I had never rescued a dog before but friends of mine had and they seemed very happy with their new furry adoptees. So when the great Recession hit in the mid-2000s, and foreclosures were widespread with people abandoning their dogs, I decided it was time to pay back the Golden breed for all they had done for me. They saved my life. They rescued me during the dark days of the AIDS epidemic. Now it was time to rescue one of them.
This would not be my first dog. I’d already raised two Golden Retrievers, Nicholas and Willy, from puppies. So I figured what could go wrong?
I found the Golden I wanted to help, a one-year-old who’d been sick and abused. I named him Morgan after Captain Morgan of rum fame. He was anxious and aggressive. But I figured with enough love Morgan would behave. With sufficient positive feedback and basic training Morgan would learn to obey and become friendly. Afterall, I had trained my first two dogs with the San Francisco SPCA. I knew the commands. Boy was I wrong.
There was a time when I could tie the leash around the leg of a chair and know that my dog would wait for me quietly while I ran inside Spike’s to grab a latte. But those days were over. Unfortunately, I didn’t know this before Morgan and I were having lunch with a friend Chalet on Ocean Beach and I excused myself to use the bathroom. When I returned, the table was tipped upside down with the plates and silverware strewn in all directions.
I quickly realized I could never leave Morgan alone, even for a minute. He would go berserk, barking furiously. Nonstop. Having always to be prepared for the unexpected, I called him a Jekyll & Hyde Golden.
It was clear that I needed help, because he needed help. The kind of help that I could not provide, even with all my experience raising dogs. A friend recommended Officer Dan La Master, who trained police dogs. I was reluctant at first, but I had no other place to turn. And refused to use an electric collar as I felt that Morgan had been abused enough. I finally admitted, as much as Morgan needed training, so did I. Most importantly, Officer La Master taught me that I had to take command. I was in charge, not Morgan. Over and over again he instilled this in me. Finally, with this understanding, there was a definite shift in our relationship, and we made remarkable progress. By the end of class, Morgan was awarded his AKC Good Neighbor Certificate.
My life with Morgan may have begun with a rocky start, but he taught me so many things during our time together. First and foremost, he taught me patience. After all, if love alone had been the solution, Morgan would have easily been a well-behaved companion. But I learned firsthand that an abused dog takes extra time to learn the basic socialization skills and to heal. That patience was just one of his gifts to me.
He also gave me a refresher course on compassion. Each time I thought about the abuse he had endured my heart reached out to him. And he reminded me that neither one of us was perfect. There was the constant forgiveness for his mistakes and for mine, trusting that we were both doing the best we could.
It was the end of April, and gloriously, the weather was stormy when I awoke that morning. We reached Ocean Beach at noon to find a deserted paradise, empty except for seabirds and surfers. Morgan raced ahead of me on the beach, sniffing at something in the sand. “I hope he doesn’t get into anything,” I said, thinking a clump of seaweed. Or a dead bird.
Then I saw whatever he was occupied with stir. “Oh no. That’s a live animal.” I sprinted to Morgan as fast as I could and coerced him away. There in the sand was a small harbor seal. He appeared sick. The poor animal had closed his eyes.
“We can’t leave him like this!” I dialed the Marine Mammal Center and reported the situation. A volunteer informed me someone would be there within thirty minutes.
Soon the Marine Mammal rescue team arrived and safely secured the sick pup in a cage. Then the team leader, Anne, turned to me and said, “This was the third we’ve rescued in a week. The others are recovering, so he should, too. What do you want to name the seal? Since you found him, you get to name him.”
“Actually, my dog found him.” I thought for a moment, then declared, “Let’s name him Morgan. He rescued him.”
Anne petted Morgan on his head and told him, “Good job!”
I smiled proudly. My rescued boy was now a rescuer.;