Princess Goes Home!

Note: This guest post was written by Misa Martin CPDT-KA, Staff Canine Trainer at Pets Alive Westchester.

When I first got hired at PAW, there were about 180 “Legacy dogs” living there – dogs that Pets Alive had inherited from the previous occupants of the building. In addition to getting familiar with all of these legacy dogs, it was requested that I work with a certain young Pit girl “every day”. When I first visited her, I saw why. Dumped at the shelter as a baby pup back in the “bad days” when Elmsford Animal Shelter was terribly mis-managed, Princess was taught at a young age that if she wanted a walk, she ought to leap about, grab the handler’s leash, dance on people’s heads, and carry on with all of these things (simultaneously). Volunteers reported that she had been tugging inappropriately since the beginning, and that she had been labeled as a Red/Caution dog as she made mistakes with her teeth quite often.

At 2 years old, she was fast and powerful. She was a great example of a young dog raised without any impulse control whatsoever – sweet, without bad intent (thank goodness!), but with kennel manners that were simply atrocious. Any prospective walker approaching her run would be quickly turned off by her intense display of bad manners. I had a lot of work to do!

Crate Games, March 2012

I began working Crate Games with her. Structure, structure, structure at all times when I was interacting with her, training that started even before my hand touched her kennel door. Tons of It’sYourChoice to engage her mind, tons of shaping. With her high energy levels, she was both a quick study and a true test of my timing skills! Some days, I wasn’t able to get her out at all (love that good old variable schedule of reinforcement….) but some days, as her good behaviors gelled, her new habits outweighed her old ones and we had good progress.

John Sibley and I quickly integrated her into our play groups, adding an additional high-value reward into my existing structure of training with Princess. The hijinks and fun that she brought to those groups meant that she met a bunch of dogs and had an outlet for all of that energy. The videos that we shot of her with all of her new friends were posted on YouTube, and turned out to be a key in getting her out of PAW.

Despite the great improvements that we made in Princess’ life, one could have argued that she wasn’t doing well. The leaping about in her kennel continued with abandon, alarming volunteers and staff alike. Can any shelter adequately care for all of a young, active, smart dog’s needs? I spent as much time as I could with Princess, and it wasn’t enough. Even with new, skilled volunteers helping me out with her, it wasn’t enough. She was seen by potential adopters and she’d simply fling herself at them, ready to share 10000% of her affection with them, and they’d “think about it”. Back to her kennel run she’d go, again.

As all of this was happening with Princess, PAW gave a seminar about hospice care for senior dogs. It was a huge success and legacy dogs began flying out of PAW. Facebook and Twitter buzzed with all of the success stories from our fostered and adopted seniors – “We love him! He fits in with our family perfectly!” and “He’s great with our other dog, and how it it that he’s already housetrained!”. Our network of hospice homes grew as people talked, and dogs of all kinds went home – even those that had been labeled by the old administration – “Do not TOUCH, do NOT WALK” – were happily living in real homes.

One of these homes belonged to Lorraine H, who posted wonderful pictures and hilarious stories about her adopted PAW dog, Star. Senior dog Star had also lived at Elmsford for years – another former “Red” dog (meaning that only very skilled volunteers could interact with her). Lorraine and Star became great advocates for PAW and the dogs that remained there, and when it was time for her friend John to adopt a dog, they watched the play group videos of Princess online and decided they had to meet her. When Tracey and Andree, the adoptions counselors, told me that Lorraine and John were waiting to meet Princess, I ran to get her with a huge rush of optimism. Of course, Princess hit it off with them instantly, and suddenly Princess had a home! I was invited to follow them to Lorraine’s home upstate, where I got to see Princess meet her friend Star again, and make friends with new dog friends Daisy and HeSo. The news from Princess’ new home continues to be everything I would wish for this great dog.

Is this a story about how “Training saved this dog!”? That’s a part of this story, but there are many other elements. At PAW I see that it takes a village to help the animals in our care. It takes caring staff like Nicholas B., who was equally concerned for Princess and helped me with her as often as he could. It takes volunteers with the tenacity to learn new skills for dogs with training challenges. And finally, it takes the empathy and caring of people like Lorraine and John to give dogs like Princess a loving home.

I’m honored to have learned as much as I have from Princess and I couldn’t be happier to see her go. I will miss her, but this is what I plan for daily. This is what helps me as a trainer never to give up hope. Being part of Princess’ journey and seeing her get to that forever home is an unbelievable privilege and I’m so fortunate that I will get to do this again for more of my dog friends.


Princess & Star at Home

Filed in Why we do this by John Sibley on Sep 07, 2012.  There are No Comments

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