dog rescue, Dogs with Issues, Gala, oph

I Don’t Think I Can Save Her

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?

pet valu

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.

frank bed gala

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit CaraWrites.com or subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter.

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I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email carasueachterberg@gmail.com or connect with me through Facebook, twitter, or Instagram.

Blessings,

Cara

31 thoughts on “I Don’t Think I Can Save Her”

  1. She sounds like my dog, Dusty, in the beginning. I’ll let him tell his story.

    Um, Dusty T. Dog here. My human has all my papers from when she adopted me. They say, “Cannot be adopted. Submissive urination, aggression, fear. Recommend rescue.” When I met my human, I WANTED to be her dog more than anything in the world. My human understood this and she adopted me. She says it was very very very difficult because I was reactive, afraid of new people, afraid to go in the car, aggressive along the fence line and I’m very large and black so, she says, I scared people. I WANTED to scare people because maybe they were going to hurt me (again) or hurt my human or take me away from my human and my Siberian Husky sister/mothers.

    Finally my human called a professional trainer she knew and I went to stay there for six weeks. My human was having hip surgery and I was just a puppy, that was one reason. The other was — my human says — where we lived, in the mountains, I couldn’t get any “socializing” with other dogs and people. My trainer took me out for long runs every day with all the other dogs she was training and her dogs. We even got to “ride” horses and I LOVE horses. I met all kinds of people, too, and now, if they don’t come at me too fast, I’m very happy to meet them. I love people now. I am even happy to get up into a car because it means we’re going hiking. When I was first adopted, I thought it meant I was going to be thrown out on the highway and beaten. I walk perfectly at heel on or off the leash and I’m VERY proud of that. I love my human more than anything in the world, but I also love her friends and my pack mates. Because of my human and my trainer, I learned how to love without fear.

    This is a long way of saying maybe this dog had a bad time and needs more than just a home; maybe she needs all the things my human did for me. Maybe live-in-training with a professional.

    P.S. Martha here. Besides what Dusty T. Dog has said, I think Gala wants to be YOUR dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you’re being honest about your feelings and frustrations. Anyone involved in pet rescue knows how hard it can be. And sooner or later, we also realize that sometimes our best just isn’t good enough. I commend you for all your efforts on Gala’s behalf, and hope that this story has a happy ending.

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  3. I feel for you, as I have been there myself! Allie, the momma to my most recent litter born and raised in my home was quite similar, love and proper care was simply not enough, and even though she has since been adopted, her owners still do, and will likely always struggle with her problems. I would highly suggest you seek professional help, a trainer or behaviorist may be able to do some good, just remember that for some dogs, whatever traumatic experience they had in their past has set them permanently and there is nothing that can change it; at which point, in my opinion, you need to take a step back and really think hard on the question, “is this dog safe to place?”. I know this is something no one wants to consider, but I am putting it to you bluntly, if you are having such a rough time managing her, is it really fair for anyone else to have to take that on? Just food for thought…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – the rescue is sifting through some professional help options and I’m hopeful that maybe something can change for her. You’re right, though, we are so close to the situation and need more objective eyes to help her. Still holding out hope that the right adopters, like you found for your Allie, will come for her.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad to hear it, I sincerely hope something can be done to help her. Being completely honest, with Allie’s pretty intense issues, if it had been my choice, I would not have placed her; even though she is in a home, and has stayed there thus far, she is causing a lot of issues for her new family, and for me, I simply do not think them having to deal with those issues is fair when there are endless numbers of wonderful dogs out there with no problems at all. Best wishes that your foster gets the help she needs!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! Professional training in the trainer’s environment. We did this years ago with a dog who thought I needed very aggressive protection from everything on four legs. He stayed there almost two weeks. It worked very well. They then showed us what he could do thru a one way window and he couldn’t see us. They made sure we could “handle” him with his new skills before we left. We could call if we needed help. He seemed much happier after.
    He even made a couple of good dog buddies after that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really hope we can find something like that for Gala. She loves to play with my puppy Frankie (a bit too much), so that gives me hope that she could learn to be with other dogs. I think all her aggression comes out of her fear and I wish I had the skills to help her past it.

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  5. I hope Pat Miller is on your list of options! I think Shiloh might have spiraled like this if I hadn’t found Pat. Pat is very careful. Very careful. Going over threshold with Shiloh is very dangerous for us because we live in a very busy, dog-filled stressful neighborhood at home. I call it Urban Conflict Zone, for Dogs. Shiloh is coming along with careful management, medication, a great supplement called l-theanine, and lots and lots of love and help. She’s really mine now. We can be totally relaxed together no matter what freakazoid dog is outside our front door. Storms are getting easier to manage. Stress colitis (think explosive big D) episodes are fewer and farther between. Shiloh wasn’t made for the environment I’m in. She belongs in the Russian wilderness doing nothing but bounding through snow and protecting her human from other animals, sniffing out dinner, etc. Instead, she got me and my hot trigger-filled neighborhood. But we’re doing this. She stays under threshold even easier now with the l-theanine. I’ve figured out what she can eat successfully. And now in her second year with me, she’s finally starting to realize maybe those scary dogs in the hood are *not* thinking of eating her. I’m not so sure she’ll ever like uncut males tho. Lolol. There are lots of good behaviorists and trainers out there, but some dogs need excellent, exceptionally careful ones. That’s Pat. Talk to your rescue. Maybe they will set up a Go Fund Me for behavior modification for Gala. I see the world differently now that I understand how to help dogs like Shiloh. It’s been a steep learning curve – counter-conditioning, CER’s, operant conditioning, desensitization, reactivity thresholds, stress factor management…. I didn’t realize how much this all plays into *everyone’s* view of the world. I’ve reconfigured my life to suit me better finally recognizing what was motivating me and what habits and relationships (gulp) were degrading my well-being. And in the mean time, be kind to yourself. You’re in the woods with Gala. Stay true to your heart to find your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds similar to the foster dog we have right now. Luckily he is fine with our dogs and cats. He has separation anxiety big time though and has broken teeth attempting to escape his crate. I don’t leave him loose when we both leave for fear he will go through a window.

    On walks he is dog, bicycle and jogger reactive. People who are walking more slowly mostly get dirty looks by this point. After corrections at each encounter, he is markedly better by the end of each walk.

    The vet gave us Prozac for him (Zeke) and things are improving although slowly. All the behaviors are still there but it has taken the edge off so we can get his attention to redirect him.

    For encouragement I would suggest reading some of the adoption tales from Best Friends Animal Society. The right adopter does come, just maybe not as soon as we had hoped.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s awful about the broken teeth! L-theanine cld help your baby too! I will try to get a good link regarding dosage but for my 40ish lb dog, I can give 200mg up to 4x daily. It must be pure l-theanine (aka suntheanine) in a capsule. BEWARE of products with toxic fillers such as xylitol.

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    2. Gala is actually best when we are on our walk each morning. I’ve stretched it out to about an hour. We don’t see many people, and as long as the dogs we pass are fenced, she gets excited, but not aggressive. I think her issues are more with strangers and dogs who approach her. No one can get past that scary bark and growl – she is intimidating, but I think it’s out of fear not aggression. I’m hoping to find something that works for her like you have for Zeke. I guess I’m just wearing down emotionally and worried that we’ve peaked as to how much we can do for her- she seems to be regressing now. It is heartbreaking work. Thank you for persevering with Zeke.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I hate to hear about poor Gala in her crate so much and I’m sure it breaks your heart even more. I’ve followed along with You and Gala since you’ve had her…. Is it possible someone else could try fostering her? If I wasn’t so far away I most certainly would, granted, I’m not sure how she would do with our 4 ft fence and 3 other dogs, but my heart is breaking for your family and her. xoxo

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    1. The crate time is hard on all of us. Frankie and I try to stay in the room where she is as much as possible. I’ve been giving the two of them supervised play time each day, but he can only handle her for about 15 minutes. She just doesn’t let up. The foster home that had her while I was away is going to take her for part of the holidays, while my college kids come home (and bring LOTS) of visitors. That’s the best we can do for now, but we’re looking for more options.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Cara,
    I am glad to see some folks mentioning supplements, or medication. Have you tried using any of the canine CBD oil products with her? Maybe they could help with some of her anxiety/intensity?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve put Gala on one of the recommended supplements, but not seeing a big difference yet. I priced the CBD oil products but they were way out of my budget. Will keep trying anything I can. Thanks for your suggestions!

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  9. What a wonderfully honest article. Thank you for your love and patience for this beautiful dog. Yes, getting a professional trainer involved is probably the best idea and her best chance. I just saw that you are in PA, you have to contact Justice Rescue, Wolf. If someone can help her, it’s him. He has rehabilitated many dogs and his love for abused and neglected animals is obvious. Please consider him, he is amazing. Contact me if you have any questions. Thank you again for being such a wonderful human being!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Cara, you gave me the chills.

    I adopted a dog that I absolutely know would have been put down or rehomed or abandoned or abused had he not gone home with us. I truly believe we were the only family that would given this dog not only a chance at life, but a chance for a happy life.

    Gala’s people are out there. It may take awhile and you may have a crazy household until then, but you are helping Gala have a chance and that is worth so much.

    A couple things, have you checked with a vet to rule out anything medical? I know she’s a foster and the funds might not be there, but a question to bring up.

    Grisha Stewart does a training called BAT, it could be very helpful for her. Id also look into canine enrichment, see if you can get Gala’s mind working!

    Gosh, I would love to meet Gala, she sounds similar to my pooch. We’ve made so much progress through positive training and I would love to help. Maybe from far away!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! i’ve thought about the possibility that her anxiety is a medical issue. In fact, I took her to my vet to have her nails trimmed because it is so traumatic for her and he suggested that we give her something to relax her before we trim her nails. She has to have her annual shots soon (and nails) and will go to the OPH vet for that, so I plan to discuss Gala’s issues with her at that time. Sometimes the vets do help us out because we’re a nonprofit, so you never know.

      Gala does love mind toys and games, but tends to destroy most of them once she sorts them out. I really do think that she will settle in a quieter home without other dogs, especially if she gets an adopter who will keep her mind busy and her body active. I just know there’s an amazing dog there underneath all the fear and reactivity.

      We’re working on moving her to a quieter foster home and I’ll update on the blog if/when that happens. Fingers crossed for my girl. Thanks for your suggestions and for reading. I’ll look up that trainer.

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  11. While I understand that you want to post more positive than negative posts on here, it is good that you also post the odd pain-filled entry, as like you said, it reminds people that fostering dogs isn’t all roses and puppy breath. It has its hard moments too, and foster parents aren’t superhumans, able to save and find a home for every single dog that comes into their care, as much as they’d like to. Sometimes, they too get stuck, and need to look for help. We’re all human, and we all feel helpless sometimes. It doesn’t mean that we’re failures, for we do the best that we can. Keep posting about your dogs, telling us about the good, bad, and downright ugly times you have with them. Those of us not that familiar with fostering dogs can learn from you, even if we never foster a dog ourselves, but personally know people who do. And if nothing else, you’re a good writer.:)

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    1. thanks Ana. That post was written at an incredibly low point in my fostering life. luckily, it was a rare moment. But it isn’t always easy and I try very hard to be as transparent as I can be about what it takes to foster. at the same time, I also believe that doing anything that really matters requires some sacrifice on our part, so I don’t resent the pain that fostering sometimes brings.

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