Everyone who works in shelters knows which type of dogs are considered “hard to adopt.” They’re not the dogs with a missing eye or leg, incorrectly aligned bite, or odd-looking scars. They’re not the special-needs dogs or even the seniors. Those actually have a market — some adopters find them endearing, and they bring out the nurture in people.
No, the recipe for “hard to adopt” is this: plain, average, and common. They are medium-to-large young-adult dogs who look like they have some Labrador or Pit Bull in them, but they definitely aren’t purebred. They are black dogs, or tan and brown dogs; the ones you would think have nothing wrong with them, but there’s nothing about them to turn heads, either.
Adam was one such dog. He was light red with yellow eyes, clearly of Catahoula heritage, but by no means a Catahoula lover’s dog. His muzzle was too narrow and his ears were too short and pointy on the ends. He weighed about 40 pounds.
This dog was dumped at the no-kill shelter when he was 5 to 6 months old. Maybe he didn’t have good early socialization, or maybe it was just his way; at any rate, he was practically feral. He was not scared or even really shy of people, just uninterested. He wouldn’t seek out attention, but he wouldn’t react to it. He wasn’t defensive. He just didn’t care.
Volunteers and staff took him for walks, offered him treats, and talked to him. He’d go along with the walk, but never acted eager or happy to go. They’d take him out in the yard for playtime, but he’d just run off and not try to engage the human at all.
Adam had no interest in other dogs, either. He was fine with them, not aggressive, but he had no inclination to play with or befriend any dog. We had trouble keeping weight on him; we tried different foods, but he didn’t have a good appetite. He’d eat some, and leave some in the bowl.
Fast-forward a year: Adam was one of our longest residents. Potential adopters occasionally asked to see him, so I’d get him from his kennel and bring him to the adoption room or outside play areas. He wouldn’t approach anyone and showed no interest. Whether people ignored him or tried to coax him with treats or baby talk, the response was the same. So the adopters inevitably asked to meet another dog, and Adam went back to his kennel.
One day a young woman came in and specifically asked to meet Adam. She had seen his Petfinder listing, which was as positive as I could spin it, but also honest. Wow, I thought, no one has ever come asking for Adam before. She was impeccably dressed, in heels and jewelry, and, well, basically looking like she could afford any dog she might want. The best of pedigrees. Why was she here looking at our Adam?
Still, she had to actually meet the dog, and I knew how that usually went. Hoping for a different outcome, I got Adam and escorted him into the adoption room. He sat in the corner as usual. I brought him gently over, and she stroked and scratched him; he stiffened up, but made no attempt to pull away. There was no apparent connection. She, for her part, was soft-spoken.
After a short while, without gushing or much expression of enthusiasm, she said she wanted to adopt Adam. Hallelujah! I thought, but also: This is a little strange. But I went to get the paperwork and adoption kit to send him on home.
Fast-forward about six months, when the young woman brought Adam to the vet at our on-site clinic.
It was the most amazing transformation I’ve ever seen. Adam was glued to her side. He had filled out to a perfect weight, and his coat was gleaming and soft as a bunny’s. His eyes were fastened upon her at all times, and when she turned toward him, his tail immediately started a happy, relaxed wag, and his expression was soft. The woman said, “Adam is the best dog I’ve ever had. I believe he is the best dog in the world.”
The funny thing is, Adam only had eyes for his owner. Toward everyone else, he still showed no signs of friendliness. He was simply indifferent, a completely stoic dog.
I have no idea how this remarkable transformation came about. I asked the owner, and rather than outlining a training or special care program, she simply shrugged. “It just happened,” she said.
I guess Adam just needed to finally belong to someone.
Dawn Taylor-Church lives in Rhode Island with her daughter, Emily, who is going on three years old; her personal pack of three dogs, Chachi, Sally, and Rain; and a constant stream of foster dogs and puppies. She has been involved with shelter rescue since 1996 and runs a small, homegrown rescue group, Southpaws Express.
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