Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olive: Getting the Credit She Deserves

Birch and I began searching for a dog almost as soon as we got married. In November of 2008, we found Olive and she was perfect. She was being held at Andy's Pet Shop in San Jose, but that's nowhere near where they found her or the others in her litter. A rescue operation called GEPDA (Group Education to Protect and Defend Animals) had recently brought a litter back from Taiwan that had been found on the beach
there. It turns out that Taiwan has such a huge stray dog problem that it's become a serious health problem. Groups like GEPDA go there (and other places, too, like Mexico) and capture dogs, quarantine them, and give them the necessary care and treatment before transporting them back to the US for adoption. After some research of our own, we discovered that Olive is a Formosan mix, a breed just very recently acknowledged by the people that make those decisions. We were told by GEPDA that Olive was a lab/shepherd mix, but we think this was a way to give Americans an idea of their temperament (not to mention her physical appearance could very well have been a mix of those two types). Olive was the only girl left in her litter to be adopted and was being somewhat bullied by her brothers who were all a bit larger than she. Knowing we wanted to have children, we wanted a dog that did well with them children and other animals. Luckily, when we went to visit with her there were two little girls also looking for a dog. They were interested in one of her chestnut brothers, but she was completely unphased by their behavior which was somewhat loud and all over the place, so we were confident that she would do well with some training and love. As my family can attest, this nonchalance around children has almost completely faded at this point and poor Olive is shy and cautious. She is extremely pack-oriented and dearly attached to both Birch and I. She's very smart, almost too much so sometimes, especially when it comes to treats. She is not won over by being given treats. She likes people who are quiet, calm, and who don't expect her to like them right away. However, if you have a dog, she pretty much likes you right away. Olive absolutely adores our friends Miriam and Ben. She trusts and listens to them, all because they have a dog that she plays with on a pretty regular basis. They're best dog friends which is convenient because Miriam and Ben are our best friends.

When Olive first joined our family, she was not much bigger than a Dachshund. Her ears looked enormous and her tail crazy long. In the grass, she pranced about, lifting her paws very high with each step. After months of observation, I think this is because she's somewhat prim and doesn't like getting her paws wet. In fact, she doesn't like getting wet, period. But with Kegel, Miriam and Ben's dog, she'll do anything and often comes running back to us drenched in creek water, mud, and saliva. Lovely. Formosans are mountain dogs and it's amazing to see Olive transform personalities as soon as we get her out into nature, especially the mountains. She speeds up and down the steep sides of trails and on one notable excursion with my sister Sharman and her family, ran up a fallen redwood tree that was perched on at least a forty or fifty-degree angle up the mountain. To be fair, though, she only did this after Birch did it. She'll follow that man anywhere, I swear.

Olive is now a year and a half (strangely enough, we figure she
was born around the time we were getting married), and she has grown tall and thin. Her chest resembles that of a slinky hound as her belly curves up against her spine like a greyhound or something. Though she's grown into her ears a bit since puppyhood, they are still her most notable feature and we get comments on them all the time. In fact, we get comments from strangers all the time about how beautiful she is. We're very proud of our little lady. For the most part, she listens well and doesn't get into too much trouble. (Don't leave a stick of butter laying around though. Birch still hasn't quite mastered this and pays the price for it every time.) And even though she can be timid and spooked around kids, she never retaliates against them. She's never violent. Her reaction is just to get away and we are very grateful for that. (In fact, because she is never violent, it can be hard to teach the kids the right and wrong ways to approach her.) To be fair, usually when she sees kids it's at my parent's house during some family gathering where there are seven children all under the age of eight running around at once. It's pretty hectic, even for us humans. I can't imagine what she thinks about it. Though she's cautious around them and quick to get away if they move towards her too fast, she always checks on them if they fall or trip and won't ever pass up an opportunity to lick them in the face if they make it clear that it's okay to do so. This is her favorite activity with my nephew James and there are plenty of moments where they touch tongues and the rest of us simultaneously laugh and gag as James clearly thinks this is about the best thing in the world! (He's four.)

Olive is an awesome dog. She takes up half the bed, but we'll break her of that soon. She's good at gauging a situation and adopting the mood. Ever since I've been pregnant, I've been exhausted in a way I wasn't expecting and Olive has made my life much easier by just being herself. During the day, while Birch is at work, the apartment is rather quiet and peaceful. Olive sleeps near me or goes out in the yard to chew on a bone. She doesn't get into trouble and I've
got her trained to actually help me up when I need it. She stands firm as I put a bit of my weight on her, rocking myself up from the floor. Sometimes she even actually pulls me up as I hold onto her collar (this has only happened twice when I was feeling especially needy and stuck). When Birch comes home, she greets him with crazy enthusiasm, but we've got her trained now to jump up gently and only when invited. Birch coming home is her biggest test, but even if she's misbehaving, it only lasts a few moments until she calms back down. Birch takes her out for a walk (which we now have to spell out or else she expects it to happen immediately), takes her to the park, throws a frisbee around with her, and the two of them come home happy as clams. I can't wait until I can join this ritual again. Indeed, I think Olive has become a little too used to me being sedentary and Birch being "the fun one." I used to take her out for three or four walks a day while Birch was at work and I miss that.

Like all new parents with a dog, we were a little scared of what Olive would do when she realized there was a new member of the pack, but we aren't so much anymore. Whenever we go somewhere the first thing she does is access who is there. If one of them gets up and leaves, she is noticeably unsettled until they return, as if she has created a new pack already in her mind for this specific time and place. She knows who is supposed to be there and she wants us all to stick together. Birch and I took her with us last Saturday to see Miriam and Ben's new baby girl, Sofia. We watched Kegel carefully and were pleasantly surprised to see how well he had adopted Sofia into his pack. He kept his eye on Olive and kept her in check. Olive, at first, was much more interested in Sofia's things than Sofia herself, but once the baby made a bit of noise, Olive was on it (not literally). She looked at us expectantly, almost as if she was making sure that someone was taking care of the little thing and doing it well. One interesting thing was that she seemed much more at ease when a woman was holding Sofia than she was when Birch or Ben was holding her. She checked on the baby much more while Birch held Sofia against his chest than when I did. And maybe she was tired from playing with Kegel outside for a bit or maybe it was because of the baby, but Olive was much calmer inside (Kegel as well) than either of them has been in the past. It was as if they knew that this was now a quiet place. Leaving there, Birch and I had gained a confidence in Olive that we were unsure of before. She will do well with our baby.

Olive has become a part of our family. We love her so much. We have gained her trust and I am so proud of that. She came a long way to be with us and has turned out to be one of the best decisions Birch and I ever made together. We love you, Olive.

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