The following post is the first in a three-part series written by Kristen Auerbach, Director of Animal Services at Pima Animal Control Center in Tucson, AZ. The first focuses on Baltimore, a dog with “urgent” status.
In most animal shelters, there are lots of factors that can put a dog in ‘urgent’ or ‘high risk’ status. One of these is shelter stress, resulting in undesirable behaviors like reactivity (barking at the kennel front or while on leash), leash biting or jumpy/mouthy behavior. Another factor is simply length of stay, particularly when a shelter is facing overcrowding. Finally, sometimes dogs can be considered urgent because they are shy, fearful or not easily handle-able by volunteers.
Baltimore was one of those dogs. He had been with us at Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) in Tucson, Arizona for several months and had developed highly reactive behavior when being walked down kennel rows. He was only allowed to be walked by our most highly-trained volunteers and it was almost impossible to show him to potential adopters because he was too busy barking at other dogs to even great visitors. In short, we were stuck with no placement options. Baltimore grew more reactive each day, which made fewer people want to walk him, which only increased his stress-related behaviors and made him less easily adoptable. It was a vicious cycle and one that most everyone who has worked in a shelter is familiar with.
In doggie play groups, we saw a different side of Baltimore. His reactivity disappeared the moment he entered the play yard and could actually interact with other dogs. What appeared initially to be possible aggression towards other dogs, was really just pent-up frustration. During his time in playgroups, Baltimore helped shy and fearful dogs come out of their shells. But a problem still remained.
The moment Baltimore went back to his kennel, his reactivity returned and adopters couldn’t see the happy, playful side of him. In his kennel, Baltimore didn’t show off his best self and he was becoming harder to handle.
After months of trying to find Baltimore a home, we enacted our protocol for urgent dogs. We made a public plea for foster and we alerted staff and volunteers about his status. Using play group photos to market him, we quickly found a family who had experience with reactive dogs and welcomed this long stay pooch into their home.
After just a day in foster, they sent us photos and told us he was “the greatest dog ever!” They took lots of pictures, which we used on our social media platforms to tell his story. Within just a few days, Baltimore was soon heading to his new, permanent home, with a family who saw the incredible dog that he was. His foster parents helped the family meet him and they were able to complete his adoption without Baltimore ever having to return to the shelter. Today, Baltimore is loving life in his new home and we at PACC are celebrating a success story that could have ended much differently.
Don’t miss tomorrow’s blog post that focuses on lifesaving protocol for urgent dogs like Baltimore.