I’ve started and restarted this post again and again. I like to be positive and helpful and inspiring. I really don’t want to be a bummer on your day. But today, finding a positive note isn’t easy. And maybe that’s a message worth writing. Fostering isn’t all roses and puppy breath. It can be hard and it can be heartbreaking.
When we set off on our fostering adventure, my biggest fear was that we would get a dog that would never be adopted.
Lately, I feel as if we are living that fear. Yes, yes, I tell myself, Gala’s family will come. They always do.
But for now, for this week, it doesn’t seem evenly remotely possible.
When I write about Gala, I’ve tried to focus on the positive – all the good things (and there are many!) – her over-the-top devotion, her happy attitude, her smarts and enthusiasm and funny habits like burrowing under pillows and racing up and down steep embankments like some kind of canine spiderman.
I’ve tried to not dwell on her quirks and outbursts. Hopeful that if I highlight the good stuff, an adopter will choose her, or at least come to meet her.
She’s had exactly one potential adopter make the trek to our house to meet her in the entire nine months that we’ve had her.
But writing the good stuff hasn’t changed her situation. And maybe it’s unhelpful. She is still on the website. We’ve passed the nine-month mark for her time in rescue. Our house is a maze of babygates that keep her and Gracie separated. She spends long hours in her crate (about 18 hours a day) because when left alone in a room, she leaps over the gates and crating her is the only way to keep her safe and not punish the animals (and people) who live here.
She is quiet in her crate, watching us with her sad, expressive eyes. All she really wants is to be near us, but that’s often not possible as she doesn’t get along with Gracie and her enthusiasm for Frankie can overwhelm his puppy self. When someone new comes to the house (fairly frequent occurrence in this busy household), I can’t risk her being loose —she loves people, but she needs slow introductions. She has to learn they haven’t come to harm her.
I watch the emails begging for people to take dogs out of boarding or off transport and help them get adopted and I cringe. So many dogs in need. I want to help.
But we have Gala. Gala can’t handle more dogs coming and going. So we say to no to helping another dog because we so desperately want to help Gala.
What Gala needs is this: A quiet house with one, maybe two people, who are patient and caring and willing to work with a dog who is happy and loving, but also sensitive and reactive. A place where she can be the only dog loved by people who will take her for long walks and cuddle with her on the couch. People who won’t be frightened of her high energy and rare intensity. People who will respect her intelligence, but give her the confident care that will make her feel safe. People who don’t have dogs and people traipsing in and out all day long, unsettling Gala and worrying her.
I don’t know what happened to Gala prior to coming to rescue, but I know it was powerful. Powerful enough that the echoes of that tragedy are obvious in her reaction to sudden noises and movements, unfamiliar people and dogs. She needs someone who is determined to love her and give her a chance. Someone who will not expect her to be the dog she cannot be.
On Sunday, I took Gala to an adoption event. She hadn’t attended one since last spring, where it was obvious the experience wasn’t a good one for her. I took her this time partly out of curiosity. I wondered if she might do better this time, she’d calmed and settled and been through a lot since that first month with us. And the Pet Valu was only a mile or so from our home, so I figured I could bail if she didn’t do well.
Mostly, I took her because sometimes it feels like no one will ever pick her, so maybe I naively hoped she’d find her person. Her people were certainly not finding her at our house.
After our experience Sunday, it seems pretty clear to me that we are not helping Gala. We are caring for her, but she is not making progress in terms of socialization. Witnessing her defensive behavior (snarling and barking at not just dogs, but people), it’s obvious that she doesn’t feel any safer in public now than she did when she arrived. I didn’t recognize her. This is not the Gala we experience at home.
Gala has always been terrified and reactive towards other dogs, but rarely towards people. On Sunday, she was frightened and ready to defend herself (and me?) against unfamiliar people and dogs. As her time at the event wore on, instead of relaxing, she began to explode at random people, and I was never sure what triggered her reaction. Certainly, no one threatened her. And yet, Gala sensed a threat of some kind. Why else would my incredibly loving dog display such fierceness?
I drove Gala home early, frustrated and saddened, convinced no one will ever pick her (why would they?) and that we were only making her less adoptable. Her behavior was much worse than that first adoption event so long ago. My mind spun with thoughts – What will become of her? How long can we do this? Are we doing more harm than good?
The morning after our adoption event debacle, I took her for our usual long walk. Instead of loping along happily in front of me, she tiptoed beside me, pausing frequently to check behind us, her eyes darting in every direction, the whites flashing. It was almost like she had PTSD from spending one hour at an adoption event and being bombarded with new people and dogs.
I want to believe that Gala’s family is out there somewhere, but today, that’s hard. Today my heart breaks for this sweet, loving, intense, frightened dog. But it mostly breaks because right now, at least, it feels like I cannot save her.
Sorry for the bummer post. I promise I’ll find my optimism again, soon. But for today, instead of pushing aside my fears for Gala, I’m letting them out. It doesn’t help any of us to pretend they don’t exist.
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