I first heard of Pet Haven when I was working in a partnering boarding kennel. That is where I met and fell in love with my own Pet Haven dog, Tori, and adopted her. When I began volunteering with Pet Haven I thought of the dogs that had been boarded in the kennel for weeks at a time waiting for foster homes or potential adopters to fall in love with them at their adoption events. I decided to become a foster buddy and stop in to walk and spend time with the dogs that were waiting for a new life. My first foster buddy was Mike. I hadn’t been told much about him, except that he had been returned to Pet Haven after living with the family for several years. That made me sad, but what broke my heart was that later I found out that his previous owners had used a shock collar on him. Having just studied a unit on canine behavior, I learned how destructive harsh methods of punishment can be on a dog without being incredibly consistent and clear about what is required. Shock collars should only be used in extreme cases where multiple other techniques have been tried and behavior specialists have been consulted. Anyone who is thinking of trying a shock collar on their dog for a behavior issue should think of Mike’s story before they potentially cause harm.
Mike was holding it together when I met him. He is a beautiful black lab mix, long legs and a white star on his chest. His head was down and he was fearful of his surroundings. He forgot himself for a minute with a tennis ball in his room and he started to warm up to me. I took him on some walks and it alarmed me how strong he would pull, as if he didn’t know what he wanted, but it was certainly not to be sitting in a kennel all day! Soon an adoption event came up and a handler was needed. I said I would be glad to. We were both pretty excited for the field trip… He was happy to be in the car, happy to see a familiar face; I was grateful for the kisses and the trust he showed in me.
When we got to the Richfield PetCo I could tell it wasn’t going to be easy. He was terrified. He hated the floor and was scrabbling to get away, pulling the collar so tight I was worried he couldn’t breathe. I finally got him over to the other dogs and sat down. The look in his eyes was sad disbelief that I was making him stay there. We took many potty breaks outside, but it was a long two hours. Adoption events are hard on the dogs. They don’t understand what is going on; so many people walking by and petting them, strange dogs walking by, rodents in cages; some dogs want to leave, some want to cower and shake, and some want to bark. We made it through, and we were both glad to get back in the car. Soon Mike got a foster! I was overjoyed. I looked forward to seeing him at the next event. When I did I was disappointed. He was so stressed that he couldn’t really focus on me and we didn’t have the reunion I‘d been hoping for. I brought treats and just sat with him, giving him a little doggy massage and telling him how much I missed him. I met his foster dad, Aaron, and was able to ask how Mike did in the home. Turns out he has a lot of fear issues. He is scared of storms and likes to be in the upstairs bathroom the majority of the time because it is the only place he feels safe. He loves to run, though, and enjoyed being outside with his foster brother. One of the reasons that I love Pet Haven is that they called in a professional who determined Mike has an inability to relax and was thoughtful in exploring different ways to help him feel at ease. How can any being experience happiness when they are in a state of constant anxiety? I thought of Tori and how I know she is happiest when she lays on her side and gives that big, deep sigh… all is right in her world. I’m betting Mike used to lie on his side and sigh… but he doesn’t anymore. I hope he will again.
Mike continues to improve. Now when I stop at the events he DOES remember me, and his happiness brightens my entire day. He is a special boy, but he is a dog that needs more than just food and a place to sleep. He needs someone to understand him and have patience. That is what I worry about the most. He has become comfortable with his foster and it will take a while for him to adjust to a new situation. I know he can do it. I know he is worth it. I am just (impatiently) waiting for the right person.
Thanks Rachel for sharing your experience as a foster buddy with Mikey. If you are interested in getting involved with Pet Haven and helping us be a voice for homeless dogs and cats, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.