Naya’s Struggle Continues
Jayne Coughlan adopted Naya, a miniature schnauzer who had spent a number of years as a breeding dog in a puppy farm. Jayne had read Saving Susie-Belle and felt inspired to adopt and do what she could to educate others about puppy farming. She’s shared her journey with Naya on social media for the past four years and has attracted many followers, educating each one through her posts and writing about Naya’s beautiful, but damaged personality. Jayne writes honestly, doesn’t glorify the problems which have been worked through by Naya, and demonstrates a compassion and understanding throughout. When I found out that her professional experience includes working with abused and neglected children, it struck me that her insights into Naya’s life are undoubtedly enriched by this understanding. That one of Naya’s biggest and persistent struggles involves children shows me again, that dogs often do arrive with those who are best placed to help them.
Jayne kindly agreed to write this guest blog.
We are now 4 years and 3 months post adoption with Naya and we have been through many transitions, some negative but the majority, I’m happy to report, are positive. One of Naya’s behaviours is at times challenging and distressing for all of us and is a product entirely of her traumatic past.
We don’t know where Naya’s life started. She may have been born in the puppy farm to a neglected, terrified mum, or could have been born elsewhere and later fallen into the clutches of a puppy farmer. One thing’s for sure, wherever it was, it wasn’t the start to life that she needed. From her behaviours I firmly believe that she did not get the vital social interactions that are essential to normal puppy brain development.
We all have a fear that sweeps us up and is all encompassing. Even the strongest of people have that ‘chink in their armour’, their Achilles heel. When we brought Naya home we had no idea that her kryptonite would be an essential part of the fabric of our family.
Her first week home passed without incident, she was nervous but strangely mute especially for a miniature schnauzer; they aren’t exactly known for their quiet serenity. Naya initially distanced herself so that she could quickly move if she felt threatened. The first time that she made a noise I don’t know who was more surprised, her or us. It was like her senses had been kick-started after being suppressed by years of neglect and abuse. She had finally found her voice and was determined to tell her story to all, even those that didn’t want to listen.
We knew that it was important to have a resident dog but until we brought her home we never truly understood just how critical this was for her to progress. We quickly learned that this shut down shell of a dog had absolutely no idea how to behave like a dog.
Ruby has done an absolutely amazing job teaching Naya, but even this little hero can’t help Naya overcome her pathological dread of children.
The first inkling we had that all was not well was 15 days after we adopted her. I still wonder whether we are indirectly to blame or whether it would have happened anyway.
Ruby was at the vets having surgery for cancer and I was looking after my 18 month old grandson. We will never really know whether the stress of Ruby not being there triggered the response or whether she associated my grandson with the stress and trauma she was feeling. She barked non stop for 4 1/2 hours. We were at the end of our tethers, new to the world of rescue dogs and absolutely clueless about puppy farm survivors. I almost rang the rescue to tell them that we had made a terrible mistake and that we weren’t what she needed.
The relief in her eyes when I carried Ruby back through the door almost broke my heart and I felt incredibly guilty for my earlier thoughts. It was at this point of our journey together I realised that the only way we could move forward was by acceptance; accepting Naya for who she was and not who we thought she should be.
I would love to tell you that all is well with Naya and what a wonderful happy life we all have and how she loves children, but I can’t. We do have wonderful fleeting moments, where we mentally punch the air, where she walks past a child with no reaction at all, but sadly these are few and far between.
As grandparents we have had to change the way we interact with our grandchildren. Visits to our home are now infrequent for the younger ones. Naya can’t cope with the noise and fast movements. She barks, the children get louder and we find ourselves locked in a conflict cycle. On the occasions they do visit, Naya is given a safe space on the sofa and she does eventually settle but never truly relaxes. She is hypervigilant and the slightest thing will have her issuing a vocal response, her body language screams for all to see: tail tucked between her legs, ears flat to her head and a low gutteral growl. It doesn’t help that the little ones are drawn to her in a strange way, almost like a challenge.
Initially I encouraged the grandchildren to give Naya biscuits and to stroke her whilst in her ‘safe space’ but a chance conversation with a behaviourist quickly changed this practice. I had stupidly blurred the boundaries for the children and for Naya. He warned that trying to desensitise Naya in this way wasn’t appropriate, that her ‘safe space’ needed to be exactly that. Now the children are only allowed to offer biscuits if she approaches them.
Despite everything, I have never seen my beautiful girl snap and I don’t believe she would, but out of respect for her and my grandchildren I would never allow them to be in a situation that could escalate. The one exception to this rule is ‘Belle’ who at the age of 15 has the maturity, empathy and respect to understand Naya’s struggles.
Sadly we are now in a catch 22 situation. Naya’s interaction with children is limited so the fear remains and because of the fear we limit the interactions. But just occasionally our girl gives us a hope. The other day I took both the dogs to visit my son and his family, two teenagers and two under 5 who are mini human tornados. Predictably Naya’s barking went into freefall. Just when I was at the point of giving up and going home something magical happened: the dogs needed a walk and I suggested that Belle and Liam (not quite 4) come along. Liam wanted to hold the lead, knowing Ruby would pull him off his feet I handed him Naya’s lead half expecting her to go into melt down…but nothing, not a peep. She trotted silently by his side not even flinching when he gently bent down and stroked her head and untangled her paw from the lead. All of course was supervised, she gently took biscuits from his outstretched little hand. It melted my heart. Maybe one day she will be able to accept children. Where there’s love there is always hope.
I’m not an expert on dog behaviour but I do my best to understand Naya and do the very best for her and always will.
You can follow Naya and Jayne’s journey together on their Facebook page, Naya A New Life.