A great shelter day

For 8-10 weeks I’ve been plugging along at the shelter, creating training materials, educating the dog walkers one at a time, answering training questions for staff, talking-talking-talking-talking, and (MY FAVORITE!) training dogs.

Every trip to the shelter follows a purposeful pattern:  1) check written training brochure supplies, replenish paperwork,  2) check leashes and collars available to dog-walkers,  3) take a brief walk through the shelter to see which of my previously-trained dogs remain up for adoption,  4) sanitize my hands and my leash, go get a dog,  5) return to volunteer station to sit with dog for 20-30 minutes to encourage self-calming or check to see if dog has improved or not,  6) luring dog into sit or down, practicing “come and sit,”  7) walk the dog for a potty break and return to their kennel run,  8) repeat with 2-3 more dogs.

Every time I return to the shelter I’m struck by how much more receptive the “trained” dogs are, with great improvement in their calm behavior seen each visit. They’re sitting in their kennels, wagging their tails, staring at my face as if to say, “Hey Marsha, I’ve been waiting for you.”

So today was a banner day at the shelter. I arrived about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. and noticed a little brown, tailess dog running loose around the shelter, followed by a couple of kids. Seems they’d tried to make a slip lead and the dog had slipped out of it.  Like Carrie Roe said, “don’t chase shelter dogs when they get loose — for many of them this is the best home they’ve ever had and they might actually just come back if you don’t chase them.” The little brown dog saw the staff guys in the garage and tucked in to say “Hi!” and was immediately caught.

I did my typical routine with the paperwork. As I got a little airedale mix out of her kennel, she wagged her tail and greeted me happily. I took her out to potty first thing as she’s a clean, little bitch and I want to keep it that way. When I say, “go potty!” she immediately finds a spot and pees.

Walking back to the volunteer station I run into one of my SMART team members. She’s got a student with her and she has her student sit with me to train the little dog. I talked Amanda through the process with the airedale who, as we were sitting there, got her picture taken for Petfinders.com  AND  got herself a new name — “Ariel.”  Ariel took about 20 minutes to lie down, earned huge praise, and really got excited about working for treats. Before returning to her crate, Amanda had Ariel sitting, lying down, and coming for treats.

I next got “Valentine” – a wild little Sheltie mix – out and pottied her. I was really excited to see another bitch who, when I said, “Go Potty!” frantically looked for a place and peed.  What a cool skill to have, in my opinion.

Another half hour was spent training Valentine, who sat down calmly within a few minutes and was lying down in 15 minutes. She was easily lured into a sit and down. Two weeks ago she was brought in and would barely walk on a leash. She’d probably never interacted with people before, but was amazing today.

While I was putting Valentine away I was pulled aside by the ladies taking Petfinder pics. The litter of feral puppies brought in yesterday were showing signs of illness — pale gums, possible seizures, in general sickly. We got the worst of them into a separate crate in the “sick dog” room.

When I had finished settling the puppy, I was told a lady was here to see me. It was a board member from the Morgan County (McConnellsville, OH) humane society. They’re really struggling, and she’s meeting with me occasionally for a pep talk, to vent, and to be reminded of Sue Sternberg’s training presentation. She and I talked for about an hour before we noticed this nice couple and their teenage daughter looking at the puppies in the puppy room.

We started “matchmaking” with the family and found they wanted a small to medium-sized female.  They’d been looking on Petfinder.com but every time they drove to a shelter the dog they liked was gone. Rather than having them experience the din of the dog room, I brought them Ariel.

This sweet dog came to this family, sucked up to all of them, sat and laid down for treats, got petted by everyone, went for a little walk with the teenage girl, and generally worked the crowd.

Then I brought out Valentine who did the same. I was amazed how these (formerly) wild girls, having been worked with twice in 2 days, were calm, attentive, interested, and VERY attractive.

We put Valentine back in her kennel and walked around the big dog room. No other dogs caught their eye so we brought Ariel back out, then switched to Valentine, then back to Ariel, then finally Valentine.

This great family from 90 minutes away (in West Virginia) adopted Valentine, who had shown great affection for all 3 members of the family, would roll on her back to get belly rubs, and would lie down anytime she was slightly bored. At one point, Mom was talking to the lady at the desk, Dad was talking on his cell phone, daughter was standing in the lobby with Valentine on lead, and 5-6 people were milling around, looking at cats. In the middle of all this hullabaloo lay Valentine, looking up at the little girl.  It was the closest thing to a miracle I’ve experienced at the shelter.

30 years ago I was on the church choir and an active member of the church. Later – when I got animals – I used to say the barn and the animals were my church and congregation, the center of my spiritual life (there was one morning when it was cold and snowing and white outside, then I opened the barn door and experienced the smell of hay, the golden glow of the lights, and the nickering of the animals — it truly was a spiritual experience).

The shelter, today, became the center of my spiritual life. My calling is to preach, teach, and train animals. It really was a banner day at the shelter.

By this time next week they should have their new shelter manager. I’m excited to be part of the revitalization of this formerly terrific facility.

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