Seven Years Bad Luck Keeps Dog at Shelter

January 11, 2009 | By Amy Lieberman | Category: Strange But True | 993 comments
Tags: strange but true, dogs

Honey, pictured above, is just one of the pets who has spent several years at at a shelter awaiting a forever home. (Pet Pulse Photo Courtesy of Lou Hays)

Honey the dog is just as sweet as her name implies, yet she has remained shelter-bound for nearly seven years. She's only one of millions whose minor quirks -- whether behavioral or medical -- keep them waiting endlessly for someone to take them home.

NEW YORK -- While animal shelters are designed to serve as rest stops for its residents, not all animals who walk through a shelter's door are able to walk right back out.

Six to eight million pets enter shelters each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

And while the majority of admitted animals find homes within weeks, according to shelter employees interviewed by Pet Pulse, in some rare instances, pets deemed undesirable can remain shelter-bound for months, and even years.

Take Honey, a German Shepherd mix who has spent almost her entire life at the Humane Society of Cherokee County, Tahlequah, Okla. A shelter worker rescued her as a stray puppy in 2002 from a deserted country road.

It's since been a long seven years for Honey, who has been adopted out twice -- and then promptly returned to the shelter, after her owners realized she couldn't be trusted around other dogs.

"Around people, she is the best dog you could ever want," shelter board member Lou Hays said. "Just a big wuss. But around virtually any other dog, she growls and snaps at them."

The shelter is the "only home Honey has ever known," Hays said, but she still tries to make herself as appealing as possible to visitors and potential owners. The humane society has also tried to provide incentives by making Honey its "pet of the month" on several occasions.

Though Honey has yet to catch her perfect match, she keeps on trying to flaunt her assets.

"Whenever people walk by, she gets up in her pen and waves her paws at them. She is a really cute dog, but she just has this problem," Hays said.

'It's Mine!' Mantra Acts as Deal Killer

Rocky, a Border Collie mix, struggles to overcome similar behavior issues. The six-year-old male is friendly and intelligent, but can't be fully trusted around children or other animals.

It's a problem that has kept Rocky at the Humane Society of Nature Coast, in Spring Hill, Fla., since he was rescued in 2005 from New Orleans, following Hurricane Katrina.

Rocky has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively -- but he does become possessive over his toys and food.

"We have had to turn down several families with small children or animals," Schoch said. "He is a great dog, and any of us here would take him, but we all have animals at home."

The orphaned dog has made the most out of his life at the shelter, though, where he quickly rose to the top of the class at obedience school. He loves palling around with shelter employees, playing fetch and chewing on his toys. His intelligence and quick moves prompted the shelter to provide him with agility training.

As Rocky works on his skills, the search for a tolerant owner continues.

"He's very sweet and friendly, but he can be dominant," Schoch explained. "He just needs a firm hand.

"We have tried anything and everything -- stories in the newspaper, things on our Web site. We are just determined to find him the right home."

Frisky Spirit Keeps Adopters at Bay

A slight attitude problem can prompt a quick rejection for many shelter animals, including Jill, a 10-year-old black domestic short haired cat who has called the New Fairfield Sherman Animal Welfare Society home for the past three years.

Like Rocky and Honey, Jill can be "a little feisty," says shelter manager Sherri Ruffler.

It acts as an instant turn off to many prospective owners.

"Someone will come in and reach out and instantly start petting her, and she swats at them and they say, 'Who else do you have?' " Ruffler said.

Her attitude is not "unmanageable," Ruffler says, as long as people know how to read her signs. Once her space is respected, Jill emerges as the sweet cat shelter workers have come to love over the years.

The shelter remains optimistic that the right owner will come along, but Ruffler knows that the thyroid medication Jill takes daily might be working against her cause, as well.

Even when animals' illnesses are manageable, they can still dissuade people from considering the pets.

Ailments Create 'Forever Home' Barriers

It's a trend CatNap from the Heart, a shelter in LaGrange Park, Ill., which frequently takes in ill cats, is quite familiar with.

Twenty-five cats admitted to the facility in 2005 and 2006 still remain; the shelter has nine cats that arrived sometime from 2002 to 2004, and can even name cats that it took in from 2000 to 2001.

Two cats named Cosmo and Feria are the shelter's oldest residents. They arrived in 1999.

"The cats may have a sensitive tummy, a special diet, diabetes or hypothyroidism," shelter director Bobbi Meyer said. "The cats that have been here the longest just aren't for everyone."

The shelter has taken the over-extended stays in stride, however, with the addition of a special "residential cat" section to its facilities. There, the cats have more room -- and privacy -- to make their living situations as comfortable as possible.

"They will be a part of this shelter for as long as they need to," Meyer said. "They will continue to wait for an owner, but this is their home."

At the Humane Society of the Black Hills, in Rapid City, S.D., one cat, China, no longer has to worry about looking her best for prospective owners. After a two-and-a-half year stay, the shelter simply decided to keep her on as a permanent fixture.

"She was here for about five to six months, and instead of euthanizing her, we decided to just make her the shelter's pet," said shelter manager Mischa Highland. "She just kind of stuck, and nobody ever wanted to get rid of her."

China now enjoys free rein of the facility, and according to Highland, "loves her freedom."

"She fits in here 100 percent," she said.

In other circumstances, docile, friendly pets' appearances work against them -- black dogs and cats are frequently left behind, as well as breeds with poor reputations.

Bound Homeless by Stereotypes

Breed prejudice could explain why two Pit Bulls named Dewy and Rubia have remained in adoption limbo since 2005. They have lived at the Animal House Pets and Grooming Inc., in Fort Collins, Colo., for one year, after their previous shelter had to turn them over.

The 4-year-old male and 7-year-old female are "great dogs," shelter manager Ali Eccleston says, but can be weary of small animals.

Both of the dogs love people, and Rubia, who frequently visits local schools to participate animal education programs, goes crazy over children.

"Kids are her favorite thing in the world," Eccleston said. "They are good dogs -- they just need someone who understand the breed."

If no one does come along, there isn't any pressure for the dogs to pack their kibble -- Animal House Pets and Grooming is a no-kill shelter, which will allow any dog to "stay with us forever," Eccleston said.

Animals like these exist within a unique classification, in limbo between the three to four million pets that are euthanized each year, and the additional three to four million that are annually adopted in the United States, according to the HSUS.

It isn't the most traditional of endings to a shelter admittance, but some pets simply have to take what they can get. And in rare cases, they get lucky with an open invitation to stay at a shelter for as long as necessary, making it their forever home.

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6 years ago

When I read this is really broke my heart. I only hope that those who can have a dog or a cat that don't have one helps. It doesn't matter how they look, they
all need a home. My cat passed away and I wanted to let a little time pass before getting another one but I sure will open the doors to another cat or dog that needs a home. Not only offer my home but also volunteer at the local shelters.

Good Point | Reply ›

Amanda C.

Amanda C.
6 years ago

It is so sad to hear about these animals who are having a hard time finding forever homes, but at the same time it is great to know that the people at the shelters with them realize that they deserve to have the chance to find homes no matter how long it takes. Good luck guys, it'll be worth the wait to find the perfect families.

Good Point | Reply ›

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