She didn’t eat.
That’s not strictly true; they took my advice and pushed the bowl farther into the kennel, so she ate a little bit. But it wasn’t much.
Luckily, on the back end of things, my client Renee (who has given me permission to use her real name!) had gotten a whole team of people mobilized to look for a foster. I’d sent my videos Wednesday evening; by Friday morning things were chaotic, but we had a tentative plan: a rescue organization called Jelly’s Place was going to send over paperwork claiming her under their umbrella, and I would pick her up Friday in-between clients. (I wasn’t sure that strangers who weren’t professionals would be able to extract her safely. No one at the shelter had had any luck, after all!) She’d ride around in the car with me for the day since it wasn’t too hot, I’d take her home that night and keep her, and the next morning two people who’d agreed to foster her with Jelly’s Place’s help would get her from me and take her home.
When I got to the shelter, there was no paperwork from Jelly’s Place and no notice that I was coming had been recorded. The staff turned the office upside down, but something had gone wrong among the many odd rules and regulations about faxing claim forms from rescues. There was nothing. Because everything had been happening so quickly, I didn’t actually have any contact information for Jelly’s Place — I didn’t even know the name of the organization — so we couldn’t reach out.
The woman at the front desk, remembering me from just two days before, called over her superior (who also recognized me). While they put their heads together, I called my next client to let them know I wouldn’t be making our appointment. The nice thing about working with dog people is that when you have to cancel to help a dog in distress, they understand!
The front desk woman called another co-worker from a different section of the rescue to run ideas by him about way to make sure I left with Merida. When neither of them could find a legal way to release her, they called their manager,over, who ended up phoning the high chief of all.
By this time people visiting animals and waiting in line had learned what was going on. There were four people behind the desk, all bustling around or clicking rapidly on computers trying to save Merida, me leaning forward eagerly hoping to help somehow, and another two, then four, then eight people whispering explanations to the newcomers and trading hopeful stories.
Since Merida was still on the “unadoptable” list they couldn’t adopt her to me (plus there was that pesky $200 adoption fee that’s waived when a rescue org steps in). It wasn’t as simple as waiving that or changing her category; by law, she was there and couldn’t be moved either in category or out of the building with steps we didn’t have. Then one of the manager gave me a piercing look and said, “You’re a dog trainer?”
I provided all the information she wanted while she typed furiously into a computer. I didn’t understand half of what was happening, but she briskly gave the first woman direction on what to do with Merida’s computerized file. Both women tapped furiously away at their computers and satisfied smiles and nods came from the other two managers, looking over their shoulders before finally heading back to their own offices. A few minutes later, with great triumph, the manager yanked a form from a shelf, slapped it down on the counter in front of me, pointed out where to sign, and asked a nearby volunteer to take me back to Merida’s kennel.
With a wide smile another employee joined us, shepherding the volunteer forward and assuring her that yes, they were going to let me into the kennels where people weren’t normally allowed.
My greatest regret through the whole ordeal is that I didn’t think to write down anyone’s name. I was too focused on how we could make sure Merida left with me, and trying not to disturb their concentration. If you recognize yourself here, thank you.
I wasn’t surprised that Merida didn’t come to the front of her kennel when I arrived with the two staff members. I was surprised that, despite her fear, she clearly remembered me. She made brief eye contact and gave the tiniest of wags from the back of her room. Although the staff members were supposed to bring her out to me, when I asked if they’d move out of sight and let me get her they agreed. Talk about compassion over rules!
Once Merida thought the “strangers” were gone, she came up to sniff and nuzzle at my palm (even though she didn’t want me petting her). It only took a few minutes to put a slip leash (a long, soft rope with a handle at one end and a noose at the other, that tightens enough to keep from coming off but loosens easily, and negates the need for separate collars and leashes) over her head. That was when I discovered a thin black collar buried under her wiry, filthy coat.
I moved slowly but with confidence, letting her get used to my hands on her neck until I could find the buckle without panicking her. When I felt it, I unsnapped the collar and worked it out of her fur. There were no tags or other identification on it. It looked like an old puppy collar, long outgrown but not, thankfully, tight enough to injure. We stepped out of her kennel and found the staff members truly had left us to get re-acquainted. On the front of her kennel door was a clear plastic envelope with her information, photo, and ID number. With the exception of her photo, ID number, and sex, the entries for whether or not she’d been spayed or vaccinated, what her name was, how old she was, her general health, and other information was all blank. I slipped the black collar into the envelope with the mostly empty sheet, and we left it behind with her old life.
Outside, by my car, we ran head first into whole new problems: unlike most dogs, she was afraid of getting in. I had a Mazda 5, a mini-mini van, as I like to call it. With the back seats down it made a nice dog area, and with the middle seat down I could put a large crate inside. This was where I wanted Merida to go. For all I knew, she’d try to pee inside the car, jump out windows, leap into my lap while I drove; I wanted to take as few chances as possible!
She, however, was having nothing to do with this. I opened the trunk and sat back there myself. She didn’t care.
I gave long, slow pulls and released at any sign of movement from her (forward, back, sideways — I didn’t care which way!) since that will almost always get a dog thinking, calmed, and then moving forward. She still didn’t care.
I walked her back and forth past it to get her moving, then asked her to jump in. Forget it.
I tried running with her toward my car.
I tried tossing treats into the car.
I watched her while calling my next client and rescheduling them, as well.
I tried everything except lifting her into the car, which I didn’t think she’d take well to. After about fifteen minutes she must have decided it wasn’t too bad, because she leaped in as delicately as you please! I coaxed her into the crate and closed the door.
The final (and now only) client of the day was Renee herself. It was with a smile that I headed to Renee’s house, knowing how ecstatic she’d be to meet the dog she’d spent so many hours and sleepless nights trying to help.
When I pulled up I let Merida (who had ultimately decided to just relax and enjoy the ride) out of the car to potty (she didn’t), stretch her legs, and get some water. Then I put her back in her crate, relieved that this time she hopped right in, and went to knock on Renee’s door.
Renee’s first question, of course, was whether or not I’d been successful. Smiling, I told her Merida was in the car, and would she like to meet her?
Renee, ever thinking of others, first made sure it wouldn’t be too much for Merida. I assured her that I wouldn’t ask Merida to come out if she didn’t want to, and we headed back to the car.
The difference in Merida once out of the shelter was obvious. Timid? Yes. Fearful? Absolutely. But she was far more willing to come visit and take chances, and after checking us humans out from the safety of the car, she decided to hop on out and do a little cautious exploring.
I held onto her leash but didn’t push myself on her, and Renee and her husband stood quietly, taking pictures and talking softly to Merida, most importantly keeping their hands to themselves so Merida didn’t feel threatened.
It took a bit of time, but Merida started to approach them to sniff and take treats. She wasn’t ready for pets, but she certainly said “Thank you.”
Renee filmed a few minutes as I was talking about getting her out; you can see Merida hopping out of the car and doing a little exploring. (She coughed occasionally for a day or two, and then stopped. We never learned why, but I assume a mild bug.)
Finally, after a very long day, we headed home. Since I didn’t know if Merida had something she could give to my dogs (anything from fleas to diarrhea), I put her in a small pen in my kitchen, and then gated the kitchen off as well. If anything, though, she seemed relieved to have a safe space to sleep where there were no dogs barking, only friendly dogs wagging at her from a distance, wondering why they couldn’t go say hi.
Merida settled in for the night and I set aside my future worries. For that moment, it didn’t matter if we could rehabilitate her, if the new foster would work out, if we’d be able to find her a home or if there would turn out to be something either behavioral or physical we couldn’t fix. The morning and meeting her fosters would be soon enough for all that. For now, at least, we could all rest.