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June 27, 2015

I named him “Keeper” to make a statement. He had been given up by the prevailing authorities as unadoptable when only several months old, and because of that, he was on death row at a pound. In his few short months, he had become so terrified by human brutality that he could only be caught by being trapped. He was completely benign. Flight was his only chosen defense.

A good samaritan saw him at the pound, fell in love with his beauty, and adopted him. He was a mix of Golden Retriever and some herding breed, and his lush fur was like gold. In eight months in his new home he ate little, never so much as wagged his tail or made a sound, and had to be cornered to be caught. It was always a big concern that if he escaped the house, he would find somewhere in the woods to hide and starve to death. More than once he did escape, but he was successfully lured back with another dog as he loved other animals with all his heart.

His people heard about Dialogue® and came with him to see me. I agreed to do the two-day training program with “Murray,” as he was then called, and his human mother. Within the first 15 minutes that I worked with him, he wagged his tail. He didn’t want to. He wanted nothing more than to escape me, but we were connected by a leash, so he had to watch my erratic antics and hear all my exuberant praise. The contagious fun of it all brought a wag to his tail.

The restoration of his mental stability didn’t come quickly, but it did come as his guardian practiced with him what she had learned from me. He could even sit on the couch with his people while they watched TV. But they lost patience and felt that he would never be “normal,” whatever that is, so they asked me if I would take him into my home. I don’t do this readily at all. But it so upset me that he would not get the time he needed to heal–there being no doubt in my mind that he would heal–that I agreed. I could see in him so many similarities to my dog Tippy who taught me most of what underlies Dialogue®. I named him Keeper. He was home to stay no matter what.

At that time, I saw the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” and through the whole movie I was just seeing Keeper, and I cried. I think his past memories caused him at times to hallucinate, or something akin to it, He would look right at me with no recognition. But as with John Nash about whom the movie was made, Keeper had one person in his life who was not going to give up on him. We continued with Dialogue®.

He was afraid of everybody and virtually everything–noises, objects (especially in the hands of people), everything. He saw any object as a potential weapon to be used against him. Even being near or inside of buildings was upsetting, and he spent most of his time lying outside, even in the rain. But given that fear of people and harm, it was heart-wrenching to see him run to take a stand between a human and another animal if he even mistakenly thought that animal was about to be hurt. He loved other animals so much.

For eight months and 10 days if I ever left a safe, confined space with him, he was tied to me. On that day, a Valentines Day, he told me with his expression that I could now trust him to be free on my ranch with me, and so it proved. Road trips followed, and he was safe off-leash with me even in cities. He began to accept even men as friends, not enemies.

Then came a career as a therapy dog, visiting a nursing home. Staff accepted him without specific certification as he could never have passed the standard requirements. But he was applauded over and over as the best-behaved and most wonderful, comforting furry presence, blessing the residents. Things like walkers and wheel chairs should have been very frightening to him, but his heart told him that these people would not hurt him, and he showed no fear of anything inside the nursing home. He just loved.

His last “project” was comforting a 13-year-old Basset Hound who was rescued into our home. This dog had been an “only dog,” and felt intimidated in the presence of other dogs. Keeper became his best buddy. About a week ago, after 14 years, Keeper made it clear to us that he was ready to move on. During Keeper’s last days, the once-loner hound stayed by his side night and day and then spent the two nights following Keeper’s passing sleeping at the spot where last Keeper lay. He was a keeper. He’ll always be kept in our hearts.

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