I’ve been reading a lot of dog books lately. Partly, it’s because my upcoming book will be my first in this genre, and I want to get to know what’s already out there and the writers who publish these books. But mostly, I’ve become a bit addicted. I love reading about people’s experiences with dogs. It’s not just educational and entertaining, it’s also inspiring.
In Amy Sutherland’s book, RESCUING PENNY JANE, she writes about her experiences volunteering at a shelter, sharing a perspective I’ve never heard since I meet my dogs after they’ve left the shelter. I like to think that there are volunteers like Amy at the shelters where our dogs come from. Sutherland is a shelter volunteer, walking dogs every Friday for a local Animal Rescue League. She’s also a journalist and author, so of course, she overanalyzes and writes about her experience.
While it can be momentarily dense with information on shelter dogs, Rescuing Penny Jane is an exploration of the rescue dog world, but also Sutherland’s story of adopting a difficult rescue dog and sticking it out. She writes that she won’t be one of ‘them’, confiding that in becoming a regular at the shelter she is privy to the staff’s feelings about people who return dogs. And so, even though it strains her marriage, she sticks it out with Penny Jane, a fearful and more or less, feral dog.
Sutherland’s words remind me of my own experience with more than a few of my foster dogs. I write in this blog about the funny, the touching, the messy, and occasionally the heartbreak, but each story eventually culminates in one happy ending after another. What I rarely write about is how sometimes I reach my limit and more often sometimes my husband reaches his limit. There have been teary late-night walks waiting for a foster dog to just pee, already. There have been mornings spent on my knees scrubbing carpets and grumbling mangled curse words and masked threats (who am I going to offend? The dogs?). There have been plenty of words typed and then deleted, planned posts that never materialized, and frustrations outlined in detail for my husband even as I stroke the furry head of the offender. For a few hours, sometimes a day or two, I’m done. “Once this one is gone- no more fosters!”
So when Sutherland’s husband says, “It would be easier to return Penny Jane than to get a divorce.” I don’t laugh. I know he’s not joking. Sutherland’s frustration and tears are familiar, and I read her story with a lump in my throat. I’ve thought so many of the same things.
There is one comment she makes relatively early in the book that struck me so much that I got up to find a pen so I could underline it. She wrote –
“…countless shelter dogs made me realize that they were not so much homeless as humanless, and that that was worse.”
That’s exactly it.
So many of these dogs who arrive on transport have seemed to be looking for something. They scan our yard, scramble through our house, their eyes searching. I offer treats and touches, a warm bed, a bowl of food, but many of them seem distracted as if they’ve misplaced something (or someone). It takes a few days before they settle in and stop straining at the windows and doors.
When I hear of a lost dog (or when one of my own has gotten out), I wonder, what are they running from? We’ve offered them shelter and food and safety, things that they haven’t had and desperately need. But Sutherland’s words helped me see – they are not running from my home, they are looking for their human.
In the early weeks with Gala, I worried about her getting out. She was the consummate escape artist and had too many adventures to count. Lucky for us (although unlucky for her on one occasion), she was distracted in her flight by the presence of our horses, and we were always able to catch her before she left our property.
Whenever she escapes now, I don’t worry. I know she won’t go far. Gala may not have a forever home; she is decidedly homeless, but, at least to her mind, she is not humanless. Not only has she learned her lesson with the horses (the hard way), but she has laid claim to us. We are her humans.
She managed to open the unlocked levered door recently and zipped out up the hill. I stepped out on the porch and watched her run crazy loops in the yard, one eye on me to see if I would chase her. When I opened the door to go back inside, as if I was leaving her, she froze for a moment before racing pell-mell back to the house, not wanting to be left outside without me.
Last summer, I spent a few days in New York City. As usual, my radar was tuned to the dogs and I marveled at the fancy ones carried in purses and pushed in strollers, but what really struck me was the number of dogs that belonged to homeless people. Late at night, we’d walk down a sidewalk and see figures wrapped in blankets with a leash around their wrist and their dog sitting at attention, guarding over his person. Those dogs were homeless in the truest sense, but they were not humanless.
I suppose that’s what we are doing as fosters- giving these homeless dogs a temporary human. I’ve thought a lot about that as we prepare to launch Gala into the next step of her journey (see below). Will it break her heart to leave me? Will she think she’s been abandoned again? Perhaps, but I hope she won’t feel that way for long. New humans will step in so that she isn’t humanless during this time of homelessness.
And soon enough, I’m sure, she will have both a forever home and a forever human of her very own.
In late February, Gala has a reservation at a training facility in Virginia. She will spend two weeks there with a trainer who is expert at deciphering a dog’s fear. He’ll work with her and then with her new foster (and maybe me, because I’m curious, too) on how to manage her so that she can continue to build her confidence.
After she finishes her training, she’ll move to a new foster home that is a quieter setting where she won’t have to worry about a constant flow of teenagers through the house or foster dogs coming and going. And more importantly, so Gracie can have her house (and her humans) back. I’ll still be available for dog-sitting and support. I haven’t given up on this dog, and I look forward to meeting the lucky people who become her humans.
If you’re looking for some good dog-books to read, I recommend:
- Walking with Peety by Eric O’Grey (the story of a morbidly obese man whose doctor prescribes adopting a rescue dog)
- The Dogs of Proud Spirit by Melanie Sue Bowles (the story of the dogs rescued and loved on the ranch, Proud Spirit)
- Dogged Pursuit by Robert Rodi (the FUNNY story of a quirky rescue dog in the world of agility competition)
- Little Boy Blue (the story of one rescue dog’s journey) and The Dog Merchants (an investigation into the buying/selling/rescuing world of dogs both purebred and rescued) both by Kim Kavin
I’ve got a stack to make my way through, and I’ll pass along those recommendations periodically on the blog or in the Another Good Dog, facebook group.
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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13 thoughts on “Homeless or Humanless?”
Absolutely loved “The Dog Merchants”. A great book concentrating on the welfare of dogs above all.
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Me, too! Essential reading for anyone in dog rescue or who owns a dog for that matter. Her book Little Boy Blue is lovely, too and the inspiration behind The Dog Merchants.
Yay! I think residential training could be the key to Gala! I’m so happy she’s getting that chance. ❤
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Here’s hoping! I think that combined with a quiet foster home will help this special girl turn the corner.
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Millie’s kinda sick. 😦
I enjoyed reading this his morning and it warmed heart. I loved your perspective on a dog being ‘humanless’ and that opened my eyes to th their hearts; especially the homeless, with dogs in NYC. Dogs don’t know homelessness because if they have a human, then they are home. It’s a matter of security. I know your heart too Cara and love how you’re not giving up on Gala. We will continue to pray she will soon find her human. ❤️
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I love that sentence – “Dogs don’t know homelessness because if they have a human, then they are home. ” You said it perfectly and I may have to steal your line! Thanks for reading and thanks especially for the prayers for Gala.
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Insightful post. Were you able to work with Gala during her time in the Virginian facility? If so, how did it go? I know that she got moved to a foster home in late February of last year. It’s interesting to read that even when a dog enters a foster home, that deep in their mind, they may be looking for the person who they were with before, whether that was a familiar person from a shelter they were in or perhaps the owner who abandoned them to begin with. Perhaps it was even an owner who was cruel to them, but the dog still bent over backwards to please them. Sad stuff. I’d never thought of the plight of foster dogs who are placed into foster homes this way before. Keep doing the work you’re doing.
I’ve only seen Gala once since she left our home a year ago. It was important at the time for me to step back and allow her to bond with a new person. Sadly, she was adopted and then returned in September so she is back in foster care (with Pam, the person who babysat her for us several times). Pam is working with a trainer and doing great things with Gala. Frankie, Nick, and I got to see her at an event in December and she was VERY excited to see us. Brought tears to my eyes.
Sorry to hear that things did not turn out as you’d expected. But I’m glad that she is continuing to work with a trainer. Clearly, some dogs may have more baggage with them that works against them than others.
Given that all dogs need structure and boundaries, and that ideally those going up for adoption should have some training and understand basic commands, yet many fosters flinch at a raised voice or a raised hand, how do you scold them when they’ve done something that deserves it without frightening them too much? I know we all get more upset about things than may be necessary sometimes, and we all can yell about things when in hindsight it may not have been necessary. Even the best dog trainer or canine foster parent can snap. Do you still raise your voice some when dealing with a dog who may be nervous about that but who clearly needs a stern word sent their way? I know you’d never raise your hand violently to any of your dogs. How do you handle this delicate situation? When Gabby was a puppy, she once got into my mom’s knitting wool and made a mess of it. While my mom normally didn’t yell full force at her as she was pretty good at responding to a command just firmly stated, she really yelled at her for this one, filling the upstairs with her voice. She then had her sit far away from the living room, where her wool was, for a short while. Gabby never got into her wool again. So while people say that yelling at dogs (and each other) isn’t a good idea, isn’t it something that a dog simply needs sometimes in order to know that their bad behavior better stop, and stop NOW?
I have what my husband calls my ‘dog voice’ – it’s very firm, don’t-mess-with-me voice that usually works. Even with a timid dog, it’s important for them to know you’re in charge. I think that actually makes them more relaxed because they know the order of the pack. I also find that ignoring them and moving them away or putting in a crate are all good tools for teaching right/wrong and boundaries.
Glad you’re not against separating unruly dogs from the people or animals they’re temporarily bothering when they need reminding of who’s running the show. I think my dislike of dogs comes from a lifelong fear I’ve had of them, as I’ve had some minor run-ins with dogs in the past, mainly being jumped on or being knocked down by dogs who were bigger than me. While they didn’t mean to harm me as they were just happy and excited, it did startle me. Lady, the dog I’ve told you about, once literally ran across my legs as I sat on the floor in her hurry to get to the door when someone was knocking at it, and that was a real shock for me. She was nine then, and for the most part had outgrown the lively antics of a younger dog, but I guess this time, something caused her to feel like regressing some. How do you show dogs who try to dominate you that you are the boss and that they will never be the boss of you? You must have taken some training on how to manage dog behavior when dealing with dogs in your home, no? You mentioned in a post how some dogs don’t like being patted on the head, as from their perspective, that can be a sign of someone trying to dominate them. Yet they need to know that they will never be the king/queen of your castle, and too many people let their dogs rule the roost more often than not, or give them more freedom than they should have, setting as few limits as possible, at the expense of those around them. I have a visual impairment, and when people ask if I’ll ever get a guide dog, I’ll say, if no little ears are nearby, “I’m my own bitch.” I don’t need a dog leading me around or making messes for me to have to clean up, thanks. My white cane will do. I respect the work the guide dogs do though, and know a few people who have them. They can go a bit crazy when out of their harness as they release some energy, and by no means are they perfect dogs. They chew things, not all get along with other dogs for an extended period of time, they can get overexcited, etc. While they need a constant firm hand, they are loving, loyal and aim to please.
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I think dogs read us all the time. They know when we are anxious or when we don’t feel confident that we can control them. The same is true of horses and I learned it there first. Since then, it has come naturally to me – to be firm (but kind) in how I handle dogs. They are not in charge. That has to be clear and communicated. Sometimes I think in their effort to do that, some people can be cruel. There is a difference between being firm and being mean.