How to select your new dog

November 23, 2013

When we decide to adopt a dog, how do we choose the right one for us?

Many people who come to my rescue organization’s adoption events look for a dog that instantly clicks with them because they are seeking that type of “special bond.” The instant connection makes them feel like they were meant for each other.

Here’s news for you: those dogs that give you the instant affection give it to everybody. They are socially open and happy to meet anyone. You’re not special.

But you still walk away if a dog doesn’t even look at you. Have you heard of playing hard to catch? — not that dogs are playing it, but once you give them a chance to bond with you, these are the dogs who will give you the truly special connection you so yearn.

It is beautiful to watch a dog blossom, like a flower. When you get his first smile which tells you that you are the first person in his life who taught him what love is, there’s nothing else that is so rewarding to you. A dog like this will deeply bond with you and become very loyal because you are indeed special to him.

And the dynamics of this applies to fostering, too; or especially so because fostering is for dogs’ sake — when you foster a dog, you are helping the dog, rather than taking a perfectdog to enrich your own life (although the experience will enrich your life, as a byproduct).

Fostering is not rent-a-dog. It is a form of volunteering, and you are contributing your time, love and efforts. Housebreaking and leash-training are often part of it. Of course there are some preconditioned perfect dogs, but when you step up to foster, that cannot be a requirement because if it is, then it’s not really helping the dog for his sake. In that case, you may as well adopt the dog and be fully responsible for him especially financially, since when you foster a dog for a rescue organization, you have no financial obligation.

When Lena came to Forte Animal Rescue, she was like a pancake on the ground that we had to peel off the pavement to move her from point A to B. She was frightened about literally everything. Though she’s a hefty 63-lbs. Blue Pit Bull, she was as fragile as a vulnerable butterfly.

One of our volunteers, Peg took her home — only because Lena needed it. Peg has her own dog, and she did not need to take home a dog who would foreseeably need much work on rehabilitation and socialization to come out of her shell, and also to learn how to live in a home environment.

Sure enough, Lena had no concept of the “bathroom,” and since she was frightened of moving from one room to another, let alone going outside, it was not easy to potty-train her. Some people who do not understand what fostering is about may have given up on her at this point.

Lena also had acute separation anxiety, and since she was so frightened about everything, Peg could not get her in a car, as she simply turned into a pancake on the ground again. As a result, Peg could not go anywhere. It was like house arrest.

But with her patience and compassion, and with her dog Vinny’s tutoring, Lena started to relax in several days. In fact, there was her first breakthrough: When Peg had treats for the dogs, she gave Vinny the sit command and Lena sat, too! Peg eventually started being able to leave the house for a few minutes at a time, and they were working up for longer periods. Things were improving, slowly but surely.

Then it was time for Lena to be spayed. For her long-term health benefit, she had to be spayed sooner than later because every time a female dog goes into heat, it increases the probability of developing cancer down the line. Studies show that if you spay your dog before her first heat, the probability is less than 1%, but if you wait until after the first heat it’s 8%, and after the second heat, it goes up to 24%.

Unfortunately, not just the surgery itself, but the entire process was traumatic for Lena because Peg’s neighbor, a “big beefy guy” had to lift her into the car, which terrified her. She was completely frozen in fear, and it caused a setback. At this point, she refused to get in the car, and while she was still healing with her sutures, Lena could not be picked up. So Peg was once again on a “house arrest.”

Lena’s separation anxiety was severe. When Peg just stepped outside to her car to clean it out, during that short period, she had chewed up two CDs and the jewel cases (“‘The Blues,’ how appropriate!” said Peg), a bunch of magazines and a pen. Peg could not even leave to get some chew toys, so one of our volunteers had to deliver them.

But Peg did not give up on her. And with Vinny’s tutoring, Lena started quickly learning more commands. In the following couple of weeks, Peg was able to drive to the store, and all was fine when she came home.

Lena also started learning where her bathrooms are, and she urinated on command when Peg took her out to the backyard. She has finally stopped going to the bathroom in the house, and has already been able to jump in the car on her own several times without fear.

In the mean time, we’ve found out how gentle and sweet Lena is with every dog she meets in any size. She is also good with Peg’s cat — she even tried to play with him, even though only to be rejected. Peg has reported recently: “Lena is an amazing dog, very affectionate.” This was not the description of the dog who came to us in disguise of a pancake.

What an accomplishment. With her gentle demeanor, she could certainly be a service dog candidate. So, here we are: we now have a “perfect” dog you can adopt. And we won’t judge you for choosing her, a perfect dog, because she does need a permanent home she can call her own. She will be forever grateful if you adopt her, and you will be the lucky one to have one of the best dogs we’ve rescued!

Did she come to us that way? No. Lena was the dog that everybody walked away from because nobody was interested in putting effort into “a dog.” Peg has chosen to do the hard job because someone had to do it, and she knew in her heart that Lena was ready to blossom. She just did not know how.

Instant gratification could be fun, but a hard-earned smile from your dog, whose heart was shut down from his sad past, is priceless. Isn’t it what you want — a dog that will make you feel special and most wonderful?

So, when you next look for a dog to adopt or foster, be patient. If you don’t write off a dog who doesn’t immediately jump in your arms, but if you are kind and compassionate toward the dog, he will eventually turn his head and look at you. Then your journey together can start from there, to an eternity of happiness to share.

Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.