After the first little glimmer of communication from Kita (see previous post), I decided it was time to get her out and about. The next day, I carried her into the backyard and was astonished to see her transform, before my eyes, into a dog. She immediately began to check the perimeter, noticing the leavings of Bilbo and Lucy, and was clearly relieved to be outside. I let her stay out for an hour or so. Once back inside, she settled immediately into her crate and fell into a sound sleep.
The next day, I took her out again, and after a short while brought out Lucy, the smaller and milder of our Elkhounds. Lucy was leashed, and I let Kita make the approach, which, to my surprise, she actually did. After some nose-touching and sniffing, they were tag-teaming around the yard together -- a rousing success! It was so easy that, instead of waiting a few more days, we went ahead the next day and introduced Bilbo.
Bilbo is a sweet-hearted, gentle dog, and also an excitable goober with impulse control issues, kind of like a four-year-old boy. To my surprise, he seemed to know not to charge at Kita, but went up to her kindly and respectfully, squeaking a little in his excitement but keeping his body language very mild. I really do think he knew exactly what she needed from him. They made friends very quickly, and from then on, there was a happy dog trio in the backyard. Kita was no longer huddled in a corner, but was running, leaping, playing and barking. At that point, I felt much more certain that our family could help rehabilitate her.
Lucy and Bilbo could not have been better "therapy dogs" for Kita. They seemed to know how to play gently, and when she got tense or growly (and she did sometimes, back then), they were relaxed and observant. It was amazing to watch them fold her into the pack.
I cannot express fully what a relief it was to discover things that brought something like "normal" to Kita's demeanor. She remained skittish around the humans in our household, and getting her back indoors each day was a trial. Marc and I felt bad about having to "herd" her, as it clearly frightened her, but she was having no part of coming to us willingly, and we couldn't leave her out overnight or while we were away. And, I figured it was part of her therapy (such as it was) to spend time indoors around people (but we continued searching for solutions that didn't require frightening her).
Our friend Heather McClain-Howell, an experienced rescuer of pit-type breeds, was a great resource during this time. I felt bad for leaving Kita at home in a crate all day while we worked, yet it was far too early for unsupervised time with Bilbo and Lucy outdoors. Heather assured me that, after all Kita had apparently been through--her vets said her injuries suggested she had been used as a bait dog--spending 8 hours a day in a warm, safe enclosure with regular meals was itself hugely therapeutic for her. And the crate gave us a chance to insist she learn to deal with people a little.
After another few days, I moved the crate to the family room (near the other dogs' crates) in hopes Kita would learn to come in without the "herding" event. She learned this very quickly, and with several false starts, facing the terror of the threshold (another mystery of her psyche), she would dash through the door and into her crate. Dinnertime was an added incentive to come in, as she was (and is still) extremely excited about food.
So, about a month into fostering Kita, that was our routine - out in the morning, and back in for breakfast. All day in the crate. Late afternoon to early evening out, and back in for dinner. While Kita was tolerant of us reaching into her crate and letting her sniff hands, she was extremely nervous about being out in the house with us, and assiduously avoided physical contact. At the end of the first month in our home, she began moaning and whining in her crate. At first, I was very concerned that she was ill or in pain. And then I realized she was - finally - actively asking us to pet her.