SPCA Day: The joy of Pooch

I confess that I went to the SPCA for my day of dog walking somewhat reluctantly this past week. The weather has been brutally hot here and last Saturday was no exception. The heat index on Saturday was showing something like 102 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the day. Even though I was sweating my face off, I was happy, because the dogs are always happy.

Pooch

My most memorable dog of the day was Pooch, a young male pit bull. Pooch was one of the last dogs I walked on Saturday. Unlike most of the dogs, he didn’t jump or bark at me when I stopped at his kennel to take him out. He quietly sat by the door and just watched me, somewhat shyly. I crouched down and put my hand out for him to sniff. He ducked his head in an anxious way when I put his leash on, but as soon as I turned around to walk, he bolted out of that kennel like a rocket. The kid was ready to GO!

Like most pits, Pooch used his low center of gravity and strong pulling force to drag me all over the trails. I wasn’t much use trying to calm him down, so I took him to one of the enclosed “agility” areas. As soon as I snapped his leash off, he went wild with excitement: Racing in circles around the perimeter, looking for things to chew and balls to chase. He was especially enamored with a stuffed lamb toy that had been left in the pen. To amuse himself, he would toss it up in the air and then jump and catch it. I was delighted to just sit there and watch him play. If I wasn’t engaged in the activity, however, he was sure to let me know that he wanted my full participation. If I sat down after throwing the ball, he would charge up to me and impatiently throw his paws on my knees, grinning the whole time.

Pooch taught me a few things on Saturday. First, that dogs can behave very differently depending on their environments and situations. Pooch was shy and still when in his kennel, but as soon as he got out, he was like a totally different (and energy-packed!) dog. Second, Pooch reinforced that many pits and pit mixes have almost boundless energy. Compared with the different breed mixes I’ve met at the shelter, it’s the pits who seem to be the most gregariously energetic. And third, Pooch reminded me of what a thoroughly delightful thing it is to just watch a dog play. It’s encouraging to find the dogs at the shelter who are able to maintain their play drives to such a happy extent–despite their circumstances.

I hope Pooch finds a great home of his own very soon.

Beauty

I was also taken with Beauty, a sweet-faced female hound of middling adult age. We have a ton of hounds at our shelter. I’d never seen so many in my entire life. This is because of the area in which we live, where there are many hunters and who go out with packs of hounds. These hunters don’t always take the best care of their hunting dogs, who may often get separated from the pack or breed with each other without any regard for what will happen to the bitches or their puppies.

I don’t know Beauty’s back story, but I do know that she’s a quiet and lovely soul. Many of the hounds I’ve met show little to no interest in people. I don’t know if this is because this is a “hound thing” or if it’s because of the way they’ve been raised, but it’s often hard to get a hound’s attention–mainly because they are usually following the scent trail of something that’s about a hundred times more interesting than I am. Beauty was an exception to this aloof, uninterested hound trait.

As we walked, she paused every so often to stop and just look me straight in the face. Not in a challenging way, not in a fearful way–but a look that communicated calm attention. I’m anthropomorphizing here, but to me, Beauty’s look also communicated gratitude. Every time she stopped to watch me, to follow my eyes, she seemed to be saying, “Thank you.”

I don’t know what she was actually saying, but I’m going to believe that for a while longer. She deserves a family who will appreciate and cherish her gentleness and goodness. I hope she finds them soon.

Finally, another favorite moment of the day was with the tiny beagle mix puppy that I got to cradle for a few minutes. (I don’t have a picture of him, which probably means that he got adopted!) He was in a small carrier on the floor while his kennel was being cleaned and the poor baby was just crying his heart out. I was in between shifts of walking and I couldn’t help myself when I heard him. I stopped, sat down on the ground, and let him walk out of the carrier toward me. I didn’t want to reach in there and grab him, as he already seemed very frightened and confused. He cautiously approached me and I picked him up. He had brilliant blue eyes and those sweet, velvety beagle ears. I held him for a few minutes and spoke softly to him.

I could have sat there all day, but there were big dogs who needed walking and so I reluctantly put him back. My wish for him is that he will find a family who will raise him well and give him a long, happy life in one household.

I’m looking forward to my next volunteering weekend and to all of the new things that I will undeniably learn!

(Also: Some exciting news about Penny, the hyperactive dog that I thought no one would adopt: Apparently, she was adopted by the DEA to be a drug enforcement dog at the airports! I’m excited for her and I hope this job will provide a great channel for her boundless energy.)

What I learned this week

Some of the pretty (and adoptable!) faces I spent time with this weekend:

Penny
Sassy
Vivian

I spent about 8 hours this weekend at the shelter and my body is TIRED. I have so much respect for the full-time staff at our SPCA; they work really, really hard every day. I got home and I was so worn out. But I had a great time.

Some thoughts about what I learned over my two days with the lovely dogs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA:

  • Penny and hyperactivity. Penny (see above) is a dog that most volunteers don’t enjoy walking. She can launch herself above your head and is packed full of energy. The second you open her kennel door, she throws herself against your body and starts nipping at every inch of you. She’ll bite your thigh, your fingers, your jacket, anything she can get her mouth on. I quickly realized that none of this nipping and biting stemmed from aggression; it was simply overwhelming excitement. Penny is the kind of dog who probably speaks exclusively in multiple exclamation points and all caps. “OH MAN, SOMEONE IS TAKING ME OUT!! I CAN’T WAIT!! I CAN’T WAIT! MUST BITE SOMETHING!! MUST JUMP SIX FEET IN AIR!” She is stressful. But once she’s finally outside and she’s calmed down a bit, she’s quite sweet. It’s not great to live your life in a kennel. Penny’s hyperactivity is certainly aggravated by her lifestyle at the shelter. But when you have 70 dogs in one building, kenneling is the most reasonable option; there is no other alternative. I hope Penny will find a home soon. I believe, with the right person and the right channel for her boundless energy, she would be a great dog. She sits perfectly on command. She’ll even sit beside you for 10 full minutes and just let you pet her–but only after she’s torn around the fenced in enclosure for a while.
  • Balking. I encountered a sweet little dog this weekend who gave me some challenges. Abe (not pictured) is a darling border collie-spaniel-corgi mix. He looks like a shrunken border collie or a miniature flat-coated retriever and he is just precious. He was very shy when we got him out of the kennel, but as soon as we were outside, he perked right up and was wagging his tail all over the place, delighted to crawl up into my lap and smile at me. Suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love. And yet Abe was very difficult. He was perfect on the walk, but as soon as we approached the door to return to the kennels, he stopped dead in his tracks. He began to whine and refused to budge a step further. I was able to lure him down the hill with some liver treats, but he soon figured out my strategy and stopped responding to them altogether. A more seasoned volunteer saw that I was struggling with him and came over to help me. She also tried luring him to the door, but he wasn’t having any of it. We finally decided that we were just going to have to carry him inside. Thankfully, Abe is only 30 pounds or so. I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done if he had been any bigger! I don’t know why dogs occasionally balk when they’re on leash, but I’ve encountered my fair share of dogs that do (usually smaller ones and often terriers). With Abe, I think it was a combination of fear. With other dogs, it’s usually pure stubbornness. Have you ever encountered a dog who balks? Any advice?
  • Sassy. Sassy (see above) is a new dog at the shelter. That’s not a great picture of her, because she’s actually very regal and lovely; she looks like a German shepherd-Siberian husky mix and looks a lot like a wolf-dog when she’s stalking around in the woods. Sassy, despite her unfortunate name, is actually quite shy. I really enjoyed my walk with her because she’s unbelievably good on the leash. Sassy is extremely attentive to humans and despite displaying some potentially troublesome fear issues, she seems very intelligent and highly trainable. I hope she will go to a good home soon; I was half-tempted to sneak her into our tiny apartment myself…
  • Vivian and joy. Vivian (see above) was the last dog I walked on Sunday afternoon. She’s a slender and graceful fawn-and-white pit bull and she’s always smiling. Vivian is also shy, frightened of hands and loud noises, and she moves like a stray dog–slinking down to the ground, always attentive, always watching. Vivian is extremely attracted to other dogs and so it was somewhat difficult to get her out to the trails, since she was constantly leaping and launching herself at every dog nearby. I could tell she had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took her to one of the many fenced-in enclosures on the SPCA property. As soon as I snapped her leash off, she started tearing around in circles around the perimeter of the fence, mouth open in a huge grin, having the best time. It made me really happy. I think that’s what brings me the most joy from my time at the SPCA: Getting to see dogs act like dogs. I was delighted to spend time with the effervescent Vivian; she made me remember why I was there in the first place.

That’s what I learned this week. Can’t wait to go back soon!