Best Friends Animal Society

The mission of Best Friends Animal Society is to bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets. We do this by helping end the killing in America's animal shelters through building community programs and partnerships all across the nation. We believe that by working together we can Save Them All.
Sep 16, 2016

Shy dog socialization through the power of treats

On a late summer afternoon, Best Friends volunteers Sue Andrew and Linda Thake follow a caregiver over to a small tree, where they sit down on the red sand and get comfortable. For the next 20 minutes, their jobs are to sit quietly — or as quietly as two good friends having a great time possibly can — to offer treats to two shy dogs.

The dogs are Carla and Mary Jane, a dachshund and a beagle mix who are cautious but curious about the women.

A bashful beagle and a distrustful dachshund

Mary Jane, who came to Best Friends from a beagle rescue in Florida, has done this before. She knows that the two women are holding out tiny tasty treats and inviting her to come closer to them. Though she is bashful and unassertive, she’s not unsocial. She’s also not so scared or skittish that she’ll turn down treats for long. Slowly, she dances closer and closer, with her keen beagle nose twitching and her mouth opening, anticipating the treat.

Carla is new to this, having arrived here recently from a large Texas sanctuary that was closing its doors. This is her first shy dog training class with volunteers, and she’s understandably reluctant to dive in. Though she’s interested in the treats, too, she’s more introverted than Mary Jane, and also more hesitant.

The distrustful dachshund can’t bear it if either of the strangers looks at her. She turns her head away, avoiding eye contact. But then one of them tosses a treat toward her. It lands on the sand a few steps closer to the volunteers, but not so close that it feels unsafe. Carla sniffs the air and starts to think maybe — just maybe — she can inch close enough to reach the tempting treat.

Training a fearful dog

Volunteers Sue and Linda and the two shy dogs Mary Jane and Carla are participating in a small but important program in an area of Dogtown that is home to several very shy dogs. There, volunteers learn about training a fearful dog, while at the same time helping dogs like Carla and Mary Jane.

A version of shy dog class

The work Mary Jane and Carla are doing on this summer afternoon is a version of Dogtown’s traditional shy dog class. Facing a pair of strangers is less intimidating to extra-shy dogs like Carla and Mary Jane than facing a whole group of unfamiliar faces. And the dogs gain skills that help them work up to a larger shy dog class, where the dogs are loose in an indoor room and several people sit in a circle and offer treats to the shy dogs.

“It’s been a huge success for both the dogs and the volunteers,” Dogtown caregiver Haven Diaz says. People who volunteer in pairs, like Sue and Linda, love it because it’s something they can do together.

Because shy dogs are in a pivotal stage in which they’re deciding whether or not they can trust people, caregivers make sure to match the right volunteers with the shy dogs who could use their help. Haven says, “I look for dog-savvy volunteers to do this, because I want to make sure that the people will be safe and it will be a good experience for the dogs.”

Volunteers with skills

Sue and Linda fit this bill. Sue has been to the Sanctuary five or six times. And, while this is Linda’s first visit to Best Friends, she too has good skills around dogs. At home in St. Louis, both ladies volunteer for Stray Rescue of St. Louis, a Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network partner.

At Stray Rescue, the friends walk dogs and help with a rehabilitation and enrichment program that pairs them to work with a shy or traumatized dog for months at a time. They take dogs on various outings (such as drives and hikes) to help socialize them or teach them how to trust people again.

That experience helps Sue and Linda know just what to do at Best Friends when they meet their new shy canine friends, Carla and Mary Jane.

A social butterfly in no time

Throughout the 20 minutes, Mary Jane (the beagle) works up enough confidence to nibble treats right off of Linda’s knee.

As for Carla, the treats that Sue and Linda have tossed on the ground have drawn her closer. She won’t approach their outstretched hands, but she does stop a few feet in front of them to take treats from the ground, and that’s progress.

When the session is over, Sue and Linda write notes and observations into each of the dog’s individualized training plans. That way, caregivers can chart the dogs’ progress over time and see how far they’ve come.

Carla may not have taken treats from Sue and Linda’s hands on the first day, and she stayed well out of reach of the friends sitting under the tree. But, for her very first day in the shy dog training program, she did great. And, with volunteers like Sue and Linda on her side, she’ll be a social butterfly in no time.

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Jun 21, 2016

Healing a heartbroken, blind potbellied pig

On a warm spring day at the Sanctuary, Molly watched her caregivers turn on the hose and start making a mud puddle in her yard. Suddenly, she started playing and splashing around in the water, spraying cool droplets all around and making mud puddles of her own. While the playful behavior isn’t unusual for potbellied pigs (sometimes called potbelly pigs), it was the first time Molly had ever let loose in front of her caregivers. Considering how down in the dumps she used to be, it was a pretty big deal.

“We didn't know if we could ever break through with her,” says Marti Stoffel, office coordinator for Horse Haven and Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. That’s because Molly was incredibly fearful and shut down when she came to the Sanctuary last July.

When pigs as pets are loved too much

The then three-year-old pig hadn’t been neglected or abused. In fact, she had a loving home. She was just a bit sheltered. She didn’t meet many people outside of her home or see other pigs, so she didn’t have a chance to practice good social skills.

Molly had also been loved a little too much when it came to treats. Because she enjoyed them so much and her people didn’t want to deny her, she became an obese pig. She was so overweight that she was mechanically blind, which means that she couldn’t see because of the fat rolls covering her eyes. Since her legs could barely hold her up, she could only waddle a few slow steps at a time. She was also terrified of strangers — both human and porcine.

Facing the outside world

Molly might have continued living happily with the elderly couple for years to come. But when one of her people became sick, they could no longer care for her. Molly needed to find a new home. Of course, being blind, overweight and afraid of everyone made that rather difficult. First, she had to get healthy and learn how to be a pig.

Since there’s no better place to do that than at Marshall’s Piggy Paradise at Best Friends, Molly was brought to the Sanctuary. But she made it clear from the get-go that she didn’t want to make friends or to start an exercise program. It wasn’t that she was ornery or uncooperative. Sadly, Molly was depressed. She had just been sent away from the only safe place she’d ever known, and the outside world seemed confusing and scary.

Keeping a distance

Even taking treats from her caregivers was terrifying to her — so she would make a barking, grunting noise to warn them to keep their distance. She was also extremely uncomfortable around other pigs and had no interest in meeting them face to face. She retreated into one of the cozy piggy houses and refused to come out — except for food. Even then, she’d wait for her caregivers to leave her bowl outside. Then she’d step out just long enough to grab it and pull it inside.

No one wanted Molly to be a shut-in. She was missing all the fun things about being a pig: rooting around in the dirt, taking mud baths, getting love from people and, above all, interacting with other pigs. Pigs are social creatures by nature. In the wild, they live in communities called sounders. The pig communities at Best Friends are modeled on these natural living arrangements. And Molly deserved to experience that.

Stepping out

To ease her transition from being an “only pig,” caregivers moved Molly in with some easygoing, senior pigs. These peaceful pigs were happy to either give Molly her space or to offer their friendship at her pace. While it may take a while for Molly to make a real friend of her own kind, she’s getting used to having piggy company as she slowly becomes part of the community at Marshall’s Piggy Paradise.  

Molly’s friendships with people are coming around, too. At first, her caregivers had to wait and watch for the rare moments she ventured outside to sun herself. Then they would go and sit by her, talking to her softly and telling her it was all going to be OK. Over time, as she realized there was nothing scary outside her house, she started stepping out more often.

“Active and bright”

After three or four months of this, Molly was comfortable enough with her caregivers to follow them on short walks to one of the horse pastures. Gradually, as she began to lose some weight and walk more comfortably, they picked up the pace and increased the distance.

“Molly's diet and exercise program now include long walks all the way around the horse pastures and munching a few bites of grass along the way. It's great to see her so active and bright,” says Jen Reid, who manages both Horse Haven and Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. The fat rolls around Molly’s eyes have melted away, and she can see again.

Leaving her sheltered life behind

Though the weight has been easier to shed than her shyness, Molly is learning to leave her sheltered life and her comfort zone behind. And she keeps showing signs of progress — like the first time she followed Marti around her yard and then flopped down in front of her for belly rubs or the day she splashed around in the water. “That was the first time I saw her act like a pig,” says Marti.

It won’t be the last. At just under four years old, Molly is now happy, healthy and looking forward to many years of being one happy, healthy pig.

Marti with Molly
Marti with Molly

Links:

Mar 29, 2016

Overcoming a cat leg injury

Celine
Celine

Leopold the Siamese mix cat overcomes a leg injury

Overcoming a cat leg injury

By Christelle L. Del Prete

Ever watch a cat with three legs leap up onto a scratching post or land perfectly in someone’s lap? Most cats can move around like nobody’s business, even after losing a leg. But Leopold isn’t like most cats. So saving his badly injured leg was a No. 1 priority.

The five-year-old lynx point and Siamese mix is a big, heavy guy. Food is one of his favorite things in the world, and he’s a bit on the pudgy side. But he also has a natural plus-sized frame. That translates into extra weight, which can make things pretty difficult for a cat walking on three legs.

Help for a disabled cat

Leopold’s history and the cause of his injury are a bit of a mystery. Most likely, he’d been living as a stray when he tangled with a moving car. He came to the Sanctuary through Best Friends’ Four Directions Community Cat Program because he had a fresh wound on his back leg that needed immediate attention. But the thing that had him hobbling around like a seriously disabled cat was an old fracture in the ankle of that same hind leg. And no one knew how long he’d been living like that.

Because Leopold was struggling to get around as a three-legged animal, Best Friends vets wanted to give him the best shot at keeping all four of his legs and being able to use the injured one again. So they called in a specialist who had done other extra-tricky surgeries to help Sanctuary animals in need. Soon, Leopold was headed to surgery.

Leopold the Siamese mix cat with his leg injury

Recovery time

As it turned out, his procedure wasn’t quick or easy. Because the injury was old, and scar tissue had built up around it, the surgery took six hours. Once it was completed, veterinary staff would just have to wait and see if the long, complicated surgery would work as they’d hoped.

Of course, Leopold needed some recovery time before Best Friends vets could say for sure that the surgery was a success. He settled into the vets’ office at the Best Friends Animal Clinic, where he not only got lots of rest, but also plenty of attention. He became known for his reaction to belly rubs, which was to sprawl out on his back, fall asleep and start snoring.

Getting around like nobody’s business

It’s not surprising that Leopold got a little too comfortable in the lap of luxury. By the time he was well enough to start exercising, he didn’t see any need to do so. He also didn’t mind meowing loudly to let everyone know how much he disliked physical activity. The only exception was at feeding time, when he would suddenly become pretty interested in following the veterinary staff around.  

Because Leopold needed to be much more active to regain his strength and muscle tone, he moved to Cat World and started a daily exercise program. Once he got off his heated bed and back on his feet again, his recovery switched gears and went ahead at full speed. Now, Leopold’s getting around like nobody’s business. And he’s doing it on all four feet.

Watch a video of Leopold loving his physical therapy

 

Cookie
Cookie
Kitten Nurseries
Kitten Nurseries
Leopold
Leopold
Felix
Felix
Lava
Lava

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