Labels, and why they suck.
Two weeks ago, we pulled Lee Roy out of a central Florida shelter. He was beyond his alloted time, and was actually 2 weeks past his due date. Apparently, he was a super “friendly” guy and the shelter workers were determined to get him out. Well, some of them.
I was immediately drawn to Lee Roy, his energy was amazing. While the other dogs were barking like mad at anything that moved, Lee Roy would watch us walk up and down the kennel. He pressed his face against the wire to find us after we’d left his range of sight while looking at the other dogs and when we’d come back in viewing range, his tail would slowly start to move. I knealt down in front of his kennel, his eyes closed and he pressed up against the kennel door as if he was hoping he’d melt right through and into our arms. I stood up, turned to the volunteer and asked to take Lee Roy into the play yard. I could already see what was happening, he was becoming a DF dog. The man explained that Lee Roy had heartworms and the treatment is expensive. I prefer to keep a low profile at shelters, so I just smiled and said okay rather than get into a discussion about knowing the ins and outs of treating dogs for heartworms. We took him out into the yard and it was sheer bliss. He ripped through the grass and lept through the air, eyes closed, sucking in the sweet smell of freedom. The volunteer gave us a bone and I attempted to test Lee Roy’s skills. Sit? Check. Paw? Got it. Other Paw? NICE! Down? Wow. Even my dogs fight the dreaded “down.” Not Lee Roy. He wasn’t even interested in the treat. He gleefully took it from my hands and dropped it as he pranced away to inspect the other side of the play yard.
I asked the volunteer if he knew whether or not Lee Roy was dog tolerant; “Don’t know.” From our initial evaluation, we’d seen no issues of dog “aggression” but I always like to get as much information as I can, whether its accurate or not. I called a friend who frequents this shelter and she explained how she’d heard Lee Roy was “dog aggressive.” She explained that a rescue had come forward to evaluate the dog and he’d “attacked” another dog. That was all the information she had, so I asked her to do some digging for me. Meanwhile, I spoke with an employee at the shelter and asked what he knew about my big block head. “Not great with dogs.” Can you elaborate? “We had him with an intact male, the male mounted him, and he turned around and ‘snapped’ at the dog. We don’t recommend he goes to a home with dominant males.” I asked if Lee Roy continued to go after the dog or if it was a quick correction. He replied that it was quick. Okay, so Lee Roy was mounted by an intact male attempting to establish dominance, Lee Roy turned and corrected the dog for the unwanted behavior and then returned to skipping through the yard, ignoring the other dog. He nodded. Not only were they convincing people of not adopting Lee Roy because of his medical issues, they had now wrongfully labeled him a “dog aggressive” dog. No adopters were interested, and now no rescues were interested. Evaluating a dog in a shelter situation isn’t always easy. Dogs are stressed, anxious, it isn’t exactly a desirable location for an accurate evaluation. We put Lee Roy back and left.
I couldn’t get my mind off of him. I just kept thinking about how he’s being condemned for a misunderstanding, or better yet, labeled by someone ignorant to dog language. Apparently, Lee Roy’s “owners” were coming to get him. They lived 5 hours south and some how Lee Roy wound up at this central Florida shelter. They were “no shows” twice already, but the shelter gave them another chance. That entire day I was on pins and needles praying the owners didn’t come. Heartworms, ear infection, they don’t care about this dog. I’m already emotionally invested, I want him now. Not only do I want to save his life, I want to slap the shelter in the face with the pictures of him playing with his foster siblings we’re planning on taking. I couldn’t take it. I had Allie call the shelter to see if he was available. “Yes. He’s here. But you should know, he’s extremely animal aggressive.” Allie thanked her and hung up. The family didn’t show…once again, and it was finally the day for us to pick Lee Roy up. I sat down to do the paperwork and the woman looked at me and said “Do you know he’s extremely animal aggressive?” I nodded and said I did. There is no use arguing with these people, I’m not going to win and I just want the damn dog. I was finally done and I had butterflies in my stomach as I walked over to the clinic to pick him up. I handed the tech Lee Roy’s paperwork as I patiently waited. He looked at it and asked if the front desk had told me about his issues with other animals. Jiminy Christmas, people! No wonder he’s not adopted! Why don’t you just throw a hazmat suit on him and tell everyone he’s got SARS. I grabbed him and took off. I had a martingale on him and we walked through the parking lot. He tugged for a moment, and I gave him a quick correction and he straightened out, never pulling again. We got to the car and headed off on our journey 2 hours south to his foster home.
Lee Roy has been in his foster home for 2 weeks now. The first week he was kept seperated from the other dogs while he adjusted to Joe and Kim’s house and rules, plus he was quarantined in case of any medical issues. Lee Roy is now integrated with the pack. He was properly introduced to them in a controlled environment and he’s thriving. Lee Roy loves dogs, he’s living with a female and two males and is doing fantastic.
We don’t like to be labeled ourselves, we don’t like when people label our dogs…so why do we think its okay to do it to others? If we would have listened to everyone and their multiple labels that they slapped on our boy, he’d be dead. But, he’s not…and I. Love. This. Dog.