While choosing a dog at the pound, many people are looking for the perfect dog. A dog they can play fetch with for hours, snuggle up to on the couch after a long day, and especially one that listens to their every command.
Unfortunately, many of the dogs that end up in shelters have never been acquainted with that life. Living in a home and having a consistent owner is completely new to them.
Sometimes, you get lucky. Our first family dog (Fenway), which we adopted from Hope for Paws, was perfect. He did all the above the second we brought him home and was a great first dog. However, he had horrible anxiety when we left the house, and would have accidents daily. With time, a rigorous potty schedule, and patience, he has not had an accident in many years.
It is not uncommon that you get a dog like Fenway, that is relatively perfect with very little work or training. However, most of the dogs that have been in shelters a long time are not like Fenway. It sounds discouraging, but it is important to understand that any pound or shelter, no matter how nice the building looks, is an artificial environment. It is stressful for the dogs, and they do not act like themselves. They become frustrated sitting in a kennel day after day, thinking this is all they have in life. You cannot explain to a dog (or a cat) that if they put on a good face, be cute and well behaved, they can get out of the shelter life for good and live in a home.
Many volunteers and staff are familiar with the dog I adopted from West Suburban Humane Society, Blue Belle, a three year old pit bull mix. In the shelter, it is safe to say she was a “wild thing.” Many volunteers had issues with her being too rough during play, jumping, pulling on the leash, and nipping/ scratching. To a potential adopter, Blue Belle would not look like a good dog, and seemed to be a lot to handle. I will admit that even as a volunteer, I was fond of Blue Belle, but I didn’t want to adopt her.
At some point, I fell in love with the bully breeds and a coworker (Vanessa) convinced me to start fostering Blue Belle. I remember thinking about it and walking into the kennel to say hello to her. She did her infamous bark, bark, bark at me, then once I kneeled, she melted into the fence. For an instant, there was a flash of I’ll just take her tonight and give her a shot. Never would I have imagined that six months later I would have adopted her, and moved to Bozeman, Montana with her.
When I first brought her home, I saw a completely different side to Blue. She was timid, shy, and polite. This is what I like to refer to as the transition stage for dogs. Once they get adopted, their world changes AGAIN and they are thrown into a completely new environment with total strangers. I don’t know about you, but I would be pretty freaked out. This is where patience comes in to wait for their true personality to come through.
After a few days, Blue Belle settled and became the crazy little bug I knew in the shelter. After playing with her in the yard, long and slow walks, and a lot of heeling exercises on the daily, she finally started to settle and become a more “traditional” dog. She still gets excited, and tries to jump on people, or needs a reminder that she needs to play nice. Overall, her behavior has changed. I can leave for class all day, and she naps. She isn’t destructive or stressed. When I get home, she doesn’t jump on me or get obnoxious, she only walks over and wags her tail like a mad man, waiting for me to touch her. With a little training and patience, Blue Belle is amazing.
Over the past six months, she has become my best friend, my confidant, my adventure partner, and my snuggle buddy. I got a lot of backlash for adopting a dog at my young age, but it is by far the best decision I have ever made. Blue Belle helps me become a better person, and I like to think I help her become more of a well-mannered dog.
Blue Belle spent over a year at West Suburban Humane Society. It breaks my heart to know that many other dogs like her are sitting in the shelter waiting for their forever homes. Dogs like Milee, Pumpkin, Bark Obama and Woofrow Wilson - to name a few. Dogs that people look past because they seem unmannered or look like they may be too much work. The list of requirements to adopt them seems like a lot. When you meet them, they will have a ton of energy, act obnoxious and excited, but they are fantastic dogs. I know once they come out of the shelter environment and with a little work, love and patience, they will be exceptional. They will have a story similar to Blue Belle’s. You will be their person, the person that saved them and taught them about having a home. These dogs will take effort, and most likely some further training once they get home. However, I can guarantee if you stick with your new family member, it will be worth it. You will have a remarkable dog and a feeling of accomplishment that you turned a dog’s life around.