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Last Friday afternoon, we brought Smitten to TAS South to meet Beauty. They sniffed each other and neither showed much interest or concern with the other which we took to be a good sign. We took them for a walk, side by side, and that went fine as well. I wanted to see if there would be any trouble between the two of them. I was actually more worried about Smitten's behaviour around the skinny and world-scared Beauty than the other way around.

I walked Beauty back to TAS and while she got a much needed bath, James brought me some dog food, the same stuff they'd been feeding Beauty at the shelter, so that her diet wouldn't be disrupted after I brought her home.

Beauty came out soggy from her bath but smelling much better and I loaded both dogs into the car and drove off. The drive home was uneventful unlike the drive home a few weeks ago with Smitten and Keaton when Smitten growled at Keaton to stay away from her.

Beauty's first steps into my house were tentative but at least she wasn't immobilized with anxiety like she can be when she goes outside. She walked through the house sniffing everything and anything and when she reached the back room and saw the backyard through the patio door, she kept walking and walked thunk right into the glass of the closed sliding door. She was bewildered and it was mean, I know, but I laughed when I saw she wasn't hurt and the glass was intact and even after I'd slid the door open, she wasn't sure if it was safe to proceed and I had to reassure her and her sad why-do-you-do-this-to-me eyes.

Beauty made a cursory sniff of the yard, christened it and walked back into the house. I'd never met a dog less interested in the backyard - a yard full of raccoon, possum, cat, skunk and dog smells.

She was panting by this point and I took it for the heat even though it wasn't terribly hot. I showed her where the water was and she drank some. I showed her the doggy beds. I showed her the upstairs and then I let her be to get settled in the house.

About an hour after I'd brought her home, I noticed her itching. Beauty would scratch her sides, chew on her tail and paws, rub her ears on the floor. I checked for fleas and bites but didn't find any. I gave her another rinse in the tub in case she was having a reaction to the bath shampoo from earlier. I thought the rinse helped but after a bit, she started itching again. I worried about food allergies or environmental allergies. It would be difficult to determine what was causing the itching without an allergy test and unfortunately that wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

At feeding time, Beauty was a little guarded with Smitten hanging around and eating her own dinner just a few meters away so I brought Beauty and her meal outside. She crunched down a few mouthfuls and in all only ate half of what was in her bowl. Maybe she'd already eaten, I thought.

The point of me bringing Beauty home was to do a temporary foster, a few weeks to fatten her up, ease her anxieties. She'd spent all her life as a breeding mill dog and I wanted to show her there was a bigger and better world outside of a cage for her to explore and enjoy. I should have realized that being used to living in small cramped conditions, maybe a bigger world was exactly what she wasn't looking for, at least not right away. While the house I live in isn't huge, it must've seemed agoraphobically huge to Beauty and full of strange and possibly dangerous things like windows and slippery floors and other free roaming dogs.

It was apparent now that her panting wasn't due to heat. It was because the poor girl was anxious in the house. Also, her anxiety seemed to aggravate the itching or maybe her itching aggravated her anxiety.

Despite these problems, Beauty loved our attention and she constantly looked to us for reassurances. That first night, she couldn't get settled upstairs with everyone spread out in the bedroom - humans up high in the bed, dogs further away on the floor. I brought her downstairs, then, and I slept on the couch with Beauty right beside me on the floor. I rested my hand on her head and that seemed to calm her restlessness but she still did not sleep. She spent most of the night laying upright, panting in the dark.

The next morning, I put some TAS kibble out for Beauty but she ate none of it. I replaced it with rice but she didn't like that either. I threw in some cottage cheese which she ate so I gave her a breakfast of cottage cheese mixed in with rice. She tried to spit out the little grain of rice but finally gave in and gulped everything down.

I wanted to take some photos at TAS so I took Beauty with me into the car and we drove down. It was a cool day so I figured I'd let Beauty stay in the car while I walked a few dogs and snapped their pics. We got to TAS, and I partially rolled down the windows and locked Beauty in the car. I went inside the shelter, got the first dog and brought him out and walked with him back to my car. I was expecting Beauty to be anxiety ridden, sitting bolt upright in the front seat looking out the window for rescue but as I approached, I couldn't see her at all. I checked in the back compartment but she wasn't there. I checked in the backseat but she wasn't there either. I looked again in the front seat area and then I saw her. She was curled up in that tight little space at the foot of the passenger side seat completely asleep. She'd finally found a secure space in which to hide away from her anxieties. I spent three hours at TAS that afternoon and Beauty didn't raise her head once.

The rest of that second day with me didn't seem as stressful for her. Her constant panting had stopped and even the itching seemed less terrible. Spending that time in the small confines of the car, calmed her down and even after returning home, she was still less anxious.

With the increased confidence around the house came an unexpected behavioural issue, though. Beauty started getting aggressive with Smitten.

It started out as resource guarding, the resources being food and affection. Guarding food was common enough but affection guarding was new to me. It's like Beauty had been so starved for both these things her whole life, that now she couldn't bear to share them with another dog or at least another female dog. So, if I was petting Beauty and Smitten came by to get some equal time, as dogs do, Beauty would growl and snap at Smitten. Usually, Smitten would back off but sometimes Beauty's attack would erupt into an air snapping fight between the two dogs. I'd immediately push Smitten out of range and raise my voice at Beauty to stop which she always did and then she'd look at me with her sad eyes and give me a please-don't-beat-me look. It was a very effective look except that Beauty would then flash a snarl at Smitten, if Smitten was still in the vicinity, and then immediately back at me with the same contrite look as if I hadn't seen what had just happened right in front of me.

Towards evening, Beauty's aggression towards Smitten had become a bigger concern. She was now actively getting up from her dog bed and attacking Smitten even if Smitten was just walking by several feet away minding her own business. I had been trying some desensitizing training techniques from the get go but they obviously weren't working with Beauty or at least weren't working fast enough. It was certainly a surprise seeing this behaviour from her, a dog who was always so docile and subservient with people, who would completely wilt under a hard stare from a person, but who could turn around and be such an anti-social animal with a dog she felt was competing against her.

That evening I decided I couldn't continue fostering Beauty. The next couple of days, we were driving out of town and the risk of a dog fight in the car was too great especially now that Smitten was getting ticked off with our guest.

For Beauty's final night with me, everyone slept soundly, Elizabeth and Smitten upstairs, Beauty and I downstairs. I still kept my hand on her back.

The next morning, when I brought Beauty back to TAS South, I knew I had let her down and could barely stand to look at her as she was led away to her kennel. I knew I had failed in my attempt to help deinstitutionalize Beauty but I know that with patience and kindness, someone else will succeed and then she will finally get the life she so absolutely deserves.

To anyone who might be interested in adopting Beauty (after she puts on some weight and gets put into adoption): Beauty will be an amazingly gentle, affectionate and responsive dog for you. She doesn't seem to require or want a lot of outdoor exercise and would be more than happy to spend all her time with you on the couch or sleeping by your feet. It may take a few days before she becomes relaxed in a new environment. It may be a good idea to set up a crate, or some other cubby hole, which she can call her own and feel secure. Outside, she seems okay with other dogs as long as they are not too in her face but indoors, she may not do well with other female dogs, certainly not rambunctious young dogs but may tolerant calm male dogs. She'll need an allergy test to determine the source of her itching.

More on Beauty here.

12 Comments to “My time with Beauty”

  1. mel says:

    Please don't look at it as a failure on your part, Fred. You are just one of many stepping stones that will help Beauty get to where she needs to be - both emotionally and physically.

  2. Lynn says:

    For some reason this post reminds me of just how much I love dogs.

  3. Fred, you didn't let her down. Dogs are so in the moment that she'll just remember the good times. Plus, you've identified a source of anxiety for her that an adopter would have to work on, the agoraphobia, and her resource guarding. She'd probably be best as an only dog and knowing that is a big step.

  4. Alex says:

    I agree with Mel B. You helped Beauty get from a scared and anxious dog into a dog who is able to function, even if her history means it's not a function that we want from her. Her next foster will take her the next step towards rehabilitation.

  5. Fred says:

    Hopefully, they will find a new foster for Beauty sooner than later even though while I wouldn't say she's happy at TAS, she seems more comfortable there than she was at my house. All the sadder, perhaps, but she's eating there and gaining some weight.

  6. Biscuit says:

    I'm so glad you took the chance with her. I keep going back and looking at her and was thinking of trying her out, but I think she would probably be freaked out by the loud and rambunctious cats and the big barky (but friendly!) dogs next door.

    Everyone upthread is right: you've helped her take a few steps into the world, and the next person will help her take a few more, and one day she'll feel at home.

  7. Antonia Z says:

    Thanks for trying Fred.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Did Beauty find another home?

  9. Fred says:

    No, unfortunately not yet. Waiting to hear back from a couple of foster home possibilities for her.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Where is Beauty advertised? is there a special foster section of TAS or the Humane Society? How can we follow her progress?

  11. Fred says:

    There is no online daily log of the animals in TAS so the only way to get info on any of them is to call in and ask.

  12. Fred says:

    Beauty will be going to a Lab Rescue foster home today!

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.