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Dakota was the least-adoptable puppy I have ever met. When I traveled to a nearby big city shelter to transfer some dogs into the rescue I work for – PAWS Shelter of Central Texas – I never imagined that I would leave with one of the most challenging cases I’ve dealt with in my 10 years of animal shelter work. Not challenging in the way the average person might envision a “challenging” shelter dog; I wasn’t dealing with a snarling, snapping, scary-kind-of-challenging dog. This time, anyway. I was dealing with a completely terrified, shut-down, undersocialized, gorgeous yellow lab puppy.
Dakota was only about 7-months-old when I first met him, shaking in the corner of that municipal shelter’s kennel. From the moment I saw him, I knew I needed to help him. We’ve seen amazing things happen with shy dogs in a relatively short time at PAWS, and our dog-dog play groups have a lot to do with that. But Dakota was something else.
Any time PAWS staff or volunteers would approach him, he would shake and urinate on himself. He had no idea what a leash or collar were and would “pancake” in place and refuse to move any time they were on him. An animal’s psychological reaction to a perceived threat is to either fight, flight or freeze, and, let me tell you, this guy was frozen solid; he was petrified of everything.
We immediately got him out into our play yards with other dog-social dogs. For the first two weeks, he would have to be carried because he was too fearful to walk on-leash and, once out there, would spend all his time sitting in a large water bowl watching the other dogs zoom around having fun. His body language said he didn’t want to play but his eyes told a different story, so we kept carrying him out to the yards, day after day, waiting for him to finally make a move. And eventually he did.
I remember the first time I saw Dakota play-bow to another dog, my eyes welled up with hot tears and I had to swallow the lump in my throat so as to not completely lose it in front of my coworker. I couldn’t believe it! He was a Real Dog! After two months, he was doing Real Dog stuff.
Things moved pretty quickly after that, and it really is a testament to the power of great dog-dog interactions. Dakota began to blossom and play. He sniffed, he zoomed, and he even began to seek human affection. Now, I’m not a betting gal, but I’d put some big money on a shy dog nudging your hand for pets as one of the most awesome feelings on planet Earth.
Shortly after, an incredibly sweet couple came along and decided that Dakota was the one for them. They lived a peaceful life and this sensitive puppy fit right in. He will always be one of my favorite shelter dogs to come through, and I am forever grateful for the experience of knowing him.
Story submitted by Michelle Bender.
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