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TRUST – A Deadly Disease
By Sharon Mathers
(Excerpt from Summer 2005 issue of GCNM News)

There is a deadly disease stalking your dog: a hideous, stealthy thing just waiting its chance to steal your beloved friend. It is not a new disease, or one for which there are inoculations. The disease is called TRUST.

You were told before you took your dog home that it could not be trusted. The adoption group, who provided you with this precious animal, warned you, drummed it into your head. “These dogs steal off counters, destroy anything expensive, chase cats, can take a while to housetrain, and must never be allowed off lead!”

When the big day finally arrived, heeding the sage advice, you escorted your dog to his new home, properly collared and tagged, the leash held tightly in your hand.

At home, the house was “puppy-proofed.” Everything of value was stored in the spare bedroom, garbage stowed on top of the refrigerator, cats separated, and a gate placed across the door of the living room to keep at least part of the house “puddle-free.” All windows and doors had been properly secured and signs placed in all strategic points reminding all to “CLOSE THE DOOR!”

Soon, it becomes second nature to make sure the door closes nine tenths of a second after it was opened and that it really latched. “DON’T LET THE DOG OUT” is your second most verbalized expression. (The first is, “NO!”) You worry and fuss constantly, terrified that your darling will get out and a disaster will surely follow. Your friends comment about who you love most, your family or your dog. You know that to relax your vigil for a moment might lose him to you forever.

And so the weeks and months pass, with your dog becoming more civilized every day, and the seeds of TRUST are planted. It seems that each new day brings less destruction, less breakage. Almost before you know it, your mischievous and once-unreliable animal companion has turned into an elegant, dignified, trustworthy friend.

Now that he is a more reliable, sedate companion, you take him to more places. No longer does he chew the steering wheel when left in the car. And darned if that cake wasn’t still on the counter this morning! And, oh yes, wasn’t that the cat he was sleeping with so cozily on your pillow last night?

At this point you are beginning to become infected. The disease is spreading its roots deep into your mind. And then one of your friends suggests obedience. You shake your head and remind her that your dog might run away if allowed off lead, but you are reassured when she promises the events are held in a fenced area. And, wonder of wonders, he did not run away, but came every time you called him!

All winter long you go to weekly obedience classes. And, after a time, you even let him run loose from the car to the house when you get home. Why not, he always runs straight to the door, dancing in a frenzy of joy and waits to be let in. And, remember he comes every time he is called. You know he is the exception that proves the rule. (And sometimes late at night, you even let him slip out the front door to go potty and then right back in.)

At this point, the disease has taken hold, waiting only for the right time and place to rear its ugly head.

Years pass – it is hard to remember why you ever worried so much when he was new to your home. Now, he would never think of running out of the door left open while you bring in packages from the car. It would be beneath his dignity to jump out of the window or a car while you run into the convenience store. And when you take him for those wonderful long walks at dawn, it only takes one whistle to send him racing back to you in a burst of speed when the walk comes too close to the highway. (He still gets into the garbage, but nobody is perfect!)

This is the time the disease has waited for so patiently. Sometimes it only has to wait a year or two, but often it takes much longer.

He spies a dog or cat across the street, and suddenly forgets everything he ever knew about not slipping out doors, jumping out windows, or coming when called. Perhaps it was only a paper fluttering in the breeze, or even just the sheer joy of running….stopped in an instant. Stilled forever – your heart is as broken as his still beautiful body.

The disease is TRUST. Its final outcome – hit by a car.

Every morning my dog, Shah, bounced around off lead exploring. Every morning for seven years he came back when he was called. He was perfectly obedient, perfectly trustworthy. He died fourteen hours after being hit by a car. Please do not risk your friend and your heart. Save the trust for other things.

Editor’s note: I have personal experience with this disease: one of my dogs exited from my van and, instead of running into the garage as he always had, ran into the nearby forest. He was lost into an unforgiving landscape creating confusion which interfered with his navigational skills I thought were so keen. He was never found, despite the efforts of a large, dedicated search party assisted by a scent hound.


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