around, looking for someone who might come rescue me but quickly realized I was on my own.
I turned around and walked away from the offending passer by, with some effort, since I was dragging the still unhinged dog behind me.
"Treasure?" I muttered under my breath. "Must be buried in there deep. You have got to be the world's worst dog." I could never have guessed at that moment how valuable this dog would become to me, and my wife, Trina.
Treasure's outburst was part of a scenario that would play out with alarming regularity over the next three years. Her over-the-top reaction was bewildering – she became upset with some people -- but was fine with almost everyone else.
The fact is that Treasure was a sweet-tempered girl with a heart of gold tucked inside her bright yellow coat. Usually, her tongue is hanging out in a goofy grin. She's lovable, loyal, friendly, kind and obedient – a regular girl scout of a dog – most of the time. But that was hard to remember when Treasure was turning in one of her patented Jekyll and Hyde performances.
When we first met Treasure she was already a two-time loser at Centre County PAWS, one of the State College-area shelters that finds homes for pets that are either unloved, unwanted or both.
Treasure was the product of a puppy mill. Her first owner discovered she didn't have enough time for a dog and Treasure wound up at PAWS when she was barely six-months-old.
A yellow lab mix, Treasure was a good-looking girl, so it wasn't long before a family took her home. But she arrived back on PAWS' doorstep only a few months later. She had gotten into a fight with the family's other dog.
Most of the dogs at PAWS actually live with foster families. That helps keep them socialized and also out of the kennels. Living in the kennels, surrounded by barking dogs and strangers, can be stressful for a lot of animals.
Long story short, Trina and I decided to foster Treasure. We thought she would be a good playmate for our own dog – a crazy (in a good way) Golden Retriever named Izzy.
Treasure was a sweetie with us. She and Izzy played and tussled for hours. But even though she was away from the kennels Treasure would still go wild when she saw some people -- doing that whole angry dog bit. Worse, there were a couple of times when she got into it with Izzy.
We had to take Treasure back to PAWS but Trina and I hadn't given up on her yet. Desperate for answers, PAWS brought in an animal behaviorist and we agreed to be Treasure's Pet Partners – that meant going to PAWS several times each week for training (to train the dog, that is).
Treasure quickly learned to obey a long list of commands. Come, sit, stay, go around and get off were quickly added to her repertoire (although sometimes she considered "off" to be optional).
Lisa Bahr, the director of operations at PAWS, was always one of Treasure's biggest fans. Bahr thinks Treasure may have been too smart for her own good. "A trend that I see again and again is that our smartest dogs have the hardest time coping with living in a shelter," she says. "They are easily bored and meant for bigger and better things than kennel life, so can act out and that can be easily misinterpreted."
I remember telling the behaviorist, "This dog has a split personality. She's the nicest dog you've ever met, and then suddenly she's out-of-control."
The behaviorist figured out that Treasure's problem was fear-based. Treasure acted up because she was afraid of the people she lunged at. We never did figure out why she reacted so badly to some and not others. But identifying her issue was a big help.
It took months of work, but eventually Treasure learned to be much less hostile toward people she found threatening.
However, it wasn't long before she got into another jam. Treasure's one of those furious tail waggers and anytime she had a visitor, Treasure whipped her tail back and forth with such tremendous force (slapping it against the chain link fence in her kennel) she eventually split it open. And it simply would not heal.
That's when Trina and I brought Treasure home again for another stint as foster parents (lasting more than two years). We had to get rid of all the dog toys so there was nothing for the two dogs to fight over. We fed Izzy and Treasure separately, just in case. There were a few skirmishes but nothing serious.
But the tail kept breaking open. Blood spattered everywhere. The bottom two feet of the walls in our house looked as if they had a bad case of measles. We scrubbed off the bloodstains but that left a Dalmatian pattern of shiny spots. We tried wrapping Treasure's tail in gobs of gauze and tape but it didn't help. Treasure would wag that tail -- sending missiles of Johnson & Johnson products flying in all directions. Eventually, the vet amputated about an inch of her tail. We rigged up a hollow sleeve made out of foam insulation. After another two months Treasure's tail finally healed. Hallelujah!
Treasure was calmer now – mostly. Whenever we came home, Treasure was always at the door, jumping frantically, as if she were riding a motorized pogo stick. She followed us everywhere, to the point where we would plead with her to just sit tight. This dog (when she wasn't lunging at someone) was a real people person.
We learned about her quirks. She is scared to death of diesel engines – especially the ones on garbage trucks. Poor Treasure would cower on the stairs, watching out the window -- clearly certain that the garbage truck would plow through the front door at any moment and cart her away.
We had a healthy dog and we had her outbursts under control. But no one wanted her. People were afraid of Treasure. They figured any dog that had been at PAWS for such a long time wasn't a dog they wanted. The folks at PAWS decided that Treasure needed to be in a home with no kids and no other pets, which just made sense. But that also made placing her even harder.
Until last month. A couple that lost a dog over the winter was looking for a new pet. They met Treasure and fell in love – and Treasure loved them back. The transition took some time but after a half dozen sessions and a long weekend in her new place, we knew it was a perfect fit.
Treasure spent 1,209 days at PAWS before finding her forever home -- three years and 114 days. (It's an eternity in dog years -- 23 years!)
That's also much longer than the typical PAWS dog. On average, dogs stay at PAWS for just 58 days. And that's likely because the vast majority of the 300 plus dogs that PAWS finds homes for each year are well-adjusted and problem-free.
We threw a going-away party and a good-sized contingent of PAWS volunteers showed up to say goodbye. Treasure ran from one person to the next, wagging her tail with that familiar staccato drumbeat. The world's worst dog had won all of us over.
A couple of days later, Treasure's new family came to get her. They drove off together, with Treasure sitting in the front seat. She had her head out the window and her tongue stuck out in that deliriously lopsided grin.
Moments before they left, Treasure gave me a big slobbery kiss. "Good dog," I sighed, brushing away a tear.
"No," Trina corrected me. "She's a great dog."
In the end, we couldn't have been happier to see Treasure go, or so we thought. Turns out, that lunatic dog had carved out a special place in our hearts and we miss her like crazy.
These days, when I go upstairs, I don't feel that cold nose driving into the back of my leg. When Trina works in her office Treasure isn't there to shadow her every move. That used to drive us nuts but it became a "treasured" part of our daily routine. We just didn't realize it at the time.
Treasure's new family sends us updates and photos and it's easy to see she's having the time of her life. And that's no surprise.
Finally -- at long last -- she's home.
Click HERE to find out more about PAWS or to become a foster family or Pet Partner.