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The House of Special Needs Dogs

January 31, 2012 21 comments

My sister once referred to my house as the “House of Special Needs Dogs.” At the time I laughed at her description, but in truth, she could not have described my home any better than she did. It’s true. I have a penchant for adopting and fostering those dogs who are most afraid, most emotionally damaged and unsocialized. I see possibilities where others see the impossible. You see, I DO believe that love can make a difference.

Working with special needs dogs requires patience, an understanding of what they truly need (not what you want), and being able to celebrate small victories as big ones. Every small step forward is often followed by two steps back, but you know that it will be followed by another step forward, eventually. There is a bond that builds between you and your dog when you have to build trust slowly, from the ground up, and earn it with every action and interaction you have with them.

Jasper and Daisy

With Daisy, it was that first tail wag. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was when I first realized that Daisy was actually wagging her tail instead of tucking it under her butt in fear. For those who have only had a “normal” dog this may not seem like a big deal, you probably see it every day, but to me it was the sunshine of my day, my week, my month. That one action was more rewarding and fulfilling than any other I can remember (and I know there have been many along the way).

With Jasper, it was less a step-by-step process. He has taken many leaps forward and only a few steps back. Most of his issues have to do with his inability to deal with new objects in his environment. If you can imagine how a puppy reacts when they first encounter something they haven’t seen before, you will get an idea of how Jasper reacts to new things. He barks, circles the object from a distance, approaches cautiously and eventually will get close enough to sniff. But, it takes time and patience. He has made huge strides in so many ways that the small steps back seem less consequential.

Jasper

With Lady, it has been more of a slow progression of building trust. She needed to get a feel for our routine, the house rules and how I would be as her new foster mom (and adopted mom). She has always been a bit reserved and cautious, but after her 12 day adventure in the wild, things seem to have changed. She has slowly started to let her true personality shine through a little more each day. Yesterday was one of those days (kind of like Daisy and her first tail wag).

We went to the dog park in the late afternoon. Jasper was full of piss and vinegar and barking and trying to get me to throw a stick for him (one of his many obsessions). I decided to distract him with our usual game of chase. “I’m going to get you!” I said, and started to chase him. He was thrilled. He barked and raced ahead, spinning around as he went, waiting for me to get close enough to chase him again, when suddenly, out of the blue, Lady joined in. She started running with Jasper and then jumping and spinning, mimicking his behavior. Then, she gave a whole series of play bows, both to me and to Jasper. She wanted to play too! And, she did. For many minutes.

Lady barking


This may seem like such a small thing to many dog owners, but in the House of Special Needs Dogs, this is huge progress. Lady’s willingness to trust me and Jasper enough to join in a game of chase says so much. It means that she is letting go of any fears she has had about her new family and is realizing that not only is she finally “home”, but that home is a place where she can not only let her hair down, but be accepted and loved for just being herself. That’s the type of reward we celebrate at the House of Special Needs Dogs.

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