Monday, March 28, 2016

Living With an Adopted Shelter Dog


I recently read an article in HSUS’s Animal Sheltering magazine, by Courtney Thomas.  In it, the author discusses what it is like to live with an adopted shelter dog, who is and has been a challenge since he became a part of her family.  On a personal level, my husband and I also adopted a dog who has challenged us on many occasions and, as she gets older, caring for her has taxed our patience levels at times.  However, like the author, I love her “to the moon and back”. 

A common mantra among those of us who strive to improve the lives of homeless animals is "saving one animal won’t change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal”.  What we fail to add is that it also changes our world.  In more ways than we could express, it is for the better.  However, as with many of life’s occurrences, there are times we wish things were different.

Are all shelter dogs difficult?  The short answer is a resounding, “No!”  Adopting an animal from a shelter is no different than beginning any new relationship.  There is always risk involved and you never truly know how everything will eventually turn out.  Unfortunately, for the animals that end up at the shelter, it is often because their guardians’ expectations and the reality of the situation do not agree.  The reasons they become wards of the county are as innumerable as the types, sizes, and colors of the animals, themselves.  The shelter is filled with dogs that have relatively minor behavioral issues, most of which could have been prevented through a bit of forethought, some training and patience.  Other explanations often given for surrendering to a shelter are, “We do not have enough time”, “ It’s too expensive”, “We are moving, having a baby, changing jobs, etc.”, all of which are human foibles and not the animals’.

Regardless of the reason, understand, when you adopt, that many of these animals have been through hell.  In addition, they have had their previous world, whether good or bad, turned upside down.  They are scared, confused, and stressed.  They will not immediately comprehend that the new home you are bringing them into is their salvation.  For some, a few days or weeks may be all the adjustment time they need.  For others you may, throughout the rest of their lives, deal with a result from earlier history.  Our past plays a significant role in the way we think and feel.  Why, then, would we even consider that an animal’s past has no bearing on the way it responds to various current situations.

For example, one of the most common complaints of guardians is that their dog becomes unruly or destructive when separated from them.  A behavioral condition called “separation anxiety” is one where the animal is so distressed by being left alone that he will destroy the house, barks incessantly, or urinates or defecates inappropriately.  Both my husband and I know this behavior well.  Even after being in a safe, loving home for almost five years, with a regular schedule, plenty of training, counter-conditioning and every other suggestion offered, as soon as we begin to think about leaving, Noel, goes ballistic (for lack of a better word).  Apparently, something in her past traumatized her to the point that she may never get over the fear of us being gone.  At times, her conduct is mildly frustrating, at other times it takes every bit of self-control not to get angry at her behaviors.  Would I ever give her up because of the baggage she brought with her?  It isn’t even a consideration for she is, as I call her, “my princess”.

Every animal I have adopted, or have come in contact with at the shelter, has been extraordinary in its own unique way.  They give unconditional love when there is no reason for them to do so.  They show us how to live with gentleness and joy in the midst of adversity.  They teach us about how precious all life is.  So, do not be put off about adopting a shelter pet.  Any relationship takes work and, just like any other relationship, adopting a shelter dog requires caring and commitment.  If you are patient, the rewards of sharing your life with one of these wonderful companions far outweighs, in my opinion, any initial challenges faced.


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