Shelter Me: A Dog’s Journey To A New Home
What Does It Take To Heal A Dog Physically And Mentally Before They're Ready To Be Adopted?
For some dogs, it could be the end of the road
Classical music greets the dogs at 4 Luv of Dog rescue in Moorhead, a calming influence during what can be a stressful time for these dogs.
The 100% volunteer-run shelter takes in around 450 dogs a year from area pounds and owners who surrender pets — dogs whose lives could be in the balance.
“And sadly in some areas, if they are not claimed, they are euthanized,” explains Kish Hilmert, the shelter president.
Hilmert says they don’t shy away from animals in greater need.
She adds, “We really pride ourselves on taking in those dogs who need extra help and care.”
Dogs like Keenan. He’s been at the shelter about two weeks at this point, taken in from a family that didn’t have the resources to care for him.
“They willingly surrendered him to us so that we can get him the care that he needed to get healthy again,” explains building manager Darcy Kasprick.
Keenan comes with some health issues. His legs are severely frostbitten, and he’s missing most of the fur on his backside.
Kasprick adds, “He was diagnosed with sarcoptic mange, which is contagious.”
Mange may be the worst of it.
Keenan just wants to be friends. But since he’s contagious, they can’t pet him.
“Just wants to be loved,” Kasprick says. “Loves everything. Yeah, it’s hard not to snuggle.”
But they’re doing everything short of cuddling to help him back to health.
Several hundred dollars worth of treatments should get rid of the mange and help his fur grow back.
“Easily treatable,” Hilmert claims. “He may look scary or off-putting to some, but when we got his diagnosis we were like ‘Great! We know this. We can handle this!’.”
Physical health is just part of the picture. These dogs are being thrown into the unknown.
Shelter volunteers help by interacting with them three times a day.
Kasprick shows off a tray with hidden treats, explaining, “We do mind games with him. Puzzles, stuff like that.”
Hilmert adds, “Mental health is so important so we want to make sure the dog is comfortable and focused and they feel safe.”
Keenan is stuck at the shelter because of his treatments. Ideally, 4 Luv of Dog places dogs in foster homes.
Heidi Brammer has fostered 17 dogs in about a year and a half for 4 Luv. Hers is one of dozens of foster homes the shelter uses.
It’s much easier for them to be adopted when they are in a home and used to living in a home, according to Brammer.
Right now she’s fostering Eunice, an adorable two year old Chihuahua/Weiner Dog mix.
She’s hopeful, saying, “I think that she’s so cute and fun that she’ll go quite quickly.”
Brammer says it’s important to slowly ease a foster dog into a home. She doesn’t let Eunice roam freely yet.
“Some are very overwhelmed,” she explains. “Some have never lived in a home, so we keep their access in the home more limited.”
Her mentor is Silvie, a poodle that Brammer originally fostered, but ended up keeping.
Fostering Eunice is a role Brammer takes very seriously.
She says, “I’m really honored to help her find a better home for her, ” even if it can be gut-wrenching falling in love with a dog, then giving them up.
“We really develop a strong bond with the dog and it’s very emotional and difficult to give them up”, Brammer laments. “But the way that we handle that is we get another dog.”
Like the bond the folks at the shelter have developed with Keenan – even stronger, a week later.
“Oh yes, are you a nice boy? You’re very nice.”
What a difference a week has made for Keenan. The fur on the back of his legs is already starting to grow back. He’s almost done with his mange treatment so volunteers can pet him now, which is a pretty good thing because one of his favorite things is getting his butt scratched.
After a week, Hilmert is encouraged, saying, “He’s just leaning into me. He’s like, ‘yes, massage me!'”
His mental health is even improving.
“He is more perky when the volunteers are interacting with him,” Hilmert adds. “He’s always been a nice, gentle dog, but now I think he’s more comfortable being around different people.”
Soon he’ll be ready for adoption. A process than can take days, or, potentially, much longer.
“We’ve had dogs in rescue for years, because we’ve been waiting for that perfect home,” Hilmert says.
Home visits. Questionnaires. Interviews with foster parents.
It’s an important step for Brammer. She explains, “When we talk to potential adopters we’re able to explain what their personality is like, the things to watch our for, the things to be careful for.”
All to ensure there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.
“Sometimes what looks great on the outside, the energy, the temperament level, might not be perfect for them,” Hilmert says.
But Kasprick adds, “When they go to their amazing families it is truly amazing.”
Blood, sweat, tears, and kibble, all to give dogs like Keenan a future they might not have gotten otherwise.
“He’s a good dog,” Kasprick says, adding, “He’s gonna heal up nicely and it’s gonna be a good success story for him.”
Keenan is still waiting for the right foster home.
But if you want to take him home, the rescue says he’ll be ready for adoption in two weeks.
But Hilmert says the work is never done.
4 Luv of Dog is entirely run and funded by volunteers.
But the group is getting a lot of support.
They raised more than $50,000 during this year’s Giving Hearts Day.