I recently read a great post about a dog who got a new playmate at the pound. While the whole story is a heart-warming read, what really struck me was on of the owner’s comments. She thought at first that Murphy, the dog that her dog Liza picked, wasn’t the right dog at all. She didn’t take into account that a dog at the pound knows where it is and its actions may reflect that.
For those who haven’t read the story, the owner Debi Kolak first saw Murphy in a kennel at the shelter. Murphy had been there for five long months and his keepers were hoping to find him a home. But Kolak wasn’t impressed.
Murphy didn’t bark or run. He sat leaning against the chain-link fence, and barely wagged his tail. She was sure Liza needed an active, cheerful playmate who wouldn’t find her eagerness aggressive, and that Murphy was not that dog. She took him out to meet Liza anyway. To her astonishment, the two dogs hit it off, and they wound up taking Murphy home with them.
While Kolak was surprised, I am not. When I first saw the German Shepherd I adopted at the SPCA, Cora was pacing the cage like a wild animal. She didn’t react to the people or dogs around her, but was constantly moving.
Depsite the fact she seemed oblivious to people and looked awful (she was blowing her coat), I took her for a walk. She went to the end of the leash and pulled. She clearly had no leash training and, at just two years old, was full of energy.
I learned more about her history, and despite her strange behavior, I decided to adopt her. Once the papers were signed, I took her out to my station wagon. As I opened the door to the back seat, I wondered how I would get this untrained dog in the car. I needn’t have worried. She leapt in and laid down on the seat as if she’d been doing it for years, then turned to look at me expectantly.
I could practically hear her saying, “Get me out of here.” She was ready to go. All her crazy behavior at the shelter was really the desperate actions of a prisoner who longed for freedom. You might think this was just imagined on my part, but a second experience proved to me that it wasn’t.
She was a different dog at my house and after a few months of obedience training was much better with a leash. Her shelther experience was well behind her when I finally had to board her for a long weekend. I left her at a nearby kennel that came highly recommended. It was a traditional sort of place with side-by-side chain-link fence runs, but I didn’t realize this was a problem until I came back to pick her up.
When they brought Cora out, she was dodging around frantically, the same distracted dog I had originally seen at the SPCA. When we got home, I discovered that she found being in a place that reminded her of the SPCA so upsetting that she’d forgotten a bunch of her training. It took several weeks of practice before she was back to normal.
I had learned an important lesson. After that, I never left her anywhere remotely like the shelter she’d stayed in. I found a woman who ran a doggy daycare center out of a barn and Cora loved it. The owner also boarded dogs, so I was able to leave Cora there without having her forget who she was or what she’d learned.
Because of this experience, I would never judge an animal by its behavior in a shelter situation. While we can’t hope to know what they actually are actually thinking and feeling, we shouldn’t expect them to be their normal selves. Adopted pets need time to adjust and, like Cora and Murphy, some of them need to shake off the memories of the shelter before they are ready to be themselves.
What have you learned from rescuing a pet?