A dear friend of mine has been going through a difficult time this year because he was laid off after his company decided to move his division out of state. He is a brilliant man, and exceptionally good in his field. Since his resume speaks for itself, he doesn’t have trouble getting interviews. But he suffers from social anxiety, so interviews are incredibly stressful for him. He freezes, and has a hard time putting his best foot forward in these situations – and has not been able to stand out against more relaxed and outgoing candidates.
Working in an animal shelter, I see type of Catch-22 all the time. Too often, animals are overlooked by adopters because they just don’t “show well” in a shelter environment. They aren’t charming enough. They bark too much. They’re too shy. Or maybe they are way too outgoing and hyper. Maybe they seem too aloof or standoffish.
Take Norman for example, a very sweet Labrador/Pitbull mix who has been at the shelter trying to find a home for the last several months. We haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is something about being in the shelter that has severely impacted his appetite. So, he’s very thin, and we have a hard time getting him to eat consistently. A while back, we were able to get him out of the shelter and into a foster home. He thrived there! He gained six pounds in a week, and seemed to really come out of his shell – a far cry from the too thin, shy and fearful guy he was here. It was awesome!
Sadly though, the family who was fostering him had a sudden change in circumstances and could no longer keep him. So now Norman is back at the shelter, and has quickly lost the weight (and confidence) he gained from living in a real home.
In Stan’s case though, it is not a situation where he isn’t “showing well” in the shelter. This absolutely gorgeous German Shepherd mix isn’t showing at all because he almost never comes out of his den. Potential adopters pass right by his kennel because it’s hard to tell there is anyone in there in the first place. The sounds, smells and traffic of the shelter terrify him so much, he never leaves the safety of his covered den.
Stan has been here since July, and it’s only been in the last few weeks that he’s started accepting treats from staff and volunteers. We were even able to get him out of the kennel to hang out in the office. But he stuck to himself and sat in the corner unwilling to explore or sniff around the way other dogs typically do.
Imagine being suddenly ripped from your loved ones, all the comforts of your home, and day to day routines. It sucks. For most, they adapt quickly and don’t experience such drastic behavior changes. But for some, the stress is too overwhelming and it shows in their behavior. Since we live in a world where first impressions are everything, many animals applying for the job of “furever companion” don’t ever make it passed the first interview.
Even though we take much care to make this a wonderful safe haven for animals who need our help, the truth is living in a shelter is stressful. I don’t know about you, but when I’m taken completely out of my comfort zone, feeling stressed and anxious, I’m not exactly Suzy Creamcheese either.
For dogs like Stan and Norman, their issue isn’t that they wouldn’t make great companions for someone. The issue is that their lack of confidence in this environment doesn’t let them shine to prospective adopters.
Simply changing the environment can dramatically shift a dog’s ability to gain confidence and exhibit healthy behavior. This is why we need more foster volunteers. Getting these shy wall flowers out of the shelter and into a temporary home where they can finally relax means potential adopters will get the opportunity to see a very different side of their personality. The fun, playful, energetic part.
No one operates authentically when living in fear. Fear distorts reality and only brings out instincts to survive, and when we’re thinking only about survival, it’s impossible to feel (much less convey) the joy that comes from feeling safe and confident. Foster homes help take fear out of the equation so these animals can truly shine.
We have wonderful foster volunteers who open their hearts and homes every day. But, honestly, we really don’t have enough of them. If you have the space in your world to help animals like Stan and Norman, get involved and become a foster volunteer. Give us a call, or visit us at pasadenahumane.org, or check with your local shelter.
P.S. Remember Maggie, the senior dog I told you about last week? Guess what? She finally found a home yesterday! I’m going to miss her smiling face around here, but so happy she found such a great new family!