My Shelter Dog Experience


Facebook is evil, right? For all its shortcomings, issues and “hacks,” I’ll never say that. Facebook introduced me to the canine love of my life.

Meadow's original FB pic (left) and hiking with Barb a year later (right).

In December of 2009, I was scrolling through my Facebook (FB) timeline and came across the picture of a sad looking dog. It was posted by a friend of a FB friend who had a friend that was fostering a one-year old dog through the Multnomah County shelter in Troutdale. The dog could not be left at the shelter due to extreme fear of her surroundings. Stray, practically feral, zero socialization….she was shutting down and would not survive the shelter experience if she stayed there. Enter the amazing woman who was willing to foster this feral dog. Luckily, the dog was not at all fear aggressive….just severely fearful of everything and everyone.

I knew nothing about this dog. I just knew when I saw her picture that she was my dog, belonged with me, I MUST have that dog. Imagine my phone call to Michael, “I found our next dog, I know we’re supposed to have her, I’m getting her whether you want to or not!” Michael was patient, “OK Honey, we’ll check into it, don’t get your hopes up yet”. OK, I admit, we’d had this conversation before, a few times, since losing our Basset Hound, Mollie, nine months earlier. But seriously, I was sure this time “wink.” I’m forever grateful to “Sue” (not even sure if that’s her real name) and Multnomah County Animal Services for what they did for this dog and continually do for thousands of others.

We met the dog on Christmas Day, 2009 at Laurelhurst Park. She wouldn’t look at us, hid behind her foster Mom, didn’t want to have anything to do with those weird people. “Get me out of here,” I could almost hear her say. Michael went out to Troutdale the next morning to fill out all the paperwork. Foster Mom delivered her to our home latter that day, the day after Christmas.

I was working that day – Christmas is a very busy season in the retail business. I rushed home from work right after she got there. Hurried into the bedroom where her kennel was set-up with a soft, comfy dog bed inside and peered into the darkness of the kennel to see a black dog scrunched up against the back of the kennel as far into the corner as she could possibly get. That is exactly where she stayed….for weeks…..the back of her kennel, as far away from these weird strangers as she could get.

Michael and I had many discussions about her, including about her name, which we decided would be Meadow because she was found in a field roaming with another dog. We came to the conclusion that she might possibly never leave the kennel on her own. As it were, we had to lay on our bellies, reach into the kennel, clip the leash on and spend several minutes gently coaxing her out to do her business in the yard. Then right back in the house, to the bedroom and to the back of the kennel - the only safety she knew at the time.

If we were in the room, she wouldn’t eat. We’d fill her bowl and slip it into the kennel where she would eat it….after we left the room and it was completely quiet.

Barb and Meadow hanging at the beach.

I came up with a plan: I was going to get her out of that kennel one way or another. It began with feeding time. I started placing the dish of food right outside the kennel, she only had to stick her head out to eat, but she still wouldn’t eat as long as I was in the room. Finally, after a day or two, she was fine with me sitting quietly on the edge of the bed while she ate. Then I moved the bowl 12 inches from the door of the kennel and she had to actually put both front feet out to eat from the bowl. Then 18 inches, then 24, then 3 feet. She was finally all the way out of the kennel, but if I moved or reached towards her she would retreat back into the kennel. Talk about earning trust – I’d never worked so hard to earn trust in my life. Finally, after a few more days, she let me reach over and pet her while she ate. After a couple of days of that, I could get up and move around, go out of the room and come back, but always, after eating she’d retreat to the safety of her kennel.

It became a little easier to coax her to go outside, but always on leash, always. I knew if she wasn’t leashed she’d have bolted, never to be seen again. So we were sure to put her on the leash, even in the yard, even in the fenced part of the yard….that dog could have jumped that fence in a hot second if she had the chance. After a few weeks we were able to let her off leash in the fenced part of the yard, but she scared us a couple of times by hiding in the bushes at the back of the property and not coming when we called her. It was especially scary when she did this at night.

Next up, learning to playing with toys. As you can imagine, she showed no interest what-so-ever in dog toys. So the “weird” humans that she lived with now decided to teach her how to play. I’m certain our neighbors thought we had lost our minds when they could hear us, baby talking, tossing a tennis ball to each other, telling Meadow how much fun it was and that she should come and play with the ball, all the while she was scrunched up against the back door only wanting to go back into her safe place. Then it happened. One day she went to hide in the “back forty.” (Not really forty acres, but that’s what we called the wild area at the back of the property.) About the time we were ready to “go in and get her,” she came bounding out with an old, grimy, strange ball that had been buried in the back forty for who knows how long ago. She loved that ball and played with it for a couple of years after that….and yes! Other balls, too! And toys, but only certain toys. Finally!! She enjoyed her outside time from that day on, but always retreated to her kennel once in the house.

Then one night, we were in the living room watching TV, the only light in the room coming from said TV. Suddenly we’re joined by….yes…..our dog, Meadow. For the first time, Meadow wandered into the room, looked around, and looked at both of us as if to say, “hey, this isn’t so bad out here.” Then she turned around and headed back to her kennel. Her visits started happening more often, sometimes she even laid down on the rug for a period of time.

We had finally earned it, the illusive trust. She continued to gain confidence. Every activity and experience fed her the much needed comfort that everything would be OK and it’s not so bad being a “real” dog.

Meadow playing ball at the beach.

As her confidence grew, we began to notice just how smart she was and that we needed to stay on our toes so as not to make her think she was “in charge.” Right!? She WAS in charge, but aren’t all of our pets?

She learned that coming out of the kennel at the store was a good thing, too. I can hear her thinking: “Those strange human-folk that come in, they give me treats and I don’t have to do anything for it – just come out of the kennel! Hey, this is a pretty good life here at the pet supply store – treats are everywhere and people are willing to give them to me and I don’t get hurt or scared or anything bad like that.”

There are still things that scare Meadow to this day. Usually having to do with loud noises, crowds and wavy things in the sky like flags. She has bolted a time or two, usually having to do with fireworks or thunder, but she knows where the safety is. She comes back when she hears our voices desperately calling for her. She knows that she can count on those “weird” people to gently help her through her fear.

Today, Meadow loves running on the beach, hiking, and she especially loves camping! She also loves herding guests, grandchildren and staff at the stores. Meadow knows it’s OK to act like a real dog, instead of a coyote, because that’s what she is, a “real” dog, loved for the things she teaches us as she’s learning and experiencing this life.

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