Friday, December 23, 2011

Lost dogs and lonely hearts

As a shelter, we believe that the reason for our existence is to rehabilitate, recover and rehome dogs who have lost their way in our world, a world in which the odds of survival are often stacked against them. 

When we take dogs into our shelter, we can cure their immediate need for food and shelter.

But we were never and can never be a remedy for their lonely hearts.

Only adoption and the accompanying stability it brings can help bring the rescue of these dogs to a full circle.

I recall someone asking on Facebook whether any of our dogs were up for adoption or if they were simply housed at the shelter permanently.

We were quite surprised.

We do our best to make the shelter as comfortable as possible, by ensuring the dogs have at least a warm fragrant meal each day, two walks and a shower each week and an excursion to the beach each month. We never meant to give the impression that we intended to house the dogs permanently.

We do not hoard dogs. We are not a permanent solution for the plight of the dogs.

We are a halfway house for the dogs until they find a home of their own. As Florence puts it, we are an orphanage with the mission of finding families for our homeless charges. Until then, we try to inject some sort of stability into their lives.

Recently, we have been extremely fortunate to be able to facilitate a string of adoptions.

The whole process of adoption from meeting the unfamiliar potential adoptors at the shelter for the first time, to conducting a house visit, setting up a trial home stay and finally confirming the adoption some weeks later can be the most amazing thing ever.

Inevitably, some homestays will fail to work out.

But for those that do, the transformation that we observe in our dogs makes us realise that all dogs really do yearn for a human home of their own.

Take Doris for example. She is one of the longest standing residents at our shelter. Wee whisked her away from Death's doorstep after she was discarded by a breeding farm, some four years ago. Even though Doris often lay on puddles of water on the shelter ground and got her fur wet, she seemed happy. 

Shelter life was a huge improvement from breeding farm conditions. There were people who fed her, showered her and walked her. Most of all, there was Wee, her hero, who had seen her through the lowest period of her life. Time and circumstances created a bond  between man and dog. Doris would always gallop around happily when she saw Wee appear at the shelter.

So when there were some adoption queries for Doris, we were in two minds. On one hand, we wanted Doris to find a home of her own. On the other, we were extremely worried she would suffer from a bad case of separation anxiety. At her age (we suspect Doris to be about 9 years old), such a condition could not be taken lightly. Previously when Doris fell sick and was sent out to be fostered, she lost a ton of weight and appeared unsettled. We had never seen any dog happier to be back at the shelter.

We thought long and hard about the matter. Doris meant the world to us. If there were a canine representative of the shelter, Doris would be it. We weighed the possibility of separation anxiety against the endless days at the shelter where the dogs only had human contact (in the form of Wee) about 3 hours a day on weekdays and (in the form of the rest of us) 5 hours a day on weekends. Even then, not every dog received individual attention. In recent times, they were also exposed to the chilling wind, the lashing rain, the cold air and the wet grounds.

Doris' potential adoptor, Ann and her family, seemed to have a wealth of experience handling older dogs who were previously used to breed. They had two other rescued dogs of their own, Cookie and Jack, and it appeared as if the family had nothing but love to offer.

Doris with her new canine housemates, Jack and Cookie

We decided to take the plunge. The day that Doris went away for her home stay was a cold and rainy one. I recall Ann, Florence and I scurrying to find a shelter over our heads at the car park and getting drenched to the skin when we found none.

Not being able to say goodbye that day, an anxious Wee visited Doris at her new abode the next day, along with Florence, Lorna and Sebastian, old time volunteers with a long history with Doris. Doris was overjoyed to see so many familiar faces. In fact, when they got up to leave, Doris wanted to follow them out.

However, three weeks later, when we went to visit Doris once more, this time to confirm the adoption, things were very different. Wee recalls that he heard Doris growl and walk away when she first saw us enter the house, as if she were protecting her territory and her family, as if she were worried we were here to take her away. But as she retreated back into the house, Doris hesitated slightly and then turned and walked back to Wee with her tail wagging.

Doris slightly grouchy because it had just rained heavily

Wee confided that when he heard Doris growl and witnessed her hesitation, his heart grew heavy. But at that exact moment in time, he clearly understood that after her long, arduous journey, Doris had truly and finally  found a place to call home.

Doris sitting by her doorstep and watching us leave

Deep down, all dogs pine for a home, regardless of age, breed or temperament.

Dexter is a dog that not one of us expected to be adopted - at least not before all the other dogs scurrying for human attention and affection.

It has always been Dexter's style to be laid back and reserved. When the other dogs ran up to greet you upon entering their compound, Dexter would hover in the background, uncertain whether to go up to you, as if he were used to being forgotten.

I labelled Dexter our underdog in an earlier entry. He never made a fuss about himself. He was neither extremely happy nor sad at the shelter. He seemed contented enough curling up with a raw hide or going for his twice weekly walks.

So we were very surprised to see how quickly Dexter managed to settle into a human home, despite never having entered one all his life. Dexter's experience made us believe that perhaps all dogs are wired to live among humans.

If Dexter is so reticent, how did his adoption come about? His adoptors, Dean and Julianna, already have a dog of their own in a friendly and energetic Japanese spitz, Snowball. They were looking to get a companion for her and told Florence that they were looking for a gentle and calm male dog. Both of them had been down to the shelter on a number of occasions and were open to trying any dog that fit the bill. Florence decided to let our Dexter have a go at a home stay with Dean and Julianna.

Florence came to the decision easily enough. If she hadn't given Dexter a chance, he would always be a few paces behind the other dogs.

Dean and Julianna came to take Dexter home the day of our Adoption Drive. Dexter looked uncertain and slightly confused as we leashed him and brought him outside ahead of all the other dogs. Wee had to coax him up the car. As we watched Dexter speed off in the direction of his new life, we couldn't help but worry a little. This boy had never known life outside the shelter or life without his mother Dior and sister Dyana. How would he cope in a  foreign environment all by himself? Would he be happy?

It turned out that our concerns were unwarranted. With Snowball as his competent guide to everything he needed to know about living in a human household, Dexter had the easiest transition from shelter to home. Snowball didn't take to all other male dogs. The family previously had male visitors of the canine variety calling on them and Snowball didn't exactly warm to them. As a result, Dean and Julianna were very surprised and highly amused at the way Snowball fell head over heels in love with Dexter.

Snowball in love

Perhaps it was Dexter's rugged shelter aura (haha!). Perhaps it was his unruffled laidback temperament. Whatever the cause, it made Snowball willingly give up to Dexter her favourite spot in the house as well as the only dog bed in the house. This new canine companion that her folks brought home had Snowball's stamp of approval all over it.

With her new bed, Snowball is now able to sleep beside her Dexter!

We visited Dexter's new home about one week later to confirm the adoption. I was especially curious to see Dexter in his home environment. We met the family downstairs. They had just returned from an excursion. When Dexter entered his new home, he headed straight for the water bowl to quench his thirst. He later flopped down in front of the couch in the living room where we were all gathered. He seemed perfectly comfortable in his new home. Snowball was her usual self running all over the house in excitement.

When we got ready to leave the house, Dexter hovered uncertainly behind Dean, as if worried we were going to take him back to the shelter. It took all of one week in a home to convince Dexter that he was ready to put nearly 3 years of his shelter days behind him. This caused Florence to jokingly retort that this was going to be very bad for the shelter's reputation!

It dawned upon us that the homestay gave Dexter the attention, love and walks that he never knew was possible. At the shelter, all these were divided over 35 dogs. For a quiet, unassuming dog like Dexter, the proportion received was likely to be significantly less.

Seeing Dexter happily settled and ever so ready to begin the next chapter of his life with his new family made our hearts sing. With folks to call his own, a warm roof over his head and the most gorgeous canine girlfriend, our Dexter is certainly underdog no more!

The last dog to wrap up this entry is our little girl Drizzle. Drizzle was found by two of our regular volunteers, Feng and Long, when she was just a puppy of not more than 5 months old. This little orphan girl was found wandering along a large field, with no other dog in sight. Unlike the typical stray dog trained by instinct and self-preservation to be wary of us humans, this unsuspecting little girl with her trademark ears had no qualms about approaching humans who had food in hand.

Drizzle, as we first found her

When Feng and Long informed us about their encounter, we were concerned. This girl was such an easy prey she was bound to be captured by the stray dog catchers. Wee and Florence agreed that if we met her again, we would take her into the shelter. In the vast troubled stray dog world, a second chance encounter was a rarity. We were doubtful about our chances of ever meeting that dog once more.

As it turned out, Destiny still had a few tricks up its sleeves. By a twist of fate, Feng and Long chanced upon the puppy once more - one week later. With her large funny ears and a wound on her cheek, it had to be the same dog that they had previously seen. As predicted, it was no trouble capturing this little puppy, even with inexperienced hands. Feng and Long brought the dog back to the shelter, where she was christened Drizzle and began a new chapter of her life as a shelter dog.

Through interaction with her, we discovered that Drizzle was one of the gentlest dog we had ever come across. It didn't take long for her to warm up to humans and learn to walk on a leash. With her good nature and calm ways, Drizzle could get along with almost any other dog. This also helped her slowly worm her way into the hearts of our volunteers.

Just last month, almost six months after Drizzle's arrival at the shelter, one of our volunteers, Angela, proposed bringing Drizzle back for a trial homestay. The homestay proved successful and Drizzle's adoption was very quickly confirmed. I didn't tag along for the house visit the rest made to Drizzle's new home. But based on the pictures alone, Drizzle sure does look every bit the blissful dog.

We hear that in just a few days, Drizzle has successfully mastered the simple game of fetch!

Drizzle playing fetch

This little girl also has a very amusing habit of stealing Angela's slipper for company whenever Angela leaves the house. 

My human's not around, at least let me have her slipper

 From a stray puppy out in the wild, to a shelter dog and now a house pet with a place to call home, 2011 has been a whirlwind of a year for Drizzle. Still a puppy, Drizzle is growing bigger and stronger every day. We have nothing but best wishes for this easygoing darling in her new life ahead of her.

It never fails to amaze me how easily dogs settle down into new homes, so long as they are provided with shelter, food, exercise and affection. Each home visit and subsequent adoption just serves to affirm and strengthen our belief that, regardless of breed, age, colour or size, it is every dog's dream to have a home of its own. Shelter life is a merely a stopgap measure for many a lost and lonely dog. 

On the first day of the new year, we would like to take the opportunity to wish all the adoptors and readers a great year ahead. We're standing on the very first page of a brand new book. Anything is possible! We fervently hope that in the year to come, we will continue to have a bountiful supply of adoption stories to regale you guys with. 

Happy new year once more!

With love, 
from all at Gentle Paws

1 comment:

  1. Very well written stories, it's a joy reading your blog. Happy New Year!


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