A Guest Blog Post by Tina Madden
The Perfect Excuse… in a 4 pound Chihuahua…
For years I have wanted to tell my story.
I have a lot of stories I want to tell, but this one, the one about the chihuahua I saved, who it turns out saved me and changed the course of my life forever.
I’ve wanted to tell this one since 2007. Seriously.
That’s ten years. Ten years is a long time to procrastinate, but leave it to me to do just that. Why would I procrastinate so much on something that was so important to me, a story I wanted to tell.
Well I like to think that I am a late bloomer… but the real case is I just couldn’t believe that anyone would actually want to hear my story.
However everyone keeps telling me to tell my story and I am a different person than I was ten years ago…so my thoughts now are maybe one, just one person would like to read my story. Maybe it will help, motivate or even inspire just one person in some way.
So here goes…
The four pound demon that changed my life forever.
At age 36 I pretty much melted down, a complete meltdown.
I drove a beat up pick up truck, lived in a rented apartment, dead end job after dead end job, never married, never had kids… hell I have never even been in a relationship where I would have wanted to get married or have kids.
An only child who lost both of her parents tragically by age 36.
I felt abandoned and alone in this world. Nobody cared, they were all off living their lives and didn’t ‘understand’ what I was going through.
However I depended on these people for my self worth. I needed them and they didn’t seem to care, at least that’s the story I told myself.
I was also going through a self image crisis, so to speak. I gained a bunch of weight that I didn’t have on me back in my “Sunset Strip, hang out in the rock and roll crowd days,” and was feeling so insecure with myself that I wanted to, well actually started to retreat from the world that I believed was judging me.
So I decided to move from the valley to the beach.
I thought, “that’s a change and it has to be a good change, I mean it is the beach, you know that place where people wear bathing suits, bikinis…” ugh.
In my move I run across a book that an ex bar regular from my bartending days gave me. She had a short story in it. The book was about living the life you want, following your passion.
I thought, “what is my passion?” I had none. At least none that I had known of. That book prompted me to purchase another book that was supposed to help you find your purpose. I can’t quite remember the name of it but it was something about a red umbrella.
It asked you to list five things you love doing and would do more often if money wasn’t an issue.
First on my list was:
- Go to the dog park and watch dogs play.
I could do that for hours.
This got me thinking…”hmmmm maybe I should work with dogs. What is it that I can do with dogs and make a living doing?”
My thoughts were to have my own business eventually, doing what… not a clue really.
Well after a bunch of research I came up with animal massage, for dogs to be more specific.
I wasn’t working at this time which gave me time to figure it all out. “School, lets start with school,” I thought!
“Oh there is a six week program in Ojai California…” Signed up immediately, May 2004 I would be off to Ojai to learn how to massage dogs.
Then I start thinking that I should probably go somewhere to work and be around dogs. I hopped online and found a vet hospital in Malibu that was looking for a receptionist/vet tech assistant. I applied and I got the job!
They were supportive of my going to school and they thought that me and my new skill would be a great addition to the hospital. I started my work at the vet hospital right away. I remember being really excited to get there.
So here I am, day 2 at the vet hospital still in training.
In walks a lady with a little unique looking creature that turned out to be a four pound chihuahua she had found in Latigo Canyon up in Malibu while hiking. We didn’t recognize the dog and she didn’t feel comfortable keeping him because she had two great danes and thought they might hurt him.
I took him thinking “well I know several people who work in dog rescue, he’s adorable, I will find him a home.”
Easy really because who wouldn’t want a cute little chihuahua???
Ten minutes in to me carrying him around the hospital one of the techs tried to pet him and his head spun around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, and he bit him.
“Ohhhhh he must be scared, poor dog,” I think.
“I will take him home and love him so much, he will be okay.”
Well that theory was obviously wrong as he pretty much got worse and ended up biting everyone but me.
This behavior caused me to start protecting him, fiercely, like a Mom protecting her young.
He was damaged and I was going to protect him from the world that damaged him.
As I mentioned earlier, I myself was starting to retreat from the world, so the two of us were a pretty good team.
We could hide together… and he was the perfect excuse.
Retreat, retreat, retreat…that is what I found myself doing more and more each day.
“Oh I have to get home, the dog needs me.”
“No I can’t go out tonight, the dog needs me.”
It was just the perfect recipe. A recipe for disaster.
I would take him on a quick trip down the street to pee and poop, then back into hiding we went. I didn’t realize how bad it was going to get but it got to the point of where I didn’t even want to go to the market anymore. I would ask a friend to go or to at least come with me. I started needing what I called a ‘safe” person to come with me places so that people wouldn’t look at me or worse, judge me.
So now I have this dog who clearly has a million issues and needs some serious help. I don’t really know what to do with this kind of thing as I had never really seen aggression in dogs before, not like this head spinning teeth baring insanity that he was showing.
Seemingly he was the spawn of Satan, a demonic creature that was now mine. Who would want to adopt this dog?
Well I did end up giving him away twice to people who had chihuahuas before and said “oh yea they can be nippy.” Nippy?? He was more like a pit viper…he went in for the kill.
Both times I got the call within 24 hours that they couldn’t keep him, he was really bad. Not only would he bite, he would find a way to escape, oh and he snored according to the first adopter and that was the kicker as to why they couldn’t keep him, hehe.
Each time I gave him away I cried like a baby, I loved that little shit of a dog. I mean he needed me, he loved me, he didn’t care what I looked like, he didn’t bite me….
Oh wait he allowed me to retreat, retreat, retreat.
He was the perfect excuse.
Now I am starting to obsess about finding help for him. There has to be someone who can help him. Trainer after trainer that felt like we were traveling down a bunch of dead end streets or people who wanted thousands to ‘fix’ him. A few professionals even told me to put him to sleep. I kept thinking if he doesn’t bite me there has to be a way.
Then Chihuahua rescue said they would take him and rehab him…but after a trip to the facility and me crying the entire way, my roommate, Barclay, would not let me drop him off there.
She said “he’s your dog Tina, that mean little dog that bites me, he found someone who loves him, he needs to be with you.”
So now I am going to find him help, he is my dog, my very own little demon who was protecting me from the world in more ways than I even realized.
After months of searching, there it was: an ad on Craigslist.
Do you have an aggressive dog, are you at your wits end, friends and family ready to disown you?
Yep, that was me and my dog. Mind you I hadn’t even named him yet. The ad also said Cesar Millan, the famous dog trainer will train your dog for a new television show. I never heard of him but OMG that ad was written for me/for us.
I answered. We auditioned AND THEY PICKED US!!!! We were going to be the first episode filmed for a show called The Dog Whisperer.
So now its filming day and the crew shows up.
They ask me to change into a better color for camera. A better color for camera? This is about the dog, not me, NO just NO.
Oh Cesar is going to work with you, Barclay and the dog, that’s how he works.
Panic, panic and more panic because I don’t want to be seen. “Barclay I can’t do this” I tell her.
“Tina you have to, we don’t have any other choice.”
So here we go, lights, camera, action and in walks Cesar and we film. The entire time he is talking to me all I could think was he makes so much sense to me, I understand what he is saying and I like it. He spoke of dog behavior like nobody I had talked to in my three months of obsessing on finding help.
He did also say that I needed to walk NuNu (that is what I ended up naming him the morning of the filming) 45 minutes twice a day… and all I could think was
“I don’t want to, that will put me out in the world, the one place I have been avoiding for probably a year now.”
But I had to. He said that was part of the rehab.
He left. We had our work cut out for us. And then I said to Barclay, “I want to work for him.”
Meanwhile I was still working at vet hospital and getting ready for Animal Massage School. Cesar had said I could board NuNu with him for the six weeks I would be gone to the school.
So off I went. I loved the experience, learned so much and was ready to start my journey as an Animal Massage Therapist.
I picked NuNu up from Cesar and kept working at vet hospital. I realized the hours were too much for me and I wasn’t going to be able to really get my business started.
So I left, started working part time in an office to give me more free time. That didn’t last. The boss was very abusive to me, she called me an idiot pretty much everyday and let’s face it I didn’t need that, nobody does, and I already felt bad enough about myself.
One day I left. I said “I won’t be back.” She sent me a small severance and that was that.
So now I have no job, have a trip to Jersey for Christmas planned, and I panic. “I can’t spend money on vacation, I don’t even have a job.”
I was supposed to board NuNu with Cesar and so I called the office. His assistant said “oh do you need a job, I need help here at the center. Why don’t you take your trip, come back and start work here the first week of January.”
Holy crap I just got hired to do office work at The Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles and I could bring NuNu to work with me.
Did I not say to Barclay that I wanted to work for Cesar? INDEED. I hadn’t been this excited about anything in as long as I could remember. Did I finally find my purpose? PERHAPS.
So I start work in the office. I think it had to have been about three months in when Cesar realized I wanted to be out there working with the dogs. I started doing the kennel work and assisting in the rehab of the dogs who were there, roughly forty of them most times.
I also started walking and rollerblading with the pack as well as just general care of the dogs. It was a dream come true. While I was working there I started helping people in my neighborhood with their dogs.
I was having the time of my life.
As I got more involved with the rehab of the dogs at the center, they would ask me to be on camera in some of the episodes. “Oh god here we go again!”
I tried hiding in the bathroom on filming days. That didn’t work.
So now I myself being filmed for more and more episodes which terrified me, like beyond terrified me every single time. But I was getting better with being out in public. I was walking NuNu in my neighborhood twice a day, meeting people.
They all focused on him and his broken oversized penis that hung to the ground. Yep, I forgot to mention that part. Hahahahaha!!!!
The attention this dog got was crazy, from a bad attitude to a huge penis that never seemed to want to retract back, lol. By this time, it was late 2006…but for a moment I want to go back to 2004 when the episode aired for the first time.
I thought it was great. However I will say that while we were filming there was so much Cesar said that I had missed. I was now getting to hear it all again and loved it. Well, all except that one thing he said, this particular statement that hit me right where I live.
He said “my first impression of Tina was that she was weak.”
WEAK, did he call me weak?????
I have never ever in my life viewed myself as weak. I am the tough girl from New Jersey who doesn’t take shit from anybody.
“Weak,” he said. That very instant my mission became to prove to him that I was not at all weak.
But I was…I had changed from that Jersey attitude girl that didn’t care what anyone thought of me.
I truly was weak. That tough girl was long gone, lost in a pile of insecurities and she had no clue where to get a glimpse of her tough self when Cesar walked in that day.
I was terrified of the judgments. I started reading online the comments about the episode after it was put up on Youtube. Oh that girl is pretty, but needs to lose weight.
UGH, retreat retreat, retreat… it was happening again. So then I end up working for Cesar and I am on camera more than I had every dreamed I would be, millions of people are seeing me, but I guess they were focusing on Cesar so it is all good, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. That thought was a nice one but as I was doing my daily walks more and more people started recognizing us. I could see them coming from a mile way. They would look at NuNu, then me, then him and then they would start, “is that the dog from The Dog Whisperer??”
People wanted pictures with him, with me…. I’m thinking “ugh can’t we just focus on him?”
Anyway the producers then decide they want to do a show called Lives Changed and do a few stories on how the show changed peoples lives.
Well here I am with an entire job/career change and I am slowly getting back out into the world and finding out that it is not so bad out there.
So we film it, it airs and I had ended up talking about my social anxieties and how it is all weight related. Then messages on Facebook started coming. People were thanking me for being such an open book and sharing my story. They related to me and they too were on the journey of finding their self esteem as well as finding a place in the world.
This was truly amazing. I was actually not only helping dogs but helping people too, all while I was finding my true self…
…the girl who is not afraid of anything, doesn’t care what anyone thinks of me and definitely doesn’t need approval from anyone to feel self worth.
So here I am ten years after the whole Dog Whisperer experience. I am running my own dog business in Southern California. I do training, behavior work, some dog walking, doggie play dates and pet sitting as my full-time business, The Distinguished Dog.
I have found my way back into the rock and roll world as well – I even sing with a few local bands! Well, I jump up and do as many songs as they will tolerate!!
Along with that I am on the journey to launch a new business, a coaching/mentoring business I’m calling Nurture Your Inner Rock Star. I want to really dive in and help people who suffer from social anxieties and insecurities.
…Teach them to live life and not be afraid to embrace who they are, learn to have joy, complete joy all with no fear. Jump up on that stage, that stage is your life…
All of this, from one little biting demonic spawn of a chihuahua.
Here’s to all the Inner Rock Stars out there!
Love, Tina Madden
Question for you: Are you allowing your dog to control how you are in your world, or to give you the excuse to not be as powerful as you could be?
Are you willing to take the next steps to unleashing who you really are, while your dog learns how to be a dog, and not the one you hide behind?