I grew up with dogs, including a big black collie named Raven. Throughout college and my first few years of working and parenting, I knew I wanted to have dogs in my life again when the time was right. When we finally moved into a house with a yard ten years ago, I started volunteering every week at our local Humane Society, with the goal of finding a dog to adopt. At the time, our son was only 4 yrs. old, and I wanted to find a big dog that could be good with kids. That dog turned out to be a great big shepherd-akita cross that had been brought in as a stray. By adopting him, we saved his life, as he was due to be euthanized. We let our son choose his name, and he named him Raven after my childhood pet. We all fell in love with him.
My friend at the shelter took this photo the day we brought him home:
At first, he did behave like the gentle giant he had been in the shelter. But he had come home untrained, underweight, and with a case of kennel cough. We were told to keep him from being active, and we had to feed him medication hidden in treats multiple times each day. Along with other dog-training mistakes we were making, our treatment of him turned out to be a perfect recipe for making him think he was the dominant force in the household. After a few months, smart guy that he was, he was behaving like he was boss, including guarding his food.
By that time, he was healthy, and I had been taking him to obedience classes back at the same local Humane Society. So I asked Carla Jackson, one of the trainers, to come to the house to see him in action and give us advice. To my surprise, he snapped at her hand while she was teaching us how to train him out of the food-guarding behavior. She was immediately concerned about him being a danger, and asked to bring him home to work with him. Luckily for him, and for us, he was a quick learner. With her help, he got another chance at being a family dog. Once we understood how to show him he was not the leader of the pack, he was once again a lovable big lug, a beautiful teddy bear of a dog. I continue to see Carla, as she boards dogs as well as trains them, and Raven would always wag his tail excitedly as we neared her house to drop off the dogs before a trip.
Ever since, he was a wonderful part of the family. He won over the affection of my husband, who was never a dog person before we brought Raven home. He loved to play fetch with our son. He would always crack us up when we were playing a board game at the kitchen table. . . he was so big that he could scratch his back by walking under the table, and his curled up wagging tail would sweep the game tokens off the board. He would even behave submissively towards our cats, as if trying to show he just wanted to be friends. Seeing his exuberance at the sight of his leash, and watching him happily roll around in a patch of snow on a hike, was worth all of the slobbering and shedding he managed to do around the house. And when we adopted another dog, they became an inseparable, matched set.
He lived a full life, but his death this week was still unexpected. I wish I could take him for one more walk, and give one more peanut butter treat. We'll miss him, but we will always be grateful he got another chance, and that he was part of our family.