Finding Hope Once Again…

Living with any dog is going to have its ups and downs.  That’s a given.  Our dogs are living, breathing, thinking creatures, and they have good days and bad days just like humans do. However, living with a special needs emotional dog can make those downward spikes deeper and longer, and the upward spikes fleeting and elusive at times.

It’s been a tough few months for Rugby James.  For most of July, we had some sort of crisis with fireworks that went on for days, and some severe storms that caused trees to damage our house and backyard fence.  For about ten days, we had contractors in and out of the house and yard which left Rugby in a tailspin.  He was an absolute mess.  He started to rub a raw spot on the top of his nose and barked himself hoarse.  Even though I was always nearby, the constant traffic of strangers, the noise, the daily change….all of those things just did Rugby in. He seemed to make a good recovery from all of that, but August has been another really difficult month for Rugby.


From the very beginning, Rugby has always had intermittent resource guarding issues with food and water.  We’ve always had ups and downs with that, and for the most part, he’s vastly improved with it.  The problem with aggression, is that dogs learn to use that as a way of problem solving, and it’s a tough behavior to fix.


So for much of August, Rugby has had some aggressive episodes that have been very concerning.  He has consistently snarked at Michael over absolutely nothing, he got very ugly resource guarding a very large rock that he found in the yard one night, and he gave me a pretty strong nip on the calf of my leg when I was carrying a hot pan and stepped on fringe of his tail fur as he was underfoot.


And such is life with Rugby James at my house.  I have hit a really rough patch with him of late, and this always makes me more sad than I can say.  This is precisely why special needs dogs often get surrendered. Living with Rugby can just be relentless at times, and of late, he’s been pretty relentless, but it’s been far more aggressive than typical, and that’s a serious cause for concern!

Rugby will soon be ten years old, and he is who he is at this point in time.  There’s only so much I can train with a ten year old dog, and after all of these years, he’s not likely to completely stop being aggressive.  When nasty episodes emerge back to back, I can feel a bit hopeless, and usually, I’m a hope dispenser!!  I love giving hope to other dog owners, but Rugby’s behavior can have a side to it that leaves me feeling bummed and sad and without hope at times.

I was commiserating about life in general to a dear friend, and she gave me wonderful advice and lots of encouragement.  When I hit these big speed bumps in the road with Rugby, it’s so hard to look past the negative behavior.  Keep in mind that I’ve lived with Rugby since 2007, and we have had many of these types of occurrences, but Rugby has never nipped me like this and he has never been consistently this ugly with Michael.  All I could see and feel was fear about Rugby’s future, and hope just vanished into thin air.

To be honest, at times I get very tired of the cycle of good behavior….bad behavior…..figure out how to fix the bad behavior…..train through the bad behavior……good behavior once again treadmill of life with Rugby.  Since 2007, we have lived on this emotional roller coaster for several years, and on a rare occasion, I find myself just bummed about it, and wishing I had a magic wand that could “fix” things once and for all.


My friend gave me the very best advice.  She told me the key to hope was to stop looking at all of the negative things Rugby had done or all of the things that he would never be able to do, and stay focused on the good things that he currently was doing.  It resonated with me immediately, and days later, I’m still feeling that little flame of hope starting to grow again.  Of course.  What great advice!

No matter how naughty Rugby can be, there are always great things that he does, and that’s what I need to remember and see…even if I have to force myself to see them for right now!  I just needed to adjust my lens to see him in the right light and with the right attitude.  He tries so very hard….he really, honestly does.  And I do know that he has trust with me, and as long as he still trusts me, I have a foundation where I can build and grow with him, no matter how old he gets.

As I thought about hope, it occurred to me that when I allow myself to feel hopeless, I’m really just giving up on Rugby.  I’m losing faith in my own little dog to improve and change and grow.  He didn’t get a good start in life.  He had many strikes against him when he came into our house for the first time.  He didn’t choose me…I chose him!  He lost a lot in life at a very young age, and really didn’t ever get to have the big life that I had hoped to give to him.  But I know that losing hope means that I’m letting his world get even smaller, and that’s just not fair to him or to me.

So…the story will continue!  I’ve put things in place to get his behavior turning around, and I can see things starting to improve after two weeks of time.  We will get through this just like we’ve gotten through the other rough spots in life.  I’m committed to him for as long as we can have him, and I want to give him the highest quality of life that he can have. Armed with hope….anything can happen, and that’s the right kind of attitude that’s necessary for any owner of a special needs emotional dog!




    • Sally says

      Thanks so much for reading and for your encouragement, Gary. Life with Rugby is definitely a challenge, but we keeping trying. Commitment is a rare thing in our throw-away culture, but I hear from other dog owners with difficult dogs, so I know I'm not alone in my commitment to my dog. I can only hope that the blog and Rugby's page will encourage other dog owners to hang tough and keep trying with their own versions of Rugby James at home! ❤️

  1. Mary says

    What a beautiful post...and thank you for NEVER giving up on your "speckled hot mess of a dog"...Rugby!! He is such a lucky boy and as tough as it is living with him, I'm sure he teaches you so much, just as you teach him!! Hugs to you both!! Hugs, Reina's mom!!

    • Sally says

      Mary, thanks so very much for your sweet comment and for reading the blog! He teaches me so many things beyond "dog stuff." He's definitely a hot mess, but he's also so smart as a teacher, and I have to say that I'm not always a willing or smart student when he's teaching me about life. Give Reina a big belly rub from me, and snacks from Rugby James! Big love to you both! <3 <3

  2. says

    This post really touched my heart; and came at a time I really needed it. We had been making progress with Luke and strangers, but then had a setback and it just broke my heart. I couldn't help but think we'll never get to where we want to be with him.
    Knowing that we're not alone in these struggles was just what I needed. We'll never give up on Luke just as you never give up on Rugby. I sometimes wonder why Luke ended up with us....we're not patient people and never would have chosen a special needs dog. But I guess there is a reason for it, and I know one of those reasons is that we will never give Luke up no matter if he improves or not.

    • Sally says

      Jan, your post gave me misty eyes for sure!! I SO remember the days where I felt all alone with no support and a nutter of a dog that I loved desperately, even though no one else could understand it. I always say that God doesn't always give you the dog you really want, but He will always give you the dog that you need. <3 When the setbacks happen, it's so EASY to believe that you'll never, ever get there. Sometimes, sadly, that's absolutely going to be true. But, often, when we have setbacks, we might take two steps backward, but when we go forward again, we might go three steps, instead of the usual one or two. And because I can't really know what will happen, I have to hope for the best and keep trying! It's when hope is fleeting that I struggle most! Hang tough with Luke, my friend, and know that I'm always here to offer my shoulder when you need someone who understands....<3


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