As usual, we took Gertie to church yesterday -- Gertie loves church, especially because it means at least one romp at the nearby township park -- and, as usual, when the church kids came around the Jeep to say hello, Gertie cowered in a far corner.
Last week, when I took her to the church office with me for the day, it was the same thing; when the pastor dropped in for a chat, and when one of our friends who'd noticed our vehicle in the parking lot stopped in to see what was up (this being a very small town), Gertie retreated behind my chair, and no amount of cajoling could get her to emerge from the corner.
One of the reasons I love Gertie so much is that she reminds me of me. Being around adults all the time as a small child, not having to endure the rough-and-tumble of siblings, I entered kindergarten as a precocious, confident and even cocky kid ready to take on the world. But my lack of peer-to-peer social skills painted a metaphorical target on my back; within months, thanks to an assortment of class and schoolbus bullies and indifferent school employees, I was transformed into a pathologically shy, timid child for whom every day of school was an endurance test of mocking, teasing, lunch-money-extortion and exclusion. I fell ill with pneumonia three times during that first year of school, and looking back I'm sure that at least part of that was due to the effects of stress and unhappiness on my already vulnerable immune system.
We don't know about Gertie's early life; we only know that when we found her she was living in a pathetic makeshift rural "animal rescue" amid at least a dozen large, snarling pitbull mixes on chains. Our first vision of her was as a puppy darting between pens of vicious dogs many times her size. I'm sure that those formative months imprinted on her puppy brain the idea that the world can be a very dangerous, hostile place where, in the end, you're on your own.
So I understand Gertie's timidity around people. I really do.
But I wish people could see her when she's happy and relaxed, with her mamas and Mollie the cat and selected dog friends. She is funny and charming -- yesterday, when her sheltie pal Daphne came by for a visit, she took her on a tour of the place like any proud homeowner. ("Now, this is our patio...here are my toys...here's the living room, and my pillows...here's where mamas keep the cookies...") She is whip-smart -- she not only plays games with us, but invents her own games, like "read me my e-mail" and running with her tennis ball to the pond, dipping the ball in for a second, then running back. And she's simply sweet. She loves snuggles, kisses and tickles; she lives for those brief moments when Mollie, her idol, deigns to touch noses or give her a brief head rub. She even has, dare I say, a sense of humor; she knows what activities make us laugh. Some days she just whacks us with her paw, then looks up and grins, tail wagging.
If you knew Gertie like we know Gerite...you'd love her too. She's a good girl.