When Lori brought her new Foster, Darcy, to class at Homeward Bound in December, I was worried for her heart.
Lori is a volunteer at Homeward Bound – and one of those dog whisperers you hear about. Frightened, shy, and anxious dogs find comfort, acceptance, and hope in her welcoming arms. Her heart is equally open, which means that she takes losses particularly hard.
Dogs are lost for only one of two reasons at our rescue: because they are terminally ill and suffering; or because, despite all efforts at rehabilitation, they are a proven risk to humans. It happens rarely, but we said goodbye to a dog late last year for behaviors we could not change. It was heart-wrenching, and Lori was filled with self-questioning, thinking there was something she could have done. There was not.
It was not long after that Lori showed up for reactive dog class with Darcy an American Staffordshire Terrier (aka Pit bull) that she found at a local shelter.
In even the best shelter, the odds are stacked against a dog like Darcy. By agreeing to foster her, Lori surely saved her life.
The reactive class is for dogs who have issues with other dogs; their exposure is safely – and gradually – increased to their canine fellows. Calm reactions are rewarded, replacing fear and anxiety with positive associations. Trash talking and snarly faces are par for the course, but what I witnessed in Darcy was something more. Lori is an experienced dog person – but Darcy’s reaction seemed so over-the-top that Lori was afraid to enter the class. She left in tears, full of self-doubt – but not defeated. Under that soft, gushy heart is an iron will. Lori does not give up on dogs in need.
Lori and Darcy returned every week after that. Lori sought advice from everywhere but worked particularly closely with our certified trainer, Kathryn, and another of our dog whisperers, Rob. In one-on-one sessions, Darcy was gradually exposed to other dogs. From a walking distance at first;
then at the fence;
and ultimately, side-by-side.
Darcy’s issue was not aggression. At 18 months old, she had never been socialized. She had the behaviors of a six-week-old puppy in a full-size dog.
The high-pitched squeal and bark were reactions to constraints of fences and the leash. Darcy wanted to get at the other dogs to be part of the action, but her boundary-less behaviors and yelling were perceived as threats.
At home, Lori kept Darcy separated from her two Goldens for weeks. It must have been quite a juggling act. They smelled each other through closed doors and caught glimpses of each other from safe walking distances. Most people would throw up their hands; but not Lori. If love can find a way – Lori was the right person to help Darcy find and feel that love.
Distances gradually closed; encounters grew more frequent and successful; until one day by (don’t-try-this-at-home) accident, her dogs found themselves in the same room together. Holding her breath while offering treats – she found success!
Darcy is still a work in progress, but with careful introductions, Lori has proven that Darcy can peacefully co-exist in a doggy world.
And Darcy has proven that she can learn from other dogs about appropriate behaviors and boundaries. This dramatically altered her adoption potential, moving from the “at-risk” category” to “available.”
Through her work in rescue, Lori has touched and changed many lives: dog and human.
Darcy has helped to heal Lori’s heart and to show her that as a patient foster friend, she can save lives, too.
Love finds a way.