By Janet McAfee

On February 6, 2019, Riverside County Department of Animal Services officers captured a large tan dog running loose along a Coachella road.  He had no collar or ID tag, and a scan for a microchip revealed there was none.  The male dog had a friendly demeanor, greeting the officers with a wagging tail, grateful for a bowl of water.  No owner came to claim him at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus shelter, Riverside’s county shelter in Thousand Palms.  The dog was housed in a kennel with another large dog.  He happily wagged his tail greeting potential adopters, but no one adopted him.  It would be a long journey to a new home for the dog they named “Caden”.

How long can a shelter dog wait and not lose hope for a home?  How long can a large dog mentally survive without becoming stressed in a shelter kennel?  The dog in his kennel was eventually adopted, and Caden was now alone in his kennel.

An amazing team of shelter volunteers rallied behind Caden, responding to the dog’s eagerness for human interaction.  Chelsea White, shelter Volunteer Services Coordinator, explains, “Without the support of our volunteers we would not have the resources to take care of all the animals’ emotional and physical needs.  Their important and vital work with the animals saves lives.”

The volunteers took Caden outdoors for frequent walks, exercised him in the yard, and provided refreshing dips in a wading pool.  They could feel his gratitude, it was as though he could speak to them through his body language, “Please take me out for a walk!”  On hot days, they sat with Caden indoors, stroking his fur, talking to him knowing he understood their loving messages.  Volunteer Dolores Anderson reports, “I loved Caden’s sweet gentle nature.  He quickly recognized me, and he was so grateful for his walks.”

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In July, I visited Caden at the shelter and soon realized why this loving calm dog was a staff and volunteer favorite.  I put his handsome photo in this magazine.  Next I posted him on Facebook, tagging local animal advocates.   Annette Garcia was one of 62 people who shared his post on her Facebook page.  Her friend, Rebecca Ivie, saw the post and it tugged at her heart.  

Rebecca Ivie and Gordon Leith recently lost a large Shepherd mix dog.  Their household includes four rescue cats (one of whom is blind), a guinea pig, and Karma, a dedicated service dog who assists with post-traumatic stress disorder.  To describe Rebecca and Gordon as ardent animal lovers is an understatement.  

Rebecca recalls, “Our senior adopted dog, Riley, passed away in early December, and we have been pretty raw about it.  We weren’t sure we were ready to get another dog.  When we saw Janet’s second Facebook post about him, we went on the website to get more information, and were concerned when he was not there.  He’d been moved to the ‘Needs Rescue’ list, and that tipped us off the fence.  We were at the shelter as soon as they opened the next day to make sure he would come home with us.”  On July 22, 2019, the dog now named Garrus sat happily in the car during his freedom ride home after 167 days (over 5 months) at the shelter.  At the time of his adoption, he was the longest shelter resident.        

A happy photo of Garrus was soon appeared on Facebook with Rebecca’s description, “Guys, I’m just so impressed with this dog.  In 48 hours he’s gotten the hang of pottying only outside.  And just now I said ‘Ah-ah’ when he got up to chase a kitty and he stopped in his tracks.  He wants to please SO MUCH.  So hard to believe no one wanted this gem.  We don’t think he was ever an ‘indoors’ dog as we had to convince him it was okay to come inside.  The name Garrus is from a video game character from the Mass Effect franchise, a character who is incredibly loyal and funny and also gets scars on one side of his face, like our big mushy dog.”

You can make a difference in a homeless shelter animal’s life.  Wherever you live, public and private animal shelters need your help.  Consider joining the dedicated team of volunteers at the Coachella Valley Animal Campus.  Volunteer duties include walking dogs, brushing and petting dogs and cats, bathing the dogs and cats, socializing cats, and reading to the dogs.  Contact Chelsea White, Volunteer Services Coordinator, at (760) 863-7169, or apply online at www.RCDAS.org.  The amazing shelter volunteers kept Caden’s spirits up and gave him the hope that led to his happy ending.

Janetmcafee8@gmail.com