Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Bear
It started like it always starts for me. I saw a picture on Facebook of a dog, and from the first moment I saw those eyes I knew there was no going back. Bear needed us to be a part of his story.
Michael and I were in Chattanooga for my parents’ annual choir Christmas concert at church. We were enjoying refreshments and socializing with old friends after the performance, when my phone buzzed. I reflexively looked at the random, totally unrelated Facebook notification, cleared it out, and refreshed my Facebook feed for next time. Except, I didn’t put my phone away. At the top of my feed, I saw him. “German Shepherd/Pyrenees mix needs homebody and someone who can help him with separation anxiety. Will be put down soon.”
I pulled Michael aside, and asked him the question I just knew he’d say no to. We had just re-homed our first ever foster dog, Bandit, a few months before, and I had been a complete and emotional wreck. I hadn’t known what to expect from fostering, and that freight train hit me at 100 miles an hour. During my third hour of sobbing, Michael had told me that fostering didn’t seem to be something I was emotionally capable of handling. He’s since learned that he can’t tell me I can’t do something. I am always determined to prove him wrong.
So I took a chance and asked him, even though I knew he’d say no.
Well, Jesus must have moved in him, because after we learned a little more about Bear, Michael amazingly, graciously, and trustingly said “Ugh, fine. But you CAN’T keep him.”
We had adopted through the organization who was sponsoring him, Doggie Harmony, before. Rigby was one of their sponsored dogs that we adopted in May 2014. They had also helped us with Bandit. They knew us enough to trust us with a foster dog, so a few days later we pick up Bear.
This was first thing I learned about Bear:
Bear is photogenic and absolutely adorable in pictures. But he is utterly irresistible in person.
Bear has never in his life met a stranger, human or dog. The more hands that can pet him at the same time, the happier and harder that tail thumps. He takes no time to sniff-test anyone, he goes straight for the crotch-headbutt-lean and stands there awkwardly until you either walk away or give him skritches. And once you start with the skritches, you’re committed to them for, well, basically the rest of your life, or you’ll be subject to the saddest guilt trip you’ve ever had.
This was the second thing I learned about Bear:
He didn’t have normal separation anxiety.
We’d gone through separation anxiety with Rigby before and I foolishly thought I was ready for this. Separation anxiety is about trust, boundaries, routine, and the happy chemical in your brain, otherwise known as endorphins. Most dogs settle just need a little extra time spent working on these areas - which was the case with Rigby. Once he learned boundaries, began to trust us, and we started walking him longer every day, he stopped panicking when we left. He doesn’t LIKE it, but he tolerates it.
Bear was a different story.
The reason he needed a foster home was because he chewed through a plexiglass containment window while he was being boarded at the kennel.
If you’ve ever dealt with a dog with separation anxiety, my heart is with you.
A little information about separation anxiety for those who haven’t encountered it yet. Separation anxiety in dogs can manifest in a handful of different ways. Some dogs are okay if you’re in the house but aren’t okay when you leave. Some dogs follow you into every room you go. Some dogs have to be touching you at all times to be safe. It can be caused by a lot of factors too - being separated too early from their mothers, trauma, abandonment, lack of training and discipline, sickness/pain/injury, etc. If caught early, separation anxiety is fairly easy to divert with the proper training and attention. If the causes or symptoms are left untreated however, it’s much harder to fix later in the game. Signs your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety can include pottying in the house while you’re gone, destruction of property or containment (like walls, crates, etc), self-injury, and others.
We didn’t know anything about Bear’s past to be sure what caused his separation anxiety, but we were able to guess on a few things. We believe he was taken away from his mother too early, and we believe that he had chronic pain and sought the comfort of humans to escape it.
Winning that battle was a long, hard, destructive, frustrating, tear-filled fight.
We couldn’t prove anything about his mother, but we did have evidence about his pain. Bear’s ears were swollen shut and full of scar tissue from untreated hematomas.
Hematomas are fairly easy to treat - they’re simply a ruptured blood vessel under the skin that needs to be drained so that it can decompress and heal. Dogs usually get them from flea bites, dog fights, or shaking their heads and hitting their ears on something hard. If properly addressed, they usually don’t pose any continued problems. You can learn more about them here. If they’re not treated, however, they will scar over and form hard permanent lumps where the hematoma had once been, once the skin reabsorbs the blood. They’re not painful, but they can cause secondary issues that are.
So Bear had untreated hematoma scar tissue on both ears. One ear wasn’t too bad, most of the tissue had hardened on the flappy part of his ear and just made it stiff. The other ear had hematoma scars all the way into his ear canal, which caused hearing loss in his right ear. Because of the swelling and scar tissue, he lost a lot of circulation as well and always seemed to have some kind of ear infection, which is where we believe most of his separation anxiety stems from.
The vet had instructed us to keep his ears clean all the time, and once he settled into structure, exercise, and a trusted food source, he started being less anxious. During a process of elimination, we lost a dog crate which he broke out of, and a bathroom door trim he ate while trying to break out of confinement while we were out of the house.
We decided to change tactics.
As a reminder, Bear is a mix of a German Shepherd and a Great Pyrenees. While all dogs are amazing, not all dogs are created equal. Bear taught me perhaps the most important dog training lesson I’ve ever learned:
Treat a dog according to its breed.
Quick history: German Shepherds were bred to herd and protect cattle on remote farms, and Pyrenees were bred to protect sheep and cattle from, get this, bear attacks.
So what did this tell me?
In Bear’s head, his number one priority was to serve and protect. Separating him from the things he was sworn to guard meant that he had failed to do the one thing he was put on this earth to do. Containing him told him that I didn’t trust him to do his job. So I tried something: I left Bear with free roam of the house, with our other dogs contained.
Yeah, he broke them all out of their containment too, because he couldn’t get to them to ensure their safety, otherwise.
So I tried something else: I took the risk and left them all out in the house together, free roaming.
Shockingly, this worked like a charm. We set up a nanny cam during all of these trials to see what would happen, and to respond to any emergencies if needed, and when all 3 dogs were free roaming, they were all just… sleeping.
Once we felt confident that Bear was at a manageable level of anxiety - we were able to leave for up to 8 hours at at time - we decided to market him as adoptable. We knew that he needed a home where he could be with other dogs, we knew he didn’t need cats in his life (they’re awfully soft and chewy), we knew he loved kids, and we knew he needed to be in a home with people who could be with him often.
I took him to PetSmart one Sunday afternoon for an adoption event, and that’s where we met Danielle and her family. She told me that she wasn’t even looking for another dog at the time, but because Bear is Charm Type, she was locked into his charm tractor beam.
We met the whole family, and their family dog Lupin, and everything lined up perfectly. He had a huge backyard, a basement room for himself, and the family spent most of their time outside in one of their many oases they had created for leisure. They adopted Bear a few days later, and everyone was very happy for a long time. I got regular updates on him, and despite a few anxiety setbacks, things were pretty smooth.
But let’s fast forward three years.
Danielle texted me and asked if she could call me. I knew something was wrong, so we got on the phone right away and she recounted the story to me.
They had been on vacation, Bear chewed through a metal-reinforced wooden fence, Lupin got out and attacked a cat… both dogs became a liability, and someone had to go…
Through the tears and sadness, it was agreed that Bear needed a different home. He’d been put on anti-anxiety medication, and despite their best efforts he just wasn’t thriving. So we decided that it was best for me to come get Bear.
If ever there was a time in my life to feel like the Wicked Witch, it was when I drove off with a little boy and girl’s dog in the backseat of my car.
So here it is, September 2018. We already had three dogs in the house, and added a fourth. Of course though, because of his undeniable charm, I knew that I’d do anything for Bear.
The vet helped us discover that Bear had a double yeast infection in his ears, and it was driving him crazy, which led to his obsessive chewing through the fence looking for someone who could help him fix the itching. I get it, BearBear. I don’t wish yeast infections on my worst enemy.
I spent the next week cleaning his ears out, giving him medicated ear drops to get rid of the infection, and getting him on a CBD/herb supplement to help with anxiety and inflammation.
After a few days, we could see him visibly start relaxing and easing back into his old self.
Thanks to Doggie Harmony, Bear was listed as available again and we started getting some applications in on him. I picked out a family that I liked a lot - the dad worked from home, they had a girl dog (which Bear is a total ladies man!), and they had two young boys. The dad was a carpenter and was looking for a shop dog to spend hours in the shop with him, and to take on Home Depot trips. By all accounts, it sounded like a great fit, so we decided on a weekend trial.
I dropped him off on Friday. Saturday went great. On Sunday I got a call that Bear wasn’t going to work out, and I got him back that afternoon.
I was crushed.
I began to accept the reality that Bear would be ours forever. We had the perfect conditions - I worked from home, didn’t have much of a social life, and I spoke his language.
But God works in his own way - just when I was ready to accept this eventuality, I got another application on Bear.
I wrote it off at first, mostly because I was going on vacation and I just didn’t want to think about reality anymore. But at the urging of Doggie Harmony, I followed up on the application when we got back.
God had paved the path for this family to walk into Bear’s life. I chatted with the applicant on Sunday, and we dropped Bear off for a trial run on Wednesday night. They seemed to instantly know his language, he was immediately at home - he didn’t have a touch of anxiety in him.
By Thursday he was cuddling his new doggy brother.
By Friday they’d installed a doggy door for him to go inside and outside as he pleased.
By Saturday they’d adopted him.
We’re praying that this is where our involvement in his journey ends. It’s far from over, but I’m thrilled to have gotten him here, and I’m so happy to step aside and let someone else take him down the rest of his road.
Happy tails, Grizzlyman!