A few weeks ago, Joe paid a return visit to Homeward Bound. Had he not been with his “Dad,” I would not have recognized him.
His “Dad” – Russ – is a devoted Homeward Bound volunteer who has assumed responsibility for maintaining our yards, parks, and open spaces. He arrives every week to mow, rake, and groom eight acres. The property has never looked better.
Last summer, a new dog in our sanctuary yard caught his attention – and quickly captured his heart. Joe spent his four and a half years in the backyard. He was surrendered by his owners when they could no longer care for him. I don’t know if he was always a fearful dog, or if the uprooting caused him to be in leaving such a sheltered and small world. We placed him with the seniors where he could come and go to the outside yard at will. He chose outside. It’s what he knew.
In June, Russ adopted him. You can see by his “going home” photo just how unsure he was about this new world (and his bath!). Russ will be the first one to tell you that he’s not an expert in helping fearful dogs, but a big heart and a willingness to learn can overcome lack of experience.
Russ needed to help Joe conquer his fear and win his trust. That was the first step in helping Joe become more secure in the world around him. For fearful dogs, this process happens in small increments over long periods of time.
There is a great piece on the Best Friends website about working with former puppy mill dogs who are often fearful dogs. In their rehabilitation, they offer eight words to live by: patience, love, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, calmness, empathy and perseverance. Patience and perseverance probably test our resolve the most.
Tatia is one of our dog whisperers…she has a very special way with fearful dogs including our feral friend, Red. Russ expressed concern to her that Joe had not made greater progress. You can see it in this series of photos:
Joe rushed to Russ when he entered the yard – but then stopped and still approached with caution.
Russ moved down to Joe’s level and waited for Joe to come to him –
And then the face begins to change.
Because Russ sees Joe every day, the progress probably seems imperceptible. But for those of us who have not seen him in months –
the difference is clear.
Joe still has a way to go. A fearful dog’s behavior changes when their emotions change. Tatia’s wise words to Russ: adjust your expectations and let him progress at his own pace.
The joy is in the journey and seeing Joe come into his own thanks to patience, love, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, calmness, empathy and perseverance.
The change is underway. You just have to trust.