In our society which values extroversion, a retiring nature is not viewed as an asset. For an unwanted animal, this personality trait can mean an untimely death. A shy animal takes time to reveal his or her true character, and time is the one thing most unwanted animals do not have. If you have ever visited a shelter or a rescue group with their animals on display for adoption at a petfood store, it is obvious the animals there understand that they have to"sell" themselves if they want a chance. The cats reach their paws through the cages or press their faces to the bars and cry out to you. The dogs try to catch your eye,then bark,whine and smile,trying valiantly to charm you into helping them. It's as if they know they have to give the animal version of the 10 second elevator pitch or commercial-that is all they or anyone has nowadays to try to make it through all that competes for our attention . An animal,cat or dog, who does not come forward , will be passed over. Even "experts" associated with shelters or rescues who assess animals' behavior for tempermental stability will consider a shy animal with caution: the view is that a timid animal cannot be trusted and may become a "fear biter". Being an extrovert is tantamount to being considered stable and "adoptable". Dogs who are generally, though not always, outgoing, have more efforts made on their behalf for rescue and placement,while cats,considered introverted and self possessed, continue to become homeless and are euthanized in agonizing numbers.
Since Home for Life is a care for life sanctuary, and we do not adopt out our animals, we have the luxury of time and space to get to know our shy animals. Without the pressure of having to be something that they are not and do not have the guile ever to be, if they were going to be up for adoption, and with the security of somehow realizing that they are not in a temporary setting, in transition waiting to be recycled to another unknown situation, our shy animals eventually let down their guard. They realize that the sanctuary is their home now, a true and loving home. Nothing is more rewarding than having a shy,wary cat or dog become happy and confident enough to play, to accept our presence when we approach and accept or even seek affection. Shy animals seem to thrive at Home for Life because they have time and a sense of place with us. Security and the time to realize they are secure means everything to these animals. As a small sanctuary,we cannot help all the shy animals at risk,but the stories of our animals who have found hapiness at Home for Life discloses the secrets to unlocking the hearts of any of these deserving cats and dogs who need a chance.
Many animals who are shy have had traumatic experiences in their background that have scarred and destabilized them and caused them to lose their courage. They have seemingly lost their faith in life, and live in fear. Some of our more outgoing animals have also suffered abuse or trauma in their past,but just like people, some animals have the strength and resiliance to cope with bad experiences and some who are very sensitive, are wounded to the core. For instance Flash, a van( white coat with orange spots) is leukemia positive. He has been at Home for Life for two years.
He was a young adult neutered male cat who was abandonned in the dumpster of a cat rescue in the Twin Cities. When he tested positive the rescue asked Home for Life to help him. Poor Flash- we picked him up and as I put his crate in the jeep to drive him to the sanctuary,it seemed like I had never seen a cat who had such a worried look on his face-the expression: "now what?" I didn't know a cat could look so obviously worried.He was a small cat on his own with noone to help him or count on-that was the impression he conveyed. He made it to the sanctuary riding quietly in the carrier without even a meow . Although very wary and timid, Flash was never mean or aggressive. He ran from the staff and hid but loved the daily canned food feedings at "cat brunch" and would come out from hiding to eat heartily. He soon made friends with another quiet cat, also leukemia positive named Torah, a dignified, beautiful neutered male himlayan who had been abandonned and then caught in a TNR project in Missouri. Torah is not a big fan of people but was not shy either. Like many himlayans, Torah has an edge to his personality that called for taking him seriously rather than treating him like a stuffed toy on a satin pillow. Gradually, drawing courage from Torah's confidence and the unwavering care he received at Home for Life, Flash has come around. Flash enjoys being pet and can be found lounging about with Torah.He loves to go outside in the big cat run the feline leukemia cats have.It makes me feel good to see how comfortable he is at Home for Life,that he recognizes that we will take care of him and that we love and appreciate him for who he is.
Mark,age 5, a border collie/australian shepard/?? mix ( got to love that unlikely name for a dog) recently came to Home for Life from Colorado. His elderly owner, who rescued unwanted animals all her life, had to move to a nursing home due to poor health. Mark's veterinarian called Home for Life to ask our help on his behalf. The owner's family had decided that all their mother's animals had to leave the home so they could sell it. One very old sick dog was euthanized, while the other dogs,all small, the vet had managed to place despite the short timeframe she was given to try to save the animals. That left Mark. Of the breed rescues or shelters contacted by the vet none would take him due to his timid personality or stated they would put him down if surrendered. Mark's owner had taken him in a few years before from a home where he was unloved and mistreated. He had bonded very closely to the owner, and she represented a sense of security for Mark, a caring person he could rely on. Now,faced with losing his owner, the vet was worried about the outcome for Mark given his temperment. The vet had always used a muzzle to handle him because she was afraid he would bite if cornered. The family was wary of him. As the vet presented his situation, he had to come to Home for Life or the owner's family would euthanize him, as tough as it would be for the owner. There was no other alternative, in their minds, for poor Mark. We agreed to try to help him.
Mark is an overweight dog, since he obviously could not be walked much by his elderly owner. His coat was in need of a good grooming. Cast adrift, without his owner to depend on and to reassure him,the only stability he had ever known,Mark was almost catatonic with panic and fear, trembling and freezing in place when he first arrived at the sanctuary, as he looked at us and around the sanctuary with darting eyes. Since he had always lived with other dogs, we decided to try him with an eclectic group headed by Snoopy a bossy, smooth coat dachshund. Our beloved albino collie Trudy had died a few weeks before so Mark took her place. Thankfully the other dogs of Trudy's group accepted Mark immediately,and it was clear that the far larger Mark would not challenge Snoopy's authority and leadership. Indeed the confidence of Snoopy and the other dogs of the group demonstrated for Mark that he did not have to worry about where he was and that he was not in danger. Mark identified a comfortable couch in the dog apartment as his "place" and at any time,can be found curled in the corner of the overstuffed sofa. Observing the dogs of the group, Mark learned to use the dog door quickly. The first two days,Mark refused to eat or take a treat and seemed to be in mourning for his owner. We knew that he did not get so chubby by thinking about it and on the third day with us, he ate some yummy canned food as I held the bowl for him at his place on the couch. I had to crouch down rather than stand tall beside him( as tall as I can at 5' 4) so he would not be intimidated. After that day, he started to eat on his own from his dish without any more coaxing and also started taking a treat at daily "treatime" which we have for all the HFL dogs after dinner each evening.
Invited to exercise in one of our fenced meadows Mark found out that he loves to run. Although he clearly cherished his owner, Mark did not get a chance to stretch his legs much living with her. Initially,during the first week he was with us, he did try to get out by running and leaping at the high fences and gates. If he had been thinner, he probably would have gotten out and run away to look for his owner. All our fencing is five feet tall,and thankfully, Mark's heavy set physique made it impossible for him to scale the sides. As it was,that first week, Mark ran away from us in the meadow like a wild deer, and it took the entire staff to herd him back like a cow towards the dog door - he would not let us get near him to put a leash on to lead him back to his apartment or help him through the dog door.
Just a few weeks later, Mark has settled in, he realizes that the sanctuary is his home and has given up trying to get out. He still loves to run, and it is wonderful to see him running in joyful big circles, just expressing, as a happy dog does, the sheer exhiliration of being alive. After he exercises he goes right in through his dog door to his couch. Antoinnette one of the groomers for HFL, who is so patient and good with all our dogs, was able to shave, bathe and brush out Mark over two sessions in the last couple weeks, and he looks beautiful. I am sure he feels much better with the mats out. We can pet him now, and he seems content and happy. I am sure he misses his owner. His new life at the sanctuary is different than the one he had with his beloved owner and is a new kind of home, but for Mark, offers the qualities he and all shy animals need to be happy: time,a place to belong, loving care and a home for life. The pictures above were taken by Mark Luinenburg at Home for Life: that's Mark on the left and Flash with Liz, one of our staff members, on the right.