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The former street dog from Israel was deemed unadoptable because of her fear issues. Sarah Mac saw a kindred spirit, and together they helped each other be brave.
When Sarah Mac takes a walk with her 3-year-old rescue, Kimmie, she never knows what’s going to frighten the former Israeli street dog. The sight of a tiny bird hopping along the sidewalk could send Kimmie into a panic attack just as easily as a roaring engine. Kimmie’s past taught her to trust her fear, so when the dog flattens herself on the pavement or tries to hide under the nearest dumpster, Mac doesn’t judge. Instead, she casts herself in the role of the protector and recites a comforting script to her panicked pooch.
“It’s like a mantra when we go out — ‘It’s okay. I’ve got your back.’ It’s assimilated into me now,” says Mac, who can understand where Kimmie’s coming from.
“I’ve always been really fearful of people,” she explains. “I don’t know where I got it from. Someone would be approaching me, and I would tense up.” Mac knew she had to learn to relax around people if she was going to expect Kimmie to do the same.
“I need her to know that she’s confident and strong and capable in any situation. It’s interesting because I felt like those were all things that I needed to discover in myself.”
Mac’s new life with Kimmie follows another with a dog who was everything Kimmie is not. His name was Scrappy. A little Cocker Spaniel impulsively purchased at a pet store during a Christmas shopping spree eight years ago, Mac remembers Scrappy as affectionate, loving, and easy to train. Sadly, Scrappy only lived to be about seven years old before a rare cancer revealed itself suddenly, taking the little dog’s life within a matter of days. It was an abrupt end to a relationship Mac admits had become her whole world.
“Leaving him for an extended period of time was never an option for me because I would miss him too much,” she explains.
While grieving Scrappy, Mac seized several volunteer opportunities, including one at Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, a breathtakingly beautiful facility on 50 acres just north of Toronto.
“Two weeks after he died was my first day to volunteer,” Mac recalls. She estimates she met between 30 and 35 dogs on that day and admits Kimmie didn’t really stand out. It wasn’t until a few days later, when Mac was out walking another dog, that she really noticed Kimmie as Dog Tales staff members were attempting to integrate her into a pack at play.
“She took a couple steps out, and then just instantly ran back into the gated area,” Mac recalls.
An hour later when Mac walked by again, she was pleased to see Kimmie running, jumping, and playing with the other dogs. Intrigued, Mac paid Kimmie a visit in her room later and found a happy dog. Unfortunately, Kimmie’s transformation didn’t last long.
“The following week, I went in there and she was laying in the corner with her head down, wouldn’t look up,” says Mac, who took Kimmie out for a game of catch to improve her mood. Kimmie cheered up, but when it was time for her to go back to her room, she didn’t want to cooperate.
“I couldn’t get her to go back in. I had to get some help from one of the trainers.
Kimmie’s troubles continued the following week, when another volunteer couldn’t get her to walk until Mac intervened.
“So I said, ‘Take the dog I’m walking, and I will work with her.’ So I just kind of sat there with her until she was ready to get up and go, and that’s what we did that day.”
Mac felt like she was developing a relationship with Kimmie, so when a sign appeared on Kimmie’s door advising ‘no volunteers,’ she went to the head trainer to ask why. Mac says she was told the interaction wasn’t helping Kimmie, who would pee when people approached and would most likely never find a home.
“That was the day I decided she’s coming home with me.”
When Kimmie came home she went straight to her bed and slept for two days.
“Then it was a lot of walking,” says Mac, who notes the walks were as frustrating as they were frequent. Kimmie — who didn’t respond well to humans putting their hands on her — would do things like slip her lead, or lay down frozen with fear in an intersection.
“That first week I sat on the side of the road crying because I could not get her to move, and I did everything that I thought I was supposed to do.”
Mac knew she needed help. She called the head trainer at Dog Tales and went back to the sanctuary.
“He spent two hours with me, showing me what was happening and getting into her head and helping me understand what she needed from me. It changed everything in terms of being able to walk her.”
With a better understanding of what Kimmie needed — and a healthy dose of patience — Mac worked to help Kimmie gain confidence without becoming codependent.
“I needed to be independent, and I needed her to be independent — which was something that I didn’t have with Scrappy,” she says. According to Mac, the inseparable bond she felt with Scrappy developed easily but at the exclusion of others. She felt she couldn’t love another animal without diluting her love for him. Kimmie has taught Mac a different kind of love — one that’s not as all-consuming and is absolutely unconditional.
“It’s just like loving her without expecting anything in return, and getting that that’s what love is.”
Loving a dog who has never known love before certainly has its challenges, but it also has its benefits.
“She’s taught me that those little things that I’m so afraid of have the potential to to be such incredible and beautiful things,” says Mac.
“Prior to me becoming enlightened about Dog Tales, I never would have considered a rescue dog, but there’s a lot of animals that have such unique stories, and giving them the opportunity to find their place in this world is a big deal.”
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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