Saturday, December 27, 2008

Life With America

I've been looking for a couple of stories I started, and I want to continue writing... Writing with passion, writing like my life depended on it... And I came across this. This is from 2004. America is four years old now, he'll be five in April of 2009. Yesterday, we got a landmark life occurrence: America did his first RLU (raised leg urination) a mark of adulthood. I must admit to a certain sadness.

Life With America

I am sleep deprived. I am able to nap a couple of hours before one of several things happens: a whine indicates 1) I need to pee; 2) I need to poop; 3) I am hungry; 4) I am thirsty; or 5) I want to play with you, my favorite chew toy. It has been this way for three and a half weeks now, I am working on my first month. I have at least 5 months of sleep deprivation to go, and hopefully, another 15 years of challenge and pleasure ahead of me.

The whine comes from America. You can hear it clearly, it reverberates through my mother ears. Sometimes, he howls, a high pitched echoing lonesomeness that I am sure will be as awe inspiring as that of his ancestors in the high arctic so long ago. America is a wolfdog. He is not a wild wolf, nor is he exactly a domestic dog. He is very high content. His family tree has been bred as companion animals for over 13 generations. He is my four-legged son. He, and the other wolfdogs I share my life with, are the only children I will have in this lifetime, the only ones granted to me this time around. I do not feel cheated, I feel Blessed.

I have had to work hard to be worthy of his ownership. I have had to educate myself far beyond what is called for in “casual” ownership of canines. This has changed me in many ways. I find that many of my assumptions regarding ownership of ANY animal have been redefined. I have always believed that ownership was a responsibility, not a privilege, and that belief has only sharpened as I become more aware of the fate of those who do not receive responsible care. I had to educate myself in basic canine behavior and psychology, and in wolf behavior and psychology. I found the more I learned about wolves, the more I learned about dogs, and a greater appreciation I discovered for both.

I had to search out those who had more experience than I, and to learn to discern between fact and myth. I had to do research about so many things I had taken for granted as a “regular dog” owner!!! I learned to read kibble labels, I learned about dietary needs and supplements, I learned about containment needs. I discovered how out-of-date I was in training techniques, and have had to re-educate myself in the newest positive training methods. I discovered the politics of pet ownership, and was truly amazed to discover how many organizations actively work to deny responsible owners the pleasures of private ownership. I learned to be pro-active about my ownership.

And there were lessons along the way that no human could teach me, lessons the other members of my furry Family had to teach. Lessons about respect, lessons about power, and the abuse of power. Lessons about rescue and abandonment. Lessons about communication and individuality. Some of those lessons were harsh, and sorrowful… But they gave me resolve and strength. None of the animals I would take responsibility for will ever wind up in rescue. I will take them as they are, warts and all. I will expect the best, and prepare for the worst. I will not be part of the problem, but part of the solution. It has taken a dedication that sometimes still surprises me.

But it has also brought me America.

I have had him since he was three weeks old, and bottle-fed him for about a week and a half, until he began to refuse the bottle. I wasn’t ready for him to be weaned, but he was, and he’s the boss! (At least at this age.) I had to prepare an exact formula, with specific ingredients such as gelatin, to prevent eye problems; canned goat’s milk, as a high-fat highly digestible lactose supplement; canned chicken baby food, as a protein enhancer; Nutra-Cal as a calorie/vitamin supplement; and Oasis’ Fortifier Plus, as a carnivore-specific infant milk supplement. Since he was pulled from his mother at one week of age, in order to facilitate the socialization process, his formula had to compensate for the nutrients he would have gotten from his mother. I am his mother now, and I have to provide him with a proper nutritionally complete diet, so he will thrive.

I had to learn how to hold him for the bottle. Unlike a human infant, a wolfdog (and most other carnivore babies) cannot be nursed on their backs, they must be nursed on their tummies, or else they will aspirate what you are feeding them and end up with fluid in their lungs. I learned that wolf pups have a built-in “follow me” instinct that kicks in at three weeks of age, and if you use that knowledge, you set up a good “heel”, and a good “recall” for later training. But you have to start early, or you lose that training window. I learned about mouthing, and how to teach bite inhibition. I have to feed him any goodies by hand now, in order to teach good manners. I am, after all, his favorite chew toy. He’s got to learn how fragile my human skin is in comparison to his furry coat!!!

At the age I got him, he couldn’t control his body heat, so I eschewed my comfy California King Ortho, and slept on a couple of stacked twin mattresses on the floor. Every two hours, initially, he woke me up to take care of his various needs. A few times I wound up having to stuff towels over the wet spots, as his bladder control was non-existent. I buy Nature’s Miracle by the gallon. And occasionally, for an hour or two, he’d crawl up into the crook of my arm, and settle down and sleep, to my delight.

He is never all alone, someone is always with him. My husband & my room-mate help care for him. Now that he’s almost 7 weeks old, he must learn to ask to go outside, which means we have to keep to a tight schedule of outside walks, and keep treats in our pockets for rewards when he voids. I am grateful for their help, as this gives America a wider range of humans to socialize. He needs to meet many different kinds of people, and many different kinds of dogs before he’s four months old, so he will have good social skills. When he is inoculated, we will go to a basic obedience class together. We already have our pre-paid, pre-registered PetCo Puppy Class reserved! Until then, we have to be careful of diseases, yet we cannot be isolated. Raising a well socialized wolfdog puppy takes a village!

So much to learn, so much to teach, in such a short amount of time!!

And when it is said and done, after all that worry and all this learning, America climbs up in my lap and snuggles his head against my chest, and breathes that sweet puppy breath at me with a canine smile on his face. And with that look, he tells me, “Thanks, Mom, and pass the chew toy.”


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