Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kindred Canines

That's my Shawnee on the left, watching over her buddy, Billie Joe, on the right. Billie Joe is for adoption through All Star Pet Rescue, a group we share adoption days with. As a rule, we have human volunteers who each chaperone a dog at adoption day. In Billie Joe's case, Shawnee is his chaperone. A dog to chaperone a dog? Oh yes.

On July 11, 2001 I found Shawnee, 4 months old at the time, at a large animal shelter. The shelter staff begged me to take her. She was in the corner of her cage, tucked into fetal position, shaking violently. This was due to sheer terror. Of what? Of people. She had never been properly socialized and the thing she most feared was the unfamiliar: humans. Shawnee came with me into foster care where we played catch-up with her socialization, baby steps of introducing her to the unfamiliar world around her. She was exposed to lots of very social dogs and went to group obedience class every single week for 5 years to build up and maintain self-esteem. Although Shawnee started out as a foster, she became a permanent member of my family. Unless you knew her in her early days, you would never believe how terrified she once was. She is now, for the most part, like any other dog. Except Shawnee now has a job. She socializes scared dogs.

In April 2008, Billie Joe went into foster care with All Star Pet Rescue. Billie Joe was 9 months old and had lived his entire life outside in a yard with 15 other dogs. Another case of extreme fear of humans due to lack of socialization. For almost one year, each time Billy Joe was at adoption day, he would slither (or as we call it, GI Joe belly crawl) smack up against the building in a desperate attempt to hide in the crack between the wall and sidewalk - that same crack Shawnee used to try to hide in. He would duck his head and not look at anyone. "If I can't see you, you can't see me."
People would always assume Billie Joe had been abused. How could he possibly have been abused if nobody ever interacted with him before he was rescued? People could pet him. People could do anything to him. Billy Joe simply never responded. He would pretend you did not exist. He would pretend he did not exist. Until he met Shawnee.

I knew Shawnee was drawn to shy dogs. I had seen it too many times - her honing in on the less social and taking them "under her paw." Those shy dogs would respond to her, feel more at ease, and become much more interactive with humans. It made them more adoptable. So after a year of minimal progress with Billie Joe it only made sense to let Shawnee have a go at him. Shawnee simply had to start coming to adoption day to show Billie Joe the ropes.

The changes were dramatic and almost instantaneous. Billie Joe now walks all fours at Shawnee's side - no more GI Joe belly crawl. Billie Joe no longer tries to hide in a sidewalk crack - he now positions himself parallel to Shawnee on the blanket in full view of the world. Billy Joe now responds to people paying attention to him, even to the point of looking at them as though to say "Why did you stop petting me?"

So until Billie Joe gets adopted, which he is now most definitely ready for, Shawnee will be his chaperone at adoption day.

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