Once used a a laboratory testing dog, Marty a sweet and innocent beagle, now enjoys a life full of love.
His muscles were frozen solid, rigid and unbending. I had never felt muscles so tense as I picked him up and set him gently on the grass. Many fearful dogs would struggle, try to flee, or even bite. All this little beagle could do was freeze.
I’m sure he thought he was going to die; or at least, the sheer uncertainty of what was happening to him was enough for his body and mind to disconnect. Physically, his body was preparing for the worst.
Then again, who could blame him? He had spent the first six years of his life living in a cage and being used for pharmaceutical drug testing in a laboratory in Colorado. To him, people meant pain and being stuck with needles. Marty’s upbringing was far from that of a normal dog, and his fear of humans was extreme.
I knelt next to Marty as he remained in his contorted position – not comfortable enough to sit, not comfortable enough to stand. All I was offering him was a chance to go potty, since we still had a four-hour drive ahead of us before we reached home. My other two dogs pranced around happily, marking trees, sniffing and exploring. Their carefree mannerisms were a sharp contrast to Marty’s stoicism.
Over the previous year, I had started speaking out against animal testing, and had become a passionate supporter of organizations that rescue dogs from research laboratories. I applied at several organizations to be a foster parent for a rescued research beagle. When a call came from Kindness Ranch in Wyoming that they had accepted me, my heart soared. I quickly made arrangements to make the six-hour drive from my home to select my foster dog.
I’ve heard many people say that their rescue dogs “chose” them, but Marty definitely did not choose me. I chose him because he wouldn’t come near me. He was terrified of me. He paced. He seemed petrified of staying in one place too long. Any sudden movement or noise would make him flee. He was not housebroken. He had never worn a collar, or learned to walk on a leash. I was nervous. What had I gotten myself into? I had no knowledge of training such a fearful dog.
When we finally reached home, I put the dogs in our fenced backyard. Marty started exploring right away. Whenever I poked my head over the fence to take a peek, he would glance at me and run away in terror. When I finally got him inside our house, he was so nervous he pooped all over the kitchen and family room floors.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. I got up at 5 am to let Marty out. I opened the door to the backyard and he bolted into the yard. The sun was just coming up and it was cool, so I threw a sweater on over my pajamas. I sat on the deck with one of my favorite books, and started to read out loud. Marty came to sit beside me on the deck. As long as I stayed in my chair, he let me stroke his head and his beagle-soft floppy ears. Tears poured down my face.
Often, Marty could not move for fear, so I carried him. I carried him compassionately, knowing this was temporary and that he would soon find his courage and strength. That time finally came a few weeks into our foster period. Marty was starting to become curious instead of shutting down and freezing.
One morning, I awoke to let him outside, and when he saw me he wagged his tail for the first time. It was a simple gesture, but coming from Marty it had so much meaning.
I folded Marty lovingly into my daily routines, and involved him in everything our family did. We walked and jogged. Hiked, camped, boated and fished. Marty became quite the back-country hiker. At first he stayed on leash, but by the end of the summer, he was free to roam, sniff and chase chipmunks with the other dogs. His confidence had grown tremendously.
Marty taught me some valuable lessons while I was fostering him. One of the most important was that I had to learn to wait for him to see the world in a different light by supporting him in his decisions to do what made him feel safe. I never treated him as a victim, but as a survivor. I also learned from him the value of not living in the past, as we humans often do. Now that he has learned to trust again, Marty has chosen to live every day to the fullest, as most dogs do. Tail wagging, jumping for joy when I get home…sitting at my feet as I prepare his breakfast and dinner…getting excited about going out for a walk…snuggling on the couch at night. When an animal’s soul awakens, a beautiful light shines out.
As a foster parent, it was very important to me that Marty end up in the right permanent home. “Marty needs another ‘me’” were my exact words for the person I was looking for. I wanted someone who could give him the purest love and devotion, because that’s what I had given him. I couldn’t imagine Marty having any less.
My prayers were answered last November when Marty found his forever home. He was adopted by a very special teenage girl who fell in love with him instantly. Her name? Ellie.