Monday, November 3, 2008


I worry whenever a dog is stuck at Toronto Animal Services for too long. Their personalities change, usually not for the better. They can get territorial and start to defend their kennels against strangers and other dogs. Or they can get hysterical and pogo jump into the air whenever they see someone, desperately hoping to catch the person's attention. Or they become negatively reactionary to the other dogs around them, snarling or barking when they see one they don't like. And they pace. They cry.

I don't believe any of these new personality and behavioural traits are permanent - they weren't with Rocky, who had just started guarding his kennel before I adopted him - but they can be off-putting to potential adopters who walk through looking for just the right dog. It's hard to bond with a dog that spends more time snarling at another dog than it spends focusing on you as you walk it out of the adoption room.

And the sad thing is, the dog didn't use to be this way. The kennel environment is like jail. All the physical necessities are provided for them but not nearly enough emotional support is available and over the long term, the dogs' personalities deteriorate. It's as if they have too little positive emotional feedback and instead they get filled up with the continuous anxiety, fear and despair that must resonate throughout the place that eventually, that's all they know. And so that's what they become.

There are three such dogs at TAS right now. They are mixed breeds, large, energetic and untrained. That combination of traits is difficult for most people to see past. It's like a buyer walking into a dirty house. It doesn't matter that the floors are made out of a beautiful hardwood, if it's covered by a dirty old carpet, the average buyer won't even bother to check what's underneath.

Penelope is doing the best out of the three. She is a young Lab/Weimareiner mix. She's very people friendly and does well with most other dogs. Her anxiety level is of course high in the kennels, as with most of the dogs, but I haven't noticed too many detrimental personality changes since she's been at TAS.

Ruffles is a Retriever/Chow mix. This is him in his kennel when he wants your attention:
This is not the calm dog that most people would consider taking home. This is really unfortunate because his kennel display is a radical departure from his "real world" behaviour where after 10 or 15 minutes of being out of the kennel environment, he can settle down nicely and become a person focused dog.

Ruffles has also developed dog on dog issues and while he may have had them before entering TAS, it seems to have gotten worse in the weeks he's been here. Ruffles is especially antagonistic towards Kiki.

Kiki is a Collie mix. For some reason, Ruffles and Kiki bring out the worst in each other and that's too bad because Kiki is friendly and playful with most of the other dogs. It's also been reported that Kiki's starting to get a bit nippy with people when he gets too playfully excited, although I've never had a problem with this myself. I find him to be quite attentive on our walks, actually. He's not a perfect heeler but he does do frequent over the shoulder checks with me. He's been at TAS for weeks now and the really sad news is that this morning he had a seizure. He's recovered from it without any apparent long term effects but this added concern will only make it that much more difficult to find him a home.

It's sad seeing these dogs malinger and deteriorate when they could be great pets in the right homes. And with Kiki, I'm starting to fear for her future. She has been taken off the adoption list. It doesn't happen very often at TAS but it wouldn't be the first time that a dog has sickened to the point of no return, spending its last days alone in a kennel.

I can certainly understand how it is that when people walk into the adoption room and see these dogs, they may not be thoroughly enchanted, may even be intimidated. These dogs will take work to get the polish out. Not everyone has the time. Not everyone has the energy or the desire. Not everyone does, but, I hope, someone will.

1 comment:

Lynda said...

Makes me wish I owned my own house and could take these dogs. **sigh**