Among the long-time shelter residents that I wistfully called the “lifers,” Sweetpea was the dog of longest tenure. She had come to the shelter as a stray when she was four months old. Her name originally was Allegra – but to make her sound more endearing it was changed to Sweetpea.
Full grown at a year and a half, she was a handsome dog, medium-sized, long legged and black, with a white stripe down her nose, probably a combination of Lab and pit bull. One ear stood up, the other flopped over giving her a jaunty appearance. Despite being fed three times a day she was wiry and so lean that her ribs showed.
Her color was one strike against her: for whatever reason, black dogs and cats have a tough time in the adoption sweepstakes. In recognition of this stigma, in the Spring the shelter had run a special, offering black pets for half price.
Still, Sweetpea remained. Another reason she kept being passed over was that she acted crazy in her kennel. Whenever I had to walk a dog through the adoption pavilion where she was housed, she would body-slam the glass front of her run, barking furiously and knocking over her food and water bowls.
Early in my service I decided to try walking her. The staff assured me that, despite appearances, she was basically a nice dog. I opened the door of her kennel and she cringed away from me. Ah, I thought, the aggressive show is a cover for her fear. I spoke softly and put the leash around her neck. When we went outside to walk around the exercise yard she pulled and lunged, 55 pounds of hectic canine. I quickly tired of being dragged around, so took her back inside.
As we made our way down the hallway between the two facing rows of runs, the other dogs barked and jumped, and Sweetpea tucked her tail and bounded like a rabbit to her kennel, forefeet thrusting forward together, hind feet following, back humped. I followed her into her space and was taking the leash from her neck, talking to her in a soothing tone, when she suddenly jerked her head around and gave me a nip.
“No!” I said sharply.
She fled to the back of the kennel and crouched there, eyeing me with suspicion. I slammed the door firmly to engage the latch and walked away, resolving never to walk her again unless I had to.
I felt guilty for speaking harshly to her, which was not going to help her with her trust issues. But no dog had the right to bite me or anyone else.
Weeks passed, and as I led other dogs past the outdoor run of the adoption pavilion, if Sweetpea happened to be loose there she would bark and throw herself against the chain link barrier. Poor thing, I thought, how are you ever going to find a home, acting like that?
In July I heard that an independent team of pet-care professionals was going to work with Sweetpea to try to teach her some manners in the hope of making her more fit for adoption. A sign appeared on her kennel: “I’ve been chosen for training by PawPartners,” but over the following weeks I saw no difference – whenever I passed her run with a dog she still acted like only the quarter-inch of tempered glass between her and us was sparing me and my canine companion from being torn apart in her frenzy.
One day in mid-August I arrived and saw a new sign on her kennel. “I’ve been adopted.” I stared at it in amazement as she hurled herself at the barrier, barking, while a pool of water spread at my feet – as usual – from her overturned bowl. Sometimes that sign means that a dog has been chosen for a rescue organization that frequently takes dogs from us to transport to other shelters that have a shortage of adoptable dogs. But they are very selective: the animals have to be in perfect health with no behavioral issues. I couldn’t imagine that Sweetpea fit their strict criteria.
I went out to the front desk and asked Becky, the adoption supervisor, what the story was.
She beamed. “Yep, she’s going home,” she said. “Look at these pictures.” She picked up her iPad and swiped through it. “You’re not going to believe who adopted her.”
She handed me the tablet and I gawked in amazement at the photo on the screen….
Next: Lifers #3: Sweetpea — Love at Last