Caper arrived at the SPCA in the spring of 2012 as a city stray. As a rather large, black, adolescent dog, Caper was promptly labeled a “Lab Mix,” neutered, and placed on the adoption floor. However, due to his size and exuberance, poor Caper quickly found himself at the bottom of the order as an enjoyable walking companion for volunteer dog walkers.
Sometime around the middle of June, I arrived at the SPCA with an idea for what is now our Phideaux University enrichment and training program. Knowing I could not possibly get to all the dogs myself and make a good case for how the curriculum could work, I decided to focus on those that needed it most. Caper became my first student.
One day, while working with Caper in the small lobby, a gentleman stopped by to watch as Caper sat attentively, happily ignoring all the activity going on around him. He must’ve looked like a “smart dog who listens,” something potential adopters tell us is important to them. Thankfully, the man was impressed with Caper’s potential and came back to adopt him the very next day.
Fast forward about three months. While working with one of my Phideaux students at the new SPCA Albrecht Center, I happened to spot a man and a large black dog playing a game of fetch in the dog park. The gentleman held a bright green plastic tennis ball launcher and the dog was gleefully chasing the ball as it sailed high in the air and bounced wildly across the lush green grass. Grasping it securely in his mouth, the dog would race back to the owner and promptly sit, allowing the man to take his prize, then wait (in great anticipation) for the ball to be thrown again… and again…and again.
As I got closer, I thought I recognized the man as the same person who had adopted Caper just a few months earlier. “Is that Caper?” I asked hesitantly, not recognizing the shiny black dog sitting quietly at his feet. “Oh yes,” he answered proudly. “But we call him Skip now. Best dog I’ve ever had.”
Fast forward again. It’s now early December and Phideaux U. is in full swing. As I was working a dog in our lobby, a gentleman stopped by the front desk to register for the dog park. He must have inquired about any training we offered, because all of a sudden, he and his pooch were headed in my direction. I stopped what I was doing and asked if I could help.
He explained that he was joining the dog park because his adolescent Lab was becoming a handful at home despite the obedience training he had received. Then the nice gentleman said something that took me by surprise…. “We actually considered adopting a dog from the old shelter, but my wife and I agreed he was just too hyper and we couldn’t picture him in our home.”
As I listened, something about the large, black dog sitting at his side prompted me to ask, “Do you remember which dog you looked at?” “Oh yes,” the man answered without hesitation. “His name was Caper.” “Oh my gosh, you’ve got to see something!” I whispered excitedly and began to walk towards the Education Center; the man and his dog following close behind.
I pointed through a large floor to ceiling window that offers an unobstructed view of the dog park. And there they were – Skip and his owner playing their early morning game; the tennis ball traveling skyward in a perfect arc while the dog waited patiently for an “OK, go get it!” that would free him to gleefully scamper after the round, fuzzy object.
The man gazed out the window. First a look of disbelief, then a smile appeared as he shook his head slowly. “That’s Caper? I never would have believed it!” “Yes", I replied." But he’s called Skip now.” Then the man turned to me and said, “He really was a nice dog, you know. I guess he just needed some training.” “Yes,” I answered quietly, opening the door so they could join Skip and his owner in the dog park. “I guess he just needed a chance to show us who he really was.”
And as I watched the two of them amble toward the park entrance, the young lab now charging ahead in anticipation of a good romp, I felt a tear trickle down one cheek – a happy tear of course. One that signified, in that moment, exactly why I do what I do. It’s for all the “Capers” out there – The mixed breed dogs of questionable breeding and background who really just need an opportunity to show us who they really are. By reducing the stress in the shelter environment we are giving those dogs that chance… to shine…. and find their forever homes.
So the next time a potential adopter stops in front of a kennel, stares quizzically at the occupant and asks, “What kind of dog is that?” I’m probably just going to say, “Oh that one? He’s an American Shelter Dog. You know…the good kind.”
Ready to enroll your dog in Phideaux University? Learn more at LetloveLive.org/training.
Want to unleash your inner dog whisperer? Ann Kinney, Director of Enrichment & Training and head of Phideaux University works with volunteers daily who are trained to work with shelter dogs under the Phideaux U guidelines. Register to volunteer by visiting LetLoveLive.org/volunteer or call 803-648-6863 to speak with our Volunteer Coordinator.