Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dog on the Blog: Maury's "Blended Family"

This gets complicated.

Maury is the beautiful beige and white boy in the back. He is head of this "blended family".

What is not obvious in the photo is that Maury is both blind and deaf. He uses his sense of smell and his sense of touch to navigate his world. Our responsibility is to make sure that food pans and water buckets are ALWAYS in the exact, same spot.

Maury came to us with his brother Monte from the Fort Worth Animal Shelter. Shelter manager, Ginger Leach, is one of the good guys, who always puts the dogs' interest first, and will do just about anything to save a dog. In the case of Monte and Maury, it was critical that they stay together, because Monte was sighted and acted as Maury's guide dog.

Well, it is hard enough to find a place for a dog with hearing and visual impairments. But when you insist he come with his brother and that the boys should not be separated, you don't get many takers. So Monte and Maury came to Smiling Dog Farms to live.

And life was good for the brothers. Until a woman stepped in -- and changed everything!

The boys were living in the "condo building", where play yards share a common fence. Their next door neighbors were Bianca and Melanie, two beguiling female dogs. The first time we noticed that Melanie had squeezed through the fence and had joined Maury and Monte, we just took her home.

But it became a pattern. Melanie kept joining Monte and Maury. Then one day we discovered that Monte and Maury had followed Melanie home, joining her and Bianca in their yard! So we decided that since they were all getting along and seemed determined to be together, we would just go shoppping for larger quarters so that all four could live together.

After Maury, Monte, Melanie and Bianca moved in together, we noticed some subtle changes in the relationship between Maury and Monte. Monte seemed less interested in helping his brother and more interested in the girls! In time, that behavior morphed into Monte becoming snappish toward Maury. And poor Maury did not understand what was going on!

We tried to unscramble the omlette. We moved Monte and Maury into their own play yard, far away from Melanie and Bianca. But the damage had apparently been done. Monte started guarding the food bowls. Then he would snap at Maury when Maury came up onto the porch. One afternoon it began to rain and I watched from my office window as Monte sat nice and dry on his covered front porch and snapped at Maury every time he tried to get out of the rain.

That was enough. We moved Monte back with the girls, and started looking for a new friend for Maury. Maury had always been the passive, submissive brother to Monte, and we did not want another dog pushing him around, again. And then along came Ellen.

We actually rescued Ellen from the freeway. Ricky and I were in the car with Ross Kurtz, the chief assistant District Attorney for Wharton County, returning from El Campo where we had gone to see some dogs the DA's office had confiscated on animal cruelty charges. Ross spotted Ellen wandering on the other side of the freeway, and turned around and went back to get her! Ricky enticed her to the car, scooped her up, and we were on our way! Ellen had no collar, no tags, no microchip.

Ellen was submissive to a fault. Essentially afraid of everything. She would hang back, ears against her head, tail between her legs when she was approached. This frightened little girl seemed like the perfect match for Maury.

And it was a friendship made in Heaven. Maury became the alpha dog, and Ellen was just happy to be with him. She slowly lost her fearfulness, and they began playing together. Watching them chase each other and nap together, it seems Ellen intuitively understands that Maury is different, and she is sensitive to his needs. She never takes advantage of him because he cannot see her or hear her. And I think they spend so much time touching one another because that is one of the senses Maury is able to use.

In the above photo, you can just see Ellen's little head, ears perked up, tongue hanging out, right in front of Maury. It does not show it clearly, but he is standing touching her body -- that is the way they worked it out a long time ago.

Well, there are a few more dogs to account for in that photo. They would be the five lab sisters.

I got a phone call one day from some moron saying, "Somebody dumped a bunch of puppies at the end of our road. I wondered if you wanted to come get them so I dont have to shoot them or terminate them myself." So I returned the jerk's call and arranged to meet him in the Walmart parking lot. When the girls were safely in my car, I drove them back to the farm.

We decided they could join Maury and Ellen, because both were so gentle and accepting. And it worked. Maury and Ellen "adopted" the lab sisters immediately and quickly included them in their playtime. It is hard to tell if the lab sisters really understand that Maury does not see or hear, but Ellen is very protective of Maury and helps Maury when the sisters get too rough with him, or he just seems confused about where everyone is!

Maury seems to enjoy being the head of his "blended family". The lab sisters are part of our New Directions Adoption Program, and they will soon go to homes and families one by one, until it is just Maury and Ellen once again. Although they have enjoyed the lab sisters, I suspect they will be equally happy when the "kids have all moved away" and it is just Ellen and Maury once again!

Jay Hellerich, executive director
smiling dog farms
a 501(c)3 corporation
wharton, texas

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