When we brought our corgi puppy home late in September, we knew our older dog, Ruby, would be against the whole sordid scenario. To ease her (and him) into the transition, I purchased a large, plastic corral to serve as a temporary border. It was, indeed, meant to be temporary. Turns out it has taken our senior dog much longer than anticipated to adjust to her new, four-legged housemate. For months, she avoided walking near the pen after its inhabitant lunged at the corral, causing it to shift a couple inches closer to her. Because Ruby is in kidney failure and has bad days, we decided that she deserved control of the majority of the main floor. Loki remained in his pen except for the few times a day we would allow a 20-30 minute, spirited “play session” (read: practice the “drop it” command while attempting to retrieve from the puppy all the items he has sloppily pilfered with his mouth). During the Loki free-for-all, Ruby enjoyed the spa-like comfort of our closed bedroom with the knowledge that she was safe from the chompers of the small, furry landshark we had brought home and inflicted upon her without consent.
In March, once Ruby had finally acknowledged that Loki was here to stay (the horror), we began letting them co-mingle for periods of time with supervision. Ruby spent most of those moments snarling and snapping as Loki attempted to play with her. Loki, completely unfazed by her snarls because he innately understood she would not harm him, continued to annoy the hell out of her. The humans in the house have grown accustomed to the sounds of Ruby telling Loki, not so politely, to f**k off, and Loki continuing to press the issue because how dare anyone not acknowledge the power of his cuteness.
A month and a half into the co-mingling experiment, things are beginning to calm down. Loki is starting to understand that Ruby will tolerate him if he stays out of her face. And Ruby is starting to acknowledge that having another four-legged around is not entirely horrific. She will even approach him when he is sleeping and flop down within a two-foot radius of his resting figure. Two feet appears to be the minimum distance for safety in Ruby’s mind. Loki now is able to remain out with Ruby for hours. The pen has become the place we put him when he needs to chill for a moment. We are trying to acclimate him to life on the outside and hoping he will learn to settle.
Today, though, I noticed something different in Loki’s demeanor when he was out and about. He was mostly avoiding Ruby, walking from closed door to closed door (he doesn’t have full house access yet), and looking curiously at everything. It felt like he was settling into the pace of life here on a Saturday morning. Then he seemed to get a little lost, as if he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to be doing to amuse himself now that he has a lot bigger enclosure than he is used to. He sniffed at his basket of toys, but seemed uninterested. He would approach the sofa where I was sitting, collapse into a sploot in on the floor, and then a minute later get up and go back to wandering around. He was antsy and seemed dissatisfied somehow. I couldn’t figure it out. He couldn’t wait to get out of his pen and then at one point I looked over at him and saw something that felt distinctly human about his behavior. As he sat there in front of the coffee table, his head swiveled and surveyed the room. He looked forlornly at me, and I swear I could almost hear him thinking, “Is that all there is?”
After all the time he has spent in the pen, wanting to be free on the outside, now he is on the outside and he doesn’t get what the excitement was about it. It’s like he just now realized the entire house is actually a large pen. So he has his freedom, but it isn’t what he expected it would be. And this, of course, led me to The Shawshank Redemption because, maybe after all that time with restricted access, he now isn’t sure he can survive on the outside. I wondered if he was thinking of ways to wreak havoc so we would pick him up and deposit him back into the safe space he has had for six months.
“There’s a harsh truth to face. No way I’m gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they’d send me back. All I want is to be back where things make sense.” ~Ellis (Red) Redding, The Shawshank Redemption
So, we put him back in his pen, he settled onto one of his comfy blankets, and fell right asleep. Everything made sense again.