Anxious dog gives peace of mind to his new person

Ollie the dog on a leash in the snow, with a bit of snow on his nose
Ollie’s separation anxiety made it take longer to find him a home, but now he’s bringing comfort and calm to his new person.
By Sarah Thornton

When Ollie stretches up on his back legs and puts his front paws on their shoulders, he can easily look his human friends in the eyes. He can clear a standard fence with a hop, and he has enough energy to keep up with even the most adventurous of hikers.

For all that size and strength, though, he’s really a gentle giant with a sensitive side. Ollie lost his first home when he was only a year old; his family moved and brought him to a shelter. He was an escape artist and shy around new people, often barking at them in fear. Car rides made him nervous, and loud noises could send him into a panic.

It took him time to open up once he arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. But when he began to feel comfortable, he leaned against his caregivers for attention and pulled eagerly on his leash to meet visitors. With his striking appearance and friendly personality, he had no trouble catching the attention of adopters. However, a case of severe separation anxiety meant he was returned time and again for chewing through wires, furniture and walls when left alone.

But Ollie’s human friends never gave up on finding a family to love him. And then, at eight years old, he met someone who needed him just as much as he needed her.

A canine for comfort

Jennifer was going through a very difficult and scary time in her life. A person against whom she had a restraining order jumped bail and fled the state, filling every hour of her every day with anxiety and uncertainty. “I went through a really dark period,” she recalls. “I’d gained a bunch of weight, I was very unhealthy, and I became kind of shut in.”

The police offered her advice: Install a security system, change the locks, and get a dog. She was still healing from the loss of her first and only canine companion two years earlier — an angelic golden retriever with a heart as soft as a marshmallow — but after taking care of security and locks, she started looking.

[From rescued dog to service dog]

Jennifer’s search took her to the Best Friends website, where she first saw Ollie’s floppy-eared face smiling back at her. “Something about him just immediately spoke to me,” she says. And as coincidence would have it, Jennifer was about to go on a business trip that would bring her close enough to the Sanctuary to drive out and meet him.

The morning she was to see Ollie for the first time, Jennifer was abuzz with excitement. She tucked away some goodies to help with first impressions and drove straight to Dogtown. She’d seen a video of Ollie greeting his caregivers by throwing his paws on their shoulders for a little dance, and she mentioned that she hoped he’d do the same with her.

Ollie’s caregivers told her that he might not feel comfortable enough with her, a stranger, to do his dance with her when they first met. “But,” Jennifer says with delight in her voice, “he came right up to me and did it.” Ollie was the dog for her, and so she adopted him and brought him home.

A shared sense of security

While Jennifer had gone looking for a comforting companion, it was she who comforted Ollie on the long drive back home. “I think that helped him trust me from the start,” she says, explaining that caregivers had cautioned that Ollie might not want to go inside after the trip. “Because we got home, he came right in, and he stayed with me.”

At first, Ollie didn’t leave Jennifer’s side for a second — which suited both of them just fine. Jennifer worked from home, so Ollie didn’t have to be alone, and his presence immediately brought a sense of calm to her life.

[Family dog is good medicine]

Jennifer says, “The minute I had him in the house, I could finally sleep and relax. Just having him here did so much for my peace of mind. It was amazing.”

Where Jennifer had felt shut in before, with Ollie at her side the world opened back up. They started going on long walks every morning and evening, getting exercise and fresh air, and even meeting neighbors Jennifer says she had hardly seen in the past. Occasionally, Jennifer’s two cats come along for the trek, and the four of them explore the neighborhood together, following Ollie’s lead.

A fresh start together

In the winter when it snows, Ollie wants to stay out even longer to chomp on and roll around in the cold white stuff. Jennifer laughs that she’s had to buy snow pants for the first time since elementary school, but a bit of a chill is a fair trade for Ollie’s exuberance.

And Ollie certainly seems to be loving his new life. There was only one time, on a night when Jennifer had left the house, that Ollie chewed his way through an air-conditioning unit’s wire and ran outside. But that seemed to have been because of unexpected fireworks going off nearby. Otherwise, he has become as comfortable and secure in his new home as he’s made it feel for Jennifer.

Now, nearly a year since his adoption, Ollie has relaxed enough to wander around the house on his own, rather than being Jennifer’s big white shadow. And if she ever has to go anywhere without him, he waits at home without incident. He gets along with the cats, he enjoys making new dog friends, and he’s gotten more comfortable meeting new people.

She jokes that the old question “Who rescued whom?” may seem cliché, but in Jennifer and Ollie’s case, it fits. They became a comfort for one another, a safe place to rest and recover so they can both enjoy life to its fullest. Sure, Ollie might still need a light on at night because the dark is a little spooky. But as long as they have each other’s backs, sleep comes easily at last.

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