Aesop the New Dog

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Meet Aesop, the dog trainer’s dog. Eighteen months old, unreliably housebroken and occasionally a bit clingy, Aesop needs a little work. But he’s got something that can’t be taught: a gentle, devoted heart.

Oh—and us. Aesop’s definitely got us. Big time. Here is his story and how we all decided to let our hearts be buried in the fur of yet another dog.

Born Dog #58225 in a breeding kennel in the Czech Republic, this beautiful dog was repeatedly passed over by buyers because of a miniscule imperfection: an ear divot, a small nick in the upper corner of his ear. Buyers of champion German Shepherds demand perfection and that tiny flaw made Dog #58225— kennel-named Ezopp—hard to place. Ezopp passed his days in the company of other dogs, undergoing basic training and agility work as he waited for a permanent home. Not so bad, but not so great, either.

Meanwhile, an ocean away in Pound Ridge, N.Y., a man named Peter was fighting for his life. Diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Peter credits his family—including his beloved Golden Retriever—for seeing him through. When his devoted dog passed away, Peter, now recovering, sought to fulfill his boyhood dream of sharing his life with a purebred German Shepherd Dog.

He scanned the internet, looking at dog after dog. Finally, his doctor and his wife both agreed: it was time for Peter to live his dream. Sifting through pages and pages of bookmarked GSD websites, Peter made his choice. Dog #58255. Anxious but excited, Peter arranged international transport and called me. He knew he was undertaking a big project and wanted me on board—I had trained his lovely, docile Golden Retriever—to ease the transition.

Two days after taking Ezopp home, Peter called me, distraught. It was too much. His health was still fragile and his workload was high. Unsure if he could provide a stable, suitable environment, he was desperate to re-home Ezopp. With a heavy heart, I asked my husband to go collect Dog #58255. I promised to find him a new home.

An hour later, Roman returned with Ezopp in tow. Attached to the end of a colorful, crazybone-patterned leash that Lindsay had selected for our light-hearted Whoopsie, Ezopp appeared resigned, sad…a little bit lost. He was undeniably regal and possessed a gentle, yielding disposition, but…there was no joy there. He sat on the kitchen floor, detached. He refused food, ignored treats and seemed mystified by squeak toys.

We sat across the kitchen from each other, considering. I wanted to find a rock-solid home for this dog because he had been through so much already. Not just any home would do…it had to be the perfect match. A family that was kind, understanding and active. A stable bunch, ready to open their hearts to a large, travel-weary, kennel-stressed, under-socialized dog.

My contact list and phone sat before me but my hands—and my heart—weren’t cooperating. It occurred to me that maybe I already knew the family.

And they were hovering right outside the kitchen door.

All of my life I have been able to talk—and listen—to dogs. I pricked up my ears and turned to Ezopp. In no time, this sad, lonely dog told me everything I needed to know.

The World Through Ezopp’s Eyes

Children are good. This one was obvious from the start. It was my children who first ignited a spark of joy in Ezopp’s wise eyes. Crated for the first two nights, he escaped on the third and headed directly for Lindsay’s room. He laid down beside her bed where we found him in the morning, sleepy-eyed and content. Two-year old Bodie followed Ezopp from room to room, hugging his neck whenever it was in reach. “My dog. Big dog. Mine,” he prophesized.

Language is hard. Staring at the long list of vowel-laden Czech commands that accompanied Ezopp on his journey to America, Lindsay and I opted to attempt a more user-friendly communication system of body postures and hand signals. Almost overnight, his detachment began to subside and he became alert and attentive to our gestures. His previous inertia was a sign of confusion, not disobedience or despondency.

Socialization is important. Raised in a somewhat isolated environment, Ezopp lacked some social graces. He had a tendency to stare at dogs and people, a habit that is both rude and a little frightening. It was not aggressive but it was unacceptable nonetheless. A few quick admonishments and the behavior subsided. Time spent with the relentlessly social Whoopsie has helped bring Ezopp out of his shell, too.

Not all German Shepherds need a firm hand. Dog #58255 had been handled roughly. I am by nature a fast-moving, effusive person. Thrilled with Ezopp’s progress, I let loose with a particularly enthusiastic “GOOD BOY!” that made him literally pee his pants. Ezopp responds better to gentle, loving and—note to self—quiet direction.

Days have stretched into weeks and Ezopp—rechristened Aesop—has wound himself around my family like a rose. He has inspired my 50-something husband to take up jogging, given my daughter new-found confidence and added to my toddler’s list of favorite phrases. And me? I’m just glad Aesop found his way to us…and that I took the time to listen.