Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pause for Hope

(Picture Left: Taco (right) with his new found family and friend.)

During what seems a long period where there hasn't been a whole lot to cheer or feel optimistic about in terms of real progress for animals, there are those instances that give one pause for hope.

One of those is the story of Taco, a Chow Chow we recently adopted out.

Taco might actually be typical of many dogs today. As a tiny puppy, he was shipped from a puppy mill to a pet store. He was purchased at 8-weeks of age by a young married couple, who, though well intentioned, didn't seem to know a whole lot about raising and properly socializing young puppies -- especially those bought from a pet shop -- i.e. "puppy mill dogs."

The couple fed and walked, Taco. They even did the responsible thing by having the dog neutered at a young age. But, they neglected to adequately socialize the growing puppy with strangers, kids and other dogs.

Moreover, there apparently seemed some conflict between the husband and wife over the dog.

Over time, Taco seemed to become more the husband's dog than the family pet. It was the husband who walked Taco, fed him and provided for almost all of the dog's needs.

Eventually, this imbalance or "conflict" escalated intp some kind of incident between the wife and the dog. This, in turn, resulted in an, "It's me or the dog" ultimatum to the husband, and Taco found himself abandoned to Animal Control as a "DOH" (Department of Health) case."

It's not clear exactly what that incident was.

Shortly before deciding to rescue Taco from certain euthanasia at the pound, I had opportunity to speak with the husband.

But, communication was difficult due to the man having a very heavy Spanish accent as English was not his natural language.

What I learned was that apparently the couple had come into the apartment from outside on a very cold day. There was a knock at the door and when Taco barked and rushed towards the door, the wife grabbed at his collar from behind and the dog whipped around and "nipped" her.

The man speculated that due to the wife wearing a brand new jacket, the dog might not have immediately recognized her and simply reacted to being grabbed from behind.

Its hard to know if that is the actual case or if the fact that Chows generally don't see well to begin with might have resulted in Taco's mistaken action.

The skin on the wife's arm was not broken (probably because of the jacket) and she was not injured. But, the next day she insisted on bringing Taco to the AC&C.

Despite all this, the husband repeatedly swore to me that, "Taco ees a very, very good dog!! I never give him up, but, you know, the wife......" and his voice trailed off. He further told me that Taco was good with the couple's cat, but very "scared" around other dogs.

Although any kind of biting or "nipping" incident is very concerning to a rescue group when considering whether or not to "pull" a dog from a euthanizing shelter, the man's pleadings and repeated assurances that Taco "ees a very, very good dog" finally won me over.

But, Taco wasn't a dog I could immediately hope to adopt out or send to a foster home.

Instead, I sent Taco to Eddie, a very respected and reputable trainer and dog lover in New Jersey who also runs a boarding kennel.

I needed for Taco to become better socialized and more comfortable, both, around unfamiliar people and other dogs.

At first Taco was very nervous and guarded when first arriving to Eddie. "I'm going to give him a few days to settle in," Eddie told me.

But, after a couple of weeks, Ed's reports to me on Taco became much more positive.

"Taco's a good dog," Ed said. "He doesn't seem to have major issues. As long as people go slowly with him, he should do fine in a responsible, adoptive home."

Taco actually stayed with Ed for almost two months.

And then, two weeks ago, I finally received a call from people who seemed a very good adoption prospect for Taco.

"Chris" and his wife already have a cat and another Chow mix (spayed) female dog.

A few months ago, they lost their senior male Chow to cancer.

I told Chris, Taco's entire story, including the conflict (between husband and wife) and incident in the former home. I stressed to Chris that if adopting Taco, he and his wife would have to go very slowly with the dog at first. "Give him time to gain trust and settle in. Don't throw too much at the dog in the beginning."

Chris and his wife did in fact, adopt Taco a few days later.

As expected (and warned) the first few days were, nevertheless, a bit hairy.

Chris made the mistake of attempting to clean Taco's paws when they immediately brought the dog home. -- Taco did not react well to that.

Taco was also somewhat wild on the leash -- also to be expected from a dog just arriving to the busy streets of Manhattan.

But, in other ways, things went surprisingly smoothly. The two dogs seemed to work out their relationship without any major conflicts and Taco was OK with the cat. Most importantly, Taco seemed reasonably comfortable around Chris' wife.

There have been a few conversations with Chris, mostly to give pointers and advice getting through these first few difficult weeks with a new dog -- especially, a Chow. I warned Chris to be cognizant of Chow's generally poor vision and to always let the dog see what one is about to do.

But, two weeks later, the news is now so much more encouraging!

A new harness for Taco has made it much easier to walk him. And yesterday, I received the above lovely picture in my emails.

Taco does not look like the same scared, insecure and depressed dog from his earlier shelter pictures.

He looks confident and most of all, happy.

Though I often bemoan the avalanche of "grim and despairing" emails and alerts everyday, once in a while something really nice comes in.

The picture and latest update on Taco, truly gives one, pause (or "paws) for hope. ;) -- PCA


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