Imagine yourself standing before a swinging rope bridge that crosses a deep ravine. You look down and your heart leaps into your throat. A stranger on the other side encourages you to cross, telling you it’s safe. They hold out their hand and say you can trust them. But fear makes it hard to take that first step.
And so it goes with some homeless animals whose lives have not been filled with the care, love and attention that they deserve. Their fear is often greater than their hope of finding love. We need to build a bridge of trust between what was and what can be before an animal can take their first steps towards a new life.
Take Roy for example. The handsome 5-year old Rotti-Shepherd mix was surrendered in August 2018 to the NS SPCA Cape Breton Shelter by owners who were not able to care for him adequately. Physically, Roy was in good health, but emotionally, he was fragile. He was disengaged, depressed and very frightened. It took Roy several days to allow staff to interact with him. He was afraid of sudden movements and cowered or hid when anyone new was present. Very food-motivated, treats were often the only way for staff to get close to him.
Roy needed much patience, time and love. Shelter staff devoted extra time daily to socializing him and helping him gain confidence. It took several weeks, but Roy learned to trust them. Little by little, he was becoming braver but was still terrified of new people. Then in November, Sheilah MacDonald visited the shelter and Roy’s life changed.
Sheilah had lost her sweet Rotti Oscar to cancer in October, and while she knew she’d get another dog someday, she was in no rush. One day she decided to stop in to the SPCA to ‘just see’. When she was introduced to Roy, the sight of his big paws melted her heart. “The poor boy hugged the wall, moved slowly and when he saw me, his tail went between his legs”, says Sheilah. “I laid on the floor in the lobby and avoided looking at him directly that day but committed to come back in a few days.”
Over the next three weeks, Sheilah visited every few days, building his trust through baby steps. With the help of the staff, she convinced Roy to approach using his favorite food. “I also brought a pair of my socks along one day to leave with him in his kennel, so he could get used to my smell.” Eventually, they went for a walk. “Roy didn’t want me behind him at all; I had to be beside him or in front.” One day, a stranger entered the shelter, “Roy was so scared, he put his paw on my leg and moved closer. I was able to pet him for the very first time,” Sheilah relates. “I promised that day if he chose me, I’d give him a loving home.”
At his new home, Roy was scared at first. “If I approached him, he would literally walk his feet backwards up the wall to get as far away as possible. He moved from one spot to another so slowly; always keeping me in view.” But every day since is a step forward in his amazing transformation. Roy loves to go for walks and adores belly scratches now. He’s learned how to play and is making friends with the people in Sheilah’s life. He also has made other dog friends and he likes children. “He’s learned that the people I introduce him to are kind to animals,” says Sheilah. Yet among the milestones Roy is achieving, reminders of his past still surface. “If my feet scuff as we walk, he crouches and gets ready to run. If the wind catches the door, fear flashes in his eyes.”
What lesson does Roy’s story teach us, I asked Sheilah? “Time and patience are key if you want to have a strong trusting bond with an animal. Roy didn’t trust at first. He had no reason to. His experience with people was not positive. I couldn’t do anything about that. I couldn’t take that experience away but I could give him a second, better life with safety, security and love.”
“I’m so proud of Roy”, says Sheilah. “We met exactly two months ago, and he’s come such a long way in a short time. It hurts my heart to think of what Roy’s life would be like if it wasn’t for the NS SPCA. This gentle soul spent 5 years living without the love and kindness he deserved. Thanks to the SPCA, Roy never has to live that way again.”
Sheilah’s final thoughts? “The SPCA changes lives for the better every day. In this case, two lives were immediately changed forever – Roy’s and mine. The ripple effect is unmeasurable. The SPCA’s dedication and commitment to Roy and to all the other animals yet to find their forever homes is a beautiful thing.”
Judy is volunteer with the Nova Scotia SPCA and writes for "My Furry Couch " on our blog as well as the Chronicle Herald. She is committed to speaking for animals who cannot speak for themselves.