As a rescuer, I'm often asked "how do you choose which dogs to take?" Choosing which dogs to save is probably my least favorite part about rescue. I honestly want to save all of them; I want to take all of them home and guarantee them a worry-free lifetime of love and happiness. Going to the shelter and selecting which dogs get to go home with me and walking away from so many sad, pleading eyes facing an uncertain future sucks. There is no other way of putting it; it really, really sucks.
With the help of the amazing and dedicated shelter volunteers, we are able to rescue dogs that seem like a best fit for our available foster homes. We take many factors into consideration, including, but not limited to, energy and activity level of foster home (are you a runner or a couch potato?), dog experience, apartment or single family home (sometimes crate training can get noisy and we don't want to disturb your neighbors!), foster home's schedule, other animals in the foster home, etc.
However, every once in awhile all of these rules go out the window and I let the dog choose me. Sometimes, I pass a dog that just looks so depressed and pathetic I have to squat down and lean gently against the kennel. Then I will get a soft nudge, a paw, and a lick through the kennel bars and I melt. This is similar to Brody's story and how he came to be a WUDLA foster pup.
I went to Harbor in search of a small, somewhat "easy" dog to adopt out as I already had a pack of "harder-to-place" pups in the rescue. However, while walking to the kennels I took a peek into the play yard and saw a large shepherd mix dragging his paws as he shuffled through the yard. He was moving at a crippling pace and every step he took became increasingly pathetic. The volunteer led him out of the yard and he trailed behind her.
I squatted down and clucked to the dog and without lifting his head an inch, he slowly walked over to me and nestled his giant muzzle tenderly against my chest; he then let out a deep sigh. I felt a pit-of-the-stomach sickness because I didn't have any available foster homes for this dog, but he had a dismal fate if I left him behind. He had already been in the shelter for months with no interest. He had a large, unidentified mass on the top of his head, he was limping badly, he was no longer a puppy, and looked ghastly at about 15 lb. underweight. Not to mention he didn't exactly display the "adopt me!" personality given his current state.
I knew I had to make the dreaded phone call- I had to call my boyfriend, John. (Poor John! He gets calls/texts/emails like this too often.) I called and explained the situation and basically begged him to agree to let me bring home this desperate dog. After a bit of negotiating (I kind of have the best boyfirend ever), John agreed and I got to bring this fella home.
Brody (as we named him) needed quite a bit of physical rehab, which I was fully aware of. Brody was neutered, had the large mass biopsied and removed from his head, and he visited the orthopedic surgeon several times to discuss his hip dysplasia (thank goodness it was deemed "clinically sound"). However, what I did not anticipate is the emotional rehab that Brody would also need.
Of course, we never know for certain how a dog's full personality will manifest outside of the shelter environment. I tell people time and time again, the dog you adopt from the shelter will not be the same dog in 30, 60, or 90 days. Now, I just need to remind myself of this fact! The shelter is neither a fair nor good place when trying to evaluate a dog's true behavior; it is a high-stress situation where many of the dogs are ill, and it does not translate to a home environment. It's comparable to you having to go to your dream job interview when you have the stomach flu – not cool.
Brody had some severe behavioral issues and I found myself in unfamiliar territory. It became abundantly clear that Brody was unfamiliar with human touch or even companionship. He was most likely an outdoor only dog living wtih a pack of other dogs, with very little positive interaction with his caretakers. Brody was super growly – he would snarl and lunge at me while in his crate. Brody also became possessive of me and even some of the little dogs around John. Lastly, Brody came with extreme separation anxiety.
After one screen door, two crates, and several dog beds, we overcame the separation anxiety. Woohoo! While I have a ton of experience dealing with separation anxiety, it's never fun to combat. After learning a few helpful exercises from our go-to dog trainers/behaviorists, such as structured tug-of-war, we were able to continue to gain Brody's trust, build his confidence, and decrease his growliness (some of his so-called growls were just the Rottie part of him talking). Of course Brody still had some quirks, but I considered them part of his charm I grew to love.
After six months as our foster, we were lucky enough to find Brody an amazing foster home, which turned into his Forever Home. Brody now lives every dog's dream life with his parents, Greta and Josh, and canine sister, Sadie.
I recently received this note from Greta and it gave me happy goosebumps, so I feel compelled to share. John and I often refer to Brody as our MIF (most improved foster), and witnessing him live the life rescuers desire for all of our dogs, feels incredible.