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Choice Spirit

by Scott Ski

    Crawling under the dining room table, I maneuvered about and sat down. Three feet away, huddled against the wall, woven betwixt metal stands propping a brace of antique carousel figures, crouched a figure in the shadows. It was a beautiful, 65 pound, 13 month old, purebred Siberian Husky. I said hello. The dog, Yukon, replied with an ominous low-throated growl. I shifted a touch closer. He growled a touch louder. I gingerly began to offer my hand for him to sniff. He graciously curled his lip and offered an excellent view of his fine dental work ...along with yet another, more pronounced rendition of his now popular growl.

    We conduct rescue work with Siberian Huskies in Southern California. My partner, Robbi had brought the husky in late the night before from an emergency pick up, a four-hour round trip made to San Diego. As I sat studying the beast in the obscuration of dimness, table legs and horse stands, Robbi related that she labored nearly an hour just to get the frightened dog out of the back of her truck and through the front door of the house, a mere fifteen feet away. The leash still hung from his collar, first and foremost to avoid the risk of being bitten whilst trying to remove it. Secondly, it was the only way to possibly catch him if he bolted or to cajole him into or out of the backyard when needed. Needless to say, all other living creatures were sequestered in other areas for the time being.

    At one point, he had already grabbed Robbi’s hand in his mouth, but quickly let go without harming her. He had then hidden away to his present location, awaiting the retribution that he assumed would come. Of course, it never did, but yet he waited…

    Once a happy, friendly husky when adopted a mere two months earlier from a nearby rescue, the year old dog had been severely abused - verbally, psychologically and perhaps physically. The big dog now feared his own shadow and anything more substantial that even moved in his general direction. As I sit with him, I can hear Robbi, three rooms away, chiding another foster dog over a puddle he has created. Yukon cowers at the faraway sound. The canine’s terrorizer, a roommate of the owner, claimed the dog was vicious, snarling and snapping. One look at the husky though, revealed the true villain in this case: abuse. Fear fiercely gripped this young dog; his spirit crushed.

    Emerging from beneath the table after ten minutes, I spoke to Robbi, summarily surmising that the dog was hopeless, indelibly scarred and would probably have to be destroyed.

    Here in Southern California, the weather rarely changes. Even at Christmastime, it is notoriously sunny and 75 degrees (F). However, at that very moment a storm arose. An icy chill swept through and filled the air. Lightening flashed and thunder roared. Then the full torrent began in earnest. Outside, of course, it was still lovely. But inside the house, the hurricane called Robbi reached full fury. And I fully deserved every bit of it. I had the opportunity to consider a choice, but instead allowed myself to be drawn into assumptions.

    It had been a foolish, presumptuous, knee jerk reaction on my part. Reached after a mere ten minutes, no attempt had been made at all to really communicate with or understand the dog. Robbi was so right to bring on a verbal tempest and I stood properly chagrined and corrected. She is far more perceptive and cognizant than I. Fortunately, she lets me know very strongly when I revert to my Neanderthal mentality. Readily admitting my error, I retreated to start again beneath the table. This time, setting aside my judgmental attitude, I chose wisely, and began to observe with an open mind and heart -- and a spirit set toward solutions not conclusions. There came of feeling of being Spencer Tracy in the classic film “Boys’ Town.” And the canine take on the age-old adage seemed true: “There is no such thing as a bad dog.” Probably so. Only bad owners whom the dogs either fear or emulate.

    Clearly the husky needed to rebuild self-confidence. To becalm him, I simply talked, telling him stories, mainly my own dog stories of course, and complimenting him. Possessing a broadcast quality voice, my FM/Jazz disc jockey - mellow and cool melodic tones are such that they quickly and gently lull one into a state of catatonic stupor. After effusing lavish praise on Yukon, the husky showed signs of relaxing, but still remained on edge, sending warning vibes.

    Finally, Success!! Yukon tired of my banter and bolted up the stairs. I had to agree. Even I can’t stand too much of that kind of vocalizing. However, I could see a glimmer of hope. He hadn’t attempted to rip off my face in passing. It appeared he felt responsible, unworthy; intermingled with his fears. By the second day, I was sitting on the lower stair landing, reading mail order catalogs out loud and commenting on particular items to Yukon. Slowly, hesitantly, he moved down a step, then another, ever closer. I could still see the fear and caution in his deep brown eyes.

    Then Chula, another of our many foster huskies, climbed up the stairs for some love and petting. Chula went right for the heart, laying his head in my lap with a look that turns most of us to mush. He got his petting with hugs and kisses. And as I was extravagantly giving this attention, there came a touch…a slight, wet, cold nudge on the tip of my ear. There came a slight snuffle, and a gentle weight swathed in warm fur on my shoulder.

    Instinctively, I almost turned. I wanted to shout with the elation of success. But, I quelled my rejoicing. My objectivity kept me in check. Don’t move. Do what you are doing. Let Yukon make the moves. Dogs live on emotions. Most animals do, including the more familiar two-legged species. With Yukon, fear had given way to curiosity: wanting to see what I was doing with Chula. Curiosity in turn, led to desire. “Hey! How come you stopped talking to me? Hey! How come that other dog merits attention and affection? Hey! Wait for me!!” Like all of us, he enjoyed having singular attention, coupled with hearing the sound of his own name in a complimentary way.

    Eventually Yukon’s desire overcame his fearful and heated emotions, drawing him to my side. From abject fear, this fearsome creature transformed into a 65 pound, affectionate, happy dog within a few short days later. Yukon quickly became a favorite companion for me, as well as a compatriot to every one of the other dogs. Taz and Yukon bonded as inseparable buddies.

    As for me, an arrogantly, judgmental, grossly assumptive nincompoop transformed into a more thinking, insightful and caring nincompoop. I’m still working on the nincompoop part…

    According to the dictionary, Discretion means “objective, individual choice or judgement; separating or distinguishing data for responsible decisions”. It is a gift we all have. We like to claim that someone or some situation has somehow deprived us of our individual choice. In actuality, by assuming or following the crowd, our vaunted, independent discernment all but evaporates.

    In an age rampant with base emotion, snap judgments, self-victimization, and general irresponsibility, the person with discretion and the strength of character to pursue those tough choices is truly spirited. They may seem reviled, but in truth they are feared for their lion-hearted ability to decide, choose rightly and independently.

    In the book of Galatians, the Bible states that a right spirit produces exceptional fruit. That fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are not mushy, touchy-feely emotions, but strong choices made in tough circumstances.

    A non-assumptive decision helped heal a traumatized dog rather than destroy him. Compassion, perspective, logic and facts tempered that choice. Did I make a difference? Was I a hero? Hardly. I started with a bad conjecture that would have sacrificed the options of another. In choosing to confront me, Robbi reset my focus. Consequently, I made a discretionary decision to find, do and be what the dog needed, becoming a conduit through which he could return to his true personality. Only such an approach can truly build, rebuild and heal, be it for human or animal.

    So, I have learned before a declaration to pause, then to take an emboldened step to indulge in those rarest of gifts so few of us use--the power of discretion, the act of choice and courage of spirit. It can make all of the difference…for both ourselves and the lives we touch.

            If you judge, investigate.
                    --Seneca, 60 AD

"Choice Spirit" is one of 78 stories in Scott Ski’s new book Dogged... and Determined: The TAZ Adventures. Published by Writers Guild Press (iUniverse.com) 2001.

Scott Ski has been rescuing and fostering Siberian Huskies for five years. His "TAZ Adventures" grew out of his frustration in dealing with the difficult, but beloved breed of dog. Soon it became an Internet Cult classic, enjoyed by over 10,000 people worldwide each week. After five years, at the urging of his readers, he gathered together 78 of the best stories and compiled them into a book.

Scott lives in Southern California and as of this writing, still rescues huskies... please pray for him.

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