Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby. Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite. I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets. He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.
He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses. In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”. I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.
Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.
The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed. Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.