I saw an advertisement a little while ago that said shelter dogs aren’t broken. I said out loud to my television: darn right they’re not.
They are actually incredibly misunderstood.
I think when people look at our dogs available for adoption, they use their own frame of reference with the dogs they’ve had in their lifetime. This is completely fine – it’s totally normal and human and to be expected. But shelter dogs aren’t like the dogs you remember – they don’t have the stability and security of a home. I worry that a lot of people never take the time to consider what a shelter dog has been through.
Let’s look at it from the perspective of a shelter dog.
A lot of shelter dogs actually start out in a home, but for whatever reason they find themselves in an animal shelter. First of all, the shock of being in a cage must be severe. For us it would be like going from our homes to living in an elevator. Plus, a lot of dogs can sense what a shelter is. What must that first night in a shelter be like for a dog?
The tension and stress when that cage door first shuts must be immense.
The dog usually stays in the kennel for a few days to a week, while staff gives him time to get adjusted to his new environment. So, he’s living in a cage, eating different food, surrounded by people he doesn’t recognize.
Then he’s given a temperament test. That would have to be strange. You’re living in a new environment, one you’re completely unfamiliar with, and then you’re put through a series of tests to see how you react.
Once that’s finished, he’s neutered. Yup. Now you have to have major surgery.
Then, if all goes well, he’s put up for adoption. If he’s a breed that everyone loves – small, cute, friendly, perhaps a puppy – he’ll be adopted quite fast.
If it’s difficult to tell what he may be mixed with, if he looks even remotely like a pitbull, chances are he’ll stay in adoption for a rather lengthy period of time. For purposes of our story, let’s say four months.
So, again, imagine you’ve lost the home you’ve always known and you’re living in an elevator. You’ve been tested and undergone surgery and now, four months later, you’re still in that same space while people you’ve only just gotten to know take care of you.
Would you be completely perfect? I would be nuttier than I already am – a concept that frightens not only both my parents, but a number of people, I’m sure.
Shelter dogs are not like dogs in a home. They have a massive amount of pent up energy that they aren’t always able to unleash. They have a little bit of a schedule, but it can change from day to day, depending on the circumstances. They don’t have a Mom and Dad who come home every night and feed them the same food from the same bowl. They don’t always have the same bed every night (we change and clean blankets every day, so the chances of them getting the same one are slim).
Shelter dogs are in transition. They’re very much in flux. Have you ever found yourself in that station in life? Moving from one job to another or one apartment to another? It’s confusing and tiring and difficult.
So, if you find yourself looking for a dog at an animal shelter, please understand that what you see in a kennel may not be what you have in your home a month or two down the line.
Know that when you take a shelter dog out on a leash, just because he pulls and yanks and drags you, doesn’t mean he’s a bad dog. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to behave on a leash, it just means he has a lot of energy to burn and is too excited at being free to mind his manners.
Imagine what you would be like after four months in an elevator when someone would open the doors and take you for a walk. If you are anything like me, being “good” would be the farthest thing from your mind.
The most important thing to remember when looking for a shelter dog is that you’re rescuing a grateful animal – two, technically. You’re making a life-time commitment to be there for that pup – to be his stability, his foundation, his safety, his security and his love. In addition, you’re opening a kennel for the next dog who needs a space, who needs somewhere to stay while he transitions into a forever home.
Shelter dogs may be misunderstood, but for those people who take a chance on one, through all the trials and tribulations they may face, they will have discovered a treasure beyond price.
Find your own diamond in the rough; adopt today.
Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at email@example.com. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at 263-5791 or visit the website www.cvas-pets.org. CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.