Wednesday, February 6, 2008
The Shelter Chronicles
Having a new work schedule is affording me the flexibility to go by the shelter at different times of the day. I'm often surprised by the number of people there in the middle of the day looking at dogs. I mean in addition to the rescue folks and homeless people... It really is surprising to see families and singles alike looking for a rescue dog on a Tuesday afternoon!
I just happened to stop by yesterday and happened upon this really nice lady adopting one of our little dogs who had some fear issues. I was so glad that I was there to tell her more about this little dog and to let her know more about how fear could affect this dog down the road. Not that she shouldn't adopt the dog, but to offer her the opportunity to make an informed decision based on my experience with this dog and others like her. The woman seemed appreciative and went forward with the adoption. Personally, I think it's a good match!
Fear is a huge factor for dogs at the shelter. I can't tell you all the times that I feel I must intervene on behalf of a dog who is FEAR aggressive. Fear seems to be the least understood issue for animals at the shelter by both the public and the staff. Many people seem to just see aggression as a one dimensional state of being. They don't give any consideration as to what is motivating the behavior. The dogs who are triggered by large objects, noise and confinement struggle on a daily basis to keep their sanity.
I would venture to say that most dogs are fearful when put into a high stress situation like being relinquished to a shelter. One of my dogs, a Rottweiler named Ace, was a shelter dog. When he got to the shelter, he was extremely fearful. He wouldn't come up to the gate at all for days. Once he acclimated, he did better. Thankfully he didn't have any dog aggression issues which helped him gain some confidence through his kennel mate. I didn't adopt Ace; actually, I sort of ended up with him after an adoption turned sour and the people pleaded with me to take him. Anyway, he's a good dog, but his fear still gets the better of him occasionally which manifests itself as "aggression." In this case it would mean that he may aggressively bark at someone, snap and/or growl. These displays are usually triggered by strangers coming to the house.
Not every fearful dog at the shelter displays "aggression" but when they do, it can really be a challenge to save the dog's life. Unfortunately, my observation is that the dogs tend to be much more fearful of shelter staff than volunteers, understandably. Staff are the people cleaning the runs and doing the stuff that makes noise and requires hoses and the like. The volunteers play with the dogs, give them treats, love them, etc. Volunteers don't have to freak the dogs out to do their job. It's not the fault of the staff but not the fault of the dogs either.
The sad part is that sometimes the fearful dog at the shelter is misunderstood and no attempt is made to resolve the problem between staff and dogs...