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Episode 3 of ISCP student Rowena’s blog about adopting a Romanian street dog.

Cauta has been living with us for just over two weeks, but it feels simultaneously much longer and much shorter. We knew him in kennels for eight weeks before, and one month and eleven days before that, was the first time we met. So all in all it has been just over three months.

When I look back I think of how committing to one dog means mourning all the dogs he or she is not. As with many other things in life the reality that unfolds means many other realities did not. The ones left behind in the shelter. The ones not coming home with you. The ones on every charity’s website. Fantasies can multiply about the dogs that could have been, but here is the one of flesh and blood sitting right in front of you.

And a process continues of getting to know this very one. This one with his own individual quirks and uniqueness.

Sometimes his youth catches me off guard, a naïve, vulnerable, joyful ball of fizzing energy that at times seems completely inappropriate to being contained on a leash. But I try, and will continue. And he tries. His frustration is palpable when he is denied the chance to play with the gaggle of spaniels. He does not compute that there is a river of cars between us and we can’t gallop across the road right now.

Being responsible for him means I am regularly put into roles I do not feel so comfortable with, feeling as if I am his jailer, teacher, judge, all rolled into a sternness and resignation that does not sit well.

Sometimes it feels as if the fun is all for others, the dogmates he chases, the humans who encourage his mouthing. On the other end of the leash is the one who feels left out and left to be the ‘bad guy’. Sometimes there seems little opportunity for this elusive state called fun.

But perhaps now is a period of time to sow what we will reap later, the training, the recall, the attempt at impulse control, this is all a gateway for us to be able to play in safety.

Even now I look back at how I interpreted his behaviour, and am grateful for the study here, for the moments where I see him more, perhaps as he really is, rather than what I project of my own feelings.

I now see his leash ragging as a sign he can’t cope in a certain situation, a signal that things are falling apart inside for him, pieces of the training we have worked so hard on shaken away. A sign that I need to help him change gears. As a young stray he may not yet have the ability to transition from that overwhelmed, hyped up state to being able to think again. His cortisol is racing and if mine is too, we need to find some thinking space and fast.

I see many of the behaviours I first thought of as showing excitement as actually curdled with a large dose of anxiety. As with us all, perhaps the line between excitement and anxiety is thin, and it is sometimes hard to tell when it has been crossed.

I also think of his shadowing me in the first few days, I thought he wanted something and I couldn’t find what he needed. Much like with a crying baby – Do you need this? You want this? No? What is it then? This? Or maybe….? No? What is it? I don’t know!

Perhaps all he wanted was my presence, rather than absence. Nothing more or less. I wonder if he was following me to make sure I didn’t suddenly disappear. When he was in kennels I had to come and go, there were so many separations. Was he trying to keep me in sight at all times, desperately watchful? Now he shows signs of believing we can stay. We can all stay here. It is safe. We go and come back and no-one gets left behind.