Five-year-old Desi has found her happily ever after, and feels just like a princess in her new home. It was obvious to her new family that she had endured many difficult days prior to meeting them. But they decided that she was worth the unknown challenges that they would be facing. Their compassion, sincerity and determination paid off as they watched Desi’s sweet personality unfold. They sent us a recent photo of a family hiking trip, and you can’t miss all the joyful smiles, and one in particular on a very happy Black Lab. Thank you, Joe, Tess and Rose, for holding tight to Desi and for not giving up on her!
Joe shared their story with us: We got “Desi” back in February from Safe Harbor Lab Rescue. We first met her at her transitional home where her wonderful foster parents, Monica, Chris and Maggie the dog were taking care of her.
Desi was emaciated, scarred, and scared. She was 4-5 years old, weighed 51 pounds and had ribs sticking out on her long Labrador-mix frame. Her hair was rough and scraggly, and shaved on her underbelly where she had been spayed three weeks prior. The vets at Alameda East pronounced her heart healthy, and worm free, and noted she had recently delivered a litter of puppies. She reportedly had come a neglectful situation. Despite all she’d been through, she was still sweet and gentle around people.
We were ready to have a dog in our family again after thinking about it for the past few years. I didn’t feel like I had the time or patience to start with a puppy, so adoption seemed like a nice option. My kid’s sole criteria was that the dog must like to snuggle. My list was practical: the dog had to be quiet, well behaved in the house, and like to go on hikes. Desi seemed to fit our requirements. Safe Harbor Lab Rescue was prompt with their responses, and before I knew it, we had a dog.
What we didn’t know was that the transition would take a long time. We knew Desi had been in a rough place prior to adoption, but we didn’t appreciate how much it had affected her basic behavior.
Although she was well behaved in the house and affectionate with people right away, she was fearful and skittish when I took her on walks. I thought it was odd that she didn’t sniff around outside to explore her new environment, and wouldn’t make eye contact with me even when I bribed her with treats. And to our surprise, she attacked other dogs we passed on leashed walks. The scars on her face were beginning to make sense. We were dismayed and alarmed. We began to use a harness for walks, and avoid other dogs.
After consult with several people, I came to learn about leash reactivity, and with time, began to appreciate how fearful Desi was. I began working with a trainer, but Desi, although very smart, was focused on her own safety rather than my commands or rewards to do whatever. We put training on the back burner and just took our time to help her feel safe, settled, and loved.
It’s taken about 6 months, and I’d say she’s much better now. She continues to be great in the house, has put on weight (61 lbs) and her coat is now full and smooth. She sniffs and explores her surroundings, eats healthily, and is much less fearful of other dogs. I not only get eye contact from her now, but also dog smiles. She is an amazing outdoor dog and a pure pleasure to take on our summer backpacking trips. She remains a good snuggler, and plays like a puppy with squeaky stuffed animals, balls, and her favorite: empty plastic bottles.
Working with her fear and reactivity has given me a window to better imagine where she’s been and what she’s had to live through. I’m amazed that she has been able to heal and grow into a better life. Now she’s our sweet, long legged-awkward, amazing dog who runs like the wind and greets us like heroes when we come into the house. She’s ours.