A Stranger in the House by Sheri S. Levy

The e-mail was brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.”

The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted. Word had spread through our Aussie connections that my husband and I were interested the in adopting a needy dog.

Straight through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. Curiosity defeated my reservations. I inhaled, requested information, and hit ‘send.’ What could a few questions hurt?

Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. They caught the dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy held him. We agreed he needed immediate help.

Driving home, Murphy grinned. “There’s a term, “Mulligan,” golfers use when they take a, ‘Do Over.’ What about naming him, Mulligan?”

I cradled Mulligan. “Perfect!”

At home, we walked Mulligan into our large bathtub. Murphy and I stripped down to our underwear and climbed in with our frightened dog. He surprised us as he gobbled treats. This had to be frightening for Mulligan; being held by a man and being bathed.

We soaped and rinsed him four times. During his bath, I discovered he had no stub. Some Aussies are born without a tail or the breeder could have done a terrible job of docking it. But, it didn’t matter now. He’d just never have a wiggle.

Soon his thick black fur shone like patent leather and his white shimmered like new fallen snow. He was beautiful. His soulful eyes reached deep into my heart. I hugged him and told him everything was going to be all right.

Standing patiently, he panted, and allowed us to rub him dry.

Later, I read about anxiety in dogs and learned panting, yawning and not eating a treat indicated being overly fearful. Those behavioral signs would help me understand his stress levels.

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Four days later, Mulligan had his first appointment with Dr. Hill. She exclaimed, “I know why his original owners neglected him at an early age. One testicle hasn’t dropped. They could never have shown him in ‘Best of Show,’ as beautiful as he is, he wasn’t worth keeping.”

Mulligan was like a child who had been held hostage in a dark closet, with no sensual or intellectual stimulation. I pulled out my Aussie books and reread how if puppies are not socialized, their personalities would be ruined.

I had to change him from being a stranger to me to someone I understood. I needed to crawl into his fur, look through his eyes, and feel his quandary. Every day was an experiment.

At our first puppy training class, I wanted Mulligan to connect with Murphy. I passed the leash to him. Mulligan looked at Murphy and then to me. I thought his eyes said, “What are you doing to me?”

The trainer walked over to Murphy. “He’s too far away from you. Jerk him. Make him walk closer.”

Murphy halted. “This is a rescued dog and has had nothing but abuse. I’m not jerking him.”

Surprised, the trainer’s eyes widened. “So, you’re going to let this dog tell you what he wants to do.”

Murphy fumed. “This dog has been abused and needs time to mend. Jerking him around will not get him to trust me.”

After two weeks, Murphy confided in me. “Sheri, Mulligan’s probably always going to be your dog. And, I’m okay with that. But, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to need another puppy.”

My heart sunk.  Another puppy! I collapsed on the closest chair. “I’m digesting what you said.” I caught my breath. “Another puppy?”

When Murphy found a kennel with Aussie puppies, we drove two hours to Georgia.  At the kennel, Mulligan played with three older dogs in a fenced yard while we took our time choosing a new puppy.  One little guy, they called Cowboy, came out of his pack and waved his paw as if saying, “Howdy. Pick me. Pick me.”

He was all black and white with a pink butterfly nose and no copper markings. I drove home while Murphy snuggled with his new playmate. That night, as soon as we settled into the den, Murphy sat on the den floor, playing tug with Slater.

Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood at the opening to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting.  A couple of minutes passed. Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and slipped into the den.  His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I sat in my chair holding my breath. I didn’t say a word. My hand covered my racing heart.

Mulligan sauntered up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso.  Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. Seconds later, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.

Murphy stopped playing with Slater, afraid any shift in his body would stop Mulligan’s affection. Murphy’s eyes filled with emotion, as did mine.

This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined.  Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.