A World Turned Upside Down, Thanks To Four Feet

Face photo of small dog after grooming
Who can resist those eyes? All photos by the author.

Let me tell you the story of a nine-pound whirlwind named Star.

She appeared one day during Missy’s and my regular morning walk. Small, dirty, hairy and super shy, we spotted her under a car. After a couple of weeks, I realized that she was actually staying across the street in Chapo’s yard, when she ran under one end of his gate.

Chapo is a blue heeler who is missing his lower left front leg. He guards a yard owned by a man who is often out of town for work, and relatives just down the street care for him when his owner is gone. Chapo hates most of the dogs who roam around. But Missy and I have made friends with him. He’ll sniff my hand and sometimes lick it through the wire of the gate. He wants to play with Missy, but she often ignores him. I suspect he isn’t well socialized in the doggy world. (And Missy has become a bit of a stick in the mud in her old age.) We surprised his owner one time as he was working in the yard with the gate open, and Chapo came out to greet us. The man didn’t expect a friendly encounter, so I explained how we’d become acquainted on our daily walks.

That’s why I was surprised to see the little dog coming and going from Chapo’s. Perhaps a month ago, we ran into Chapo’s owner on our walk. He was worried about the little dog named Star. She had been dumped on him by extended family, and he was afraid she would be run over. He wanted to take her to a shelter but couldn’t get near her. “Go ahead and try,” he told me.

We don’t need another dog. Missy has been with us since she was six weeks old, and she is used to ruling the roost for some thirteen years. The one time we dog-sat for some friends for two weeks, she had a fit that he was in the house, and we had to let Boudreau stay in his own trailer at night. And they were play friends!

When another neighbor mentioned that Star had almost been hit by a truck, I decided that I had to try something. I began to talk to her on our daily walks. She started to come nearer to us before running away. Eventually, she approached Missy, but still avoided me. About a week ago, I knelt by the gate and called Missy to me for a head scratch. Star followed and let me scratch behind her ears. The moment I moved, she jumped away.

Small dog's hairy face before seeing groomer.
Shih Tzu? Lhasa Apso? She has characteristics of both.

This poor little critter had matted hair from her whiskers to the middle of her tail and everywhere in between! One large mat flopping from her eyebrow worried me, as it had a grass burr stuck in it that was positioned just right to scratch the eye itself. I waited a few more days, working on her trust, until I took a pair of scissors and was able to cut that mat and one over the other eye.

My husband listened patiently as the saga unfolded with the setbacks and tiny victories. I had been thinking of her for a friend who had recently lost one of her dogs to old age, but her life isn’t very stable right now. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them. A few days ago he said, “So you’re telling me to prepare to have two dogs.” I hadn’t committed myself to that, but I appreciated he wasn’t opposed to the idea. And I agreed that Missy’s reaction would be the deciding factor.

We headed out for our walk Monday, and I had the scissors in my pocket just in case I could get a few more matts. I wasn’t sure if she’d let me close, as I was wearing a mask against the windblown dust along with my hat. I caught the man who fed Chapo when his owner was gone and asked what he knew about Star.

He didn’t know her age, but thought she was fairly young. He didn’t know much except that the owner had left both town and her recently jailed boyfriend. He believed the dog was house trained, and he had also tried to feed her, but she wouldn’t let him near either. I told him that we’d been working on making friends, and she’d even let me rub her belly.

“Take her, please! She almost got run over again just the other day.” I said I’d see what I could do, and he promised to try to find out how old she was.

While we were talking, Star had run half-way down the block to meet us! A large puppy of another neighbor waylaid her, and she ran back to safety.

I greeted Chapo while Star greeted Missy, and then she ran up to me. After a long-hard look at her bedraggled state, I told her, “Alright, we’ll give it a try.” She wouldn’t let me put the leash on her, so I picked her up. The whole walk home, even when changing arms, she didn’t squirm or try to get away.

Once in the house, Missy and I both followed her around. I wanted to be sure she was house broke, and Missy wanted to be sure she didn’t take over any of HER spots. I tried to remove some more matts, but I couldn’t handle the smell or the dust that rose every time she scratched.

Shaggy little dog mostly mat free.
After most of the mats are gone. I didn’t get a pre-picture; oh well.

It was bath time. Honestly? She handled it better than Missy does! Two wet bath towels later and several shakings that deposited a small garden of debris, I let her loose again in the house. She ran everywhere! Then we all went outside (Star on a leash this time) and walked around the yard. Back in the house, she did some more running and drank some water.

I sat down and next thing I knew, I had a lap full of hairy bundle. While she slept, I snipped. And snipped. And snipped some more. One full trash can and three plus hours later, I’d managed to clear all but one hind leg and her tail. Ready to wake up, she’d had enough for the time being.

On Tuesday I managed to get most of the rest of the mats. Wednesday, we were able to get a bit more information, and worked out that she is about a year old, give or take. She also got her shots. Friday, she got groomed. All sounds clean and quick, right? Wrong.

Because we were walk-ins, we had to wait outside for over an hour to see the vet. They were booked up with appointments and weren’t planning to see walk-ins, but I had called Monday, so they took us. The little bundle who had lived with horrid hair mats that you know hurt was a total drama queen! Every little poke and prod elicited death cries. Sheesh! Weighing in at 8.8 lbs. exactly, she seems in good health despite the neglect.

At least I didn’t have to wait around (2-4 hours) while she was at the groomers Friday. No, I was on the hunt for a harness that would fit and a crate, bed and jacket for the expected shave. You see, we’ve learned a few things during the week.

Missy wasn’t the one I needed to worry about; Star has been the aggressor. She has taken over Missy’s toys, her food and water bowls, and has tried to take over me. Sure, Missy will put Star in her place if she tries to dominate her, but Star is the one who growls or even jumps at Missy if the little one feels the other is getting too close to me! Possessive little brat. Hence the crate as well as the bed and jacket already planned for. Star will learn to have her space, and I will get a little back myself! And Missy can nap in peace.

Crate training will also help with the pooping inside. Friday, I took her out in the yard before getting in the shower, but she waited until I was almost done to poop on my bedroom carpet. Grrrr! At least it’s easy to clean up.

This has been a learning curve for all of us. We’re all set in our routines, and now everything is different. I have to make sure Missy gets some extra loving and time away from the brat, and I’ve discovered that I need time away from the furry bundle myself. On the other hand, Star is showing some stress signs in the way she plays, shakes and humps the toys she’s claimed. She’s used to running on her own outside and being leashed doesn’t fit her ideal. Friday, she started to chew on the leash, so I needed a harness that clipped on top.

The first harness I got her was too big. I measured, but that was before the shave. A quick run to the grocery store this morning solved that. (Yes, I said grocery store. And cheaper than anyone else, too.) That will make it harder to reach the leash and protect her throat. I suspect a head halter will be in the works soon, and I get to figure out how to add a training schedule into everything else. She knows nothing!

White star on the back of the neck of a light tan dog..
Now we know how she got her name!

As for the crate? After several in-and-outs with treats for bribes, I finally had to just scoot her in and close the door last night. A blanket over the top and she quieted down. This morning she was ready to get up when she heard us stirring and was her usual cheerful self. I moved the crate from the bedroom to the living room and tossed a little fleece throw (also $6 at the grocery store) into it—after I took a nap with it myself. Shortly after, she was inside, snuggled up to the throw. That’s going to be easier than expected! Now, if I can just get her potty and food schedule down.

Change is hard for us all, but it is a normal part of life, whether we like it or not. Rather than working as hard as possible to prevent it, I believe we are healthier if we choose to go with it, help guide it when we can, and learn to embrace the best parts. Just because it hasn’t been done that way before doesn’t make it impossible. And even the rough parts can hold unexpected charms.

Grace, Peace and Hugs to you!

P.S. Kudos to all you folks out there raising your grandkids. I am exhausted with one little dog. You have my utmost admiration and awe!

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