Note: This is a happy story, but it has some unhappy parts (mentions of animal abuse).
Some people say that we all have superpowers. They’re just so mundane that we barely notice. But we all have that friend who always hits every green light when driving, or who always catches falling mugs, or who always wakes up right before their alarm.
A humble brag: I believe my superpower is to make rescue dogs feel safe, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve interacted with rescue dogs my entire life. When I was born, my mother’s Canaani Pupik*, rescued from the heart of Jerusalem, curled around me and refused to move. That dog held me more than anyone else in my family. She had to personally vet every person who came near me, every single time. She helped me learn to crawl, and then to walk, and most importantly to be kind and gentle and responsive to what animals were telling me. I intuitively understand dogs in a way I know has surprised a lot of people around me. I understand the tonal variations when the bark, or whimper, or whine, or howl. I understand body language and facial expressions and tail positions.
(And, of course, I also understand the magical healing power of pieces of chicken.)
Knowing what different signals mean allows me to have real, individual, meaningful dialogues with dogs, and I think that’s the core of their trust. It isn’t always immediate, but it’s faster than average, and it always comes.
Those of you reading may know about my rescue chihuahua/terrier mix Bina**. We rescued her at age 6 from a puppy mill. She was one of the mothers, kept in a cage her entire life, separated from her children and beaten right up until we got her out. I hate typing it but it is important to acknowledge. Bina was mistreated so badly that 13 years later we still see the effects.
Things weren’t and still aren’t perfect. I’ve worked for 7 years as an abuse counselor and I see the traumatic responses I’ve learned to recognize in humans reflected in her behavior too. Sometimes Bina gets confused when I approach and starts to cower and growl before realizing it’s me. Some days she refuses to come out from her dark, safe corner under the kitchen table. Certain things trigger her more than others- someone moving their leg too fast, or a hand hovering over her head.
I learned to work around these triggers and Bina’s personality has blossomed beautifully. Even now she still continues to learn and grow. She’s resilient in ways I can’t fully comprehend. The old addage about how old dogs can’t learn new tricks? Ridiculous. My traumatized 19 year old chihuahua is constantly learning new things to this day. She creates new playful games (the current one is “run and chase me, then turn around and I’ll chase you!”). She learns new ways of cuddling (right now it’s “on top of your head”) and requesting affection (right now it’s by slapping us in the face with her paw. So, that one’s a work in progress). Bina was among the most abused dogs I’ve ever worked with, and she trusts me enough to let me move her food around while she’s eating, to let me shower her with kisses, and to let me sleep by her side. A level of trust which, by the way, she has withheld from every professional Dog Whisperer we’ve had over to help (she actually bit the last one in the nose).
So when I heard my mom adopted*** another rescue dog from the local shelter I was over the moon and ready for another 13+ years of superpower use.
This dog had been dropped off by a family at a kill shelter at the age of 7. They complained that she howled too much (we have never heard her howl once) and she set off their allergies (A. After 7 years? B. she’s hypoallergenic). They did not provide the shelter with her medical history or even her name. The dog was a Havapoo, a designer breed and so an unusual rescue. It is likely that her previous owners bought her from some fancy pet store and were completely unvetted and thus unprepared for her to get bigger, to grow up, and to demand actual care and attention like every dog does. I cannot begin to express my anger over this.
When the dog was left at the shelter she was malnourished and dirty, her body covered in alternating bald spots and unbelievable tangles of fur. Her teeth were in terrible shape, her eyes filmy, her nails uncut. When approached she would take on a clearly unnatural submissive posture, even though she didn’t know any actual commands. At 7 years old she had not been spayed or even house trained. When my mother met her, her tail was down so far my mother thought it was broken.
But the dog was small enough to carry and she was in need, so my mother took her home and gave her as much love as the Ran family has to offer (the limits of which have yet to be found). We named her Misha, which was the closest acceptable name related to her most immediately obvious endearing quality- how she loves to mush herself up against people when she gets excited. We also call her Mishi, Mushy, Mushu, Mishka, Mishkeleh, Mishinke, and Oh My God Stop Licking My Face.
After several months of living in my mother’s home it is clear that this dog is a blessing straight from the Shechinah. She has never bitten, never howled, never scratched. She’s sweet and loving down to her core, and incredibly smart to boot. But up until I came to visit she did not play with toys or people, had a low tolerance for cuddling and kisses, and did not come over often to request attention. She was continually apprehensive about meeting people, taking at least several hours to warm up to them, though there are many people she still refuses to even go near.
But I am happy to say that my powers did not disappoint me and I am certainly the exception to the rule. Coming home I didn’t even make it out of the elevator before this giant ball of fluff was zooming in to kiss me and cuddle me and wag her tail so furiously her whole body wiggled. Once she was done and presumably dehydrated from licking every bit of exposed skin I had she rolled over for belly pats immediately. And when I stood up, she stole my hat and never gave it back. It’s her favorite- and only- toy that she plays with.
She also sleeps on it, eats on it, and yep, I had to buy a new hat.
Since meeting this little light I have never slept alone. Misha insists on lying down where she has a perfect view of my face so she knows immediately when I wake up. When I am awake, she begs for attention every half hour or so. I ask myself every day, how could someone give up such a brilliant, sweet, funny, wonderful dog like her?
However it happened, may I never stop being grateful that she found her way into our lives. My superpower was built just for this purpose and I am ready to serve. ❤
With love and joy and pride and haircuts, we welcome this gorgeous scientist puppy into our home!!!
(Apologies to Bina because I didn’t write her a welcome post, since I was like 11 when we got her. I think she’s okay with it though.)
*This means bellybutton in Yiddish. I don’t know either. Our next dog was Itzik (tiny, “he who laughed”) and calling out “Pupik Itzik!!!!” when walking them outside was an Experience.
**This means understanding in Hebrew. Every dog in our house has to have a Jewish name, I don’t make the rules, but I do enjoy them.
***On Election Day no less. This is the dog of the Revolution.
(P.S., if anyone wants to talk about this shelter/potentially adopting, hit me up. 💜)