Transformation of a Dog: Jersey-boy

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Look at that smile!

Although technically speaking, sharing the story of how we came to adopt Jersey boy and his transformation from an untrusting shelter dog to a loving family member isn’t crochet related. But he is such a regular feature on my Instagram account and I receive quite a few direct messages about him. He even has a few legit fans! Most importantly he lays beside me when I crochet so often that I feel that he is an integral piece of my creative journey.

WHY WE WANTED A DOG

The first dog we ever had as a nuclear family came to us in an unusual way. When I was pregnant with our third child, I found a tiny puppy walking along a very busy road. I scooped her up, she had no collar, and was full of fleas. We immediately took her to the vet and from that day forward was our baby. We named her Belle, after the Disney princess from Beauty and the Beast, and she was a Pit Bull. Never was there a sweeter dog. We nicknamed her Nana because of the way she looked after the children, just like the St. Bernard from Peter Pan. We had her for fifteen years and putting her down was one of the hardest days of my life. We knew we weren’t looking for another dog right away but believed that the right dog would come into our lives when our hearts were ready.

GOING TO THE SHELTER FOR THE FIRST TIME

In late 2015 I decided that I wanted to adopt a shelter dog. I knew we weren’t looking for a puppy but I definitely wanted a female. When I arrived at our local Humane Society I was greeted by the volunteers and invited to look around the rooms where there were dozens of dogs in cages, all waiting to be adopted. Some were silent, some clearly seemed afraid, and some were aggressively barking and snarling. It was completely overwhelming and I began to cry. How was I ever going to choose a dog? But one did catch my eye. She was a small female and her name was Buttons, but she was in quarantine and wasn’t able to be adopted quite yet.

I went home and shared my experience on Facebook and a local friend reached out to me. She said that she knew a great dog trainer who routinely worked with the dogs from our particular shelter. She said she would check and see if the trainer had any recommendations. Within a couple of days I received a message from my friend recommending a dog named Jersey.

I went to the website and looked at his photo. To be honest, I wasn’t excited about him. First of all, he was a “he” and not a “she”. I really wanted another female. Also the description of him stated that he was returned to the shelter because he was killing chickens at the home he had been living at. He looked too big, he was boy, and he had an aggressive nature, three big red flags.

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Photo of Jersey from the Humane Society’s website

2nd Shelter Visit: Meeting Jersey for the First Time

On January 2, 2016, my son, Ben and I decided to head over to the shelter to give it another try. I knew before walking through the door that I could not go back into the large room where most of the dogs were being held and asked if they would bring out a few dogs for us to meet instead. The staff was more than happy to oblige us. I originally asked for Buttons but was told that she had already been adopted. I then decided that we ought to at least look at Jersey. The staff member said that we should head back to the smaller room where he was being held. We were led back to that area and I remember being surprised at how much smaller he was in person than in his photo on the shelter’s website. We leaned down and put our hands up to his cage. He leaned against the bars and we scratched his little side. We knew then that we wanted to at least get to know him a little better. We asked if we could take him outside and spend some time getting to know him out of the confines of the shelter walls. Jersey was so happy to be outside and immediately began running around in the grass and small field beside the building. My son was smitten and loved spending time with such an active dog.

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First moments spending outside of the shelter with Jersey

Jersey’s Background

The shelter staff gave us all of Jersey’s background information, which surprisingly they had a lot of. They informed us that Jersey’s birthdate was July 5th, 2010. I was surprised that they knew his exact birthdate but then they shared that little Jersey had been born in the shelter. He spent the first two years of his life there and was finally adopted by a family, with a mother, father, and a couple of kids. He lived in that home until the parents had a very ugly divorce and Jersey saw a lot of yelling and conflict. Jersey was then moved to the grandparents’ home where he was an outside dog. Although the grandmother was quite fond of Jersey, her husband didn’t like him one bit because he kept killing his chickens, which was the reason he was returned. Jersey had been back in the shelter for several months by the time we met him.

Decision Time

Even though I had some reservations my son was absolutely certain that he wanted to adopt Jersey. We filled out the paperwork and brought him home! This is the video I took of us taking him home from the shelter. It’s so precious to watch now!

ISSUES THAT BEGAN CROPPING UP

Initially Jersey seemed very happy to be with us. I could tell he wasn’t used to being in a house. He wanted to smell every single thing but he wasn’t sure how to sit on a couch. He enjoyed the attention but seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by it all. We spent a lot of time the first few days going on long walks. I could tell that being outside was something he really enjoyed and I was so happy to have a walking buddy.

Jersey soon started having issues. He didn’t like people standing over him and would growl. He didn’t like people standing near his bed when he was in it and would growl. He didn’t like anyone to come near treats or toys we gave him, he would really growl then. He began getting off of his leash and running away. He even snapped and bit one of our son’s friends. Thank God the young man wasn’t hurt but it scared us all. We then took Jersey to the dog trainer who worked with him in the shelter. Donna was such a gift and was able to help Jersey but also helped us understand his insecurities and issues from having been in the shelter for so long.

Did Jersey Like Us?

After working with Donna, Jersey’s issues began to melt away. But he still didn’t seem like he really liked us. Our old dog, Belle, would greet us at the door when we returned with tail wagging and excitedly running around. Jersey would wag his tail a bit but there wasn’t much enthusiasm. I began to wonder if even though we really liked Jersey if he really liked us back! I began googling questions like “How to tell if your dog likes you?” I began to wonder if dogs could be depressed.

Turning Point

About a year later my son took Jersey out for a walk and returned home carrying him with blood streaming from his paw. We jumped in the van and took him straight to the vet. The doctor examined him and found a gaping tear on his paw pad and a deep puncture wound in his leg. We still have no idea how it happened but Jersey needed quite a few stitches and antibiotics to prevent an infection. Because of Jersey’s trust issues we had to bring him back to the vet each time his bandages needed changing and he had to be sedated. Poor Jersey freaked out any time we even looked at his paw. Every other day for two weeks we drove him back and forth and tended to him as he came out of anesthesia. After his stitches came out we still had to tend to his wound by changing his bandage. I was exhausted from taking him to the vet so often and worried about the effect of so much sedation on his little body. My son asked if he could try one more time to change Jersey’s bandage. I saw the calmness in my son’s demeanor and thought it couldn’t hurt to try. We both agreed that if Jersey seemed nervous or anxious we would abandon the venture and take him back to the vet to let them do it. But that time Jersey didn’t seem anxious, he rolled over on his back and gave my son his paw. It was like the heavens opened up and Jersey finally realized that we weren’t going to hurt him. He finally realized that he could trust us, that all we wanted to do was love him, help him, and be there for him for the rest of his life.

TRUSTING, BELOVED BABY

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From that moment on Jersey was a different dog. Enthusiastic tail wagging and body wiggling now greet us at the door if we’ve been gone for any length of time. He smiles and shows his love for us every single day. We go for walks daily and no lie, sometimes he just stops and turns his head to look at me. He looks me straight in the eyes and I know he is telling me how much he loves us for loving him and being patient with him. I truly believe in the transformative power of love and consistency, I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

6 thoughts on “Transformation of a Dog: Jersey-boy

  1. Omg you just legit made me cry. What a wonderful family you are to not give up on the boy who just needed some love ❤️

  2. Very emotional story for me. We adopted a shelter dog in 1983. He picked us as we were looking for a puppy, but he was a grown german shephard. He often let me know with that sincere locking of our eyes, that he knew we saved him and loved him. So happy for you and Jersey.

    • Awww! I love German Shepherds! I had never adopted an older dog before and it has been such a wonderful experience. He’s learned to trust and is still learning. He will be nine years old this summer and I can’t imagine our lives without him!

  3. Elise, I am totally crying here! As the founder of our local shelter and mama to 13 shelter/strays, I know the love and patience you had to possess with Jersey. It’s sooo worth it but many don’t take the time. I love you even more than I did before, sweet lady!

    • I didn’t know that about you, Jenny! It has definitely been a process with two steps forward and one step back. I tell him all the time that we are never leaving and that he’s safe. He’s the sweetest boy but we have had to earn his trust but it’s so worth it!

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