I have always believed that the best dog breed is Rescue. My brother-in-law and I sometimes fight over this.
When he decided he wanted a dog he was very specific. He and my sister did all the research. They looked into the different breeds, what health issues they had, which were easiest and hardest to train, which were aggressive, which made good family dogs, which were good work dogs, which could do both. They looked into potential vet bills and food costs, best brands. EVERYTHING.
They decided that the Belgian Malinois was the dog for them.
Personally, I thought paying that much for a dog described as a "German Shepherd on CRACK" was a bit...ridiculous? naive? Stupid.
But I'm getting off topic. I'm here to tell you how I met Cato...or rather, how He found ME.
My sister and her family got their Malinois, Axel, when he was just a puppy. They trained him in personal and family protection. He grew up with my nephew and they are the very best of friends. He was small as his breed goes but fiercely protective and loyal. A great dog and, while I prefer to rescue, I couldn't deny that I loved him too.
When Axel was 3 we heard about a beautiful dog running loose in my dad's neighborhood. Sis saw the pictures and recognized him right away for a Mal.
It was obvious he was malnourished and had been on the streets for a while. Someone in the neighborhood had been feeding him, but these dogs have very sensitive stomachs and have to be on very strict diets. Who knew what he'd been getting into? It couldn't be good for him.
They talked about it for a few days. They didn't really have room for another dog. They didn't need another dog. But this was a gorgeous Malinois, everything that one should be. He was big and lean and looked like a working dog. The reports of those feeding him said he was easy-going so long as you didn't mess with his food. He liked other dogs and was good with kids.
They kept talking about him. They kept looking to see if he'd been claimed or rescued.
A week went by. They were begging for someone to take this poor guy in. No one knew what to do with him or how to take care of him. But we did. After all, they had done the research. They had known exactly what they were getting into well before they had gotten Axel. They had been responsible when choosing their dog. They could handle a second Malinois. And if he wasn't properly cared for he would either get in an accident or be put down.
It didn't take too much convincing on either side. Sis and her husband went to catch him.
It took hours. They tried bribing him with food. They tried to surprise him. They tried cornering him.
You know what? The Malinois is known for its intelligence.
Eventually they threw a blanket over his head and the two of them picked him up and forced him into the truck. He did NOT like it.
That first day with us it was a struggle.
My brother-in-law had such high hopes of what they would do together. He wanted to train him to work as a search-and-rescue dog for the Fire Department. He was going to be fierce and loyal only to him.
The dog didn't want anything to do with him.
At first he wouldn't accept treats from either my sister or her husband. He didn't trust their motives. He shied away from the vehicles. He didn't know what to do on a leash.
His first instinct was to bolt as soon as the door opened.
He and Axel did NOT get along. But two dominant males often don't. And Axel was determined to protect his family from this strange new dog who neither trusted nor was trustworthy.
I tried not to get too attached. I knew they couldn't keep him. He was too big, the house was too small. He was too jumpy around my nephew. And Axel just DID NOT like him.
But I liked him anyway. I saw how confused and scared he was and it broke my heart. As my sister debated on what to name him and I decided he looked a bit like Charlie from All Dogs Go To Heaven, I realized he had wormed his way into my heart. I have a soft spot for animals in general, and a special place specifically for lost creatures needing love.
Sis decided to name him "Cato" despite the fact that this poor pup is Nothing like the spoiled, killer from The Hunger Games. And it stuck despite my best efforts.
He had been with us for about a week and they had started looking for someone to take him and give him a permanent home when I realized that Cato looked for me when I came home from work.
He responded to the sound of my voice. He didn't drag me down the street when I took him for a walk. He didn't shy away from me. He would take a treat from my hand.
And then he did something that I never expected.
He was friendly, even as skittish as he could be. He wanted affection but was too energetic to ask for it. But one day, as I had finally resigned myself to the fact that he would be leaving us soon, he came and he rested his head on my knee. He licked my hand. When I stood up he jumped and wrapped his paws around me in a big Maligator hug, licking my face and neck, everywhere that giant tongue could reach.
Those big brown eyes looked into mine and said "You're mine."
He chose me right then and there. From then on I was the only one who walked him. I fed him and played with him. He looked to me for guidance and love.
Don't get me wrong, he's a people's dog. He loves to be petted and fussed over. But if he needs to look for direction, he's looking at me.
He's got a long way to go. We both do.
I moved into my own apartment so we could stay together. It isn't nearly big enough and there's no fenced in yard for him but we go on walks and we play and at night he sleeps in my bed. Actually, he usually sleeps on top of me, just to make sure he knows I'll still be there when he wakes.
He doesn't greet a stranger until I've okayed them. And even then, if he senses something's wrong, he stands between us. He protects me.
As big as he is, he's never offered to be violent. That mouth hangs wide open, but it's always in a smile, big tongue hanging out ready to give a kiss.
He's energetic, he's rough and rowdy and he's my guardian angel.
I don't know where I'd be if he hadn't chosen me for his Momma.
Sometimes he has nightmares. Maybe they're of his old owners, the ones that beat him and yelled until he drowns out all raised voices and hides. Maybe they're of sleeping in the cold, or going without food and clean water.
It doesn't matter. With me he knows he's safe. And when he wakes he comes to me and he nuzzles in close, reassuring himself that I'm here and everything is okay.
That's what it means to be a Rescue Momma.
Sometimes it means comforting a frightened dog. Sometimes it means unlearning bad behavior and having patience and unlearning it again. It means not raising your voice, or your hand.
It means frustrated days when you come home to shredded pillows, broken leashes, and galivanting dogs.
But it also means the best friend, the most loyal friend you'll ever have.
He's worth all the shedding, all the pillow fluff, all the training and treats. He's worth all that and more.
He's my Cato and I'm his Momma. I wasn't looking for a dog. But I'm so thankful he was looking for Me.