Something to Keep Me Occupied

Like many of our dogs, Draco was dumped in a San Diego shelter. There he was diagnosed with Giardia. Although it’s easy to treat, he languished in his kennel and depression set in. Physically, he began to weaken to the point that he was temporarily removed from the adoptable list.

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Slowly, he began to recover, and a young couple expressed their interest in him. But sadly they weren’t a match. They’d never had a dog before, so pairing them with a strong dog whose boundless energy and intelligence would have most certainly challenged them would have been a mistake. So Draco found himself waiting for a spot to open up in a rescue. And open it did. Coastal was contacted, and Draco joined our family.

Draco was a pure white shepherd with a bunny soft coat and a thick, fluffy scruff that wreathed his neck. Now that he was feeling better, he was a bundle of energy waiting to take on the world. At just eleven months old, he was curious about everything. His long legs and sprawling paws hinted at the magnificent, powerful boy he’d become when he was full grown. Draco loved to play, and every dog he met was a new friend to explore the world with. But his favorite pastime was splashing in the refreshing wading pool in the kennel yards. It delighted him so much it was as though he expected to find treasures lurking just beneath the surface of the water.

When I tuned into and asked him to describe himself, he said two simple words: “Infinite wonder.” It seemed a beautiful and befitting way to portray his curious nature. And when I asked him what he wanted in a home, he replied, “Something to keep me occupied.”

Because of his strength and energy, we looked for an experienced family who would devote themselves to training and leadership to guide his development. Equally important was a home with another large dog and no small critters or children. He needed an active family with lots of activity and an equal amount of time to devote to him so that he could grow into his legacy gracefully.

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Meanwhile, Indigo, a five-year-old jet-black German Shepherd in Orange County, had lost her companion. At just eight weeks old, Indigo was found wandering the desert alone and stricken with Parvo, a life-threatening virus. Little Indigo was taken to rescue and treated. Luckily, she’d been found in time and survived the ordeal. And soon, she was adopted by a family with an older dog.

Within weeks, her family noticed that she seemed indifferent to sounds. She didn’t always come when called, and loud noises didn’t alarm her. She never started at the sound of the doorbell or to noises in her environment. An exam at the vet revealed that little Indigo was deaf. But it didn’t seem to bother her. Perhaps she’d never known a different reality. And over time, her bond with both her family and her companion dog grew.

While they loved each other, one problem remained. Indigo tried diligently to entice her best friend to play, but the other dog was not interested. And after a few years, Indigo finally gave up. When her friend passed away, her owners asked their trainer for a recommendation for their next dog. They were told that since Indigo was shy and submissive, they need a dominant alpha male. So they began their search.

They were captivated by Draco when they saw him on our website and asked if the dominant and alpha traits described him. Umm…no! But we wondered if perhaps Indigo needed something different in her next doggy companion. Someone more outgoing, more affable, and more playful. After all, she’d tried for years to create a playmate in her other companion. And that description suited Draco to a T.

Indigo and Draco met that weekend. She and her family arrived at the play yard at our kennels. Indigo sported a purple cast on her left foot from a recent injury. The dogs were introduced via their handlers. It was not love at first sight. Draco bounded up to Indigo and went in for the big kiss. Indigo curled her lip. He tried again, she curled again. He backed up and bowed, waiting for a sign of acceptance, under the watchful eye of his handler. She turned tail and wandered nonchalantly toward the fence that hemmed the play yard. He pulled to follow her and maneuvered himself in front her.

Then he lay down in front of her, got up, and tried again. She curled her lips and snapped. His style of play wasn’t working for her. But he followed her lead and heeded her corrections. That’s the beauty of the canine world. The subtle cues. The almost invisible communication via body language. It’s an intensely refined form of conversing. And in interesting contrast to the verbal and nonverbal cues that we as humans are sometimes oblivious to.

Indigo strolled casually around the yard, sniffing and exploring. Draco watched her every move. Then began to emulate her movement, mirroring her. It’s been said that in psychology, you can create a sense of ease and comfort with others if you mirror their body language. Draco our little doggie psychologist must have taken that course. Because Indigo allowed him to walk alongside her. No more snarling. No more corrections.

But then, his exuberance got the best of him. He went in for a kiss, and Indigo used a little more than a lip curl to signal her annoyance. When Draco didn’t back off, she smacked his head with her purple cast. Okay, so maybe he didn’t take the course in psychology, because Draco thought that was an invitation play. He crouched and play bowed, and Indigo turned her back to him.
Her message was clear. Playtime was definitely not happening. But even though the meet-and-greet had been less than stellar, mom and Indigo went home to think about Draco and the potential of a new companion for Indigo.

Five days later, Draco was invited to visit their home. Draco wanted to go straight for the face-to-face kiss again, but instead he patiently settled for a stroll around the block. Later, inside their home, he made a beeline for the back yard. Then he noticed the pool. A big, oval-shaped structure that dwarfed the pool he knew at the kennels. Draco waded onto the steps of the pool and nosed the water. Indigo watched, her curiosity piqued. She had always been afraid to go in before, but now she was ready to follow. Only problem, her cast. Indigo would have to wait to go wading.

When Draco emerged from the pool, the two met face to face. Indigo stood in front of him for a few seconds examining him. Her next move surprised everyone. She quickly ducked into play bow, turned and sprinted around the yard. Draco followed in hot pursuit, racing after her. Even with Indigo in a cast, Draco had to work to catch up, but when he did, she turned and jumped over him joyfully, spinning in midair. She batted Draco around with her purple cast, and he, the perfect gentleman, seemed to enjoy taking a hit for his newfound friend.

Finally exhausted, they dropped to the ground to recharge. Within minutes, they were ready for round two. As they played, we noticed that Draco began to engage Indigo from the front rather than surprising her by approaching from the rear or to the side of her. Maybe he picked up on the fact that she couldn’t hear him. Maybe he was learning what worked with her. Either way, he now has a very energetic friend, and Indigo finally has someone who will play with her. And the pool…well, let’s just say it’s getting a lot of use. And Draco certainly has a home where he will be “occupied.”

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