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Shelter Dog Journey

By Paula Sparrow from February 2014 Issue

Henry, whose story is below, is not any one dog. He is based on many dogs that need a home. Henry represents what happens to dogs as a result of abuse, neglect, misunderstanding, and ignorance. Perhaps his story will bring about more education and compassion.

Hi there! My name's Henry. I'm a shelter dog, and I'd like to share my story with you. It's a common enough story, but I've had some interesting experiences along the way.

I don't remember much about my life before I came to the shelter. I think maybe I used to live with humans, but they went away and left me by myself. My first memory is of being picked up off the frozen ground—the chain I was attached to was so tangled up I couldn't move. I had no food or water, and it was so, so cold, and I finally collapsed.

I was kind of out of it, but I dimly heard someone say, "Not another one. I still can't believe people just move away and abandon their dog. We could have helped if they'd only asked."

I found out later the humans who rescued me are called animal control officers, and part of their job is to help dogs like me. I also found out I was a lucky one: not every dog like me gets rescued.

The next few days were kind of hazy, but I slowly got better. I'd heard about shelters, that some were good and some were bad, but this seemed to be a good one. The people who worked there were kind, I was finally getting regular meals, and there was always lots of activity to watch from my kennel.

There were a lot of dogs at this shelter, and I learned that everybody had a story. Bobby was a stray, picked up by animal control. I asked why he was wandering the streets, and he said, "Oh, I get picked up and brought here all the time. My humans don't have a fenced-in yard, and they don't pay much attention to me. So I get bored and go look for something to do. My humans will probably come get me in a day or two."

Sally, a sweet girl I really liked, had a sad story.

"I got adopted a while back, and I was so excited to be living in a home. But my humans had a small child that was always teasing me, pulling my tail, jumping on my back. I tried to put up with it and be a good dog, but one day I lost control and snapped at the child, just to warn her. So they brought me here. I don't know what will happen next."

There were more sad stories: Buck said his human turned him in to the shelter because Buck had gotten old and arthritic, and his human wanted a new puppy. Lucy, who had a lot of physical problems, said she came from what's called a "puppy mill." She had a lot of babies while she was there, always giving birth in a small crate, and I don't even want to talk about the other things she told me. She said she was grateful to be in the shelter.

At the shelter, dogs were always coming and going. It was always loud and sometimes chaotic. New dogs would come in, others were taken out for walks, some were moved to a different kennel. But I noticed that sometimes a dog left and didn't come back. I asked Buck about it, and he explained to me what adoption is.

"If a dog is lucky, he or she will be adopted and go live in a home with their very own humans. That's why we all try to make a good impression when strangers walk down the aisle: maybe one of us will be chosen to go live in a home with humans. It's better than living in a shelter: in a home, we get a bed to sleep on, walks in the park, and if we're really lucky, we get to snuggle on the couch with our human."

Well, that sounded really great to me, so I worked hard at making a good impression. When humans walked down the aisle looking at us, I'd jump up high against the door to my kennel, and I'd bark and bark, as loud as I could, to make sure they noticed me.

But somehow, it didn't work. Instead of coming up to meet me and pat me, the humans backed away. One little girl even cried and said, "That dog is trying to eat me!"

I tried to explain that wasn't at all what I wanted, that I was simply saying, "Pick me! Pick me! I'm a great dog!" But I couldn't make them understand.

I asked Buck for help and he said, "Son, you're gonna have to tone it down. Some humans don't care for your kind, they automatically think you're vicious and will hurt somebody. So try to be quieter, and sit still, and maybe somebody will see what a good dog you are."

I tried. I really did. But after being in a kennel all day, I'd get so excited to see new visitors, somebody who might possibly adopt me, I'd start jumping and barking again.

It was about that time that I met Mommy. I heard other humans call her Christine, but I came to think of her as Mommy. Apparently she was what's called a volunteer; she walked dogs in another part of the shelter. She came down the aisle one day, knelt down in front of my kennel, and started talking to me.

"Henry, I've been hearing about you, the staff thinks you might be a good dog for me to get to know. What do you think, wanna go outside and play with me?"

I was so happy that a human was talking to me that I stopped jumping and barking. Mommy put her hand through the door and rubbed my ears. It felt good, so I sat real still, and Mommy talked to me some more.

"You know what I think? I think you just need more exercise. A tired dog is a happy dog, I always say, so let's give it a try."

She put a collar and a long line on me, and we went outside. And oh, what fun it was! The long line gave me room to really move around and run. I got to play in the creek, chase squirrels, and feel the sun on my back. We went all around the whole grounds of the shelter, and even saw some deer.

And Mommy was right. I went to bed that night feeling a lot more content. I'm a big dog, and it was hard for me to walk on a short leash for just a few minutes at a time.

So that became our routine: Mommy would come see me several times a week, and not only did I get a lot of walking, I got a lot of attention too. Mommy would rub my belly, which I couldn't get enough of, and she'd stroke my head, telling me what a great dog I was, and how much she loved me. She said she'd give anything to adopt me herself, but she couldn't give me the kind of home I needed.

That was okay. I'm a generally happy dog anyway, and now that I had a human of my own—at least, sort of—my life was pretty good. In fact, Mommy called me the happiest dog in the shelter.

And then something happened: I got sick. At first, I just lost some weight, so Mommy started giving me extra food. When I kept losing weight, she put some medicine in my bowl. But I kept getting worse, and nobody could figure out what was wrong. I tried to stay cheerful so I wouldn't scare Mommy, but I'd lost a lot of my energy, so it was getting harder to be the happiest dog in the shelter.

One night, Mommy took me outside and got out her talking device. She started crying and said, "I'm starting to think it would be better to just put Henry down. I can't bear to see him like this anymore, and he can't last much longer." Then she was quiet for a while, listening to another human. She stopped crying and said, "Okay, thank you so much, it's worth a shot. We'll be there tomorrow at 5:00."

The next day, Mommy put me in her car and drove me to a new place. She put me in a large kennel with a big comforter—what luxury—and lay down with me. She talked softly to me, telling me this was a wonderful place, and that the humans here would do all they could to fix me. Several humans stopped at my kennel, asking, "Is this the one?" and stayed a while to pat me. Some of them were crying. By the time Mommy left, I was exhausted and fell into a deep sleep.

Soon after that, Mommy took me to a human called Vet. It was kind of weird: she touched me a lot, looked at me a lot, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. She said a lot of words, and even though I understand more than humans think, the only word I understood was something called "infestation."

So I don't know exactly how the humans fixed me. But they did. Before long, I started putting weight on, getting my energy back, and the humans who cried before were now smiling and laughing. Everybody there seemed to love me—they called me their miracle dog, and they were constantly giving me attention or checking to see if I needed anything. Best of all, I got to see Mommy a lot more. I decided I liked this place.

That was the start of my new life. Not that it had been so bad before, but this was even better. The humans were incredibly kind to me, Mommy was around a lot, and it was much quieter and calmer here. It was almost like I'd been adopted.

Then Mommy came in one day with a determined look on her face and said, "Okay, Henry, school begins today. If we're going to find you a home, we've got to put some manners on you."

I didn't know there was anything wrong with my manners, but I figured I'd go along with it if it made Mommy happy. She gave me a good walk on the long line, then put me on a short leash; I soon learned a short leash meant school was in session.

And you know what? School was fun, I loved it! A lot of humans don't know this, but dogs love to have a job, we love to please our humans, and now I finally had a job of my own.

I learned all kinds of things: not to pull on the leash, to come when called, sit, wait at doors and gates, lie down, and, hardest of all, wait til I was told I could have the treat lying in front of me. Everybody was so pleased—turned out, I'm a lot smarter than they thought!

The next thing I learned was something called "socialization." I call it playing with other dogs, but humans like their labels. I had to laugh: they all had this serious discussion about who to pair me up with in the play yard. A male or female? This dog or that dog? Would I try to fight with any of them?

I surprised them all: I loved everybody! I hadn't been allowed to socialize with other dogs before, so nobody knew I'm actually a submissive dog. If I get too rough with a playmate, they just tell me and I roll over on my back to say I'm sorry. So now, unlike some of the dogs here, I can play with just about anybody, and I get to do it every day.

And now you know my story. Mommy likes to call it a "rags to riches" story. I still hope to be adopted someday, but in the meantime, I have friends, humans who love me, and a warm bed. It's more than a lot of dogs have.

I know how lucky I am—I found humans who believe in me, have faith in me, and want the best for me. They'll never give up on me, because they saw my potential when others did not. I just wish all dogs could be so lucky.

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