Life in a shelter

I'm up early this morning; actually even before the birds. We have several feeders in the yard and to wake to the sound of silence is strange; I'm just hearing the first chirps now; it's 5:30. Last evening I took Luke down to the beach for a walk; he loves the beach as do I and I enjoy it even more when it is nice and cool. I got a few great shots of the boy and we just sat and chilled. Luke is a reactive dog; which basically means that he never misses a thing and when he reacts it is bigger than a normal reaction. Although now almost 10 years of age his reactions are somewhat reduced. I wanted to talk about dogs in shelters this morning; and the reason I started with Luke is that I always think about Luke in a shelter situation.

Dogs in shelters are not themselves; depending on the individual dog will factor in on how they adjust or handle living in a shelter situation. A shelter is no place for a dog; even the best of shelters is a highly stressful environment. When a dog is put into a shelter; they are in a completely alien place with strange people, strange dogs and lots of noise. I know that Luke would not be a model citizen in a shelter situation; he would most likely be one of those dogs growling at everyone. Growling is what he does when he is scared; very different when he is happy. He loves just about everyone in a normal surrounding situation.

Even Tilley; Miss perfect would probably be at the back of the cage with terror in her eyes, not exactly looking like "adopt me." I have been called in many times to help with a dog that seems to have all of a sudden changed. The people adopted the dog from the shelter; up to this point she has been wonderful and then she changed, she is displaying odd behaviors. Dogs adapt to life changes and when put in a shelter situation they do the best they know how; often this is a mask. This mask can take up to 6 months or more to come off but once they start to feel at home you will then see the true dog.

Any second hand dog can throw you a curve ball; heck even first hand dogs can display behaviors that are hard to figure out. But being that a second hand dog has had a life previous to the one with you; there may be flashback behaviors. Behaviors that are a result of past situations; experiences or interactions. Most shelters do their best; but it still is no place for a dog, it is the equivalent of prison. A dog is put into a cage; surrounded by others in cages and subjected to constant barking. The big difference is that they do not know why they are there. So you must expect a wide spectrum of behaviors from this experience itself.

Some dogs are more resilient than others and just deal with what life throws them. Others turn inwards; their way of dealing is to shutdown. These are some of the most hard hit; as they often dwell at the back of the cage, their eyes filled with terror and "keep away from me." For a dog that has only known one life; perhaps a dog that has lived in a home and is now in a cage beside numbers of others who bark constantly, it's tough. There is no escaping the noise; you cannot hide from the lines of people passing the front of the cage, peering in staring at you. This is no place for a dog.

They are scared; and scared dogs react to the situation at hand. Some will try to keep everyone away by snarling and growling, these are not all bad dogs. These are dogs in a bad situation. Once removed from this situation; even taken into a larger space where they can run and move away you see a huge difference in behavior. A dog needs space; they need to feel that they can move away or approach, take that away and there are consequences. When a shelter has a number of large "play" areas where dogs can be more free to interact with other dogs and people they suffer less trauma. Life in a shelter can become a little more tolerable.

More and more shelters are changing; creating bigger living quarters for the dogs and making it less prison like. I visited a shelter in San Diego not too long ago that was wonderful. The dogs were not stressed; many lay on their couch or bed wagging their tail, and they had ample room to roam around. As well as shelters becoming better places; more and more Foster programs are popping up. Rescue groups with lists of foster families taking in one, two or three dogs at a time and giving them a more "family life" environment to spend their time while they wait for their forever home.

Dogs have emotions and if you think that a dog growling at a shelter is a bad or odd behavior think for a moment; what if you were snatched up and thrown into a small cage? What if you had no idea why or where you were; you'd be pretty freaked out. This is only a fraction of the terror a dog feels when they are in a shelter; we must expect behaviors that portray how they are feeling. If you are planning on visiting a shelter anytime soon; first off, good for you. Secondly; don't pass by the dog at the back of the cage; the one trying very hard to disappear, this could be the most wonderful dog in the world. This could be your next heart dog.