Sometimes, the problem isn’t just a matter of not enough love in the beginning, its too much love a little later on.
Born in December 2005, he was called “Christmas Beamer.”
Save for the fact that he given up at the time of his sixth birthday, six months ago, with his lifelong companion, a yellow lab, little else was known about the unusually tall but shockingly gaunt Weimaraner.
In his first weeks at the shelter, Beamer always hung back in the presence of his lab companion. If the lab barked, then Beamer did likewise, as if following orders. As long as the lab was around, Beamer’s fears were not as noticeable. On his own, they emerged more.
After nearly thirty years of running the Southern California Weimaraner Rescue Friends For Pets, its founder and director Diane Monahan has seen her share of what results from the hellish physical abuse of dogs. Based on the dog’s behavior, she learned how to piece together a general outline of what sort of life had transpired for the dogs she provides lifelong care for if they remain unadopted. Part of what those who foster-care provide for a shelter is a sense of how the dogs behave and react when they’ve had some time in a home with attentive caretakers and, from this, help the shelter to extrapolate further where they’ve been in order to help them move on ahead.
There was a lot to extrapolate about Beamer.
Just after returning from the East Coast during the holiday season, I came to pick Beamer up and he was extremely thin but it was thought that he had a common ailment called kennel stress, especially since he’d been thrown into a new environment and was already a nervous type.
Beamer is extraordinarily well-trained in terms of house-training and following commands, so its pretty clear he was loved enough early on and lived indoors.
Then – who knows what – something happened, and both dogs were left outside all the time.
One of the volunteers at Friends For Pets suspected they were kept as “junk-yard” dogs, meant to protect outdoor property but never given the type of socialization which makes a happy and healthy dog.
He also has a broken rib, whether from a fall – or a kick. It was never treated, but healed on its own and stuck out slightly.
With me in the car drive back home, he was afraid to sit in the front seat and be strapped in. I’d never met a dog who retreated to the back. Perhaps he was trained that way and perhaps that was good, according to the strict disciplinarian school of dog-training. I did not want to take him out of his comfort zone. But it proved to be more of a fear zone.
This fellow clearly needed some focus and affection. And I gave it to him the moment we got home. Not overly loving to the point of shocking him after his lack of experience with love, but praising him for little things – like sit and come. And perhaps that was the wrong thing to do because within hours he had clearly attached himself to me.
And only me.
Several friends who I see often, all gentle, patient and loving people, are especially friendly with animals. Every time they even shifted in their seat or walked into the kitchen, Beamer immediately began not only to bark at them, but growl. It wasn’t a threatening growl, but a protective one – of me. Rich lived here and couldn’t even walk around in his room without Beamer getting frightened.
Even when Beamer and I were alone, while I worked in my office with the door open and in clear sight of him, Beamer couldn’t help himself from getting up in the perfectly quiet house and pushing himself under my desk, pressing against my leg and unplugging the wires beneath it. Twice, I lost work on the computer. I never minded a dog following me around the house. Yeager did that all the time. But with Beamer, I could not even leave the house to throw out some trash.
He became very upset and began wailing. I knew consistency of reaction is vital in training or re-training dogs and I did not indulge him with hugs and kisses, but merely a pat. it made no difference. He never changed. Finally, when I had to keep him away from my desk, I opened another door which leads to my room. He leapt into my bed and made that his permanent territory, nestled there and rarely ever leaving, not even to go into the living room or show curiosity about the yard.
Diane bought me a book, about the fear-based dog and how to slowly begin to give them confidence, sometimes in thirty second intervals. We did this for two weeks: distracting him with some biscuits, putting on soft music, me slipping out of the house for 15 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 45 seconds, to slowly try and build his comfort. He was overcome with severe separation anxiety.
I bought the Amazing Thunder Shirt, the fabric which wraps around a dog’s body to give them a sense of well-being and pressing that I’d heard some extraordinary success stories about. Able to leave the house only when someone else was around, I put the Thunder Shirt on him and left him with Rich for all of about thirty minutes,. He was calm for about seven minutes. Then he began wailing that mournful way dogs can, worried about where their human companion is.
I tried natural herbal sedatives said to work miracles on dogs with separation anxiety. It had zero affect on Beamer.
I enlisted the services of a successful neighborhood dog trainer by the name of Moses who I often saw walking several big rottweilers together, all under his peaceful control. He came for several thirty-minute training sessions that always lasted an hour. He recommended a high-vibration collar that would start up automatically when Beamer growled or barked. He barked and growled – it vibrated. He looked surprised for a moment, then growled and barked right through the vibrations.
Walks were a challenge – especially if there was another dog of any kind even within a distance. He cried and shook, ran towards it not to attack but out of curiosity. I don’t think he had ever been allowed to learn how to play with other dogs. Several people with dogs were willing to let him do the “nose-to-nose” and there were several dogs he was magnificently friendly with. Finally, some success I thought. Then he bit a dog. And almost bit another one. The first dog’s companion also had foster-cared and done rescue work and understood. The second dog’s companion? Well, we were all thankful Beamer hadn’t bit the small one – though I think it was a “prey instinct” Weims have which may have been at play. He is a peaceful and gentle dog. He follows commands. He is house-trained. He’s just frightened and unsure.
Still, I could take no chances and kept him at a distance from other dogs. Even when it was just the two of us, the poor sweet guy was afraid to walk alongside me. He didn’t merely walk behind me, as many dogs are trained to do, he lagged behind me – not to the right or left, but literally behind me – for protection. On two occasions, he lost his fear and self-consciousness and actually dashed up ahead, following his instinct to sniff a bit. Then, suddenly realizing he was “exposed” away from me, he ran back behind me.
I tried to acclimate him in a crate. A second trainer, Jacqueline from Blues Dog Training, recommended treat-filled toys as distractions, using the same gradual seconds-to-minutes exposure. I tried this for several sessions each day but even with me still in the house, he nearly cut his face up pressing against the create’s door grating.
One day, when I absolutely had to run out to a local corner market three blocks away, I was driving back within just six minutes of leaving – and there was Beamer running up to me – right into the street. He had pushed a lose pane of glass with his nose – which fell and crashed with no harm to him – and there he was, outside. A very dangerous situation. In almost two months, there was only one other time I tried to leave him alone in the house briefly. This time, I used the full arsenal and also left a camera running. He had on the vibration collar, a calming dog pheromone scent released in the air, two of my shirts, his Thunder Shirt, gentle music playing, the herbal anti-anxiety medicine, even veterinary medicine for severe anxiety. About thirty minutes later, Rich was driving his Vespa home when who does he see running towards him on Melrose Avenue? Beamer. He’d knocked the glass out of the window again, the poxy not yet hardened. But what was more astounding is the fact that, like many Weims, Beamer had spent his time alone standing on two feet and using his paws to turn the doorknob of the room he was closed in – and opened it.
For two months, I tried. After bringing him back once, I even tried again – for a week. It was more of the same. The drive back to Friends for Pets, for the last time with Beamer, was more upsetting than almost anything I can recall in recent years – for me. I felt like this poor being just needed more time and training – but I was out of time and had tried everything I could as just a foster-care companion.
Just before we got on the Golden State Freeway, my gut told me to divert up Bronson Canyon and give him a good, long rigorous hike. It was mid-day on a Thursday, after lunchtime. There was not one person or dog in sight in an open field a distance up. And laying there, a tennis ball. Nervous about taking his leash off, I felt I had to give him a try. I threw the ball as far as I could – and he sat, looking into my face. “It’s okay, Beamer, it’s okay. Go! Go get it!” And Beamer ran to get the ball but it seemed he was doing it more to please me than because he wanted to. I tried a second time – and he wouldn’t leave my side, leash or no leassh.
He’s an extremely intelligent dog. Maybe too intelligent. As we got off the freeway exit for the shelter, he began to throw up in the car. He was extremely upset. I was numb, trying to hide my own deep, deep sadness. I didn’t give a damn about him throwing up. I was worried about this kid. And then, bringing him in….he had to literally be pulled and dragged away. The image of his eyes staring into mine – in horror, is forever seared in my mind’s eye. I have had dreams about him.
What a radically different experience than that of Paddington and Weimy. And, I think quite naturally, I felt like I had really failed him. That I had given up on him. But I had given all I could.He often wouldn’t even lift his head up high, unless Diane or I were facing him and encouraging him to do so.
Only later did something dawn on me about the name he was addressed by, derived from his official whelp name as “Christmas Beamer.”
I have no way of knowing how his early years were spent,but the fact that this truly magnficent fellow was labeled as if he were a luxury car would suggest, at least from what I could surmise, that they were perhaps more dog “owners” than “companions.” He and all dogs are not possessions to be displayed like status symbols for their beauty; they are living beings with sensitivities and an emotional range all their own. You can feed a dog the highest quality dog food, but without love you starve them in more insidious ways.
And I also realized that, beyond the horrific stories one hears about of physical abuse and abandonment of care which dogs experience, there is another trauma they share with humans.
The tragedy of neglect.
They should have called him Christmas, not Beamer.
(My greatest hope is that Beamer will have a happy postscript to our time together as did Paddington and Weimy. It will take a special person or persons to work a long time with him. The great news is that, no matter what, he has a loving forever place at the Friends for Pets shelter with the continued gentle care and wisdom of Diane Monahan there. And there is an indication that he has gained confidence since his return there, and that he has also begun to gain a little bit of weight. Too, his throwing up in the car may have been related as much to a stomach ailment as it was upset at the moment. He did not eat for the first few days he was back at the shelter but is now eating normally.
If you can possibly make a donation to the Yeager Fund at Friends For Pets, which is specifically set up for dogs like Beamer who, because of special needs or being considered too old, are least likely to ever be adopted. You can do so through PayPal or other means at this link:
- A Dog Up For Fun: Fostercare Weimaraner #2: Weimy (carlanthonyonline.com)
- A Dog on the Verge of Loss: Fostercare Weimaraner #1 Paddinginton (carlanthonyonline.com)
- Weimaraner Dogs (dogster.com)
- Maybe a new doggy or two (seeknuance.com)
- #Weimaraner thrown from 11 ft wall in #Dubuque #IA . #MatthewDuve is charged. @KGAN PLZ RT! #dog #cruelty #help (kissbeep.wordpress.com)