Any dog that has found itself in some form of a rescue organization has undergone a degree of trauma.
The dog may have been significantly abused by its owners as a result of an uneducated approach to discipline; perhaps kept with other dogs in crowded conditions; driven many miles away from its home and then abandoned, or perhaps let loose simply because its owners were not prepared for a medical bill. The dog could also have chewed its way to freedom, or was simply given to a rescue organization because its owners could no longer take care of it.
There are so many reasons why a rescue organization becomes a dog’s next home and, while some reasons are severe and others significantly less so, they all translate into a major change for an animal that loves routines and stability.
The Oakville & Milton Humane Society (OMHS) have two full time dog trainers on staff, whose responsibility it is to do whatever they can to make a dog a suitable candidate for adoption, given that many of them (the dogs!) have very good reasons to display a strong dislike of humans at that time. In Ray’s case, it took them four months before he was considered suitable for adoption, and only then if the prospective adopters met a specific criteria.
While we were considering adopting Ray, we soon learned that he had human friends at OMHS. Once he had moved in with us, we thought it important for him to maintain those relationships and, as noted in various Blog Posts (and in his book), his walks often went to OMHS! Not only did we see this as an integral part of Ray’s adjustment to living with us, but it also generated such positive reactions from OMHS staff. Clearly, they were thrilled to see the dog, that they had invested much time in, on a regular basis after his adoption.
This was recently made very clear. I wanted to give a copy of Ray’s book to three specific individuals at OMHS, which we did yesterday. Each book thanked the individual for the particular role that they played with Ray while he was in their care. Unfortunately, two of the individuals (the trainers) were otherwise occupied so we had to leave their books with the reception people.
We received emails yesterday evening which included the following statements:
“Thank you again for the gift of the book but more so for the gift of giving Ray the best and most loving home a dog could ask for. You and Carol’s commitment to Ray continues to inspire me and I’m forever grateful to have been a small part of it. “
“I count myself lucky to be a constant in his life. I see so many dogs come and go through here and rarely am I honored with the opportunity to also be a friend of the dog (and their new family!) going forward. You guys are a constant reminder of all the good in the world and all the love there is for shelter dogs, no matter what baggage they bring with them.”
While they are very flattering comments, the reason I quote them is to remind us all of perhaps the obvious… so obvious that we can easily forget.
Imagine working for a rescue organization and meeting a dog like Ray when he was first brought in. You see a very fearful dog whose instinctive reactions to anything is a display of aggression, but you are a dog lover and believe that he should have a chance at a better life. Imagine seeing him on a regular basis, and seeing him slowly become more relaxed around you. Imagine working with him consistently and developing a relationship of mutual trust. You can celebrate the first time he let you touch him. You can celebrate the first time that he invited attention from you and, after four months of working with him, you are happy that he could well soon find a wonderful home … but he is still there, and you can still enjoy his company when time permits.
Now imagine his new family coming to pick him up and, after some formalities, they leave. You know that you will probably never see him again and, although you are happy for him, you are also a little sad that he has gone. You will often wonder how he is doing in his new life, but you will probably never know because most people do not bring their new family member back for social visits.
Of course, that did not happen with Ray but I cannot imagine what it must be like to be continually working with dogs; seeing them slowly display their true personalities; seeing them slowly accept you to a point of displaying affection, and then having them removed from your life forever!
We have always felt it important for Ray to maintain his OMHS relationships, but we also now feel that it is in the interests of the staff to regularly see how one of their “alumni” is doing… and on a regular basis. Working in such an environment must be emotionally draining at times, but what better antidote than to see a “success story” on a regular basis. Ray may not be an official therapy dog, but he inadvertently provides some of the services anyway!