The purpose of this post is to show people that even damaged dogs can bring so much joy and fulfillment to your life. That the dogs you may not think are the best for you – may be the ones you need the most.
As the proud mom of 2 pitties Ginger and Riley – I knew I wanted to help more pit bull type dogs when they passed away. These dogs taught me the meaning of love, how to live life to the fullest and how absolutely fabulous pit bull breed dogs are. They are the reason I am an advocate and the reason I will do everything I can to educate as many as I can about the breed to help more find homes.
Ginger lived to be 14.5 and Riley passed 2 weeks after her 14th birthday – good lives for pitties. We adopted them at 8 weeks old from our local SPCA. The momma was a breeding dog for dog fighters in one of the worst towns in our area – so we made sure we were ready to commit to these 2 angels we were lucky to call “our girls” so they would never fall into the wrong hands.
They never knew a bad day. They were loved, they were cared for mentally and physically and they never had a fear of anything in the world. They had what we considered perfect puppy lives from beginning – until they passed in our arms at the vet.
This is the life every dog deserves.
When Ginger passed in March 2016 – I was overwhelmed with the loss of my 2 best friends in such a short period of time and in no way was ready for a new family member.
Then a dog appeared in my Facebook feed (see the below image) – now, I am active in rescue to an extent – so I see a lot of dogs in need in my feed, but this one was different. For some reason she really spoke to me in that picture for whatever reason.
The next day I went up to the Elizabeth Animal Shelter to see this girl – and my heart broke in a million pieces.
She was so broken – mentally, physically and emotionally.
She had clearly been bred, starved and her backend had no muscle tone so she had a hard time walking. We believe she was kept in a crate most of her days – but she was found roaming with another dog when the shelter got her.
She made no eye contact with me and actually receded as far back in her kennel as she could to avoid me. When they went to get her to bring her out to me – she literally had to be carried out.
Not only was she broken – she was now breaking me. I could feel the tears welling up…
I said OK I will foster her – so we put her in my car and off we went.
I had no intentions of keeping her – NONE, NADA, ZERO.
What I really wanted!
I wanted an older pittie – one who had been in a shelter for too long.
I wanted a less active pittie – one who did not need hours of play.
I wanted a dog that could go to stores and out in public.
I wanted a dog that would welcome people into our home with a friendly butt wag and a kiss.
I knew what I wanted and this dog was not it. The plan was to bring her home, make her healthy and happy and find her the perfect forever home.
Clearly someone had a different plan.
Our first few weeks were hard – like really hard.
I wanted to quit and send her back to the shelter. Yes it was that tough. I was not equipped to handle the issues she had and my non-dog loving husband although tried hard, sometimes was not patient either. He has always supported my animal crazies — he was a great dog dad to our girls, even though he never wanted dogs – so when I brought Cleo home he did not know what to expect – but he did not expect this.
She came to our home August 2016 – a terrified nervous wreck. I had no idea what I was doing as I had never dealt with a dog like this before. I had no skills in the area – but I hoped with love, patience and kindness – she would learn to trust.
She ran away from everything and everyone. She bowed in fear if we went to pet her. Her pupils were huge – her eyes always wide with fear. She was terrified.
A fun dog she was not.
What we did that first week:
- Kept her crated a lot the first few days to let her decompress and know that the crate is her “safe space”
- Limited our time engaging with her so she could just get used to her surroundings without us stressing her out
- Because she had so many emotional issues we decided to invest in a dog anxiety vest to see if that could bring some relief
- Took her to the vet
- Gave her toys and chewies
- Fed her the same time every day – and always kept that water bowl full
- Invested in a GPS Dog Tracking Collar – although we have a fenced yard we did see some indicators she may try to get out due to immense fear.
So after doing the above we settled in and prepared for a stressful few weeks ahead.
The vet estimated she was 2-3 years old, definitely had a few litters and said she was about 20 pounds underweight. But otherwise she seemed very healthy physically. The doctor noted emotional issues based on her body stature and mannerisms and prescribed a little puppy prozac – which to date we have not used.
ETA 1/10/18: someone noted on our Facebook page about us not giving her the “puppy prozac” and we wanted to clarify that the not giving it to her was not because we are anti-pill, but we could not physically give it to her. We tried everything under the sun and she spit it out every time. We even tried to “get it down her throat” so to speak – but she became a terrified mess – so we just put the pills aside until we felt we could get them in her consistently. We WILL give this another go now that she is more acclimated and trusting of me.
OK, we are making progress.
The first few weeks with her were tough – but she was such a good girl we wanted to help…..she did not come around for a few weeks and when she did start to you can tell she was clearly going to be a mommy’s girl.
We wanted to give up on her so many times I felt guilty for even thinking like that….but I am glad we hung in there with her.
She continued to a have a very strong fear of my husband which would prove much harder to overcome.
She began to gain weight and looked a little more for some petting and snuggles after about a month.
But often when I went to pet her she would cringe in fear – this lasted for months.
On our first walk – which was about 2 weeks after she arrived, the world terrified her. We barely made it down the driveway – even a leaf blowing would have her stuck to the ground in fear. It took about 3-4 months before we made it around the block without her cringing at everything.
Her back legs were so week she could not walk far – it took months for her to build of the strength to do longer walks.
About 6 months of having her I began to realize she may never be an “emotionally healthy” dog. She will never 100% trust. She will always growl from fear. She will always cringe if a stranger goes to pet her.
Cleo has been with us 17 months now.
She is ours. We are a foster fail.
Why we kept her.
- She is not uber friendly.
- She is still fearful of so many situations.
- When we are on walks she shows a lot of aggression towards dogs – and some people.
- She has triggers – lots of them.
Rehoming her we realized would NOT be in her best interest due to these issues. There are not many homes that are patient enough or willing to have a dog with these issues.
So with us she will stay because we know what we can offer is a home that works for her needs.
- We have a quiet calm home with a teenager. It is a consistent life with security and a schedule.
- I work from home – which helps with her anxiety.
- There are no real stressors for her to have to deal with.
- There are no risks of her biting or being aggressive with children.
We are the right home for her – even if she is not what we wanted.
Why we did not want her.
Well, she was not perfect.
She definitely was not perfect for US!
- She could play ball in the yard for hours — and we mean HOURS. We realized this is probably because she had never played for those first few years and now she is afraid it will end!
- She has more energy than we wanted – not that we are old, but we are not uber active.
- We have to put her away when company is over because she becomes so fear aggressive – even in her crate, that she scares our friends.
- We cannot take her all the places we want to go – everything is a slow patient introduction. She does not embrace new things but fears them which makes it hard to take her on road trips.
Why she is perfect for us.
- She forces me to get out for a walk every day. I work from home – I could work 12 hours straight without taking a break, but she has changed that. She makes me play ball in the yard and take her for a walk EVERY day! She is making me healthier – she is what I needed!
- My husband kind of digs her – that in itself is a feat. She has a weird relationship with him – he is the play guy, she rarely snuggles with him – but oh man – when it comes to playing daddy rules. He was the one who said we should keep her.
- She has taught me forgiveness – to see a dog so horribly mistreated be able to trust is an awesome human life goal to have. If she can forgive and learn to trust – well, then so can I.
- We have learned some things come into our lives even when we do not expect it for a reason – she filled a hole in our heart and gave us back the sense of family we were missing due to losing both our girls.
- She is one hell of a snuggler – and those eyes thank me every day.
- I can let her off leash in our favorite walking spot and she stays by my side. There is a bond I never had with a dog before.
She is not an emotionally healthy and happy dog and never will be – it is what we always had and it was nice never needing to stress about who was coming over or whether a “trigger” would set them off.
But on the flip side, watching Cleo have those happy carefree dog moments when she is playing ball or walking in our favorite woods – PRICELESS!
Where we will go from here.
This year we are going to meet with a trainer to determine if she is in fact dog aggressive or just terrified and see if a new addition to our family may help her with her insecurity and fear issues. We WANT for her to have that carefree attitude so many dogs get to have. We want to make sure she has the best life we can give her.
She gets along well with our cat (although the cat is mean as hell to her) – but given her prey drive for squirrels we are proud of how well she does with our small gray cat Snoopy – who can almost be mistaken for a squirrel! Oh, and on that note – we do currently have what we think is the best squirrel proof bird feeder in our yard so they cannot get to the food – but they still try. That is one of the best benefits to keeping Cleo around – chasing squirrels is how she earns her keep around here! I promise she will NEVER hurt one – but it is nice to have them stay away so the birds can enjoy their food in peace.
We still have a it of work to do with her and other animals – especially dogs – we hope someday she will see the joy in puppy play and not fear other dogs.
While I know she is happy – I want more for her. I want her to not stress – not fear people and know that she is FOREVER safe.
Why looking for the “perfect” dog is the wrong thing to do.
So what we hope everyone can take away from this – is that the perfect dog you may be looking for, may not be so perfect after all. I am glad I saw Cleo in my feed that day – because she has turned into my “soul dog”. While I loved Ginger and Riley immensely – they were so closely bonded I feel I lost that closeness many owners have with having 1 dog.
Give a dog a chance that you may not think is right, but for some reason tugs at you.
Oh and then there is also the Animal Communicator I met with that told me Cleo was meant to be with me….that is another great story in itself!
Have you found your pet in a similar way? We would love to hear how your furry friend came into your life!