Mina was about three years old when I started fostering her.
These are the things I know about her.
1. She lived somewhere without much sun.
2. She was not socialized around people properly.
3. She was running loose with a 4' belt, three inches thick wrapped around her neck.
4. She had not eaten well in at least 2 weeks.
5. She was not licensed, collared, or microchipped.
6. She was not spayed, and she had had puppies.
I know number one because the first thing Mina did when I let her out in the backyard was splay herself, sensuous and languid on the dirt. Within a day of her sun-worshipping, freckles appeared on her white belly. They have remained, a constant reminder to me that sunscreen isn't just for people. So I know that, for the first 2-3 years of her existence, she lived somewhere without meaningful access to sun.
For some reason, this hurts the most. To think of Mina isolated or locked up, kept from her sun, her people, her world...that makes the ache in my heart set aside just for Mina flare up and fling great tendrils of sadness throughout my body. To think of ANY dog kept socially isolated during their most socially sensitive period of initial existence...but Mina, Mina especially. She has spent the past 9 years making up for that denial of warmth.
I honestly do not believe Mina was physically abused. Even though she shied away from wild movements. Even though brooms and vacuums and bats made her cower in fear. I really don't think anyone hit her. What I do think is something even sadder, in some ways - a total denial of her existence. I think whoever had her first saw her as a means to an end, a way to make money off of her offspring. I believe they kept her in the garage, and that they didn't do much with her except feed, water and breed her. I don't think they saw her as a friend, companion, confidante, beautiful, perfect, sassy or meaningful. When she was young, I doubt they took her on walks or introduced her to as many people as possible. She lived in a small, dark, isolated world.
I know this because when I first met Mina, she was socially stunted. There was this innate desire to submit herself to people, and an even more intrinsic desire to want people to be nice to her. But it took her time, because that was all that had been given to her. Time. Endless hours of isolation. I think of her in those days, lying on cement, gazing up at locked doors, hoping against all hope that someone - anyone - would lay down beside her and just be.
It took her a week to approach me through chain link, to wedge herself between two large, needy dogs. It took 45 minutes for her to crawl - with a great sense of relief - into an animal control officer's lap during her (failed) temp test.
But what I remember most about her idea of time was how long it took for her to playbow to me in my room. The first day I brought her home under the sweet, but naive notion of "fostering" her, I invited her up on the bed. She looked confused, appalled, unsure. But when she climbed up, one leg after the other, she whirled around to face me. In that moment, I saw a light, a spark, a promise of difficult, amazing things to come. And in five seconds flat, I saw her very first playbow. She dug her paws into my comforter, butt high in the air, tail gently flagging back and forth. I could not admit to myself - not yet, it was too soon - that this was my heart dog, that this dog would teach me so much about unyielding love, overwhelming frustration. Mina knew, though. She knew with all her canine heart that she had found Home.
No matter her Before Me years. No matter the stupid, inane people who did not see Mina as an absolutely divine addition to their family. No matter the spiteful, mean animal control officers who wanted to see her dead (and a big MATTER to the one who didn't). No matter the tapeworms and the 15 missing lbs. No matter at all. She had arrived and was here to stay.
I don't want to paint Mina as perfect. She is The Most Difficult Dog I have ever welcomed into my life. When she dies - never, by the way - I will foster or adopt the easiest, goofiest, dorkiest, senior dog on earth. S/he will be laidback, non-reactive, confident and cool. Celeste will love them like she loves Mina, and that is saying something. I will give this senior dog a nice, happy, perfect end of their life. I don't know if they will fill my heart like Mina, or comfort me like Celeste, but I don't care. I will give and they will take, and that is 100% okay.
But until that long-distance future, I will worry about lumps and goopy discharge. I will watch brown shift to gray, bleach to white. I will cringe when legs stop supporting tight turns during play-time in the backyard. I will continue to provide a helping hand when joints buckle. I will inhale her perfect, dog scent and wish her to live forever. I will wonder when she might go deaf, stop hearing jangling dog tags and fence fighting Jack Russell Terriers. For the twilight years ahead, I will watch as she ages with grace and utter ignorance of her weakened state. In return, she will rest her muscular head over my heart, breathe in time with me, accept my foibles, grace me with kisses and comfort me in the way she knows best. She will love. I will love. We will be perfectly different beings resting, breathing, hoping together.