“He should be in the ASPCA commercial, he would bring in all the donations!”
“Your cats are friendlier than your foster dog!”
“Can I adopt your dog? She’s great!”
I have never witnessed anything like it in my life.
I told the potential adopter that Heath, my 10-month-old black lab mix, was shy and scared. I told him that he has irritated skin, probably from stress, and comes with an antibiotic and a medicated shampoo. I was honest and upfront about all of Heath’s qualities. He needs work. As do most people in the world (hello, blogging & wine).
His background, I don’t know and can’t even imagine. When I get a foster in his state (scared, submissive, untrusting), I formulate stories in my head. My story of Heath was that he was rescued down South, spent most of his time in a crate and away from people, and that his interactions with people were limited or not pleasant. He knows what a ball is, and plays appropriately with toys, so that leads me to believe he had some interaction… but he cowers when I pet his head, and he still waits to see how I interact with Bailey before he comes and approaches me. It took me 40 minutes to lure him out of the crate the first night he arrived, but now, his hiding spot is underneath the kitchen table. He comes out from hiding on his terms in his time. Baby steps.
The potential adopter sent me a text message saying that he would arrive in 5 minutes, in which I began to give Heath a long pep-talk. It went like this: “You got this buddy. You want to go home for Christmas. You can do it. These are nice people, good people, and they are going to love you, and you are going to love them. You need to put on a good show. Now is your chance, Heath. I will be right here with you. ”
The potential adopter and his family came into my living room. Heath army crawled around on the couch and then he ran and hid underneath my kitchen table. I retrieved him from under the table and I tried placing him in the potential adopter’s lap. No cigar. Heath wanted off and out, now. I tried encouraging Bailey to play with him. I tried to get him to play with a toy. I tried to give him treats. I tried bringing the cats around so he could chase them. Something. Anything. I think I burned holes through my sweatshirt running around trying to figure out how to get him to do SOMETHING other than be scared and sad.
Then, Heath actually did something. He rolled on his back and exposed his white chest, put his front paws in the air, closed his eyes, and played dead. He couldn’t handle the meet and greet. He wanted our eyes off of him. He gave me the something I so desperately wanted. He laid on my floor, motionless, as if to say, “Is this over yet? Because I’ve had enough.” My eyes bulged out of my head, my mouth was wide open, and my rosacea-like cheeks turned a new shade of pink. I opened my palm, slapped it against my forehead, and said “He is just really submissive.” Face palm. Foot in mouth. FML.
The potential adopter and I exchanged awkward pleasantries along the lines of sorry for wasting your time and I’ll let you know if a dog comes along that is a little more outgoing. Heath needs to work on his socialization skills, which requires a lot of time. There was unfortunately no connection between Heath and the potential adopter. There was, however, me, the foster parent, running around like an idiot trying to get Heath to be someone he is not…
I talked to Jason (who wasn’t home to witness the playing dead drama), my mom, sister, and people from the rescue who couldn’t believe that it happened. They laughed, said “Oh no!,” and gave me some helpful advice.
I laugh, because I think of the everyday situations in which I wish I could play dead like Heath. I would just lay on my back with my legs and arms in the air, close my eyes and be like “F this shit, I’m done.” I thought it was funny and sad, all at the same time. Funny because that was his time to shine! I gave him a pep talk! We discussed this! And, what does he do? Play possum. It’s sad because God only knows what has happened to him to have him shut down and play dead. I feel like my life has so many of those funny-sad moments. I could relate to Heath, the days that I just stay in bed and mutter to myself “Nothing can happen to me here.” I think if I played dead in the middle of the rehab gym or in the middle of Jason talking to me, it wouldn’t be socially acceptable as I am not a canine, but it would make for a very interesting story.
Doors open and close each day in our lives. Heath decided to play dead when an opportunity was wide open for him to be adopted into a forever home. But I think Heath playing dead had a bigger meaning. He’s content here, he’s slowly becoming more comfortable, and maybe, he knew he is just not ready to leave.
Heath will find a home. He will find a person or family that will understand him and his quirks, that will accept his shyness and love for his hiding spots. Heath is an amazing little fellow. He observes from afar, licks your hand, takes treats nicely, and isn’t afraid to be himself. He perks up when he sees me take out a leash and enjoys his kibble with chicken and cheese.
When life gets tough, don’t be afraid to play dead. The right door will open when you least expect it and in the interim, you’ll have the opportunity to work on your quirks.
You got this, Heath. I’m with you every step of the way.