By Leslie Nathanson
Tercio is a 3-year-old Shepherd-Husky mix who came to live in our small Santa Fe home when he was a 10 month old puppy. He is bright and curious with a strong, intact spirit, healthy body and keen, alert intelligence. Less than two months before we got him, however, he was a frightened, emaciated little guy who looked like he had just escaped from a concentration camp. He was so thin a person could actually encircle his spine with thumb and forefinger.
Tercio wandered into our lives by wandering onto an isolated 21,000 acre mountain ranch in Colorado where my partner was working as part of a remodeling crew. The men began feeding Tercio every morning and Tercio decided to stay around. The two other dogs on the property, both dominant and aggressive, tolerated the stray puppy's presence so long as he was not being petted by any of the crew. But Tercio is a lovable and guileless spirit and the men continually would reach out to pet him. Each time this was witnessed by the other dogs, they attacked him. Tercio developed a reluctance to receive the very affection he obviously craved.
Tercio's plight, along with his sweet spirit and goofy, ingenuous smile, won my partner's heart. Afraid that when the building project ended Tercio would be abandoned again in country where stray dogs are treated like coyotes – shot or poisoned – my partner announced his intention to bring Tercio home when the project was completed.
The transformation from frightened, back-country stray to confident, contented city pup was fascinating to experience. After a few initial territorial scuffles with our then 4-1/2-year-old male Shepherd mix, Freddie (who had come from the shelter), the two dogs began a heartwarming and hilarious bonding process in which gentle Freddie emerged dominant but generously gracious and accepting, Tercio respectful but spunky, expansive and open. They soon became close pals.
It took 24 hours for Tercio to get up his courage to come into the house from the backyard; a week to get up the nerve to jump into our bed in the mornings as did Freddie. Once he made it to cuddletime in the bed, however, his adaptation and bonding accelerated dramatically: responding to his name, coming when called or whistled to, staying by our side on walks and re-entering the house willingly on return; accepting our rhythm.
At first so terrified of riding in the car or truck that he would become a passive-resistant dead weight who would have to be bodily lifted into the vehicle, Tercio soon began to seek out every possible opportunity to hop in and ride. Once dropping his head and body into submissive posture when we reached out to pet him, he now confidently claims contact without a trace of concern. And only three weeks after we had taken him in, there was another milestone: after watching me rub Freddie's belly as Freddie was stretched out on his back in utter contentment on the bed, Tercio, who had never exposed his underside to us, jumped on the bed, rolled over on his back, butted my other hand with his head and sighed as he relaxed into his first real belly rub. I'm not sure who was happier about it, him or me.
But then, that's the way of doggie love — being gifted tenfold by the giving, the boundaries of giver and receiver erased.
Note: This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue.
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