The Pup from Na’alehu

Puppy from Na'alehu - The Every Animal Project

It was late one evening in the spring of 2015 as a carload of us–my wife, Rachel, and I, along with two friends–were making the long trip back from Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to my parents’ home in the Ka’u District halfway around the Big Island. We’d just hit a straight stretch of road outside of the quaint town of Na’alehu when my eye caught a glimpse of a small white blob slinking along the right-of-way. I slammed on the brakes, feeling fortunate in the aftermath that we were the single car on the road.

The white blob was barely bigger than a coconut with two pointed ears, one hopelessly failing to stay upright. We quickly scooped this young pup up, inhaling a scent reminiscent of death and risking a major onslaught of fleas. We couldn’t leave him, so young and vulnerable. There was one option. We’d come to visit my parents in their newfound retirement for just two weeks, and apparently, we had forgotten to bring a gift. This wormy and homeless pup would have to do. We drove onward as I played out the scenario that was to unfold in my mind.

You can’t seem to go anywhere without picking up a dog, they sighed, just as I’d imagined.

Pup from Na'alehu - The Every Animal Project

The next few days were filled with howling. And poop. And more howling. And even more poop. And as I walked from my room to the shower each morning, a shark-let gnawed at my ankles until they felt raw.

It became clear that this pup had no home. But, not quite thrilled about the prospect of spending endless bright, sunny days mopping up diarrhea, my parents pledged to get him in with the local rescue and out the door as soon as possible.

Each morning, as our troupe prepared for the day’s outing, we’d turn our backs just long enough to find this pup, now named Niu (and eventually renamed Pip), sprawled out atop our backpacks and lunch coolers. At night, as Rachel rocked in an old wooden chair, he gradually ascended her torso and wrapped his tiny body around her neck. On a hike, his lanky legs failed him over the rocky terrain, so he was quickly swaddled in a makeshift sling, a.k.a Rachel’s hoodie. There wasn’t an object that couldn’t be made a bed. He just seemed to fit, always.

When Rachel and I returned to Hawai’i this month, Pip was still there. I suppose that, somehow, he had just seemed to fit his way right into our family. Not much had changed, really, except that this tiny coconut had matured into a 70-pound barrel. His howls had been upgraded to barks, and, fortunately, his bowels seemed to have been tamed. That ear, the one that always seemed to droop, had finally learned to stand tall.

For the first few days, surprisingly, Pip seemed to have no recollection of us. He hovered in corners and darted out of rooms when we came near–perhaps confirmation that his mother had been a stray. Rachel learned that she could approach him with her back turned toward him and then slowly slip a hand out for him to sniff. I tried my luck, somewhat unsuccessfully, at bribing Pip with treats; I’m sure he saw right through these thinly-veiled attempts at bonding. Sometimes I even managed a few pats on the head before he turned around and recognized me as the patter. It was hard, but inevitably, we knew our only hope was to respect his space–essentially, to leave him be.

So, ignore him, we did. Soon he began to test the waters, slowly climbing the stairs to our room and poking his head in just long enough to catch some sniffs before our eyes locked on him, and then–danger, retreat!

Near the end of our visit, all hope seemed lost. We simply weren’t going to be friends. It wasn’t meant to be. We’d admire Pip from afar; he’d stare back at us with mounting suspicions. But one day, as we sat around the table for lunch, Pip scampered between pairs of legs. A wet tongue began to brush against my knee. And it licked and licked and licked.

I wish I could say that it was all peachy keen from that point forward. It wasn’t. Pip still kept his distance; we continued to make peace offerings. Little by little, we seemed to get closer and closer. By the end of the trip, I managed to plant a kiss on his forehead. We hadn’t become best friends, but we’d started to test the friendship waters. Next time, I know he’ll be ready for us, and we for him.

P.S. If you have a dog with social or separation anxiety like Pip, check out this great guide to eliminating fear in your dog from Natural Wonder Pets. In addition to their K9 Calm formula containing organic calming herbs like chamomile and passion flower, they offer a step-by-step guide to changing your interactions with your pup to promote confidence in him. One piece of their advice that’s really worked at home (and with Pip) is to act like your departure and arrival are simply no big deal and to wait to greet your pup for several minutes after getting home. Dogs are so in-tune with their guardians that when we act like coming and going isn’t a huge ordeal, they start to take notice. For that gem and more, click here.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links.)

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