Shelter Dogs Know Where They Are

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.

Cora shortly after I adopted her.

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.

Cora turned out to be a wonderful dog.

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.

Cora at doggy daycare (she loved it!)

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?

10 thoughts on “Shelter Dogs Know Where They Are

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  1. This is a great post! (Thanks for the ping!) Indeed, a few dogs never really shake off their previous experiences and require extra special support. We have one of our dogs that is extra clingy.

    1. Thanks. Your blog is inspiring! I think most shelters do a great job, but some dogs are extra sensitive and get scared by their surroundings. Lucky that your clingy dog has you!

    1. It is sad that they are necessary but they do important work. They give animals with nowhere to go a second chance. But it seems obvious when you are there that many of the animals know they are in trouble. Maybe it’s just the confinement, maybe they pick up in the emotions of the visitors, but they are scared. One of those hard jobs I am glad someone is willing to do.

  2. This reminds me of the very sad experiences of horses, cattle, hogs, and other livestock at a sale barn. All these animals can sense that they’re at a crossroads and for the majority of them it’s a stepping off place leading to the slaughterhouse. It’s a reality of the livestock industry that animals raised for slaughter must eventually go through such places but horses present some seemingly intractable dilemmas. The price of hay and boarding facilities, and the time and levels of competence required to care for them every year make thousands of horses candidates for slaughter. Once a horse suffers an expensive injury or disease, or when poor training results in negative behavior on the horse’s part they invariably get shipped to the sale barn. Horses going through the sales ring have it particularly rough because nearly all of them spent years of their lives trusting and serving humans, and more importantly reading human emotions and intentions. When being confined in small pens and then chased through narrow alleyways without tack and with loud noises and erratic gestures from sale barn personnel these horses know their life has taken a bad direction. The expressions in their eyes are heartbreaking. Fortunately there are rescue organizations that attempt to save the “adoptable” horses, but the sheer number of unwanted horses overwhelms the available rescues or sympathetic buyers. Something I wish more people evaluating horses for rescue would consider is that they animals know where they are, as do the shelter dogs you cited in this blogpost, and their disposition is distorted by that environment.

    1. This is sad and definitely a situation when people should be cutting the animal some slack. I don’t understand how anyone could think a dog or horse or any animal could be in such a setting and not be at least a little off. But leaves you wondering: How can we assess these animals fairly, so that they get their best change at a better future? I guess we have to take leaps of faith. When it came to Cora, I let my heart rule my head and it worked out well.

  3. What a sweet post and pup. I love the semaphore ears. I only rescued my pooch from another family, but it was one that considered her a nuisance rather than a family member. She lost all her wildness in a short time after she moved in with me and was treated as welcome. BTW, thanks for stopping by my blog and liking my weekend funnies post. Have a great weekend!

    1. Cora was a sweetheart but lots of people were afraid of her. I guess plenty of people have had bad experiences with German Shepherds. I also feel like I saved her from a family that considered her a nuisance. That’s how she would up in the pound.

      1. I think German Shepherds took a bad rap back in the ’40’s when I grew up. I knew them as German Police dogs, so feared them initially.

      2. I have a friend who was attacked by one, but he liked Cora. He was able to think of them as individuals instead of the whole breed as being vicious.

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