She's not mine yet... but I'm counting the days. I wrote about Gretchen recently here, and at the time I was concerned because I was pretty sure she was going to have to be euthanized. The shelter didn't think she'd pass her behavior evaluation, and suggested if I wanted to save her I needed to come get her pretty quickly. I was prepared for the worst, but felt that I would be failing her if I didn't at least go and see her for myself. So I drove out there last Friday and cautiously introduced myself to Gretchen. I'm not very brave when it comes to aggressive dogs. I have spent most of my life being afraid of dogs (how embarrassing - but true!) so approaching a dog that I really expected to growl and snap at me was a little bit nerve-wracking. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked up to the kennel of a dog who was loosely wagging her tail, smiling with an open mouth, and generally acting very friendly through the bars of her cage. The volunteer who took me to meet Gretchen left to find a place for me to interact with her, and I used the time to bribe Gretchen with a few beef jerky treats - just to make sure she knew I really was her friend. Okay, maybe it's not the way you're supposed to start off an evaluation - but hey, I wasn't evaluating her for immediate adoption, only to see if she could be adoptable with some work - so in this case, I think bribery is completely allowed.
By the way, some signs of an aggressive dog (besides growling or snapping/biting) can include a stiff posture, closed mouth, and rapid tail wags. This is why people sometimes mistake a dog who is wagging its tail for being friendly when its not. I was relieved to see no defensive posture or behavior from Gretchen at all. Instead a found a happy, if slightly fearful, dog. We spent about an hour together, and I quickly fell in love. She came when I called her, sat on command, let me pull her tail and play with her paws and her ears without complaining, and then proceeded to lick my face to let me know how much she liked me. I tried to make her feel threatened, but I'm not very good at being threatening. I wanted to see if I could get her to growl at me. Instead, I would yell or make a loud noise, and she would startle and back away, and I would almost immediately reassure her. I guess I skipped straight from "evaluating" to "training". But once I realized she was not a lost cause, I gave her my heart and decided then and there to do whatever I could to save her.
The shelter worker advised that Gretchen had indeed failed her behavior evaluation, and that they would not be able to adopt her out or hold her for three weeks until I could move and take her in. The volunteers at the shelter were wonderful, and told me how well Gretchen was doing and what an improvement she had been making since she came to the shelter. But most shelters are not like foster homes, and they have limited opportunities to train dogs that need extra work. So I quickly began searching for other options for Gretchen. Unfortunately adoptions have been very slow lately, and all of the other foster homes are full. I called my friend Chuck who volunteers at a different municipal shelter and asked if they could make any room for Gretchen temporarily. He said YES!!! He went and picked her up yesterday and said she is doing fine. She did some growling and aggressive behavior when she first got there, but that was expected since it was scary going to yet another new place. Chuck is spending time with her and helping her to get comfortable. (He bribed her with hot dogs too - I don't feel so guilty about the beef jerky treats anymore.) I am so grateful to him and to the shelter workers where she is staying for saving her life. Being at this shelter is as close as you can get to being in a foster home. The dogs are well cared for and Chuck is there every day taking them out in the fenced yard for play time and interaction, both with other dogs and with people. They have other volunteers that also come in and walk the dogs, and the dogs are really worked with, not just warehoused. So I know that Gretchen is in good hands, and I am just impatiently waiting for the day I can go get her.