If you are up early enough on Fridays, you may have caught one of our adoptable pets on WRDW’s ‘Take Me Home’ segment. And, if you’re an avid watcher, you may have noticed our absence a couple of Fridays ago. On this particular day, fate chose to take my early Friday morning adventure and turn it into a lesson that I’d like to share with you.
I arrived to the shelter at my usual Friday time – 5:30 am. This allows me the right amount of time to get an animal settled in the car and make it to the news station for our segment. This week, I chose to take my personal favorite pup, Bradford. As usual, I pocketed a handful of treats, grabbed a leash and took Bradford on a short walk before heading to the car.
However, as soon as I tried to coax Bradford into the SPCA’s SUV, he immediately put on the brakes. Most of the animals I take to the news are initially hesitant about getting into the car, but with treats and encouragement they almost always willingly climb in. Bradford would not be one of the willing. I tried every trick I could think of – lots of treats and “Good Boy’s” and getting in first to show him it wasn’t scary – but nothing was working.
I was quickly running out of time to make it to the news, so I simply picked him up and put him in the car, immediately followed by a treat to reward him. Sweet Bradford was not pleased and darted towards the nearest exit. Luckily, I had my hand on the leash before he could completely run away and with a sigh of relief I made one last attempt to get him in the SUV. This time, he had had enough and slipped out of his collar.
For nearly ten minutes, Bradford and I played ‘Capture the Dog,’ until I finally took a moment to think about the best way to approach him based on what I knew about his background:
Bradford came to the SPCA Albrecht Center as one of eighteen hurricane relief dogs. He is shy and initially cautious, but sweet and loving. He was not going to act out aggressively because of his shyness, but he would have a flight response. He needs someone to go slow with him, so that’s what I did. I took a deep breath so he wouldn’t feed off my frustration, crouched down low and simply waited for him to come to me, and eventually he did!
I put his collar back on, tightened it slightly and took him back to his room to decompress from the morning’s chaos. I spent the rest of the day feeling badly about missing the segment, but mainly about the stress Bradford must have felt, which had me thinking about what went wrong. That Thursday, I had spent some quality time with him to get him used to my presence. We cuddled on the ‘couch’ in his room and I gave him treats, and I thought this was enough to make him comfortable with me.
However, I had covered his shyness with humans, but failed to cover his fear of cars, something I should have taken into consideration after his transport during the hurricane - an understandably traumatic experience. I failed to put a harness on him, which helps dogs feel safe and comfortable, but keeps the handler in control (I knew he walked really well on a leash, but didn’t consider his fear-based response). And, I failed to take a moment to breathe and not get frustrated, a feeling animals can sense.
There were many ‘should-have’s’ going through my mind, but more productively I came out of the situation with a lesson (re)learned: ‘Be Kind to the Shy.’ When we first meet a dog, we expect them to be over the moon with excitement and joy by just being in the presence of a human, but for dogs like Bradford, their experience with humans may have been anything but happy. We see their hesitation for every day activities or objects and immediately think that they will not do well with other animals and will never be a good companion, or that they will be aggressive out of fear.
On the contrary, if you win the trust of a shy dog (or cat) you will have a companion for life. And, in actuality, there are many shy animals that do better in a home with another animal – Bradford is currently being housed with another shy pup and they bring out the best in each other. All it takes is the right family that will be patient and ‘go slow,’ and put in a small amount of effort to help build their companion’s confidence.
I encourage all of the amazing, potential adopters that enter our doors to take the time to meet not only the animals that greet you at their doors, but also the ones that hide in the shadows and are simply waiting for a loving home where they can finally relax. Please don’t look them over. They need our love too.
Our staff is happy to help set up a meet-and-greet between your current pet and one of our adoptable pets, or give you advice on integrating a shy pet into your home. If you’d like to become a volunteer and help build our adoptable pets’ confidence while in the shelter, please join us at an upcoming Shelter 101 Session: LetLoveLive.org/Volunteer.
An Aiken native and self-proclaimed cat lady, Claire Grimes is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Development Director. She attended College of Charleston, where she graduated with a degree in Nonprofit Business and interned with Charleston Animal Society, the leader in No-Kill South Carolina. She is excited to now be working in animal welfare in her hometown and is proud of the community's robust efforts to better the lives of Aiken’s animals. Her family includes her husband, adopted black lab Ozzy, and two always-hungry kitties, Anakin and Luna (plus, in spirit, her late pup Sophie).