Whoops, I’ve done it again! Another foster dog found her way into my car.
A couple of months ago, I started contributing a “pet of the week” column for the local newspaper, featuring a dog or cat from my local animal shelter. It worked out great at first; every animal that appeared in the paper drew immediate interest and was adopted within days. But when the animal doesn’t get adopted right away, I take it personally. I can’t help it! It’s inevitable, because the preparation of the column actually requires that I spend a chunk of time with the animal, both to get a good sense of its personality and behavior and to get a good photograph. And by then, I’m hooked – determined to find that dog or cat a home.
Three weeks ago, I featured this little dog in the paper. She’s a young dog, some sort of herding-breed mix, and on the small side. She grew up semi-feral, and was turned over to the shelter along with five other dogs found living in a barn on a rural ranch that was for sale. The dogs had been fed, but no one had handled them much. I never saw the two worst cases among the bunch; they were so frightened of people, they were judged to be poor candidates for adoption and were euthanized. (Keep in mind that this is a small shelter in a rural area in one of the poorest counties in California; they just don’t have the resources needed to do extensive behavior modification or rehabilitation.) A couple others were friendlier and were adopted in a relatively short period.
This dog was right in the middle. She’s really interested in people, and loves being petted (and having her belly rubbed), but she’s also jumpy and nervous. If you move too fast, or make a funny noise (a sneeze, for example), or drop something, she leaps in the air like a cartoon dog and runs for her life, leaving a cartoon dust plume behind her. And then, just as fast, she’s back. “That was silly, I’m sorry; I was scared. Pet me?” On leash, she’ll trot along until she gets frightened, and then she bucks and pulls like a coyote caught in a trap. “Help! Oh, help!” Then you see the sense come back into her eyes and she dives for your leg. “Thank goodness you are here. Pet me?” She moves fast, physically and emotionally.
The shelter was keeping her in a pen with one of the calmer dogs she grew up with, which was really helping her confidence. He’d sit at the front of the pen, and when people came to pet him, she’d tiptoe up behind him and lean in for a sniff and petting. But when he got adopted, she backslid. She needed his stalwart presence at the front of the kennel to give her the confidence to approach people. When I saw her glued to the back of her run, I decided she’d have a far better chance of finding a home if she was better socialized, so here we are! She’s been in my home for only about 36 hours so far, but she’s already happy to go into a crate for a Kong toy stuffed with canned food, and she has completely taken over Otto’s thick dog bed. And she’s met four or five people, friends and neighbors, and passed muster with the cat. She’ll have a great home in no time at all.
A few months ago, I found myself getting weepy every day for a week or more, every time I thought about the foster dog I had just placed in a home. I had really bonded with her, and it was sort of traumatic when I left her with a new family, closed the door between us, and drove away. WDJ readers suggested that I’d eventually heal and find comfort in the fact that she had a nice home, and I could then help another dog another day. You were right!