As part of the volunteering I'm doing at the Humane Society, there's a little side room where we log our hours and hang coats, etc. The other week, I saw a note about how they needed help with dog training classes we offer to the public.
For the record, this isn't the sexiest job at the shelter. That falls to adoption preparation for the skittish and fearful dogs who come in. Basically, before we'll put a dog out for adoption they need to pass a few tests to make sure they're sound physically and mentally. Some just need more time around people to be OK with all of that and thats where Ad Prep comes in.
That's not to say that they're snarling, angry dogs - it's really shocking how far you need a to push a normal dog to make it dangerous. Most dogs will hide or keep a low profile in the face of abuse, instead of fighting back.
However, once those dogs are brought along, they still need work and that's where some of the specialized classes come in. Sandwiched in between puppy kindergarten and an open play hour (to help socialize the puppies) is the "Wallflower Class."
There are four dogs there, with a cavalier graduating tonight. Coming back next week will be a collie, a hound mix and a golden retriever, all of which are pretty shy, but very gentle. The idea is to stay as low as you can, keep your voice up with a higher pitch and avoid all the other dominant postures that would terrify these dogs. Honestly, my being there could throw the newest dog into a funk because there'd been a new person introduced into this safe space.
It's pretty cool to see these four owners who take the time every week to bring their dogs in, whisper, cajole and praise every little baby step they take and put up with all of the quirks that aren't so cute on a daily basis, I bet. It's a little family, where everyone shares treats, knows each other by name and tries to do the best they can to help each other and their dogs out.
For anyone who puts stock in the idea of karma, it's nice to see just as much love and attention being put back into these dogs as was taken to put them in this position in the first place.
Aside from the cavalier, Sugar, the collie is next on the list to move on. She still needs a lot of work, is a little blind and is in the process of learning to be a dog again as she's another production dog from a puppy mill who never learned normal dog behavior.
At the end of class, the dogs are unleashed to hang out and roam from person to person, picking up treats and occasionally hanging out with each other. Rumor has it that "ringer dogs" are usually on hand to come in and run and play and basically act like dogs to get the others to forget to be so afraid.
Tonight, they were on their own and just milled about, sniffing and snacking and making the rounds. Sugar came over and took a few bits of ham and toast from my hand and kept moving along. According to her owner, I'm the first true stranger she's wagged her tail for (and this is because of nothing I'd done, just that she was taking a huge step tonight). This was a very big deal, but it's pretty counter-productive to make a big show of this with a quiet dog.
I can easily say that those three wags were the coolest things I've seen in five months of being stuck here.