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Now that I'm home, bathed, settled and fed,
All nicely tucked in my warm new bed.
I'd like to open my baggage
Lest I forget,
There is so much to carry -
So much to regret.
Hmm . . . Yes, there it is, right on the top
Let's unpack Loneliness, Heartache and Loss,
And there by my leash hides Fear and Shame.
As I look on these things I tried so hard to leave -
I still have to unpack my baggage called Pain.
I loved them, the others, the ones who left me,
But I wasn't good enough - for they didn't want me.
Will you add to my baggage?
Will you help me unpack?
Or will you just look at my things -
And take me right back?
Do you have the time to help me unpack?
To put away my baggage,
To never repack?
I pray that you do - I'm so tired you see,
But I do come with baggage -
Will you still want me?
I had wanted a dog for as long as I can remember but my dad always said 'No.' We had other pets when I
was growing up instead. Fish, parakeets, guinea pigs, hermit crabs, and lizards. However, I still wanted a
dog. It wasn't until 2 years after I graduated college when I was finally able to have a dog. I found a
good, well-paying job and was living on my own. I began my search.
I started checking Petfinder almost every day looking for the perfect dog. I was looking for an older dog.
One who was already house-trained and past the chewing phase. I wanted a herding breed or herding
mix since I understood their behavior best. My apartment complex required that my dog be under 25 lbs
as an adult so I was looking for a small medium-sized dog.
In early July 2006, I came across a dog I thought would be perfect. She had a sunny personality, was
good with kids and other dogs. She was listed as a Border collie mix, was already house-trained, about
30 lbs, and would be spayed. There was no picture but I thought she sounded PERFECT. So I
contacted the shelter and they gave me her owner's number. When I called, I was informed she was no
longer there. I was crushed. She really sounded like she was The One. I emailed the shelter to tell them
the bad news. They emailed me back with a couple other dogs they had at the shelter. No sooner had I
finished looking at the other available dogs when I received another email from them stating she was at
the shelter and to call them right away.
I talked to the shelter employee and found out a bit more about this dog. She was very shy and
underweight. She was going to need someone willing to put forth a lot of effort to work with her to
overcome her shyness. I told the shelter worker I was looking for a dog who'd be good at agility and she
thought this dog would be a good prospect for agility. I was also told she would probably be okay around
my two guinea pigs. I expressed my interest in adopting this dog and set up a time to meet her the
following weekend. They wanted to get her placed as soon as possible since she was very afraid and
uncomfortable at the shelter.
I couldn't wait to meet her. When I arrived at the shelter, I instantly noticed that she was skinny and timid.
In the week she had spent there, she had gained 4 lbs. They allowed me to take her out to their exercise
pen to get to know her. I didn't force myself on her and allowed her to come to me for attention. She did
and accepted my petting without shying away. When she was running around the pen, she kept
stumbling in the same gopher hole. I laughed at her and said "You're so goofy, you have to come home
with me!" I was also captured by her good looks. I've always been a sucker for half-pricked ears and
So I signed the paperwork and took her
home with me. I was so happy. I finally had
my own dog. When I got her home, she
settled in just fine. I invited her up on the
couch but she was wary. It was almost as if
she thought it was some sort of trick. That I
couldn't possibly want her up there. But she
did eventually come up to cuddle. I soon
found out I couldn't use the word 'No' to
correct her. When I did, she'd cower as if
waiting for a strike to come. It was pretty
I knew I needed to give her a new name. As I saw it,
new life=new name. I had a couple ideas but none
of them seemed to fit her. The day after she
arrived I was sitting out on the porch with her. I was
just talking to her and told her she was a 'smiley
puppy.' Then it came to me. 'Sonrisa' is Spanish for
'smile.' It was a bit long, so I shortened it to 'Risa' which means 'laughter.' It fit perfectly.
Inside the house, she was a great dog. She only snapped at the guinea pigs once (through the bars of
their home--no one was hurt) and never touched the stuff on my shelves. Outside, however, was a totally
different story. She was terrified of random objects. She was afraid of other people, especially men. And
she was not comfortable with other dogs coming right up to her. I knew when I got her that she had no
obedience training and that she was shy. But I don't think I realized exactly what I was getting into at the
time. It was very frustrating. I'd only read about dogs and had no hands-on experience to draw from. I
knew everyone who saw us out together was judging us--and it wasn't good. I felt bad that she was such
a mess. We couldn't walk down the hall past people without her trying to run as far away from them as
possible. I had trouble cleaning up after her because she was afraid of the green poop receptacle in our
courtyard. I knew that I had a long road ahead of me.
I got as many books as I could on dog
training and talked with friends of mine
who had experience with this sort of
thing. I tried my best to get Risa less
afraid but I had so much to work on all
at once. I had to train her in basic
obedience as well as desensitize her
to almost everything. It was a very
frustrating time for both of us and I'll
admit I made a lot of mistakes. It's a
good thing dogs are so forgiving.
Socializing her around people was
next to impossible. I'd only just moved
to the area and didn't really have any
friends I could enlist to help. And
taking her out in public was a disaster
because no matter what you tell people, they still insist upon petting your dog. Even if it's obvious she
doesn't want to be petted!
I wanted to get her into obedience classes as soon as possible. I was doing okay training her on my own
but really needed help with the socialization aspect. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it was
almost 4 months before I got her enrolled in classes. Though it seems like a major inconvenience, it was
actually better that we waited so long. We got to know each other better. So it really was a blessing in
I remember many nights telling Risa that I couldn't wait until 6 months from now. I knew by then we'd have
more of our problems straightened out. However, time travel isn't possible and I had to take it day by day.
We finally started to make some progress when we met Parker. Parker was a Corgi puppy owned by a
nice couple in the same building as me. When he first met Risa, all he wanted to do was play with her.
She wasn't sure what to do with this bouncing ball of fur but she wasn't ready to play. Nor was she ready
to be petted by Parker's female owner. After a few meetings, however, she was willing to let Parker's
female owner pet her. It took longer for her to accept Parker's male owner since she was naturally more
fearful of men. Within a month, however, she was fine with him as well. I knew she was for certain when
she slipped her collar one day and he practically jumped on her to catch her and she didn't show fear at
all. It took Risa about a month's time to finally break down and play with Parker. He was persistent but it
still took a while for her to come around. Once she did, they became the best of friends!
It's been about 11 months now since I brought Risa into my life. It's been a frustrating 11 months but it's
also been very rewarding. I can look back and see the progress we have made and smile. I'm so proud
of her. I'm also proud of myself for not giving up. For doing my best for her. I knew when I took her
home I wasn't going to give her back to the shelter. We still have some issues we need to work on and
she still doesn't like being petted by most strangers. But she's made immense strides and I know she will
continue to do so. I'm so proud of the dog I've helped her become.
Birthday: The exact date is unknown but it was during the
wintertime. I chose January 10, 2004. January 10th was
my grandfather's Birthday. I never got to meet him so I
picked this date in remembrance.
Height: 22 inches at the withers.
Weight: About 40 pounds.
Intelligence: She's one smart cookie! I taught her both
'Sit' and 'Down' in just a few sessions. She learned 'Shake'
and 'High Five' in one weekend. Risa loves to learn.
Energy: Once she's set her mind to a task, she's not likely
to stop. If I'm still willing to throw the ball, she's still willing to
chase it. That being said, she is very calm in the house
and doesn't bounce off walls.
Favorite Toy: The Cuz, paws down. She also likes her
Kong, frisbees, Occi (the octopus), and tugs.
Dislikes: People and dogs who come right up to her, nail
trims, thunderstorms, going to the vet.
Goals: I'd like Risa to get her CGC this fall. I'm also
hoping to start her in agility this summer and continue with
canine freestyle. Aside from that, I hope she continues to
improve around other people and dogs.