TIMING IS EVERYTHING
As a volunteer for a local shelter, Leanne’s effort included: dog walking, volunteer training and orientation, and workshops for the public regarding animal behavior and recognizing body language.
During a routine visit to the shelter, Leanne entered the ‘stray’ room and came face to face with Jem, a wolfhound mix, looking dog. “I have always wanted a Wolfhound mix,” notes Leanne. And although smitten, Leanne talked herself out of making an impulsive decision to take this beautiful dog home.
Jem was abandoned in a park in a nearby town, and animal control was called. It is guessed that her owners were surrendering her. Hopefully, a day will come when people make an effort to take animals to a shelter and not just leave them to take their chances, in a park.
We already had a ‘scruffy’ dog – one that looked very much like Jem albeit much smaller.
Even now, looking through photographs, Leanne has a hard time differentiating between the two as they both have that same, unkempt look. DNA results have determined Jem to be a mix of Black Russian Terrier and Great Dane.
The couple also had a greyhound, a retired racing dog from Iowa – W.J.S. Max Moppet (his track name). Leanne briefly recalls how interesting the experience was to watch Max transform from a working race dog to a companion dog.
“Two was kind of my limit,” says Leanne. “I’m a terrible rescuer” she adds with a laugh. “Three adds a whole other dynamic that I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Two is the perfect number.”
Leanne and her husband had Lucky, the scruffy dog, for seven years and he was more than seven years of age when they rescued him. He was getting older. His previous life was spent tied up in a backyard with another dog until the OSPCA seized them.
Only a short time after meeting Jem, while still at the shelter, Leanne received a phone call from her husband, Jeff. Lucky was unwell and unable to hold his head up. Later that evening Leanne and Jeff took Lucky to the vet, and after a consultation it was determined that Lucky was suffering from a collapsed trachea. This is the reason he was unable to lift his head and was having difficulty breathing. At this time, they also discovered that Lucky had lymphoma. The success rate for trachea surgery was not very high, and at fifteen or sixteen years, the couple decided not to put Lucky through the process. Sadly, the difficult decision was made to let Lucky go. It was the kindest thing to do, says Leanne.
It had been less than twenty-four hours since her visit to the shelter. Heartbroken, and feeling as though she had been swept up in a whirlwind, Leanne’s mind kept returning to the dog in the shelter. Jem’s ‘stray hold’ had been removed and Leanne had managed to walk with her on a few occasions. During this time, Jem remained calm and did not react to anything.
She was a real suck and would lean on me during my time with her
Leanne spoke with her husband and asked the shelter manager, if Leanne’s husband agreed and if Jem got along with Max, could they foster to adopt, Jem.
It was agreed and the introduction with both dogs (at the shelter), went well. Jem went home with Leanne in August and was adopted just before Canadian Thanksgiving (October).
It is not uncommon for personalities and traits to change after a period of adjustment. This was the case with Jem. A couple of months after she had been in her new home, Jem started reacting to other dogs, on-leash. Leanne believes Jem is ‘dog selective’ taking particular offense to small dogs. Although she gave no indication of this while at the shelter, it is likely, during that initial period, Jem was shut down. The realization occurred during an introduction to their neighbour’s Goldendoodle. That did not go well, says Leanne.
Further evidence came to light during a visit to Leanne’s parents. Every time their Jack Russell would move, Jem would zone in on him. Although uncomfortable with her reaction, Leanne accepted a further invitation to visit her parents for Thanksgiving. While outside in the garden with the three dogs; Max, Jem, and the Jack Russel, Leanne became aware of a change in Jem’s physiology. Thankfully, Leanne managed to grab hold of Jem before any damage was done. Unfortunately, Jem is no longer welcome at Leanne’s parent’s house.
Had she known that Jem was reactive, she may not have adopted her. It certainly is a challenge, even for Leanne who has taken close to thirty courses and workshops on the topic of ‘positive reinforcement’ dog training. Seven years later, Leanne is doubtful she will be able to eliminate this behaviour. With her training and experience, however, Leanne recognizes and responds to situations in which the behavior is triggered. Avoiding certain settings, and familiarizing herself with her territory and local dogs is also important.
I’m hyper-alert when walking my dogs; I’m conditioned to be that way, now
Perhaps another family would have adopted Jem and upon discovering these traits, returned her to the shelter. Sadly that happens all too often. People claim ‘the shelter didn’t tell me this, or that (about a dog).’ As I pointed out previously, such traits and characteristics are not always apparent until much later, after the animal has adjusted to a new normal.
Sometimes, the universe decides these things for us. The stars aligned when Jem arrived to ease the pain of losing Lucky and Leanne was able to use her experience to manage Jem’s reactivity and provide a loving, forever home for this beautiful girl in need of rescue.
Thank you, Leanne & Jem for sharing your story,