Chica was a beautiful, year-old, black and white pit bull with cropped ears. She had been captured as a stray by an animal control officer at the shelter where I volunteer, and she was extremely scared. Whenever I approached her kennel she would skulk away to the farthest corner and bark at me. I didn’t push her.
But a young adoption counselor, Vanessa, won Chica’s trust. I often smiled to see the two of them, Chica up on her hind legs dancing with Vanessa, or being hugged by her, or playing tug o’war.
When Chica was adopted by a sweet young family with a three-year-old son we all rejoiced. They spent a lot of time with her in one of the shelter’s meet and greet rooms to be sure that there was a strong connection.
A day later, however, I groaned aloud when I saw on the shelter’s Facebook page that Chica was lost. The couple had invited friends over to meet their new family member, and as the visitors were entering, the dog bolted out the front door.
She was loose in a neighborhood just a block from a congested four-lane highway, one of our city’s busiest shopping strips. To make the situation worse, the temperatures that night were forecast to be in the 30s.
As early darkness fell I looked out my window, over the wintry landscape and the bare trees, their few remaining brown leaves shuddering in a stiff breeze, and I said a prayer for Chica’s safety.
Safe Haven. What should you, as a new owner, do to help your pet, who is very likely anxious and disoriented, to safely make the transition from shelter to home?
First of all, the dog needs a place where she can take a break from human interaction and the new stimuli that may be overwhelming to her at first. Hands down, dog experts agree that a crate is best, one big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in. Also, a crate will keep your pet safe when you can’t actively watch her. Consider how bewildering it is for a shelter dog to go from a 4’ x 6’ kennel, to having the run of a whole house. If you let her out of your sight she may get into mischief that places a strain on your new relationship, and could possibly endanger her.
“But I can’t put my dog in a cage,” some people protest. “It’s cruel!”
This attitude shows a misunderstanding of the canine nature. Dogs are den animals, and most will quickly accept a crate as a restful refuge that is theirs alone. Crate training your dog will also help with housebreaking. Dogs have a natural aversion to soiling their den, so if you leash and take your pet outside immediately upon letting her out of her crate, and praise her and give her treats when she “potties” outside, she’ll quickly learn.
Here is a thorough description of how and why to crate train, by renowned dog trainer and author Patricia Miller. https://www.peaceablepaws.com/faqs.php?subaction=showfull&id=1261405432&archive=&start_from=&ucat=2&
The tie that binds. Umbilical leashing, attaching the dog’s leash to your belt so that she stays with you always, is another practice that, in combination with the crate, is an excellent tool for housetraining, as Patricia Miller explains: https://www.peaceablepaws.com/faqs.php?subaction=showfull&id=1261405199&archive=&start_from=&ucat=2&
In addition, umbilical leashing can establish you as the dominant “alpha” in your dog’s new world. Tethered to you, every place you go she has to go. Is she taking a snooze? Too bad; you have to put the laundry in the dryer, so she goes with you. She learns that you set the rules and the pace of life. That knowledge helps a dog relax and feel secure in your care.
The scent of safety. I know I wasn’t alone in thinking of Chica all through that cold night. But in the morning the Facebook message bore a new comment: “FOUND!”
I couldn’t wait to get to the shelter to learn the whole story. Vanessa was there, looking tired but relieved. She told me that she had spent the previous afternoon driving around the area where Chica was lost, looking for her. As evening approached, she set a live trap near a wooded area not far from the owners’ house.
Then, every two hours throughout the night, she drove from her home to check the trap. At dawn, frustrated and upset at the empty cage, she considered what more she could possibly do. She peeled off the socks she had been wearing and put them inside the trap, hoping their familiar scent would lure the frightened animal.
Two hours later, there was Chica in the trap, holding one of the socks between her paws as if for comfort.
Dog and owners were joyfully reunited. Thanks to a devoted shelter worker’s persistence, and the couple’s determination to learn about and accommodate the needs of their canine family member, Chica is safe now in her forever home.