Barry White had the honor of starring at the sentencing hearing of his former owner.
He was fortunate that he did not have to attend in person, but the sheriff's photo of him on the day he was seized as evidence glowed larger than life over the proceedings. His face screwed into a rictus of terror, eyes wide, tongue lolling and blue -- he has clocked out of a reality revealed by his emaciated flanks and pelvis (obvious even under his matted strawlike coat) and the necklace and cape of shit-and-mud pendants that must have doubled his weight.
Not long after that sentencing hearing, eight months after that photograph was taken, he and eighteen others were released from their special indenture by the judge, and I was allowed to evaluate him.
Most of our evaluations of the ONB dogs were pleasant, interesting interviews. Barry White's was not. I was traumatized by his completely genuine and inconsolable terror -- but not nearly as much as he was traumatized by having a leash hooked to his collar.
I promised his handler that day that, if it came to it, I would personally foster Barry White. She'd only recently taken him on -- he'd had several handlers in succession at ONB, and none had made much, if any, progress with him. With each failed attempt to leash and handle him, his spinning alligator reflex was reinforced and strengthened. This was not an act or contrived panic; the possibility that he would harm himself in his hysteria was real.
I gave her some ideas for working on the leash hysteria, and steeled myself to welcome into my home a dog who could not be walked. She didn't have much time, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the power of the few things I could suggest to work quickly.
Still, he was not an entirely discouraging case. He allowed his handler and me to sit with him in his stall and cut some of the few remaining mats from his fur. He did not seek the touch, but he didn't offer to bite us, or froth in terror, either.
And then there's his eyes. Barry White looks straight at me, and his eyes do not ask -- they require. Require acknowledgement, demand an answer, insist that I recognize him and work to give him what he needs.
A week later I watched him, leashed, following his handler willingly around the kennel of the Moore Lane hospital, where he'd come to be neutered. I still don't know how she flipped him so fast.
And three weeks after that, I opened his crate on the Barking Bus and led him out for a constitutional in my hayfield, then into the newly constructed kennel run that is his next waystation on the road to a life as a normal dog.
Every day we have our quiet time, during which we work on his willingness to approach a person and to be touched without flattening himself to the ground in surrender. And every day we have our walk, usually with my own dogs and young Cole, sometimes just the two of us. On many days, he can also follow me for some of my chores.
Until a few days ago, I held a 16' nylon long line on our walks. There was always a belly of slack dragging behind us as he followed at my heel sporting a huge dog smile, but I kept my grip, mindful of the possibility that something could panic him and make him bolt.
And there are points where he puts the brakes on. Barry White is afraid of doorways, gates, and constrictions. He still can't cope with a human being coming at him frontally at close range. At first, he tried to flee when I would pick up a tool or bucket -- anything larger than a paperback book was fearsome if it was in the hand of a human being.
When Barry White backs up or sets his brakes, I use gentle, steady, authoritative pressure on the leash to bring him through the scary space with as little fuss as possible. Since Barry White isn't interested in love and cuddles, praise, coaxing, a game of fetch, or a nummy bribe, I compel him to move through his fear.
We've never yet reprised the spinning croc. And there have been times when I've put a fair amount of pressure on him. He has the inherent ability to keep his wits, which is most of what he needs to advance towards normalcy.
Last week I took the plunge and dropped the end of the line when we are out in the pastures. And there's Barry White, sticking so close to my heels that I can't get a photograph of him unless I tie him to something and back away. I still don't have a decent picture of his beaming "go for a walk" smile.
Even though we've been doing beautifully with the drop-line on our walks and for some of the more active routine chores, it's good policy to tether the dog when one can't keep an eye on him. So Sunday, while Professor Chaos and I raked shingles out of the barnyard, I hooked his nylon line to a fence post nearby.
All was well until I walked away towards the house. I hadn't gone twenty steps before I felt a soft, familiar tap on my calf. Barry White's nose.
Barry White has determined that his Mission From God is to follow me around the farm. The leash interfered with the performance of that Mission. That Would Not Do. So he neatly, deliberately, without drama or fuss, without fear or panic, severed the leash and joined me. It looked as if he'd taken a pair of sharp scissors to it. He knew exactly what he was doing.
In other words, at any time in the past month, as I "compelled" Barry White to move through his fear, he could have chosen to opt out. He knows perfectly well how to make the leash go away; hundreds of times, he has chosen not to do so.
Barry White doesn't totally trust me; humans have been too unreliable and sometimes dangerous for him to let go of those parts of himself he has reserved. He doesn't like having his collar taken hold of, doesn't want me to reach for him. He doesn't want to be petted, though he'll allow it if "forced." He has a ways to go.
But one thing that Barry White does trust me to do is to walk him through fear and into the possibility of happiness. He can't always help himself by himself, but he consents to let me "compel" him to do so.