Life with a Tentative Dog

When we brought Sheba to our house, she had not yet lived in a traditional home. That is, if the hoarding situation she had been rescued from was a home, it was a home filled with stacked dog crates. Then after she was surrendered/rescued she was in the local animal shelter for about two weeks. The staff was kind and gentle and it was a good transition.

She had missed the learning curve on a whole lot of things, relationships and, living in a house, just to name a few. When we took her outside she was scared; she stood still and shook. She did not attempt to sniff anything and did not move. I think, perhaps it was too much wide open space for her, even standing on our simple patio.

We had a crate for her in our room, but because of her background we didn’t want to force her to go there and we let her have the run of the house within reason. It didn’t matter much. She spent most of her time in the dining room. We had a large oval table and put a bed for her under the table near my chair. She spent most of the time there, unless she was eating or “doing her business.”

First night in the living room after being here for 7 weeks

We watch television in the evening and would routinely invite her to come in. She would stand in the doorway and look, and then went back to her bed. We put a dog bed in the living room too, but she wasn’t having any of it. She would allow (that is the right word) Roger to pet her, if he was physically close. If she saw him coming, he would not get the chance to get close.

He loves dogs, he is even more of a dog person than I am, which is probably why our first three dogs gravitated to him, although in theory they were mine. Finally one day, when she wasn’t looking, he got on the floor on the other side of her bed, so she was between my chair and him. He just lay there looking at her. Eventually she reached out her paw to him, very tentatively, and he petted her. Then he pulled back until she did it again. That went on for a while that day and for several days more. I have a picture of this, but as I have said in the previous post about Sheba, dark dog, dark bed, dark house, you can barely see her. But here is a slightly fuzzy picture showing Sheba reaching out to Roger. This was after her being with us for seven weeks.

First Contact

The truth is that Sheba had visited the living room several times before, but not to visit. We started paper training her, thinking that would be the best starting point. At the beginning it seemed like she was getting it and we thought she was about 90% there, when she started having accidents and/or failing to discriminate between the paper and the carpet. We soon had puppy pads on one-third of the living room floor, in addition to pads in the dining room and kitchen.

It was discouraging, to say the least, and a lot of clean up. Most of the traditional things that people suggested did not work “Move the pads closer to the back door, so she knows she needs to go out there.” Did not work. “Walk her around her yard.” Nope, not that either. “Spray part of the yard or use one of those incentive sticks so she gets the scent and understands.” We did, she didn’t. “Give her five minutes in the yard, if she doesn’t go, put her in the crate for thirty minutes, then take her back outside.” She just looked confused. Then, as summer went on, when my husband worked in the yard or in the garage, we would take her outside and she loved it. She would lay on the grass and stay there for hours while he worked. But she would not “go.” It seemed to us that she thought it was holy ground.

I admit, I briefly got jealous of my neighbor, who could take her little dogs out to the yard, tell them “Go pee!” and they did! But jealousy is not an attractive trait and Sheba would not go on command. After several months of this, we figured out that if we walk her, she “does what a good dog does” on her walks. We walk her three times a day and there are occasional accidents, but for the most part, the walks work. She likes long leisurely walks and now she sniffs everything; E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!

Walking Sheba is an adventure on its on, at least for me. Truthfully, I dreaded having to do it in the cold winter, especially walking on ice and in snow, but we managed. I talk to her when we walk. I try to say encouraging things, praise her when she is good. Some days I say things like, “Come on Sheba, please!” (read that with a whiny voice). When she acts afraid I tell her I will not let anyone hurt her.

One day I did this and a lady I know was walking into the school building. I said, ‘She is not going to hurt you.” She responded by saying, “I am not afraid of her,” to which I said with a laugh, “I was talking to the dog!” Because Sheba is afraid of everyone, the football players that walk near our home on the way to the field, the teachers and staff going into the building, the children in the playground, the neighbor dogs, regardless of size, small dogs, everything and everyone.

She likes to be near me and in small spaces

I have received the largest amount of Sheba’s attention and affection. I have never experienced that before, and it does feel good. But there is a flip side to that that is hard and heartbreaking. Of all the things she is afraid of, it is mostly men, and my spouse ends up paying the price for something he never did. After Fourteen months of having Sheba with us, she consistently leaves the room when he walks in, or moves in the opposite direction.

Often she runs to me when I am here. When I am not, she lets him take her for walks, he can pet her, she will go to him to be petted when I am busy, but I know it hurts. Imagine if you had this experience with a person you lived with, who every day, every time you came into the room walked out. And yet, she gets excited to se him come, rushes to the window when she hears his truck, rushes to the door, then rushes to me. She backs up, but her tail is wagging happily. It is as if she wants to engage and play, but as with humans, the tapes of her negative experiences seem to be the louder voice.

I love this dog and cannot imagine my life without her. I believe she has found a good home with us, but I also believe that every day we live with the long term affects of her previous life, of someone’s thoughtless cruelty and it is frustrating at best. Life with Sheba is a delicate trust and a delicate balance for a tentative dog. She has come a long way, and maybe she has come as far as she is going to come. Sometimes she will shake for no apparent reason, and all we can do is pet her or talk to her. I wanted a dog that needed us and that certainly is her. We get to offer her love, security and the necessities of a dog’s life and I hope it keeps making a difference.

Not holding back the tide,


Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

11 thoughts on “Life with a Tentative Dog

  1. This is such a poignant, heartwarming story. I do understand how difficult it is to integrate a dog into family life that has had a former life of abuse, cruelty and neglect. Sheba sounds like she has had a long history of all three. It is wonderful that she finally has a loving home with such patient owners.

    One of the dogs we adopted from a shelter was literally an emotional wreck for the first six months of his life with us. He would throw up if we took him in the car, but eventually we trained him not to when we knew we had to do a six hour drive with him to visit our son at summer camp. I trained him by using treats to reward a non throw up just for sitting in the car in the driveway, and then for going around the block and so on….. I honestly found that the ONLY thing that worked was keeping little pieces of chicken in my pocket as treats to reinforce positive behavior and then being super consistent with him. Yes much patience and time…

    The silver lining of the COVID19 is that so many people are fostering dogs and cats from shelters seeing as they are home so much now. Hopefully they will adopt them too.

    Beautifully written and beautiful story of love. Thanks for sharing.



    1. Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to read the post. I find that people who care about animals tend to gravitate to each other. I am both surprised and maybe not surprised at how many friends I have on Facebook and among close friends and family who are dog lovers, animal lovers. I was a single parent for 10 years (1976-1986) and my youngest daughter brought home 3 stray dogs over the course of 3 of those years. She continued that into Adulthood and marriage. Now, 1 husband, 3 children and 3 dogs. But back to your stories, I think they offer hope of adventure, but are not accidental. Looking forward to reading more as they days and weeks unfold. Blessings, Michele


  2. Poor Sheba…makes you want to just hug her and love on her. Her former owners must have been tyrants…so sad she went through that trauma…but happy she found you guys!


  3. What a beautiful story! Sheba is lucky to have you and Roger, who are being very patient with her. She needs to be socialized and that is exactly what you two loving people are doing. Our dog is 14 years old, so he is elderly. My son got him from the shelter. At first, when my husband would take his belt off to get undressed, Benji would flinch. Poor guy! He was scared.


  4. Hi Michelle, I’m also a dog lover, although I live abroad so don’t have the opportunity to have one right now. I do hope that I will be able to love one of my own in the future, when my life becomes more ‘stable’. Your story of Sheba is beautiful. And if she could talk (and she probably does talk to you in her own way), she would thank you both a million times for being such caring and loving people and for giving her a beautiful life. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog. Take care. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I am looking forward to reading more of yours as well. So Glad we connected. How long do you expect to be in Russia? is this a permanent move? I don’t really know much about the people, so I appreciated the pdf you sent. Also, and I should say this carefully, so often people as a group are judged by the public face of the leaders. I can’t help thinking if we knew each other more as people, the world situation would be different. At least, that is what i hope. Blessings to you, Michele


      1. Hi Michele (and sorry I spelt your name incorrectly in my first comment 😦 ) Well, you’ve brought to my attention that I’m no longer in Russia, although my blog says that I am! That’s going to be fixed tonight! We, my husband, Olivier, and I,lived in Moscow together for 10.5 years, and I lived there for almost 18 months alone before that (before we were married, he lived in Paris). We’re in Bucharest, Romania, right now. We had to leave Russia in a hurry because my husband’s employer fired all its full time foreign teachers and told them to get out of Russia in the following 4 days. Long story short, I looked for an country that still had borders open (it was 17th March), where we could both go without a visa (I’m Australian and he’s French), and we found Romania. It was locked down just a few days after we arrived. Neither of us wanted to go to our home countries, as we didn’t expect this to last very long, and our plan this year was to go travelling. Well, I’ve written all about it in my blog if you’re interested. The first post about it is here if you’re interested in the full story there are several posts about it! Unfortunately my blog domain has been blocked/banned by FB and I don’t know why, so I can’t share it there anymore (not even in my FB group for the blog!).
        Russian people are very warm and hospitable. We made many wonderful friends there. And, with all of them, politics was never, ever mentioned!
        I hope that you and your family are all safe and in good health. I look forward to talking to you more. Take care. 🙂


  5. I will look forward to reading them, thank you. I am so sorry you had that experience of having to leave in such a short time, that had to be a bit scary and a lot stressful. I am a long range planner and every time we have moved, started packing right away, taking my time. Except the 3rd move, we only had 2 weeks, but 4 days! Wow. I am glad that you are safe. I am retired, but only since June 2018 and serving part time, 30 hours a week. Trying to go with the flow and learning how to do what I do ‘online’. Really enjoying getting to know members of the blogging community through STL and the group. Have you come accross Peta, from Green Global Trek? they just relocated to Mexico but had similar experiences trying to find places to go before borders were shut down. I am sorry that FB shut you down.
    Question for now, were you really born in a car?

    Be blessed! Michele


  6. I used to be a long term planner, but life has taught me to reel that in a bit, and now I plan maximum 6 months in advance. For most things it’s a month or less in advance. Although it was difficult to get everything done in 4 days, we managed. Well, by ‘managed’ I mean that Olivier and I are together and in good health. None of the rest really matters, after all.
    No, I haven’t come across Peta, so I’m going to check out Green Global Trek, thank you for that.
    Yes, I was born in a car. 🙂 It might be time to write a blog post about it (although I don’t remember much about it, obviously!).
    Have a lovely weekend! 🙂


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