Earlier last week, for example, I was in the process of trying to save a Chow and Pitbull mix who had arrived at the shelter as "Eviction" cases.
Police had apparently seized the dogs from the residence after the owners had been kicked out and abandoned the animals.
Although obviously well cared for and in the Chow's case, beautifully groomed and coiffed, both dogs reacted very badly finding themselves in the city pound. "Fluffy" and her companion Pit mix, "Wendy" barked furiously in their cages and were uncooperative when handled.
I was of course called on the Chow by one of the shelter staffers. But, with a "Severe" behavior assessment on Fluffy by the shelter vets and no information from the former home, the dog presented us with a quandary.
Is the dog's behavior due to fear and nervousness in the shelter or does Fluffy (and her companion canine friend) really have "issues?"
It was impossible to know.
I did go with Firouzeh, one of our volunteers to see Fluffy and Wendy when at the shelter to pick up Leo, our Pitbull.
One of the kennel workers managed to get both dogs out of the cages through very careful handling with a rope. We then took Fluffy and Wendy into the yard in back of the shelter.
Though it was clear that the dogs were deeply bonded to each other, both remained skittish and seemingly unpredictable with new people. Fluffy softened up somewhat when offered liver treats, but it was still difficult to get a real "feeling" or read with either Fluffy or Wendy.
Once returned to their cages, both dogs continued to bark, Wendy, particularly furiously.
"I hate to ask, but do you think you could get a home for Wendy?" Firouzeh asked, hesitantly.
"Firouzeh, it's going to be difficult to try and find placement for the Chow, let alone the Pit mix! I have someone looking to adopt a Chow, but unless Fluffy settles down enough to be safely handled, I don't know that we can even take the chance of trying to place her!"
Both dogs presented with a baffling mystery:
It was obvious from their excellent physical conditions that Fluffy and Wendy were extremely well cared for and loved. Fluffy's long, silky and perfectly clean and groomed coat indicated a dog who presumably enjoyed brushing. Indeed, she looked like she stepped out of the Westminster Dog Show! How "vicious" could Fluffy really be?
But, with the former owners seemingly vanquished off the face of the earth, how was I to get any kind of verification of what I felt intuitively?
All we had to go on were the dogs' hostile, guarded and defensive behaviors in the shelter.
It was a horrible dilemma.
Back in the shelter "New Hope" office, Jesse, the rescue coordinator, asked me, "So, do you think you can take the Chow?"
"I'm not sure," I replied. "Is there any way of tracking down and getting some information from the former owners -- or anyone who knew these dogs?" I asked.
"We sent a letter out to the address from where they were evicted," Jesse answered quickly. "But, we have no phone number..... So, can you take Fluffy?"
Frustrated, I replied, "It's not that simple, Jesse! For now, put a memo on the dog. But, unless she calms down somewhat, I can't make promises."
Normally, in eviction cases, the shelters send out letters to the old addresses and the owners have ten days to contact the shelters and reclaim their animals. (The animals are put on "hold" during this period and cannot be adopted out, rescued or euthanized.)
But, one has to conclude the owners are no longer at the addresses to receive the letters.
Of course, under the circumstances, few eviction animals are ever reclaimed by former owners.
In the cases of Fluffy and Wendy, both dogs were seemingly heading towards euthanasia as soon as the "holding" period was off.
Their "severe" behavior in the shelter was as good as death warrant.
Later that evening, I called one of the shelter volunteers and requested her assessment of the two dogs.
"Evelyne" is an extremely dog-knowledgeable, experienced and sensitive person when it comes to animals. She is one the people I most respect in animal work and is at the shelter almost everyday.
Whenever there is a question about a particular dog, I usually request that she look at the dog, spend some time with the animal and give me her honest opinion and assessment of the dog.
Evelyne has always been obliging and eager to help in any way she can. I greatly value her opinions which to date, have rarely, if ever been wrong.
Evelyne assured me that she would try to evaluate the two dogs the following day and get back to me.
Sure enough, Evelyne called the next day to give me a reasonably optimistic report on Fluffy, the Chow, but a much more guarded prognosis on Wendy, the Pit mix.
"I was able to take Fluffy out and pet her," Evelyne told me. "She's very skittish and scared, but not aggressive. I was not able to take Wendy out. She's seemingly aggressive and very stressed in the cage. I think you should probably let her go. She's already on the Euth list for tomorrow."
It was obviously very good news on Fluffy, but not at all good for Wendy. Still, I could not help that "gut" feeling I had on both dogs. How bad could Wendy really be to have been so well cared for and seemingly loved in a former home?
After speaking with Evelyne, I called the woman seeking a Chow about Fluffy.
"Heather" has a house in New Jersey where she lives with her 19-year-old daughter and Mother. The family previously had a (personally rescued) Chow for 14 years and were heartbroken when the dog died from liver cancer 6 months ago. Heather had been seriously seeking to adopt another Chow for the past couple of months but had not been successful in finding one.
Heather was thrilled to hear about Fluffy and asked me many questions.
I told Heather everything I knew about Fluffy -- including the fact the Chow had arrived at the shelter with another dog who was then on the next day's Euth list.
"Oh, I hate to hear of any dog being euthanized!" Heather replied. "Our house is big enough for two dogs and if Fluffy is bonded to this other dog, then perhaps we can take Wendy, too!"
I was momentarily stunned by Heather's seeming willingness to adopt both dogs, especially considering Wendy was a Pit mix and had been behaving so poorly in the shelter. Part of me even regretted telling Heather about Wendy. Had I opened a potential Pandora's box here? If willing to take Wendy, would the dog harm Heather or one of her family members?
I had no way of knowing the answer to any of those questions.
Nevertheless, after speaking with Heather, I called the New Hope number to pull Wendy from the next day's kill list and assured the shelter we would come the next day to potentially pick up Wendy and Fluffy.
Heather arrived Thursday afternoon in a large SUV with her Mom, daughter and boss who, according to Heather was better at navigating city traffic.
But, when walking into the New Hope office, Jesse announced that we would have to find a kennel worker to get both, Fluffy and Wendy out of their respective cages.
"These dogs are too aggressive! -- Wendy, especially is a biter," Jesse added, causing me to inwardly cringe.
I was lucky that the family didn't suddenly remember a doctor's appointment they were urgently late for. I halfway expected them to bolt out the door.
But, thankfully, the family didn't flee and a very nice kennel worker removed the dogs from their cages and we were able to spend time with Wendy and Fluffy in the yard.
I was amazed when seeing Wendy walk up to Heather and gently lick the woman's face!
Wendy was particularly happy this day after finally being reunited once again with her canine buddy, Fluffy. It appeared that Wendy was the protector of the more skittish and kind of "woosy" Chow.
For her part, Fluffy was a great deal less stressed and welcomed gentle stroking and petting. She particularly loved her rump being rubbed.
Within an hour both dogs were happily adopted together and were on their way to their new home in New Jersey!
But, the best part were the two phone calls I received from Heather later that evening.
"I just want to THANK YOU for these wonderful dogs!"
Heather went on to describe how Wendy was the "lover" following Heather all around and that Fluffy loved head and belly rubs and being petted all over.
According to Heather, both dogs were fully trained, wonderful with her family and adjusting beautifully to life in the country.
"These are NOT the same dogs you saw in the shelter!" Heather reassured me. "You can't believe the changes!"
I was obviously thrilled to hear all the good news as I had been so worried about the dogs, their situation and what would become of them.
I was also most worried over what these potentially "severe" dogs might do to people. After all, the only concrete information we had to go on with regard to Wendy and Fluffy was their behavior in the shelter!
Three days later, it is still disconcerting and frustrating that those dogs arriving to shelters from eviction, arrest or owner death situations come with NO information on them.
While the owners may no longer be around to give information, surely Supers, landlords, friends and especially neighbors almost always know something about the dogs and their former owners.
It was nothing short of a sheer miracle that saved both Fluffy and Wendy.
But, we can't count on miracles to save most of the eviction (or other human mishap) animals arriving as "mysteries" to animal control shelters.
There needs to be efforts to obtain information from those who have known the owners and the animals, just as there are such efforts in animal cruelty cases.
Animals condemned to die as "mysteries" in shelters due mostly to a lack of credible, past information on them is itself, a form of cruelty. -- PCA