BY MICHELLE SEROCKI, FREELANCER

I have a dog that doesn’t like to be touched. His name is TK. I have no idea why he was named that, but I pretend it’s short for Taco King. He’s got spicy taco pajamas now to prove that’s what it means. He loves the jammies that came with his new life, and I love that he makes my life new. However, I must constantly remind friends and family of his aversion to being pet.

We traveled to an overwhelmed shelter in Chattanooga, Tenn., for two dogs, TK and Ms. Pocket. When I arrived at McKamey Animal Center, I was met by a very friendly and slightly frazzled worker. It was obvious she loved her job and the animals involved despite the visible stress displayed on her face. She gave my friend and me the dime tour of their quite spacious and uncommonly clean shelter, at least compared to what I was used to seeing around the country. They had sufficient adoption space for animals to meet potential families and ample outdoor play yards, both grassy and concrete, created for different uses. It was really quite nice, which helped me to convince myself that things were a little better for the hundreds of homeless animals contained within.

TK and Ms. Pocket had been sharing a kennel run because TK was shutting down until they tried the buddy system. It worked like a charm and made their long shelter stay more bearable. This was TK’s fourth time at the “Animal Control Hotel.” His parents had frequent run-ins with the law, and while they went to jail, TK would be dropped off at the shelter. This particular stay lasted four months. This time, instead of being picked up when his parents got out of jail, he was signed over, no longer wanted by anyone.

The staff knew that we were coming, so they moved TK and Ms. Pocket into wire crates until our arrival. That way their run could be used for other dogs with no place to go. These two dogs couldn’t have been more different. Their brindle brown coats were about all they had in common. Ms. Pocket was pocket-sized as her name suggests. Her ears stood tall and were, by far, the biggest part of her body. She wiggled and wagged so hard at the sight of her rescuers that her whole crate moved. TK stood tall and although thin, he probably almost doubled Ms. Pocket’s weight. His ears were cut off low and the tops were all scar tissue, the result of years and year of flies biting at them. I moved a foot toward TK’s crate, expecting the same sweet welcome I had gotten a moment ago from his girlfriend but instead received a low, barely audible growl. He froze and glared at me from the corner of his eye. I backed off and knew at that moment this guy had been through some things.

It’s unusual in rescue to have an accurate and lengthy backstory. Many animals are strays with a completely unknown past. Others belong to people like TK did, but they typically don’t share information over years of drop-offs and pick-ups. We know TK’s birthday is 7/30/11. We know the first 7 years of his life were lonely. The reason is unclear, but it’s known that he was kept on a chain in the yard for the entirety of his life. You might think that this meant he enjoyed visiting McKamey where he was offered shelter and human interaction, but that was not his reality. Being confined to a space much smaller than a yard and surrounded by humans would have been very stressful. His anxiety came out in unwanted behaviors like growling, pacing, shaking and lack of appetite.

TK has been home with me now for a little over a year. I love animal behavior and rehabilitation, so I decided to foster him and see what we could learn and accomplish together. His trust issues abounded, and his lack of human handling made physical touch aversive to him. It took months for us to build enough of a bond and positive association with touch for him to tolerate it from me. He’s still incredibly hand-shy, and his skin jumps unless you tell him you’re going to touch him and do it ever so slowly. He solicits interaction with people and enjoys their company while sitting by them, but that’s where he draws the line. It’s by far harder on people than it is on him. He’s so handsome and sweet, and everyone just wants to love on him.

He wants to love back, and together we think we’ve found a way.

I’m excited to announce that TK’s taking over writing The Hydrant in 2020 to share his perspective on dog-related stories.

He’s excited to be part of your lives in this way. Please join TK this coming year to experience his adventures, friends and firsts as an official FETCH writer!

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