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Naming My Dog Professor Huckleberry

Howdy,


I knew I was going to lose Gypsy in the divorce, but it didn’t make the loss any easier. 

I have mixed feelings that Gypsy is still running around with my ex. I’m thankful she’s alive, but I wish I was the one that kept her. It was his dog prior to us dating, and it was his to keep. I knew it and never argued it. But it sucked. I knew to take pictures with Gypsy before I left, as I knew those would be our last. 


Losing Gypsy sucked.


I went home to Texas for 3 months while waiting for Joe to pack and leave Montana. He didn’t want the house, he wanted to go back to Colorado to be near his family. And while I was home in my hometown of Fort Worth, I grieved Gypsy almost harder than I grieved the divorce (likely because I grieved my marriage long before I filed).


I was staying in a friend’s parents’ backhouse, the same friends’ parents who connected me with Bob and Sheila Kelly in my new town in Great Falls just a year before. Why didn’t I stay with my mom during those days? Because it was far easier to grieve in a guesthouse than in my childhood room.  


I began to google Montana K-9 service animal programs for veterans. I knew I’d need a large, calm dog that enjoyed being active, could protect me and my new singleness, and would also assist with my PTSD. I hoped my USAF service would connect me with a trained service dog and quality training program back up north. I had no idea when I was returning home, so I put aside my search for the time being and spent time with my childhood pets in Texas. 


Tethered almost constantly


A few days later, a childhood friend called me. She worked for an animal rescue, and she received updates and alerts from the local shelters regarding rescues. Most of her office and volunteer staff were away in California rooting for TCU in the 2022 NCAA Football Championship. She relayed that she got an alert from a shelter on the other side of town about a dog of whom she was friends with the owner, that she was already with another dog and couldn’t leave, and asked if I was able to volunteer and pick up the dog and bring it to her so she could figure out what was happening.


I immediately agreed and started to drive in rush hour urban traffic to pick up this unknown known dog. I forgot to ask what breed it was, and I started to panic on the drive. 


The year before, I had been attacked and bitten by 3 pit bulls while on a walk with a baby in a stroller. I got the medical help I needed, sued and won for medical bills, and the owner faced numerous legal and social/neighborhood consequences for failing to provide a safe and secure environment for both the neighborhood and her dogs. 


As I neared the shelter, I grew concerned. I felt my body begin to shut down in fear that many of those dogs would be pit or bully breeds. My stomach twisted, my heart raced, my hands started to shake. My trauma was such that I didn’t think I could take home a dog breed that looked like the one that attacked me and a baby. I felt like I couldn’t call my friend, since she was a bully breed advocate, so I called my brother, and he reminded me to pray. 


So I did. Hard. 


I was conflicted – I wanted to help my friend and this animal, but I also knew I was nearing a panic attack. 


I prayed harder, wiped away my tears, and pulled into the parking lot of the Fort Worth Animal Control. 


It was a large complex with probably 5 airplane hangar sized pods of kennels, a main building and a few service / utility structures. 


I headed into the main building and relayed my mission to the front desk. She could tell I was nervous. I explained my dog attack, and asked her not to judge me for asking what breed I was picking up. I said I was frightened of either failing a friend and animal in need, or putting myself in further emotional instability.


‘Lab/shepherd, I think. Lab/husky? Definitely not a box-jaw breed. Calm, big boy. 7 years old. Trained. 100 pounds or so.’


Relief. And I assumed I would be guided by an employee through the kennels, which eased my anxiety at the thought of those loud and anxious dogs lunging at me through the wiring.


The barking was deafening. Pod C held about 30 kennels. This dog, then known as Charlie, was towards the end. I practiced deep breathing and tried to regulate against the growls of the pit bulls on either side of Charlie’s kennel. Charlie’s eyes and mine held as she unlocked his gate and prepared him. The attendant leashed Charlie with a fabric shelter-branded leash and handed me the loop. As soon as I grabbed the end, he stepped out, and pushed his body against the outside of my leg as we hurried out of the pod, down the walkways, and to the grassy area by my deceased uncle’s car I borrowed for my divorce healing. 


I kneeled down in front of him, locked eyes, and he shoved his head into my chest. I rubbed his spine, then around his neck, and finally his ears while he hid his face in my body. Once we both regulated, I opened the door of the white 1996 4Runner.


My uncle died a few weeks before I came home. This is an entirely other blog post, but it’s important that you know that he loved dogs and animals and tending to his folks’ farm and accompanying farm animals. This 4Runner was the animal/river/farm truck, and every time one of David’s dogs was in that car, odds were they were headed to or from a good, smelly time. 


The car and the head-burying


And Huck definitely picked up on that scent. I opened the door and he hesitated. I didn’t blame him, and waited. He sniffed the memories of David’s happy dogs and wagged his tail, hopped in and laid down.


Once we arrived at my friend’s rescue, I learned ‘Charlie’ had been abandoned twice - once by an abusive owner at the age of 2, and then now at 7 by the current owner. The current owner visited her European family for the holidays, decided to stay and travel Europe for a while, and told the dog-sitter to abandon Charlie at the shelter. 


I was just as sick hearing it as I am retelling it. 


I made the decision to care for Charlie for a few days while my friend could figure out what to do, and I could determine if he was going to be a good fit as my new companion. 


Within 24 hours, I knew he was God-sent to me. 


Abandoned twice? That reminds me of my own story. Held up in a small apartment for years in an urban downtown? I had a 3000 square foot home on half an acre in isolated north central Montana. Big calm trained dog? I could get him service trained and certified easily. 


The first few months of Professor Huckleberry in Texas/Oklahoma


I reconnected with a guy friend, Blaine, from college in the midst of my divorce, and he helped me in the early days of bringing Charlie ‘home’ into my temporary Texas situation until the long drive back to Montana. It was important to me that this dog got a new name in light of his new  Montana freedom, and Blaine suggested ‘Buck’. 


I replied with ‘Huck, and it’ll be short for Huckleberry’. 


I rubbed Huck’s ears and asked my sweet boy, ‘Who’s a good boy?’ He side-eyed me, the way a professor would side-eye a student for asking a dumb question. 


‘Make that, Professor Huckleberry’. I grinned. 


And in that backyard of my friends’ parents’ house, Charlie, the abused, abandoned, downtown Texas apartment dog became Professor Huckleberry, the found, the saved, the protected Montana wilderness dog. 



It would be 3 months before we drove back to Montana. In those 3 months, we stayed in 5 AirBnBs in Texas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. I worked with a professional to get him trained for my anxiety. He rode the AmTrak with me as a service animal. We walked 3 miles a day along rivers and in neighborhoods, and I got him a leash that wrapped around my waist with carabiners for dog bags and a collapsible water bowl. Hands-free and prepared, Huck and I went everywhere together. 


When I would take him off his leash, he panicked and trotted back to the house or car. When I leashed him, he wagged his tail and calmed down. I repeatedly tried to train him off-leash in open nature areas, and the result was always the same – he preferred the leash. The leash meant attachment and safety. He prefers to be tethered. And who wouldn’t after being abandoned twice?


Huck enjoys sleeping and cuddling. He doesn’t bark, and loves joining neighborhood dogs in the communal howl to emergency vehicle sirens. He signals when he needs to eat or be let out.  


I will write about his transition into becoming a more confident Montana dog, but I will save that for another time. Thank you for taking the time to learn my boy's origin story.

 

Follow for more adventures of Leigh and Professor Huckleberry!


LL


1 Comment


I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Huck when I was in Great Falls! What a great boy. I’m so glad God brought you both together.

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