Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cornelia Jones, the Canine Crusader

Cornelia Jones, the "Canine Crusader," has been a rescue advocate for years. She posts two blogs, “Rescue of a Stray Dog” about rescuing Darlin', a stray dog, and “Dog Blog for Five Dogs” about the dogs in her family. Today she took some time to tell us about her adventures in adoption.

HTB: Had you ever adopted a dog before you found Darlin?

CJ: Yes. I grew up with dogs and was once handed a puppy when I answered my front door; however, the first dog I adopted from the Humane Society was in 1994. My Lhasa Apso died when my daughter was a year old. Less than a year later my life changed suddenly when I lost my first husband tragically. The next four years were spent adjusting to my new life and it was during those years that I didn’t have any pets at all.

By the time my daughter was five years old and with my infant son, I began to feel more settled and started thinking about owning a dog again. I wanted a small dog that would be a house dog so we went to see who was available at the Humane Society. The shelter evaluated our application and didn’t recommend a small dog because I had young children. A six year old Australian Shepherd mix was being processed while I talked to the shelter worker. She thought Daisy would be a perfect match for us. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of a medium size dog with so much hair living in our home, but I decided to take their advice and give her a chance. The Humane Society had some veterinary records on Daisy. I called the Vet to ask if I could get copies of her records and found out that they treated her after she was adopted out from the Humane Society previously. I realized that I was her third home in six years and I told her that day that she would never have to leave again.

Daisy was the most wonderful dog! She was the most calm, quiet, naturally obedient dog that anyone could ever ask for. She obviously had some training because she wouldn’t get on the furniture or beds, and no amount of coaxing would change her mind. I would wash my car while she lay in the yard content; nothing stirred her curiosity, she never thought about leaving her yard. We also had a fenced back yard. Daisy loved to be near children. She didn’t really play or interact with them; she just wanted to watch over them. In nearly the decade that she lived with us, I only carried her leash on walks because she never needed it, as she would never think to leave my side. Family and friends used to tell me that I was so lucky to have a perfect dog. The smartest thing I did was following the shelter worker’s suggestion that we choose Daisy. Daisy crossed the bridge in 2003 when she was fifteen years old.

In 2004 I adopted Sam, our Blue Heeler, and then this past February I pulled some Jack Russell’s from a pound in Tennessee that Russell Rescue agreed to take. I had planned on fostering one because I still had a foster at home in addition to the three other dogs I own. I brought Toby home and knew within twenty-four hours he would never leave.

HTB: How has your experience with Darlin changed your life?

CJ: Darlin’ has helped me to understand the canine world better. If it were not for Darlin’ and her fear issues I would have never read any literature about canine body language and communication. I might never have known how to work with a fearful dog, how to alleviate some of the stressors, and what to expect as far as rehabilitation. She has been a learning experience for me. She has helped me to become a more patient person, which was not my strongest virtue in the past, although I always give allowances for dogs.

Darlin’ has changed the way I live and my family has been influenced as well. When she was a stray I committed myself to keeping her alive through winter. I knew that if she was fed, I could put weight on her and that would help her body fight off the cold. Darlin’ was a mystery to me because I never saw her except at feeding time. My entire family had to adjust to her feeding schedule for six months. If I wasn’t able to do it, someone else had to. She was a frightened dog that showed up at a tree to eat, but she wouldn’t let anyone get close to her.

When I trapped Darlin’ and brought her home I had no idea what she would be like. We only knew each other from a distance. I had hoped that she would be wagging her tail within three days. I’ve never had a dog that didn’t love me right away, nor did I have a dog that showed any signs of stress or anxiety other than during a thunderstorm. She was so fearful that my heart ached for her, wondering what her life must have been like before we met. It was an emotional time for me.

My daily routine changed because I needed to spend time teaching her (to the best of my ability) to trust me. That meant I had to carve time out of my usual schedule just for her. I began cooking for her and offering other high valued foods to show her that good things come from the hands that feed her. Also, she was fearful of my dogs which meant she had to be confined in the beginning of her rehabilitation. Not only did she have to learn to trust me, but she also had to learn what it’s like living with other dogs. Gradually, as she made progress in one location, she was moved closer to the dogs and my family. As she grew more trusting and showed signs of feeling safe with me, I couldn’t leave her for too long because I didn’t ever want her to feel abandoned, not even for 8 hours. I’m fortunate to be able to stay home with her and my other dogs, but there are times I’ve had to leave her as long as twelve hours for a rescue transport or to visit family out of town. During my time away my children are asked to care for her which is a challenge for them, as she is still fearful of my family. We take Darlin’s fear issues and insecurity seriously because we all want her to live as a family pet in our home like our other dogs.

Because the number of dogs in our home grew from three to five this year, it was important for me to be outside in the yard with them. Darlin’ needed to see with her own eyes how we live and interact together. I sat on the ground a lot this past year! I actually took time off from my home business because she required more time to adjust than I could have anticipated. In the beginning, after bringing Darlin’ home, most of my energy was concentrated on Darlin’ and my family had to fill in with my other dogs. I began to feel like something was missing from their lives—me! It was then that I started spending quality time with each dog individually so that they understood that life doesn’t change for them no matter how many dogs they live with.

Training my dogs just seemed to come naturally for them, but Darlin’ had to learn everything by association. There has been a methodical process for everything she has learned.

At first, I took treats to her while she lay in her bed. She wouldn’t take it from me, so I would leave the treat and walk away. Once she felt secure taking a treat from my hand in her bed, she started meeting me half way in the bedroom. I was elated that she would come to me, but she ran back to her bed for the treat! Eventually she took one standing and I’ll never forget the look on her face as if she had made a mistake. Several days later she met me at the bedroom door. After she was comfortable taking her treat at the door, she began taking a few steps towards me in the hall. Weeks went by when one day she met me at the kitchen doorway! I was so proud of her! Finally, she showed up in the kitchen! After she was familiar with that routine, I began teaching her to sit for her treat. Now she will walk in the house and go right to the kitchen and sit, always on the same rug where she learned to sit for her treat!

Nothing has come easily or quickly. Now you know why I said I’ve learned to be more patient. If I had given up on her and left her treats without encouraging her to transition from one step to the next, she might still be having her treats alone when no one was around.

HTB: What were the biggest challenges when you first brought Darlin into your home?

CJ: Waiting for her to come out of her dog house! That was the longest three days of my life! I would sit at my window, watching and waiting. I never had a dog living outside so that bothered me, but I knew it was best to give her space and time to come out of her shell, away from noise and further confusion. Thankfully, we live in a warmer climate and it was spring. She refused food and treats which was difficult to imagine. She would turn her head away no matter what I offered her. Seeing her tremble and her labored breathing was not easy. She looked as if she was freezing as she shook with such intensity. She was heartworm positive which was of great concern. She was treated at home by a mobile vet. I wasn’t comfortable with anyone handling her, but I knew we shouldn’t wait to treat her. It’s a challenge for anyone to bring a dog home that is so frightened and mistrusting of humans. Dogs like Darlin’ need a lot of time and shouldn’t be pushed or they could be set back from any progress that has been made.

HTB: What have been the biggest rewards?

CJ: Just knowing that Darlin’ has a home for life, where she will be loved and cared for, makes my heart happy. I drive down the highway she used to cross often, and I’m still amazed that she is here with us. I don’t think I’ll ever drive by or go to the grocery store without thinking back on those six months when I fed her.

Every milestone Darlin’ has made has brought me so much joy. She still needs more time before she’s where I want her to be living as family dog, but every step she takes in learning to trust us has been a truly gratifying experience that I celebrate. I see her sweet, gentle spirit that wants so much to be a part of our family, but due to her past experiences it’s been very difficult for her to move forward. Knowing that side of her makes me want to help her even more. While she has been the most challenging dog I have ever owned, she’s also becoming one of my greatest achievements. I’m extremely proud of Darlin’.

HTB:What are the most important things that our readers should know about dog adoption:

CJ: Before adopting a dog one should consider the expense involved.

Dogs need more than feeding and a lot of dogs end up homeless due to the fact that the owners can no longer afford them. Dogs require yearly immunizations and in some states licenses. Depending on the climate, fleas or mosquitoes could be a big problem. The ideal solution to control these pests and keep your dog healthy would be to purchase recommended products from your vet, and not the cheap, substandard products that don’t work and could harm your pet. Heartworms can kill dogs, and the treatment is more expensive than preventative care. Depending on the size of dog, treatment could cost as much as a thousand dollars. Sometimes, but not always, purebred dogs tend to have more health issues than mixed breeds. Alternatively, some breeds are prone to specific health issues; one example is Luxated patella—a common knee problem in dogs. During early or midlife, the dog may be treated with anti-inflammatory medication; however, sometimes surgery is required later in life. In the event that a healthy dog requires emergency veterinarian care, the costs could amount to more than what one can afford.

Research breeds because your dog should be a lifetime commitment:

I have a friend with a small child and a newborn baby. He called me and stated that they wanted to get a dog and were thinking of a Husky or German shepherd. They have no previous experience with dogs whatsoever, so I didn’t hesitate in voicing my opinion and asked him to reconsider. I told him that my comments had nothing to do with any intolerance I had for the breeds he had chosen, but that I didn’t think either of those dogs would be a good match for their lifestyle. I also told him that the biggest reason I wanted them to reconsider was because I wanted them to keep their dog, and not resort to giving away a dog they couldn’t handle! He told me that he could appreciate that.

Adopting a dog should be given a great deal of thoughtful consideration. The dog you choose should fit your lifestyle. If you don’t vacuum often, a breed that blows its coat several times a year may not be right for you. If the dog is alone most of the day while you work, a high energy, active breed wouldn’t be suitable for that lifestyle. I heard that Eskie’s were vocal dogs, but at the time I really didn’t understand what that meant before owning mine. If you work the night shift and sleep during the day, you probably wouldn’t want your dog to howl at trains or sirens when you are trying to sleep. There are exceptions in every breed, but basic care and characteristics of the breed should always be considered. Animal Planet has done a great service to dogs and people with the show Dogs 101 because it offers valuable information on a variety of dog breeds.

In working with rescues I’ve run into all kinds of reasons why people give up their dogs. They had a baby and can’t keep the dog, which is how we got Sam, our Blue Heeler. Another reason is that the dog jumps on the children. Some dog breeds tend to get over-excited when children are running, especially a young dog or a dog that hasn’t been properly trained. Herding dogs sometimes corral the children. In addition, in my opinion, children should be taught appropriate behavior around the dog. Not long ago I read an ad where a beautiful white shepherd was heading for a kill shelter if someone didn’t take him that day. The lady stated that the dog nipped at her three year old when she pulled its tail. The number one reason why dogs are abandoned by previous owners is that they are moving and can’t keep the dog. Consider that if you were to relocate, would you be able to take your dog with you? We relocated two years ago 650 miles with 30,000 pounds of household goods, three cars, two teenagers, three dogs, and four cats. Never once did we consider leaving any of them behind, teenagers included.

The dog you meet may not be the same dog in six months:

One should allow a grace period of approximately two weeks for the dog to adapt to his new environment. Naturally, if the dog is fearful like Darlin’, it would require more time. In most cases your new dog will be adjusting to his new home and family during the first two weeks. If the dog is coming from a shelter environment, it might not have had much contact with people while there. Allow the dog a few weeks to adjust to his new home before assuming that his behavior will remain the same as when you introduced him to the home. As the dog becomes more comfortable in his new surroundings (usually within the first two months), you’ll learn more about his personality and sometimes see the signs of why he ended up abandoned. For instance, most newly adopted dogs that are barkers won’t bark right away. Once they become comfortable in the home and realize that the home is their new territory, they are more apt to be protective of it. A dog’s natural instinct is to protect its pack from intruders. Similarly, if the dog has any fear issues, destructive tendencies, or little quirks, you should see them during this time. Some dogs do come with issues; however, with proper guidance and training, most can be overcome. That said, there are numerous dogs in shelters and with rescue groups right now that need a loving home and have no issues whatsoever.

Adoption fees:

I’ve heard these questions so many times. “If the dog was pulled from the pound, why is there an adoption fee?” “If the dog was going to be euthanized and needs a home, why should I pay to get it off the shelters hands?” “Well, if I’m going to give it a home, why should I have to pay for it?” There seems to be some confusion in the public about the cost of adopting a dog from rescue groups and shelters.

The cost of adopting an animal from a shelter or rescue provides some assurance that the adopter can afford to meet the needs of the dog. Anyone that is willing to pay the adoption fee is more likely to have the resources to provide for the dog. Sure, there are people who can’t or won’t pay the fee, but could provide food and shelter for the dog; however, that would require more screening which takes time.

Dogs that are available for adoption have already received their vaccinations, micro chipping, and have been spayed or neutered. There may be more money invested in the dog than the adoption fee itself. Many dogs come to rescues ill with kennel cough (requiring antibiotics), skin problems, or worse, heartworms, and have received heartworm treatment and a clean bill of health. The new adopter basically pays those costs during the adoption process by paying the fee. The new owner gets to take the dog home knowing their new friend is healthy.

Lastly, no adoption fee puts any profit in the pockets of rescue groups or animal shelters. Most rescues work with inadequate funds and invest their own money to save these dogs. Some dogs spend years with rescues or in foster care waiting on a forever home. During those years, the dog not only requires food and lodging, but ongoing vet care to keep them current on vaccines and other necessary preventatives. For every dog that finds a home and an adoption fee has been paid, it means that another dog, maybe even two others, can be pulled and saved from imminent death. The cycle continues with hope that more dogs will be rescued and altered, helping to control the overwhelming homeless animal population. This is the only way that animal welfare groups can gain some level of control over the thousands of helpless creatures euthanized every day.

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