My husband calls him Cracker Jack. I call him Jackjack or JackAttack, or Big Mac Attack. He is our latest canine houseguest, a young male Belgian Malinois rescued from a neglect situation in Tennessee. He was one of six dogs rescued; the rescue organization refers to them as the Tennessee six-pack. Two adult females, two adult males, and two puppies (one of each) were removed from a muddy pen where they had spent their entire lives. In Jack’s case, we think this means that for the past 3 or 4 years he has been living outdoors 24/7, with limited access to food, water, or shelter. When he was picked up he weighed in at 35 pounds and he does not have a small frame. He stands taller than my Iske and now weighs 42 pounds. I hope to help him reach at least 60 pounds.
He arrived with great drama: while I was on my way to pick him up I received the call on my cell phone. Jack is urinating blood and looking uncomfortable and ill. I arranged with the emergency clinic in Kingston to be ready for us before even reaching Jack in Mahwah, NJ. When he arrived, he huddled in a far corner of the SUV that drove him up from the Pennsylvania border, reluctant to come anywhere near me. His driver coaxed him out, and walked him: more blood. I noticed how distended his belly looked: he looked like those horrible photos of starving children with huge empty bellies. Jack’s head and limbs were dwarfed by his barrel-belly. And he looked miserable.
We drove him straight to the ER, and x-rays revealed possible bloat. He was barely able to walk, moving slowly and carefully as if everything hurt. I left him there, to be rehydrated, watched, and possibly have his stomach emptied if it didn’t subside on its own. He was started on antibiotics for a urinary tract infection as well. All in all, not an auspicious start to our foster care arrangement.
The next morning he got the green light to go home. Apparently overnight he had had a “massive diarrhea blowout” (the vet’s words) and was feeling much better. He was described as “ravenous.” I think the word fits, body and soul.
At home, like any Malinois, he just wants to be with a person. He loves my husband and me equally, and seems very open and willing to connect with people. He is not playful, not interested in walking or chasing wildlife, no desire to interact with my dogs at all. He doesn’t want to be outside much at all. All this, I suspect, will change, as his body and heart heal. He is still very much in crisis, still recovering from years of deprivation and torture.
Yes, torture. Sounds histrionic but it is an accurate description of what these dogs were tolerating. Malinois, as much or more than any other breed of dog I am familiar with, need to be with their people. They suffer, mentally and physically, if they are not committed in a monogamous relationship with their beloved. They thrive when the bond they develop with their person is treated as paramount and explored and enriched on a near daily basis through shared challenges and activities. My pack and I accomplish this through hiking: together we take on a mountain and work at making it up and back down safely. My dogs help me with navigation – sometimes fresh snow or thick brush will cover a route and their noses show me which way to go. Sometimes they show me the best way through a cliff band or around some rocky ledges. Sometimes I lift or carry them over some particularly tricky spot. Together we look out at viewpoints, and I know they are all the better for having worked with me to reach this place.
Other people grow their bond in other ways: any of the canine work or sports, from search and rescue to dock diving, offer opportunities to deepen and hone the human-canine bond. That is what malinois need, and that is what sets this breed apart. They hunger to grow in relationship to you, and they make you grow. They are only limited by your limits and they let you know that. Then they inspire you to move beyond where you were stuck, doing so with love in their hearts.