By Janet McAfee

The vast majority of dogs adopted and rescued from shelters are happy, well adjusted, tail wagging canines, instinctively looking forward with optimism.  These rescue dogs adjust quickly to their new homes, bond with their family members, and are grateful for this second chance.  They live in the moment trusting that things will go well.

Then there are those who are fearful, with broken spirits and unloved souls.  You can see the sadness in their frozen stares and stiff bodies which are unresponsive to touch.  These are the dogs who have suffered massive neglect and abuse.  I can tell within minutes if a dog has been abused, and I usually know within ten minutes the type of abuse he suffered.

The small cream colored terrier was frozen as if imbedded in the concrete of the kennel floor at the county shelter.  Her eyes rolled back to look at us, but she did not stop shaking and hyperventilating laboriously.  A small black puppy scurried around her, and they seemed to be a pair of some sort.  They were cellmates in the quarantine area in the back of the shelter, not adoptable to the public, labeled “rescue only”.


Things didn’t go much better with the terrier when Lindi Biggi and I met with her in one of the more pleasant visiting rooms.  The terrier continued to shake and pant.  I’ve seen dogs tremble before, but the hyperventilating was something I never before witnessed.  Loving All Animals took custody of both dogs, saving them from euthanasia which was scheduled that day.  The little black dog, later named Toto, is still in foster care.

We named the cream colored terrier Cassie, and she was bathed, microchipped, and readied for her foster home.  However, she continued to tremble and pant as we drove to Palm Springs. It was heartbreaking, and I didn’t know how she would do.

Foster parent Brigit Hartop reports, “Cassie entered my home as a shaking, hyperventilating little mound of curly fur, a little soul who first refused to leave her cage, and once the cage was removed, planted herself beneath a shoe organizer.  She wouldn’t move or stop panting, and her big brown eyes were constantly glazed over…Soon she began to wag her tail ever so slightly, or wink with her eyes, each time I waved to her or blew a kiss.  Later on the second day, she stopped panting and ate some softened food I placed in front of her.”  On the third day, Cassie quietly joined Brigit, tiptoeing carefully, and her eyes began to show emotion and even sparkle.  Brigit coaxed her up on the bed, and she came alive, running and exploring, finally experiencing the joy of being a dog.

Soon a potential adopter appeared.  Ed Marrujo saw her photo, heard her story, and saw the potential in Cassie to become a wonderful canine companion.

Cassie2Ed is pictured here with Cassie, the dog he renamed Emma. He reports, “She’s come a long way since she first arrived when she spent a lot of time huddled under the table. At first she wouldn’t cross the threshold to enter the house, or go from room to room.  She would not go up the stairs.  Now she follows me everywhere.  She’s really come out of it.  It’s all a matter of getting a dog to the point of trust so they realize they are loved.  They absolutely know whether someone loves them or not.”

Ed advises someone adopting a new dog to arrange their schedule to spend time with them when they first arrive.  Take the dog along when you go out. Cassie (Emma) won’t need to make any more transitions.  She’s home at last.  Ed says, “She’s the perfect little girl!  Tomorrow we’re planning a trip to the dog beach at Huntington.”

Brigit concludes, “She conquered her fears enough to settle comfortably in wherever she would be next.  Seeing the photo of her adopter hugging her, and hearing about their upcoming trip to the doggie beach, is a great reward for taking in the little ragamuffin who hid under the shoe rack.”

What can you do if you encounter or adopt a dog that seems frightened?  Move slowly, be patient, and let the dog move at his pace.

  1. DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE DOG, DON’T REACH OUT YOUR HAND, LET HIM COME TO YOU. OFFER A NICE TREAT. One friend won over a scared dog by throwing hotdogs up in the air for him to catch.
  2. GET DOWN TO THE DOG’S LEVEL. The dog will be more comfortable if you are closer to his height.  Sit on the ground and relax with your side facing the dog.
  3. LET HIM SNIFF YOU. This is how dogs get acquainted.  Be careful not to make any sudden movements.
  4. PROCEED WITH OBEDIENCE TRAINING ONCE THE DOG STARTS TO RESPOND. The pup will learn that you’re in charge and he can trust you while his confidence grows.

Meanwhile, the small terrier with the big brown eyes has become a social butterfly, happily greeting guests and enjoying walks with her new dad.  If you would like to be part of a happy ending for a shelter dog, contact Loving All Animals in Palm Desert at (760) 834-7000.  We need loving foster homes, and of course potential adopters. Every dog we have rescued has a happy ending, proving love and lots of patience can overcome the darkest past.