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In the spring of 2014, my resident dog, Maggie, passed away and by late summer I was ready to take on another. My neighbor had often offered me puppies from various litters, but I didn’t have the time or space to fuss with one.  Besides, it’s easy to find homes for puppies. If you ask Bill, he’ll agree, I like to give older dogs a second chance.

For as long as I could remember, that same neighbor had an adorable adult dog tied up on the back side of his property, close to the creek, away from the road.  Whenever I drove by, I always worried for the little guy’s safety, hoping it wouldn’t rain too hard to flood him out. One day, it did rain hard enough for my neighbor to move the dog to a tree closer to the road.  Now I could see him up close and he was way cuter than I had even imagined! He patiently sat at the end of his short chain just outside his doghouse door, always staring at the entrance to his master’s house, waiting for him to come out and give him some attention. As soon as the front door opened, the little dog madly wagged his tail, and his excited panting made him look like he was always smiling.  Despite what looked like a solitary, bleak existence, he seemed happy all the time. He was the one I wanted.

I called my neighbor and said, “You’re always asking me if I want a puppy, but what about that black and white one tied up outside? Would you be willing to give me that one?”  He replied, “Who, Digger? Sure, you can have him but he chases cats and eats chickens. That’s why he’s on the chain.”  Hmmm, well, maybe he wasn’t the one I wanted. Regardless, we agreed I would take the dog for an afternoon to see how it worked.

Well, I kept a keen eye on him and he didn’t mess with my cats, but they refused to give him a chase. He lunged for a chicken but I sharply yelled, “No!” and he promptly obeyed. We went for a lovely, long walk together with the rest of the ‘pack.’ Then, I went back to ask my neighbor how much he wanted for him, or if there was anything we could swap. He told me not to worry about it. The dog had been tied up for 13 years and, “letting him run on your  place is the best thing that could ever happen for him.”

My neighbor loves animals and had several others besides this one dog. He was just the only one tied up. Yet, it was clear he had never been beaten, was not starving, and hadn’t turned aggressive or scared because of his situation. He had been loved as well as my neighbor could love him, despite what the circumstances may have looked like to an outsider. Nonetheless, I was amazed his spirit had not been broken.

Letting him off leash for the first time actually surprised me. Instead of racing off in his new found freedom, he scampered around scouring every inch of the property with his nose. Since 90% of how a dog experiences the world is through smells, his world had just been expanded exponentially. So many most excellent aromas, when he had previously been confined to a 10 foot area!

The first time Bill laid eyes on  him, he said, “This one is built like a TugBoat!” and the name stuck. But we also quickly learned why his name had previously been “Digger.”  In addition, it didn’t take long for him to show  us his true colors with the chickens. We lost 4 within the first month to the paws and jaws of TugBoat. I’m convinced his prey drive is just stronger than what he can handle because he’s so willing to please in every other way. TugBoat listens well and wants to do what we tell him, especially when there’s a reward of praise, cuddles or food at the end.  But, occasionally he has selective hearing when he’s overexcited (as in the presence of a chicken). Since it’s very difficult to curb prey drive, we’ve learned to just manage it by fencing in the birds while Tug is with us. And there are  Happy Endings for everyone once again.

I’m still in awe that TugBoat can even catch the birds with his tiny little legs, but I’ve never seen a dog move so fast in my life. And the first time I saw him in a full out run, it brought tears to my eyes.  Free from the chain after 13 years, despite his age, TugBoat moves at the speed of lightning whether it’s in circles or a straight line. Out there running around in the woods, he’s the happiest mutt alive.

Although I was so touched to see him enjoy his new-found freedom, I got another lump in my throat when I had to lay him down and teach him to roll him on his back for a belly rub.  I swear, I thought the old man had died right there. His eyes got all glassy as he stared into space and he gave these little snorts like he was taking his last breaths. He was experiencing heaven right there on my kitchen floor. It used to take him a while to come out of his fog, but now when I stop, he starts pawing at me for more.

At first I couldn’t figure out why TugBoat loved to snap at bees and flies. He even leaps for them and, as fast as he is, he can catch them!  Then I realized he didn’t have many other forms of entertainment in his 10 foot diameter circle around the tree. This is what kept him busy for all those years, and he had obviously gotten very good at it.

There’s nothing better than a snuggle from this dog, and he’d do it all day if there weren’t so many other things to do, see and smell.  If he had been a girl, I would have had to name him JOY.




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