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Patience and time … the key to a good dog

As a no-kill animal-serving organization, RAPS routinely faces challenging cases that, in other jurisdictions or agencies, would probably lead to euthanasia. Our no-kill promise states that, under our care, no animal is ever euthanized due to lack of space, treatable illness, physical defect, age, behavioural or socialization issues.

For cats, being unadoptable for any of these reasons means they will probably live out their lives at the RAPS Cat Sanctuary – our “Kitty Club Med.” For dogs, the challenge can be, well, more challenging. Here is an example.

In March 2016, German Shepherd Sunny was found as a stray in Richmond. He had no ID and no one came to claim him. After he was vaccinated, dewormed, received flea prevention, was neutered and tattooed, Sunny was placed up for adoption and, in April 2016, went to what we hoped would be his forever home. But a couple of months later, in June 2016, Sunny was returned for repeatedly putting his mouth on his new owner. He also broke down the backyard fence and succeeded in destroying two of the neighbours’ yards. The family had consulted trainers and spent time devotedly working with Sunny, but in the end decided they didn’t have the expertise and experience that Sunny required.

Sunny was then placed back up for adoption and was adopted again in August 2016. This time it seemed to be working out.

But, sadly, after four years, in July 2020, Sunny was returned again. The new owner had gone to superhuman efforts to help Sunny become the best dog he could be. But it became too much. Sunny was not adequately socialized with dogs and would get extremely overexcited when seeing them. Being a large and very strong dog, Sunny had occasionally gotten away from the family members and charged over to the dogs in his vicinity. He also demonstrated resource guarding and had other behavioural issues.

Sunny is incredibly smart and also suffers from anxiety, which makes a very difficult combination. When Sunny did not want to do something, he would have full-blown temper tantrums, often putting his mouth on people. RAPS staff were intensively working on his obedience and behaviour every day to prepare him for adoption. Sunny was also put on anti-anxiety medication as being in the kennel really stressed him out and he would bark non-stop.

After a few months and lots of work and training, Sunny was finally put up for adoption. We were looking for a very specific owner that had German Shepherd or other large breed experience, was a calm, confident, assertive owner and would continue the training we had been doing with Sunny to ensure he was set up for success. Sunny received some interest but nothing that would be a good fit for him.

Then, at the end of October 2020, a retired couple with lots of large breed experience came to meet Sunny and fell in love. Over the course of two weeks, the couple had five meet-and-greets with Sunny to ensure they got to see all of Sunny’s sides and really get to know what his needs were. They were then approved to take Sunny home for a seven-day trial adoption.

Sadly, after two days, they returned Sunny, as he was extremely difficult to handle in the home. The couple had not followed our instructions of using his crate, setting up rules along with other training instructions so, without firm boundaries, Sunny immediately took over and became unmanageable. We were all sad for Sunny as the couple seemed to really understand what his needs were and we thought they were going to honour his training and continue to set him up for success.

We were at a bit of a loss and were hoping someone else would come along, but Sunny’s history was becoming one of successive failures.

In December 2020, Sunny ended up going for seven days of boarding and intensive training with trainer Kelly Argue so that she could better understand him and tell us what his needs would be in his new home. We learned a lot from this and started new training techniques.

Finally, in January 2021, Tyna contacted us. She was interested in fostering Sunny. Tyna had lots of experience working with large, reactive dogs and was confident she could handle Sunny. The only thing was that Tyna had a 10-year-old female Dachshund named Honey, so we were unsure if Sunny would be too much for Honey but he had done well with Kelly’s small dogs during his weeklong board-and-train, so we gave it a shot.

Tyna and Honey came for a meet-and-greet and it went very well. Tyna did so well with Sunny and took him home as a foster in February 2021. We continued to have Sunny posted for adoption, but sadly he received very little interest. Thankfully, Sunny was thriving in his foster home with Tyna and Honey. Tyna went above and beyond for Sunny and Sunny really loves Tyna. Then … another bump in the road.

Tyna learned that she was allergic to Sunny because German Shepherds have similar dander to cats and she is allergic to cats. Even with the allergies, Tyna loved Sunny very much and was happy to continue fostering him until he found his new home. Tyna did a lot of work with Sunny and was able to fully wean him off his anti-anxiety medication, which was a huge step.

Then, in the middle of June, Tyna told us that she wanted to fully adopt Sunny! The entire RAPS team was over the moon because we knew how much Tyna loved Sunny and vice versa – plus she fully understood Sunny’s needs and how to make him the best boy he could be. Tyna spoke with her allergist about how to handle her allergies and she is going to receive a monthly allergy shot so that she can keep Sunny … Now that is commitment!

Tyna officially adopted Sunny on June 16, 2021, after Sonny had been in our care for almost a year!

Sunny’s story has a happy ending. But thousands of stories like his do not.

Most animal agencies do not have the resources and time to rehabilitate, socialize or otherwise prepare problematic or challenging animals for a forever home. In far, far too many cases, a dog like Sunny would be put down.

For more than two decades, unadoptable cats have come to the RAPS Cat Sanctuary, where they live out their lives surrounded by all the love and care we can deliver. But difficult-to-adopt dogs are a different story. Unlike cats, dogs do not tend to thrive in such a setting. They need regular bonding and devotion with a human family.

Until now, we have rehabilitated dogs like Sunny through our amazing fostering network. But we are ramping up to create a designated, permanent facility for dogs – the RAPS Dog Sanctuary & Adoption Centre, made possible by the ThanksVegan Foundation. Unlike our Cat Sanctuary, the Dog Sanctuary will not be imagined as a forever home for the residents. Rather, it will be the place where dogs come for intensive training, socialization and loving care, with experts in every field of behaviour, veterinary medicine and whatever other disciplines are necessary to see them finally succeed in being adopted – no matter how long it takes.

The RAPS Dog Sanctuary and Adoption Centre is another promise kept in RAPS’ longtime commitment to our no-kill ethos. We are building support now to create and open this new facility in the near future.



Thank you to Michele Wright, Furry Friends Photography for the use of her photography.