Posted by Rebecca
Rimfire Cassiopeia Johari was born on June 20, 2001. That was her fancy AKC name – Rimfire for the kennel where she was born, Cassiopeia for the constellation, and Johari meaning jewel in Swahili – but I never officially registered her because I knew I would never breed her, show her, or sell her.
I hadn’t heard of Rhodesian Ridgebacks before, but my then-husband had lived in South Africa for a time, where they are very common, and loved the breed. He found out about the litter in the local paper. We had wanted a dog for a while, but finally got serious about our search after an incident I had with a Peeping Tom leering in our bedroom window while I was home alone one night. Ridgebacks were loyal and protective, and large, so we were sure to both feel much safer with one in the house.
Our plan was to get a “pet-quality” puppy, rather than a “breeding-quality” as they were cheaper. And we wanted a boy. But the litter of 10 had been available for over a month already; they were 14 weeks old and all the pet-quality puppies were gone. Of the 4 left, 3 were boys. So we looked at the boys, took them out of their kennels, and tried to play with them. We wanted to interact, but the 3 boys were too interested in each other to have any interest in us. That’s when the only little girl left in the litter wandered over from the far side of the pen, tail tucked between her legs, head down, sad eyes. She came right over to me and sat on my foot. She looked up at me and I looked down at her, and it was love at first sight.
We paid our money, the breeder gave us a flimsy leash, and we headed to Petco to get all the puppy supplies. I was so excited to have a dog of my own. I had dogs growing up, but they always liked my mom more than me. We arrived at the store, and I proudly grasped the leash to take my brand new baby inside the store. I was so busy thinking about her and I prancing up and down the aisles, buying food and treats and toys, that I didn’t notice her trepidation. She was terrified of the sliding doors. I tried to pull her in, push her in, drag her in, but she was not interested. And at 30 lbs. she was too heavy to carry. So I swallowed my pride and put my new, gangly teenage puppy in the shopping cart. She sat in it, facing forward, with her head resting on the edge of the cart. Thus began the relationship with my new strange and fearful puppy.
I quickly signed Cassi up for puppy school. It was in a small office building, on the second floor. I soon found out that Cassi was not only afraid of doors, she was also afraid of stairs. As the other puppies were galloping up the stairs with their owners in tow, I was again pulling, pushing and dragging her up each step, until I gave in and carried her. Every week was the same, and every week she was a few pounds heavier. Once inside the classroom, the other puppies would run and jump and lick, and Cassi would wriggle between my legs and tremble. The instructor was kind enough to let us come for a second round of classes for free.
The biggest impact that puppy school had on our relationship was this: Cassi was very cautious in everything, even eating. She wouldn’t eat if anyone else was in the kitchen. The dog trainer said this wouldn’t do, and she had me feed every meal to Cassi out of my hands. I hand fed Cassi for months. She was gentle and sweet, and an extremely slow eater. We would sit on the kitchen floor together twice a day while she ate from my hands, growing more trusting of me with every mouthful. From that point on, I was the only person in the world that she wanted.
Needless to say, Cassi was not the statuesque guard dog we had in mind. She was afraid of everything – doors, stairs, her leash, her shadow, loud noises, feet, and strangers. In time she grew out of most of her fears, but was always easily startled, usually walked with her tail between her legs, and forever hated feet.
TO BE CONTINUED…