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Living with a Fearful Dog

May 7th, 2015 No comments

Imagine that you are someone that has a fear of spiders. Now imagine that you are in a room filled with spiders. You encounter one spider and get weirded out and turn in another direction. Low and behold there are more spiders in your path and you get more creeped out. You turn again in a different direction. You can’t escape them. They’re everywhere you turn. You’re in a constant state of panic and all you want to do is to find a space to hide from all of the creepy crawlies. The fear you are feeling isn’t logical, but yet to you is very real. This is the mindset of a fearful dog.

There are varying degrees of fearfulness in a dog. Some might only be fearful of a specific trigger like loud noises, sudden movements, other animals, etc. Once the trigger is removed, they go back to being a happy go-lucky dog that enjoys life and the people around them. Then there are other dogs where everything in its environment causes the dog to be afraid and apprehensive. Some might refer to the dog as shut-down.

Training can help fearful dogs, but training alone might not be enough. Depending upon how advanced their fearfulness is, you may need to consider consulting a veterinarian about pairing training with anti-anxiety medication. Anyone that takes on the guardianship of a fearful dog must realize that despite all of your best intentions and training, this dog may never become a happy, normal dog. Even if training does help, it will not be a quick process. You may spend the entire rest of the dog’s life training it how to cope with living in our world.

Allow me to introduce you to Sherman, my current foster dog. He’s been with me since August of 2014. He’s listed as a Sheltie/Spaniel mix that is around 4-5 years old. Sherman is unlike any other dog I’ve ever fostered. His level of fear is high. He’s on alert most of the time, and is spooked by so many things…noises (they don’t have to be loud noises), sudden movements (or any movement towards him), cars, any object you’re holding in your hand and humans…including me. You’ll want to check out the video below of me trying to coax him to come towards me.

He’s not completely shut-down to humans. He is capable of being relaxed and happy. There are times where he is content to have me pet him. Then there are other times where he stays about 5 feet away from me just wagging his tail. He acts like he wants to come toward me, but he stays where he is. He more readily approaches me if my other dogs are already around me. This would be the reason why the rescue is looking to place him in a home with another dog.

There are two times of the day where I witness him in a state of mind where he truly seems relaxed and happy to see me: first thing in the morning before I get out of bed (check out the video below); and then first thing when I get home from work. He gets super excited in both instances and eagerly greets me with tail wagging and body relaxed. During the morning greetings I actually witness him play with a dog toy. It makes me so happy to see him like this, and then so sad to see him once those endorphins wear off. After the euphoria is over he reverts back to this dog that would rather go off into another room by himself.

Given the fact that he does seem capable of being happy around humans, the rescue took him to the veterinarian to be evaluated for anti-anxiety medication. After his evaluation, the doctor prescribed Fluoxetine (i.e. Prozac). He started the medication this past January. I haven’t tried to push any behavior modification training on him yet. I wanted to give the medication some time to kick in and see how he would respond to that alone. I’ve seen some mild improvement. He’s a bit more confident around me and his surroundings.

The next step is to work with him on behavior modification. The doctor recommends starting with  clicker training and getting him to hand target (i.e. touching his nose to my hand). Sounds simple enough, right? I’ve tried the clicker briefly with him already. Getting him use to the sound of the clicker in and of itself is a major challenge. One click and he’s off and running. And that happens even when pairing the click with the yummiest treat imaginable. Once that one click is done, he wants nothing more to do with me.

It breaks my heart to see him like this, and makes me wonder what kind of past he had. Personally, I’m okay with him being who he wants to be, but I’m not a normal dog owner. Most people want a sociable dog that loves attention and human interaction. I hope whoever adopts Sherman will be okay with him the way he is today. If they’re expecting more from him, they’ll be setting him up for failure right from the start. Stay tuned. I will post updates.

Categories: News & Views

Six Year Anniversary of Being Bit by a Dog

June 15th, 2014 No comments

It was on this day 6 years ago that I was bit by a dog. Not just any dog. It was my own dog and his name was Abbot. It wasn’t the kind of bite a band-aide could take care of either.  It was a bite involving lacerations above the eyelid and on the scalp, plus a badly bruised wrist with puncture wounds. I remember that day like it was yesterday. The physical and emotional scars still remain.

I don’t talk about it much because it is not an easy thing to talk about for a lot of reasons. The post over on No Dog About It titled The burden of euthanizing an aggressive dog” does a good job of summing up the guilt, the multitude of “what if’s” and the feelings of failure you go through after an event like this.  It’s given me the courage to speak up now, as I feel there are probably others out there struggling with these issues.

It is very hard to reconcile how a dog you love, that can be super sweet and affectionate, is capable of such an action. After something like this, your trust is broken and your nerves are shot. The physical wounds heal, but the emotional ones…they stay with you. To this day I still tense up anytime I hear a dog getting snarky about something.

As sweet as Abbot was, he had issues.  He was territorial, shy and had major separation anxiety. He was a stray at the shelter I volunteered for. He did not “show” well at the shelter. He would charge the cage door anytime someone would pass by. That is the reason I wanted to foster him. He was never going to get adopted as long as he stayed in the facility. Once out of the cage, he was super sweet and affectionate, but potential adopters could never get past the image of him being an ass in the cage.

I fostered him for 3 months before deciding to adopt him. My head was telling me that I was not the right owner for him, but my heart was telling me otherwise. I worked all day, which is not a good scenario for a dog with separation anxiety.  I had a dog sitter come during the day, but in the end I really don’t think that helped any. If anything, I think it just added to his anxiety. I’m sure Abbot was thinking: “Yay, someone else is here to play with me. Wait, you’re leaving now too? Nooo! Come back!“.

He really should have been in a home where someone was around most of the day.  I justified keeping him as my own by telling myself there was no guarantee that the shelter would find him a home which would meet that criteria. Even if they did, that person is bound to leave the home every once in a while to run errands. How would they handle his separation anxiety? Maybe this issue is why he landed in the shelter in the first place.

The separation anxiety wasn’t his only issue. I wasn’t his first bite either. He bit the neighbor kid through the fencing. I was outside standing next to Abbot at the time monitoring and in a blink of an eye it happened. Thankfully the bite did not cause any damage, but it was still a scary moment. I explained this one away as him being territorial. From that point forward, if the kids were outside, Abbot was on a tie out so he could not reach the fence line. I’m managing the environment. Everything is going to be fine. Now I’m starting to wonder “Had he bitten anyone long before we ever met? Is that the reason why he landed in the shelter?”

Then comes the incident with my friend’s little girl, who I’ll refer to as Ann. She was around 7 at the time. They had come in from out of town for a visit. I kept Abbot on a leash the entire time because I was unsure how he would be around her.  There was a moment where Ann went to give my parents a hug, and Abbot went berserk over it. If he had not been on a leash that day, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have attacked her.  Not good! I couldn’t even begin to explain his actions on this one.

I took him through dog training classes and consulted with the trainer on this. The separation anxiety never got better, but I told myself I was managing the situation and it would be fine. During the periods of time when he was alone, he would have potty accidents and he would destroy things. He just couldn’t help it. The anxiety was too much.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would be cleaning up after him on a daily basis. Not just the accidents, but the destruction too. Take a look at the picture to the right. His crate started out where you can see the Collie standing. By the time I got home the crate was in the kitchen with the carpeting pulled into the crate. How the heck did that happen?! This was a common occurrence.

The day he bit me, was quite frankly, my own fault. We had come home from a visit to my parent’s house and I let him and my other dogs outside for a potty break. Abbot did both while outside. I brought everyone in and went upstairs to work on my computer. The dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. I was upstairs for maybe 40 minutes. Not long in my terms, but long enough for Abbot to have a panic attack. I came downstairs to find pee and poop in the house. I got mad. He was outside not even an hour ago and did both! Why would he do this now? I was at a loss.

I yelled at him and he went running into his crate. I don’t hit dogs, that’s not my style, but he doesn’t know that. I should have known better and taken a second to cool off, but I didn’t. I approached his cage still mad at him. I wanted to get him out of the cage to go back outside. In his mind my body language was communicating to him that I was a threat and he is now trapped in his cage. He had nowhere to go, so he did what he thought he needed to do to protect himself. As I reached in to get him, he nailed me.

I understand why he did what he did that night, but there were too many things going on with him prior to that night which I couldn’t understand. His reaction to Ann hugging my parents being one of them. Some dogs just aren’t wired correctly. How can I justify keeping an aggressive dog, when so many well-adjusted dogs are dying in shelters every day?

Rehoming him was not an option. He was a time-bomb waiting to go off. The next time it could have been a child. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. Keeping him was no longer an option for me either. My nerves were shot. I no longer trusted him, and I was now afraid of him. That’s not a good combination.  This was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I did not make it lightly.

I used to believe that all dogs could be saved. They just needed time, love, training and patience. Between what happened with Abbot and what I’ve witnessed in my rescue work since then, my opinion on this changed. I have a new found respect for what dogs are capable of doing.  Some dogs will just never fully adjust to living harmoniously in our world. It’s been a hard pill to swallow.

This all happened 6 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about animal behavior and options for aggressive dogs since then. If I had known then some of what I know now, I might have handled things differently. Would it have made a difference? Obviously there’s no way to know that now. I made the decision that I felt was the best one at the time for him, for my family and for the public in general.

I’m sure there are many of you out there that will disagree with my decision to euthanize him, and feel he had a right to live out his life. I understand where you are coming from. If I had not gone through this myself, I would be feeling the same way. The only thing I can say is this, until you can walk a mile in my shoes, you really have no idea how you would handle the same situation if the roles were reversed. I hope you never have to walk a mile in my shoes.

Categories: News & Views

Pet Insurance – Is It Worth It

January 19th, 2012 1 comment

I just wanted to give you a quick update on Charm and Daisy. They both came home from the emergency clinic last week, and are doing fine. You would never know anything happened to them if it weren’t for their shaved legs from where the IV’s were inserted. They did have some diarrhea which was probably a side effect of the medication, but other than that they’re back to normal. Thank goodness!

This whole ordeal got me thinking about pet insurance and how, in this instance, it would have been a big help. This would not be the first time I’ve thought about pet insurance. I’ve looked into it in the past, but I’ve not pursued it because I felt like it would be a waste of money. There are so many things you should consider when you’re evaluating the different pet insurances, it can be overwhelming. This video offers a few things you should pay attention to while you review the different providers.

How to Evaluate a Pet Insurance Policy

Here’s another video that provides a very basic comparison of four different pet insurance plans.

Pet Health Insurance Comparison by VNN.com

When I was doing my research I did find one company (Pet Plan Pet Insurance) that would continue to cover conditions diagnosed while on the plan. They would do that as long as you continued to renew your policy and did not lapse in your payments. Sounds great right? It is until you read some of their fine print. The deductible you have with this provider is PER CONDITION per year. That means if your pet is diagnosed with diabetes and then later on in the year is also diagnosed with arthritis, you are paying two deductibles, not one. I also had to laugh when I read their policy on covering prescriptions:

“Coverage for prescriptions is included in all Petplan policies, provided that they have been prescribed by the treating veterinarian as treatment for an illness or accident and the illness or accident is not a pre-existing condition. All prescriptions must be FDA approved for pets, subject to policy provisions. Nutritional supplements and vitamins are not covered by the policy.”

They might as well have said that they don’t cover prescriptions. Notice the “pre-existing condition”, “must be FDA approved for pets” and “nutritional supplements and vitamins are not covered” statements. Many prescription drugs used in the veterinary world are FDA approved for human use, not pet use. For example, of the eight different things my pets are on, only one is FDA approved for pet use (Derramax), 3 are not FDA approved (Tramadol, Lactulose, Piroxicam) and the remaining four are supplements (Azodyl, Epakitin, Vetri-Liver and Dasuquin).

There is one other thing to be aware of if you’re thinking about pet insurance – You’re still responsible to pay the vet bill. Your vet will want their money upfront. That means you still have to cover the full amount of the bill at the time of the service. You will be the one responsible to submit all of the paperwork to the insurance company, not your vet. The insurance provider will reimburse you based on the terms of your agreement.

If you’re interested in doing further research, I’ve compiled a listing below of some of the different pet insurance providers I’ve found. I doubt this is a comprehensive list. I’m sure there are others out there. I don’t endorse any of the companies, nor have I researched each one. I just thought I’d provide you with a one-stop shopping list for those of you interested in researching further.

So do you think pet insurance is worth it? Are any of you already using pet insurance? I would love to hear your opinions on the topic.

Pet Insurance Providers:

You Can Save a Life This Year!

January 1st, 2012 2 comments

Richie

Richie went from the shelter to a rescue and was then adopted!

Many people ask me how it is I can volunteer at a shelter that euthanizes. They think that since I go there I must condone the action. I can tell you that I absolutely do not! There is NO GOOD REASON to euthanize an adoptable pet. These same folks are also of the mindset that they will never adopt from or support an organization that does this. In their minds they think by not supporting it, then that means the shelter will get the message and stop doing such an activity. Right?

While these folks have their hearts in the right place, their logic is out of whack. There is a never ending stream of pets coming into the shelters, and these shelters won’t turn them away. When someone decides not to adopt or support a shelter that euthanizes, what they are in effect doing is contributing to the euthanasia. After all, they are one less person going through those doors to adopt, they are one less person volunteering their time to help these pets get into rescue and they are one less person advocating adoption of these animals to their family and friends. It’s not the pet’s fault that it landed in a shelter that euthanizes, so why would you turn your back on them just because of the shelter they’re in?

That’s my opinion and the reason why I volunteer. I can’t turn my back on them. There’s no question that volunteering at a shelter that euthanizes can be difficult emotionally. One minute you’re elated because your favorite just got adopted and the next minute you’re crying because your other favorite is leaving in a body bag. It can knock you on your ass. But I keep going for the ones that are still there. They still have a chance at getting out and living a happy life. But they need help in order to get out. There are only so many hours in the day, and the shelters are generally understaffed and the staff is overworked. Volunteers play such an important role in the lives of these pets. Here are some ways volunteers can help:

  • Become a foster parent – The pet you foster is actually saving two lives. The one you foster, and the one that can now take the space of the cage just vacated. Keep in mind that the shelter may want you to volunteer for a certain length of time before they will allow you to foster. They want to know that you’re going to stick around and that you’re trustworthy.
  • Contact rescues – Do you have a favorite breed? Chances are there’s a rescue that deals with that breed. Reach out to them to see if they’ll help out should that breed land in the shelter.
  • Transport pets – You might find a rescue willing to take one of your pets, but you’re in Kentucky and the rescue is in Ohio. Volunteers are needed all of the time to help drive these pets from one leg to the next to get the pet from your shelter to the rescue group.
  • Website maintenance and social media – If you’re tech savvy, sign up to help with the shelter’s website. The website expands the reach of the pet beyond the physical location. The more ways you can communicate to the public about a pet you have, the greater the chance the pet will get adopted. This includes promoting the pets on sites like Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Photograph or video tape pets for the shelter’s website – They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A good picture can make a world of difference in getting that pet adopted. Videos add so much more to the story. It gives the potential adopter a chance to see its personality before they stop down to meet it.
Bear

Bear was treated for heartworm and entropion thanks to fundraising efforts. He was adopted!

  • Fundraising – Many pets come into the shelter with medical conditions that are very treatable (i.e. heartworm, demodectic mange, broken bones, etc). If the shelter has no money to treat these conditions, then the pet doesn’t stand a chance. These medical conditions can take several weeks to treat which is one more reason fostering is so important. Shelters generally don’t have the luxury of letting a pet sit in a cage to undergo weeks of healing time.
  • Grooming – Some of the pets you’ll see in shelters were severely neglected and it will break your heart to see the condition they are in. Generally speaking potential adopters will look at this pet and feel sorry for it, but they aren’t able to look beyond the mess and see what a beautiful pet it can be. They’ll keep walking. If you’re good with clippers, there’s sure to be a pet in dire need of a spa day! Check out the video below of Muppet’s transformation!

Becoming a no-kill nation won’t happen over-night, but if we can each resolve to do our part, just imagine what we can accomplish. It just takes one person to make a difference in the life of a shelter pet. Are you that one person? I am.

Categories: News & Views

Social Petworking

December 29th, 2011 2 comments

I’m not alone…being followed. Someone always watching what we do…
From the song “Being Followed” by Duran Duran

Facebook Fan PageIn this day and age with all of the social media platforms out there it’s easy to feel like you’re being followed. I feel tremendous gratitude toward all of you that decided to follow The Shelter Shack on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ page. I know the incentive for many of you to follow was to try and win the Social Media for Social Good raffle. I appreciate the follow and hope you’ll stick around now that the raffle is over. Congratulations goes out to the winner of the raffle, Kristi W. and her charity of choice which is the Leon County Humane Society in Tallahassee, Florida.

So what does the quote from the Duran Duran song above have to do with all of this you might ask? Well, outside of a shameless plug for my favorite band, it serves as a lead in to talk about how those in animal rescue are not alone, and being followed on social media sites can only help to get those homeless pets adopted!

If you’re involved with a shelter or an animal rescue group and you don’t have a presence on a social media site…get one! They’re easy to set-up and they’re free to use! It’s one of the quickest ways to send out information to the masses about your adoptable pets. It’s also a great way to build community support.

It gives you the opportunity to connect with your supporters in a way unlike any other before. Outside of showcasing adoptable pets, you can announce upcoming events, share content from others about animal care tips or current animal related news, post happy tails of previous adoptions and post requests for donations.

A word of caution on the donation requests, keep those postings to a smaller percentage from everything else. People know you need donations and a gentle nudge every now and then will suffice, but requesting on a daily basis could cause you to come off as too needy and you will lose followers.

As a general rule of thumb, keep your postings fun and informative and you’ll keep your followers engaged. An even bigger rule of thumb is to respond to your followers comments. Even if all you’re doing is “Liking” their comment, that can be enough. It shows that you are paying attention to what they are saying. So animal rescuers…go forth and be followed!

Since I started this post with a shameless plug for my favorite band, I might as well end the same way. Here’s the music video for the song quoted above. It is from the album All You Need Is Now. Enjoy!

Categories: News & Views

Animals Sing “12 Days of Christmas”

December 22nd, 2011 No comments
Categories: News & Views