Liam has settled into his normal rhythm of alert forward movement, his head up and watchful. Between his pauses to mark territory and his scent alerts, we go on like this for a quarter mile. I’m watching for cats. Liam will snap them up if given the chance. Nothing else triggers this prey drive in him – he sweeps past scurrying chickens as if they were stones. A neighbor’s dog rushes the fence near Liam. He turns his head and calmly regards the other dog, a big one, barking at him feet away. Liam only stares at him. He neither growls nor barks. He does not deign to acknowledge him.
He has been gentled over the weeks he has spent at the refuge, an effect I am beginning to be able to see in many of the long-staying dogs. Booker, another silent lab-pit mix, has begun to happily shake his head up and down in response to my voice. Two months ago he conceded nothing of himself to another. Silent, staring, black Bella, a Karelian Bear Dog mix, has become a ‘wagger’, an animal eager for attention, quick to sit, happy to walk responsively.
Every day of every week, twice a day, two dozen or so volunteers walk the dogs. They pet them, sweet-talk them, hold and hug, nuzzle and teach, command and harness, unharness and bestow treats. Tania has volunteered multiple days a week for ten years, fostered over 600 of their dogs, adopted three and a horse. This is her self-described “labor of love.” Last year over 500 dogs left here for permanent homes. A white-board in the kennel carries the names of the most recent adoptions – each week I count five, six, seven more that have been chosen by some of the visitors who turn Saturdays here into a joyful madhouse.
Two hundred yards later I sit down on a stump and give the leash lots of slack. Liam turns and turns in half circles, first one way and then another, not frantically but deliberately. He does this for two full minutes. He keeps his back to me. When he slows, I make clicking sounds, and he turns to me. He is a lab-pit mix and his eyes are a rich gold. I cup my hand under his jaw gently and while murmuring continuously, he stops moving and steadies and then sits. His eyes stay focused on my face, and his solid, wide head begins to rest on my hand.