In situations where we have a dog who is highly stressed in the shelter, we re-evaluate our enrichment plan for the dog, and if we are already doing all that we can in the shelter environment (office foster, regular training, quiet time with people, playgroup, enriched kennel environment) and the anxiety is still significant, we consider medication to reduce anxiety. Nellie was already on medication for her separation anxiety, so that wasn’t an option (although we could have considered changing her medication, or adding to it). We were in a tough place.
To get her into a less stressful environment, my family and I decided to foster Nellie until we could find her a home. Nellie entered my household of four dogs, a 2 year old boy (CJ), my husband (Christopher), and I, and did well. Very soon after she came to my house, I received a very promising phone message. Meredith was looking for a new dog, for her and her husband, and a potential friend for their existing Rat Terrier, Bosworth. I spoke to Meredith on the phone, and she sounded like a good match for Nellie. She had experience with fearful and anxious dogs- Bosworth had a similar personality to Nellie. Nellie wouldn’t be left alone at home, as she would be with Bosworth. Most importantly, on the phone, Meredith appeared to be a very warm and caring person. I was very hopeful.
Meredith, Paul, and Bosworth (their Rat Terrier) came to meet Nellie in the evening, a day or two later. The meeting went well, considering Nellie’s personality. She immediately made friends with Meredith, but was a little slower to warm up to Paul- fairly normal for a dog who is fearful of people- they tend to be more scared of men than women. Nellie showed friendly behavior toward Bosworth, but he behaved in a slightly aloof manner to her, so she backed off and didn’t force the issue. Nellie is the queen of making new friends, so that didn’t worry me too much. I knew that if Bosworth COULD be friends with a dog, Nellie would be it. We talked for a long time.
With our special adoptions, we make sure that we inform the potential adopters about every potential problem that the dog may have… I’m sure I sometimes scare people with everything I caution them about. But I’m one of those people who prepares for the worst, and hopes for the best, and with our special adoptions, this plan usually works. Some people decide that they don’t want the dog… I’m always a little sad when this happens, but primarily happy for the people. I want them to choose a dog that is right for them, their family, and lifestyle.
Meredith and Paul liked Nellie, but were concerned about the effect of getting another dog on Bosworth. He would no longer be an only child, and how would he adapt?? I explained that it’s not always easy for the ‘#1 dog’. They are no longer an ‘only child’ and things will change. Some things will be not so good, but hopefully other things would be better- Bosworth would have a FRIEND. I stressed the importance of maintaining Bosworth’s status as the #1 dog, as I do with my dogs in my house. Dogs that have been around longer have special status…. they’ve earned the right to get first access to attention from me and a little more of it, than the other dogs. I’m sure not everyone manages their dogs this way, but it works for me, and keeps my #1 dog happy. However I also make sure that if one of the non-#1 dogs LOVES bones or toys, they get primary access to those things. It ends up being fair for everyone, and keeps everyone happy.
At the end of our visit, I told Meredith and Paul that we would ‘hold’ Nellie for 24 hours, and asked them to call me back the next day after they had a chance to think about things. Meredith and Paul were clearly wonderful people and great ‘dog parents’… and so very perfect for Nellie. I was so hopeful for her, but very clear to them that they should think about things seriously before making a decision. As you’ve probably suspected, they decided to adopt Nellie. They picked her up a few days later, and Nellie is doing well with her new family!
Stay tuned for a future post about Nellie in her new home!
- Dr. Sheila D'Arpino, Veterinary Behaviorist at the Center for Shelter Dogs