A long wait for the right family
What does it mean for a dog to be “unadoptable”? Different animal agencies define the term differently. In too many cases, some shelters use “unadoptable” when they should say “difficult to adopt.”
RAPS is a no-kill animal organization. That means, for example, that we will work with a dog for as long as it takes to get them to a forever home. In one recent case, which has a delightfully happy ending, it took more than a year. This story is a testament to RAPS’ no-kill promise – and it is a case study in why we now seek to open our very own RAPS Dog Sanctuary.
Chips was a challenge. He came to the RAPS Animal Shelter as an abandoned dog – someone had tied him to a parked vehicle in Richmond – and he was not happy to be in our care.One of our Animal Control Officers got him into a crate to transport him to the Shelter, but he was hard to handle.
“He was very fractious, very nervous,” recalls Shelter manager Shena Novotny. “He was putting on a very big production, barking, growling, bearing teeth, lunging, the whole nine yards.”
Slowly but surely, he realized that the humans at the Shelter are nice, that they are a source of ample healthy food, a warm place to sleep, lots of love and walks.
It was a slow process to get Chips calm and confident around new people. Our dog training partner, Kelly Argue, worked with Chips to get him more accepting of humans and to try to ease some of his anxieties about other dogs. He’s a pretty big guy – we think he’s a German shepherd-border collie mix – and so making him comfortable around people was a priority.
“Kelly gave us a few different tools and exercises to do with him and we started getting him to a really good spot where he pretty much likes everyone on staff and we had good ways of how to introduce him to new people,” says Shena.
When he was ready, Chips was put up for adoption. He needed a home with people who had dog experience and patience for a pet with some anxieties and challenges.
“He had interest, but people that were interested in him didn’t have dog experience. Or if they did have dog experience, they had never experienced a dog with reactivity like his,” says Shena. “We knew he was a diamond in the rough and we would wait until he found his perfect family.”
One family had five or six meet-and-greets in the summer and Chips adored them. During his trial adoption, he did beautifully in the house.
“He was a shadow, he went everywhere with them, never had accidents in the house, very loving,” she says. “But being where they lived in North Vancouver it was a very busy area and they had dogs and people walking around and it was very overwhelming for him. After a lot of thought, they decided that it just wasn’t the right fit for them. They got anxious when he got anxious and that aggravated his anxiety so he acted even worse. They made the decision to bring him back. We respected that because we realize he is not a simple dog. He needs somebody who is capable of what he needs.”
Chips went up for adoption again and a few folks showed interest but none was ready to commit to his needs. Finally, a family from Whistler, Wendy and Phil, came to meet him. Chips is usually more fond of women but he took to Phil instantly.“He liked Wendy as well, but he really fell for the husband right away which is weird for him because men were normally very scary for him,” Shena said.
After a few meet-and-greets and some frank conversations about Chips’ needs, they took him home on a trial, then officially adopted him on November 13. It was 14 months after Chips had first arrived at the Shelter.
Wendy and Phil have been great about keeping us up-to-date on Chips’ progress. The day they took him home, they acknowledged a little whoops in the car.
Oct. 26th, 2020 – Hi Shena, Poor little dude got car sick. Skipped the kennel and switched to the back seat and he eventually he settled down for the remainder of the ride. Explored the street and the snow. Had a flawless meeting with my neighbour Ben. (May have helped that he keeps dried liver in his pocket!) He ate his dinner, is playing with toys, dispensing kisses and snoozing on the floor. A good first day. Wish us luck tomorrow. Wendy, Phil and Chips
A couple of days later, more good news …
Nov. 1st, 2020 – He is great in the house. Playing more every day. … He’s really into licking us… he’s a machine! He has discovered a love for melon, watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, popcorn, peanut butter and raw carrots. We are able to pass people on the street. Any dogs stuck on balconies are pretty much ignored, but dogs on the street are still a no-go. We have booked him for evaluation and training session on Wednesday for more tips on what to do to help him. Trainer recommended we keep him away from triggers as much as possible while he’s still decompressing, so we keep our walks as encounter-free as possible. He’s getting a bit more relaxed every day. Trying to get him to sleep through the night as he jumps into the bed and licks us every time we move… More sleep needed all around! Will keep you posted on the training session. Wendy
A couple of weeks later and Chips was becoming a real Whistler regular …
Nov 17th, 2020 – We did a 10km hike and introduced him to 2 new friends… they just ignored him and he just ran around and had a blast. Came home and slept like a log :). Our friend Liisa spent the whole weekend with us in the house, and within 2 days, he was comfortable roaming muzzle and leash-free around her.
The RAPS team is so thrilled that Chips has found a family that gives him everything he needs and is committed to making sure his special needs are respected and addressed. Chips’ story – thanks to Wendy and Phil! – has a super-happy ending.
In many or most other jurisdictions, this story could have ended very differently. Because we are a no-kill agency, RAPS invests the time and resources needed to prepare animals like Chips for their forever home, no matter how long it takes. In too many other places, a dog like Chips – a diamond in the rough – would have been deemed “unadoptable” and quite possible would have been put down.
Though we will work with a dog as long as necessary, thankfully, not too many dogs take as long to find their family as Chips did. There are occasional stories of long sojourns at the Shelter, but thankfully most dogs are able to be adopted in just a few weeks or months.
Of course, the Shelter is not where a dog wants to be. It is, by definition, a place of temporary shelter. That’s why RAPS has launched a campaign to build a dog sanctuary. This beautiful, fully equipped place will be more accommodating for dogs who have to spend months or years with us. It will feature enrichment activities, plenty of outdoor recreation, delightful furnishings and the same individualized care our staff and volunteers always provide to every animal in our care.
Of course, dogs are different from cats. Many cats happily live in colonies or, as they do at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, by the hundreds in our “Kitty Club Med.” Dogs want a forever family. So our dog sanctuary will be a hybrid of the best of shelters and sanctuaries – providing a beautiful loving home for as long as necessary, but with the ultimate goal of getting each resident ready to take their place at the heart of a family home.
Chips is an example of the sort of dog for whom our new sanctuary is being created.
“We were determined to find the right fit no matter how long it took,” Shena says. “He is such a good boy and it just took a while to find somebody who would see that and would understand his needs and be committed to working with him to get through all his socialization needs. We are just over the moon happy for him because he’s such a good boy.”