by Mateo Erlenbusch
Many months in to Buddy being her full time focus, Lilith began working with Dante. Over the past couple of years Dante has been a steady presence and we’ve witnessed amazing development. He has been an important teacher for both of us and has helped build the Buddy Way.
I vividly remember my first time meeting Dante. I was still in my car, almost home from work in our neighborhood, and Lilith was driving in the opposite direction with Dante in the front passenger side seat (nearly all dogs we work with ride in the back). We stopped and chatted through our windows and I could tell by his special seating position and his stiff body language that Dante needed special care.
My heart immediately went out to him and I could tell he already touched Lilith’s heart too. Dante was rescued from a feral life on the streets of Los Angeles. Bless his owners Desiree and Bill! Despite relocating to tranquil Truckee with loving owners, the traumas and fear from those early years remained in him. It is such a basic example of how early experiences can shape our present (for both dogs and humans!). Dante displayed nervous body language and distrust around new people and dogs. Lilith’s work with Dante was to rebuild his trust and overall sense of security needed to be his fullest self. I watched her consistently provide him gentle and loving affection and gradual exposure to new dogs, people, and situations. Dante was learning that he could trust Lilith, the other dogs and places she exposed him to, and new people like me.
After Lilith’s consistent guidance, Dante transformed into a new dog! The stiff body language eased into a basically relaxed state. His previous avoidance of other dogs morphed into joining into the fun of the dogs playing around him. His nervous sticking-by-Lilith’s-side during a Dog Pack walk has changed into him running around and exuberantly rolling on his back like other happy and playful dogs. Wow! Finally, another super sweet change is that when he’s boarded at our house, he now attempts to nudge his way on to the couch when we’re sitting there. Unfortunately for him it is still forbidden in our house dog-rules, but his will is in such a loving direction.
Also notable in Dante’s story is the role Scout played in supporting his change. Scout was around Dante all the time when he started with us. Scout was overflowing with playful puppy energy which Dante didn’t understand or want much to do with. She would invite him to scrap, provocatively bark at him, and speed in circles around him, but he rarely took the bait and at most snapped back an
exacerbated “no!” Through Dante’s
transformation he grew to trust and actually like Scout. He now accepts her invitations to play, tail consistently wagging, and sometimes he even initiates! Thank you Scout for the assist!
On a silly side note, from the beginning I coined Dante’s nickname as “Quetzalcoatl” as his look reminded me of that ancient Mesoamerican feathered serpent deity. Little did I know when tossing that nickname around that Dante would be such a force of transformation- precisely what Quetzalcoatl is a symbol of.
Observing Dante’s transformation, and discussing it with Lilith all along the way, taught me the power of dogs to change. Dogs living with early traumas that manifest in their present lives is very common. Dante has demonstrated to Buddy that change is possible: with a plan, consistent guidance, security, and a little help from our friends (both human and canine).