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CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Villanelle, the rescue dog
“We think she might have eaten a person.”
This is how I usually introduce Villanelle, the bitch my husband and I adopted in January 2020. She’s swept into our lives as mysteriously as her namesake: the deadly yet magnetic assassin on the TV show Killing Eve. An overseas rescue from Kuwait, her papers revealed little in terms of age (one veterinary report estimates age 5, another says age 3 to 7) or breed (a Chihuahua / Corgi mix, maybe a Japanese Spitz, maybe a terrier ).
One thing we knew for sure was that this dog was having problems, mostly related to being stuck in an apartment with her late former owner for a week (this is where the potential person comes in). A photo from her first rescue shows a dirty, scared dog crouching in the corner. The foster home that Villanelle got through a group called Two Ladies Four Paws warned that she had “little dog syndrome,” that she was prone to snapping and biting. Her behavior was so bad that at first her rescuers did not think she could be housed again.
The first night she was at our house, I had a violent attack of anxiety as she slept peacefully in my lap, her stomach bared. Even as a farm girl who grew up with dogs, mostly Australian Shepherds, I asked myself if I was up to the challenge. I’ve never had a small dog or had a dog in town. My childhood dogs were what would be called “free range” today. I should get a pit bull and even file applications with local rescue workers. How did it happen?
But Villanelle was perfect for our lifestyle. She ignored cats, which corresponded to our grumpy Maine Coon who hadn’t lived with any other animal in 10 years. She wasn’t an active dog and preferred to doze on the couch. She was not nutritionally motivated, which meant we didn’t have to monitor her food intake.
We were ready early on to socialize her, introduce her to other dogs and people, show her that the world wasn’t nearly as scary and traumatic as she thought.
Then, less than three months after we brought her home, everything was shut down. We were indefinitely stuck with a dog we had just met. There would be no dog-friendly brewery visits, no game dates with friends’ dogs, no get-togethers to find out how well she could get along with a group. Just us and a strange little mutt we thought might have tasted human flesh.
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CP Photo: Amanda Waltz
Amanda Waltz’s husband with Villanelle, their rescue dog
Not an ideal situation, but we made the best of it. Over the months we got to know her, and she got to know us. We corrected her when she tried to bite, mainly by banning her from the couch, which turned out to be surprisingly effective. We learned her limits, how she loved to wear clothes when she had no sleeves, how she freaked out if you tried to wipe her face with a towel or handkerchief. We pampered her with tons of squeaky toys, stripped the labels off before they brought them inside so she could rummage through the shopping bag and find it for herself.
What began as hardship and reluctance (for me at least my husband was defeated from the start) turned into devotion over time. In retrospect, I realize that if circumstances had been different my husband and I would have gone to work every day, bonding with this silly little dog would have been more difficult and stressful. I saw us rush home to let her out, spending only a handful of hours with her each day.
More importantly, it made even the worst parts of the pandemic bearable and sometimes cheerful.
Now that we are vaccinated and ready to mingle, new problems are emerging. We need to figure out what it’s like to get Villanelle to the office or hire a dog walker to let her out and try to make sure strangers don’t pet her without asking first. We still have a lot to do to make her less afraid of strangers, but I feel a lot better knowing that she trusts me and I love my little (possible) ogre.