What to Expect from a Shelter Dog on Your first Visit

Keep an open mind and you could find your best friend.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

A few years ago, I watched a visitor to the animal shelter where I work walk up to a dog’s kennel, leash him up, and within three steps command him to sit.

The poor dog was given, no joke, only three steps toward being able to run and get some fresh air before the woman demanded he perform for her.

She actually said (while the dog was basically dancing in place), “Why won’t you sit? You’re not a very good dog.”

I tried to explain to her that he just really wanted to go outside and run for a little bit, but I’m not sure she understood.

Expectations of shelter dogs might mean that a lot of people miss out on an amazing best friend simply because he or she wasn’t given the proper chance.

I think sometimes people want what I call “calendar pets.” The pretty dog or cat that is perfect in every way, will acclimate immediately to whatever the person wants and never makes a mess or causes a problem.

I tell people if that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to head to the nearest toy store and pick out a stuffed animal, because they are the only ones from whom I can guarantee perfection.

Animals in general, and sometimes shelter dogs in particular, will take time, patience and training to acclimate to your home and lifestyle.

Please don’t misunderstand me on this one — shelter pets are NOT broken. They are not defective or flawed. In fact, I’ve talked to a number of people over the years who believe the animals from a shelter wholeheartedly know and appreciate the fact that they have been rescued.

Shelter pets are capable of so very much love and devotion for the person willing to take the time to see their value.

If you’re an animal-lover reading these words, chances are probably good that somewhere in your life is a four-legged friend, either beside you right now or in your home snuggled up on a blanket, comfortable in the knowledge that he or she has a home and a steady routine and knows what to expect.

Shelter animals don’t really have that.

Yes, they know that the staff members will be in at a specific time for breakfast and to clean the kennels and take them for walks, but at night, they are alone in a cage.

I tell school students when I talk to them that for us it would be like living in an elevator.

The next time you get into an elevator to go up or down a floor, take a look around you and imagine living in a space like that for six months, maybe a year.

I would be crazy within about an hour, if I was lucky.

Shelter dogs and cats spend a whole lot of time in those “elevators.”

Staff and volunteers work incredibly hard to provide the four-legged babies with walks and snuggles and play time, but it isn’t the same as having a true home.

Often times when a shelter dog gets out of a kennel, he will want to run. Indeed, I’ve seen many a pup drag the human on the other end of the leash to the door where he knows the outside is beckoning.

He’s been cooped up and has a lot of pent-up energy that he needs to let loose before he can settle down enough for commands or to allow someone to get an idea of his true personality.

Even shelter cats will do the typical feline stretch when taken out of their cages and given the freedom of a bonding room.

Letting the animal have that moment of wild abandon, so to speak, will give them the chance to calm down enough to warm up to you.

I know a lot of people come to the animal shelter looking for a pet because they have recently lost a four-legged friend. That can be a real source of hurt and pain and suffering for a whole lot of people.

Sometimes I think the grief causes the person to be so desperate to have their four-legged friend back that they put unrealistic expectations on other animals, hoping for them to fill that hole in their lives.

I get it. I had a Bengal cat who was the epitome of ornery and talkative and unique. She was unlike any cat I have ever had or known. I miss her still to this day.

But I also realize that none of my other cats will ever be her.

Every animal is different, just like every person.

It can be really unfair to expect another animal to fully take the place of the one you lost. It’s also unrealistic.

Keep in mind, a lot of shelter pets have already been discarded once. They have been found lacking by a human and I really think some of them know it.

We had a little terrier mix years ago come into the shelter because the man who owned him didn’t want him anymore. That poor little dog watched the door every day, as though he was expecting his dad to return. He never did.

I’ve seen dogs who come to the shelter to partake in fundraisers actually not want to come in the building. I say to them, “Mom and dad aren’t leaving you here, they just wanted to see inside.”

Animals seem to know instinctively what the shelter is and when they’re left here, I think it affects them.

A lot of dogs seem really sad in their kennels. It’s a tough way to live for them.

So if you find yourself seriously thinking about adopting a shelter pet, consider these points to help you find the perfect companion:

Taking all these factors into consideration will help when you walk into an animal shelter to meet a potential pet.

Maintaining your expectations just might mean that you could find the very best friend you have ever had.

Animal-lover, mind wanderer, extroverted introvert. Director of Communications at Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter, Chambersburg, Pa. www.jennyvwrites.com

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