I generally shy away from jumping around in chronology in this blog, preferring instead to weave the story of our rescue and early life with Zo as I remember it and as it was chronicled in my emails, conversations and pictures with friends and family.
Today I’m going to break my rule to talk about Trainer Tim.
Tim was the instructor we happened to be assigned to when we took Zozo for a training consultation with Olde Towne School for Dogs (OTSD). Tall with a very slight Ichabod Crane hunch, Tim had mid-length curly hair that whisped out from under his beanie and a slight under-bite. He favored fleece and fingerless gloves against the damp DC winter. Zozo took an instant liking to him, and not just because he smelled like liver treats and wool. There was something very gentle, calm and deliberate in the way he spoke to us, interacted with the pup and moved about the shop. If I had to pick someone to train Zo, I probably would have picked Tim. He kind of looked a little like a rescue pup himself.
During the three weeks Zozo spent working with Tim at OTSD, I’m pretty sure our dog fell in love with him. I know James and I did. We brought him a dog afraid of the outside world, and Tim outsmarted the boogeyman and returned to us a dog a little more confident and a little less “let’s hide under the bed” every day. During our family training sessions with him, he quickly read how to deal with us as a couple and individuals, which allowed us to shine. That immediate understanding of people is an incredibly rare gift, but that’s one of the things that made Tim an absolute delight. We also learned that Tim could zing the wryest observation, which constantly caught me off guard and left me giggling like a muppet. I would absolutely recommend Tim to anyone looking for a dog trainer.
After we rescued our second dog in 2011 (who you haven’t met yet, but she’s coming), we wanted her to have the same foundational training as Zozo. It would afford us a common vocabulary and allow Zo to help train his fur-sister and be the good big brother we know he is. I called over to OTSD to inquire after their new tuition rates (because rates always go up) and to check Tim’s schedule. I was put on hold until the phone was retrieved by one of the school’s owners. They’re looking forward to having our family back, but she had some terrible news: Tim had passed away several months before. It was quite sudden.
I couldn’t bring myself to ask for details. I wept into the phone. I apologized for not knowing (how could I know?). I kept saying, “He gave us back our dog.” I said it twice, and I’m sure it made no sense to the poor woman on the other end of the phone. I pulled myself together enough to make arrangements for the new puppy’s training. I called James and shared the news. The rest of that day is hazy.
It may be dramatic, but I really do believe that Tim saved our dog. We were approaching wits-end when we brought Zo in for a consultation. We don’t have a lot of money, and behaviorists and daily medications for the rest of his life may have been outside the realm of our capabilities. We had been doing the best we could, but it wasn’t working. Without Tim, I don’t know what might have happened to our little family dynamic. I don’t even want to “magic if” that.
I’m sad that we hadn’t made a better effort to remain in touch with Tim after our time at school ended. For one month in 2009 he was an essential member of our family, but his legacy is with us every day. On leash, calling cues in the house or calming Zo when it’s neighborhood-noisy, I hear, “gentle, but let him know you’re alpha” in my ear. I wish he could see how far Doodle has come during these last few years. I’m curious what he’d offer—what tiny adjustment—that may take Zo three steps closer toward calm.
Thank you for giving us back our dog.