Is no secret at the shelter that I have a soft spot for fearful dogs. I love the journey of gaining their trust and helping them to become more comfortable and confident in the world. It’s a slow, gentle, and compassionate process, which fits who I strive to be. This is why I’m so pleased to write about Fetty this month.
We Meet Fetty for the First Time
Fetty is one of our Alabama dogs who came in an emergency transfer, after tornadoes touched down with tragic results. He was already in a shelter, after having been seized from a drug house, but they needed room for newly displaced animals. I can’t imagine how scared this sensitive, unsure guy must have felt on the airplane, not knowing that there were brighter days ahead for him. After all, to become an “Oregon shelter dog” often means their luck has turned for the better.
When Fetty arrived, he was too afraid to walk, often not wanting to leave his familiar kennel. With lots of patience and tasty morsels, our volunteers were able to get him outside, but even then, there was a lot of pausing and taking in environment, scanning for danger.
Fetty Starts to Open Up
Marilyn and I began taking him into our office for some quiet breaks away from the hubbub of the rest of the shelter. Soft instrumental music playing and synthetic dog-appeasing pheromones supported a relaxing environment, not to mention the cozy dog bed and generous treat offerings. Eventually, he was soliciting affection by laying his head in our laps and gazing up at us with his soft, lovely, brown eyes, brows slightly furrowed and tail tucked. Our efforts to give him the space to initiate contact with us on his terms was paying off, and we were uncovering the sweet dog below his fearful surface.
Outside, we spent a lot of time just watching the world go by with him, comforting him as needed. We explored at his pace, without pressure or force. One neat thing that I noticed early on was that I could socially facilitate some investigation by checking out objects myself, with curiosity and confidence. “What’s this?” was followed by me looking at something closely, touching it, and yes, sometimes sniffing it. Taking a page from my book, Fetty would approach on his own and take a few whiffs. What a brave pup!
And the day I was able to engage him in personal play (meaning no toys, just me romping with him) just about made me cry. Seeing that switch in him from caution to carefree was amazing. Early on, he remained conflicted and would alternate from warily observing and playing with me, but that was a huge step for him–the start of many. Now, he’s sometimes so comfortable and happy with his routines that an excitable, funny side gets the best of him as he jumps and grabs at some of his friends, zooms around yards, and tosses his toys around.
Fetty’s Search for a Home
Fetty is ready to find his own special family. We know shy dogs easily pull on heartstrings and that many people want to help them, but living with fearful dogs is not for the casual pet owner or faint of heart. Because of this and all of the TLC give to these dogs, our behavior team has pretty in-depth conversations with interested adopters. We owe it to these dogs to carefully place them in a home that best matches their needs so that they can be successful and safe. Just as important, we owe it to our community’s adopters to have a fulfilling, positive experience, not one of struggle or heartbreak should they realize out too late that it wasn’t a good match.
So, here’s some of what I encourage adopters to consider before coming to meet a prospective family member:
- What goals and activities do you have in mind for your next dog? Just like people, dogs have different social interests, activity preferences, physical capabilities, behavioral tendencies, and other unique traits. It’s better for everyone to find the dog that fits your current lifestyle, rather than trying to mold a dog to fit into it. Sure, some folks manage to change their own expectations or lifestyles for their dogs, but it’s no easy feat and doesn’t necessarily lead to improved quality of life for the dog or family. Another aspect to consider is what you have planned for your life over the next couple years, like a cross country move, having kids, you or your kids going away to college, and how that would affect your dog’s life.
- What personality traits do you like and dislike? It’s good to know what traits you are drawn to and what you tend to avoid or find annoying. Thinking of dogs you’ve met or owned in your past should help you suss out your preferences. You might have liked every dog you’ve encountered, but you probably would enjoy living with some more than others. This is one of those times you get to pick your family!
- What kind of exercise and interaction do you reasonably and currently have time for on a daily and weekly basis? Again, consider your lifestyle, routine, and obligations right now, not what you’d like them to be. What you will be able to share with your next dog? Do you work full time? Does your lunch break allow for a quick trip home or do you need a strong bladder and mellow mind? Do you or your kids have a social engagement or hobby every night of the week? Maybe you’re still a college student who only has to be gone a few hours at a time! How often do you hang out with friends or eat out? What do you really prefer to do when you are actually at home? Are you into puppy snuggles? What kind of time and interest do you have in teaching and playing with your dog? Are you a gym rat, or do mix it up with some outdoor workouts? Are you a weekend warrior, or does the thought of hiking make you want to binge on brunch so that you have a legit excuse to wallow the rest of Saturday!? (Not all of us are athletes!) Pro tip: I know it’s tempting to get a dog to boost your spirits or get your rear off the sofa, but my recommendation is to establish any workout habits you’re hoping an active dog will help with a good month before adopting so that you are ready to meet that dog’s needs.
- What behaviors are deal breakers for you? Everyone has a limit to what they can live with happily or safely. Even you. It’s okay! Understanding what your family’s and your limits are before every adding a pet to the home will not only help you to better select your pet, but it will also reduce personal conflict and fallout should things not being going as you had hoped. You have a right to love and trust the pet you bring into your family, just like your pet has the right to love and trust the family they are in. Be self-aware, and then be upfront with us so that we can support your decision to adopt a pet who fits well within your limits.
- What kind of training experience and interest do you have? We know that not everyone wants to geek out on dog behavior like we do! Some people just want to enjoy their furry companion and call it good. If you’re looking for your first dog, maybe you’re motivated to do everything right and have the time and ambition to take on a training project, supported by our team. Great! Perks for your new dog: they won’t be compared to any last amazing dog! But maybe you’re a first-time dog owner that wants to start out easy, with a dog that knows the basics and doesn’t need a whole lot of anything besides love. Great! We’ve got a dog for you, too–probably in our regular adoptions program. If you really are a dog nerd that finds teaching rewarding, whether it’s for life skills or dog sports, let’s keep talking! The dogs in our behavior program need homes that can commit to training with you, which is why we include free follow up lessons or classes with these dogs.
Yes, we’re asking some big questions here! Taking the time to consider them and meet with us is just a drop in the bucket of what a pet needs from family, though. When you send in your Adoption Questionnaire for dogs in our behavior program, like Fetty, know that we care about helping you find the right dog and each of our dogs, the right home.
So with all of that, Fetty needs a home! Tell us about yours! You could be a match made in Oregon for this Alabama dog!