Rescue Dog Was Too Scared To Hug His New Mom — Until He Jumped Into Bed With Her
“Something clicked for both of us in that moment and I thought, ‘Yes, this will work. We can do this.’”
Bringing home a new dog is an exciting time. Visions of cuddling on the couch, taking leisurely walks or sharing treats waltz into our minds as we say goodbye to the shelter staff. But what if things don’t go as imagined? This is what happened to Regina Lizik.
In October 2011, months after filing an application with NYC Shiba Rescue (NYCSR), Lizik got a call about 22 Shiba Inu dogs who were removed from a hoarder. NYCSR took in 10 of the dogs, and Lizik adopted Buttons from the group.
Lizik describes her first night with Buttons as one of the most trying nights of her life because he screamed nonstop, all night long.
“Shibas have a very particular sound they make that's unlike most other dogs,” she tells The Dodo. Buttons was petrified of going outside — he would shake uncontrollably and hide under the kitchen table.
Lizik called the rescue a week later to tell them she didn’t think it was going to work out. But instead of judging her, they asked her to give it a little more time.
“I felt like he hated me and thought, ‘I can't do this. I'm not right for him,’” she says. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Buttons. She didn’t think he wanted her.
The rescue assured her it would get better. Often, new adopters don’t realize there is an adjustment period for both owner and pet. Adopted pets are thrust into an entirely different environment and feel unsure of their surroundings at first. Everything is different, from the food bowl they use to the bed they sleep in. They may not eat, they hide and even the most housebroken dog may have accidents in the home. And they need time to get to know you.
Lizik committed to Buttons and sought resources for help. She read about the Shiba Inu breed and reached out to trainers for advice. Buttons continued to scream through the night. It was physically and emotionally exhausting for Lizik, and the training methods she was trying weren’t working.
Deciding she had to change her way of thinking, Lizik says she stopped thinking about what she needed from him.
“I began thinking, ‘What does he need from me?’” she says. She started looking at Buttons as an individual dog responding to generic training methods.
She talked to Buttons using a friendly and confident voice. She told him how proud she was of him. She wanted him to know he was safe.
“I no longer set us up for failure,” she says. They took short walks, gradually increasing the distance and destination of each walk. She gave him space and the chance to get used to his surroundings. She took into consideration that his former life, no matter how unfortunate, had abruptly changed. And though it was for the better, Buttons still needed time to learn what his new life and new person was about.
During that time, Lizik realized that Buttons wasn’t the fearful dog she once labeled him to be. He wasn’t afraid of people — he was simply more comfortable with some people than others.
Not long after she changed her thinking, Lizik experienced that moment she had been waiting so long for — the bonding of human and dog. Looking up from her bed, she saw Buttons standing in her doorway, looking at her. After some hesitation, Buttons jumped into bed with her.
“Something clicked for both of us in that moment and I thought, ‘Yes, this will work,’” she says. “‘We can do this.’”
Lizik’s story doesn’t end here. Born with mitochondrial disease, she’s visually impaired and considered legally blind. She never considered having a service dog and when she thought about them, she admits she stereotyped them as large and super confident dogs. Buttons didn’t fit that description.
Upon returning to Lizik’s apartment after walking Buttons one day, Lizik’s mother noticed his behavior changing as they climbed the stairs. He stopped at every step, waiting for her before he proceeded to the next step. When she told her daughter, Lizik admitted she hadn’t even noticed it before. Steps are particularly difficult for her because she has poor depth perception and limited peripheral vision.
Lizik stresses that dogs who provide service to their owners must possess skills that allow them to assist their owners with their daily activities and keep them safe. Buttons showed this potential when he attempted to assist Lizik’s mother on the stairs.
Working with a behaviorist and a trainer, Lizik taught Buttons to communicate to her. He finds objects in her way and alerts her by placing his body between the object and Lizik to prevent her from tripping over it. Buttons isn’t fazed by crowds or loud noises, a quality essential to a service dog. Buttons now has his own Facebook page, entertaining and educating people about his work as a service dog.
The dog who seemed so fearful turned out to be braver than Lizik ever imagined.
“NYCSR knew better than I did,” Lizik tells the Dodo. “They kept telling me to wait it out, that it would get better.” Lizik credits the counseling she received from the rescue as great as the gift of adopting Buttons.
As the foster coordinator of NYCSR, Lizik shares her story with new and potential adopters, empathizing with the concerns they have when the bond doesn’t happen immediately.
“I made the same mistake many people make by interpreting the adjustment period as Buttons’ unhappiness and rejection of me,” she says.
Lizik still keeps in touch with the adoptive families of other dogs from the hoarding case, and they often get together because they all share the bond created through love, patience and perseverance.
This past Independence Day, as Buttons helped her navigate the crowds through the booming explosions and bright lights from the fireworks, Lizik realized her own independence.
“He gives me freedom,” she says.