Maddy wrote this blog post on her personal site about our recent and tragic experience with dog adoption. I was so impressed by her mature and thoughtful words I asked her if I could share here. So here's Maddy's take on our brief but unforgettable time with beautiful Denali...
Today we lost a member to our family, that we unfortunately had to humanely put to sleep. Before you go to the shelter to adopt a dog or buy a dog from a breeder there are a few things I have learned from my adoption experience with my dog. I've been a volunteer at Orange County Animal Services along with my parents for almost 3 months, and previously I had volunteered at another shelter. Overall I've had a lot of experience with dogs whether it be through my training, adopting dogs out, and assisting with ill, injured, fearful, and aggressive animals. We met "Alfredo" at PetSmart, as a volunteer it was my job to get him adopted to a family, he had been neutered the morning before and to say the least was loopy and staggering down the aisles. After an hour he had recuperated, he was friendly towards dogs and people alike, including the one-month-old kittens also up for adoption. I spoke to various families, but he did not get adopted and was returned to the shelter that evening. At the time my parents were considering adopting a dog and had met multiple candidates. Our family wanted a senior dog, possibly ill, independent but friendly, and it had to refrain from eating our two chinchillas. We had the means to support a dog and we were emotionally prepared to take on a new member.
I really connected with Alfredo and so did my family, he made it to the list of dogs we were considering. After volunteering at Petsmart we went to the shelter across the street and met "Ruthie" a 9-year-old beagle, who was a previous service dog. We weren't sure if he was the one and decided to go out for dinner to think about it. We all decided if he was still available at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando the next day (Sunday) then we would adopt Ruthie.
Sunday morning we woke up and drove down to Pet Alliance, we arrived at the shelter once it had opened and went to find Ruthie. We were informed he had been taken to an offsite adoption event at Petco. We drove down to Petco 18 minutes after the event had started but he was already adopted. We were devastated and decided to drive back down to Orange County Animal Services and visit Alfredo in one of the play yards, he was still available but we wanted to discuss if we were ready to adopt him after a heartbreaking morning. After some lunch we decided to pull the trigger and adopt Alfredo, he seemed perfect and that fate had drawn us together. We had learned he was still recovering from being neutered and had an upper respiratory infection, so he was heavily medicated but that the medicine would not cause him to be drowsy. We figured this meant he would probably have more energy than he was displaying at the time, but nothing we couldn't handle. It was chaotic, we tossed him in the car and drove to the pet store nearby and bought beds, food, treats, pee pads, collars, leashes, toys, etc. We finally got him home, introduced him to the chinchillas, which he didn't mind, and showed him around the house. He was exhausted and slept for hours. We renamed him Denali and we were so happy, our family gathered around the carpet watching him fidget in his sleep. He was such a perfect dog. He was not at all what we expected, a 2-year-old, 65-pound, lab mix boy, but in that moment he couldn't be more perfect.
I slept with him downstairs to ensure he would remain friendly with the chinchillas. He slept the whole night only getting up to lick me and sneak in some cuddles. At around 5AM (when the chinchillas are most active), he suddenly became overly interested in them; this was a problem but not a problem we didn't expect. We placed playpens around their room and I stayed with him downstairs. We refused to stop staring at them, even whining when he couldn't get to them. During the course of that day he ripped playpens down, and continuously stared at them. Afraid for the chinchilla’s safety I sat by his side pulling him down from the pens and leashing him to keep him away from them. When my parents came home from work, my mom and me drove back to PetSmart to get a more permanent baby gate and an electric fence to deter him from messing with them. My dad had told me while we were gone he jumped on the pen and when my dad went to pull him down, he snapped at his hand. We figured he was fixated and didn't mean any harm. Once we put the shock collar on Denali, and he was shocked twice by getting too close to the sensor, he refused to go near them. This was promising, we took him on a long walk to the dog park, he was so excited and whenever a dog passed he would whine when they left, he was even friendly to all the neighbors. We figured he was from a home before he was a stray, as he knew not to go on the couch, up the stairs, and how to do sit, down, and paw on command.
The Next Few Days
Denali had really bonded with us and we bonded with him, we watched countless episodes of Cesar 911, learning new techniques. We were in love, he played with us, cuddled with us, and snuck in numerous belly rubs. We had noticed various scars all over his body some going down to the bone, we figured he was a stray and had been out longer than we expected. I researched the location that Orange County Animal Services had found him. It was off a Florida highway in the middle of nowhere next to a few car store locations, this furthered our suspicion he was dumped after he gotten too big or old.
His First Vet Trip
Denali was the best dog we could have hoped for, my mom took him to the vet to get a clear bill of health. He passed all physical exams, but when the male vet had reached over to show my mom a picture on his phone, Denali snapped. He got extremely aggressive. The vet was alarmed and said it was likely he was protective and saw that him reaching over to my mom as threatening. He left the room and asked a female vet tech to approach Denali once he had calmed down, he growled, and then bit into the vet tech's pants. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the vet was concerned, this was a bad sign that he was overly protective or even aggressive towards people. My mom was alarmed; this was so out of character for him. She took him back to the car, where he attempted to snap at a pedestrian. The vet's office was extremely helpful providing us with trainers to call to have him evaluated. We called three trainers who all agreed to look at him. They all figured either he was afraid of men and was just fearful after his encounter with the vet leading to the bite with the vet tech, or he was extremely protective of our family. The vet and trainers both established this was a very severe case. He was so sweet and kind after it seemed like he was a good dog, who had just acted out for a few minutes. We didn't understand how this could be considered a "severe" case, he had no signs of turning on us, and he had met so many people whom he was very friendly with.
His Last Day
My mom was alone with him as my dad and me were camping with family. Our house is for sale and she was getting prepared for a realtor to arrive for a showing. Once the realtor did, Denali lunged as soon as he opened the door with no warning he was snapping, snarling, and growling. We realized he was dangerous and would attack unprovoked. My mom figured taking him to the dog park and expelling energy would help him, on her way there she sat with him in the car as he calmed down. A man across the street 3 cars down was opening his car, as soon as he did Denali bolted up and snapped at the windows, scratching to get to him. My family realized the potential he had, he didn't need to be provoked he instigated encounters, and that we would subsequently get hurt in the crossfire. Everything changed; he went after everything, dogs, squirrels, and people. He was a public hazard, we called the trainers who said he was over protective to people he was attached to; that all we could hope for after months of training is that he would be safe with us. This would mean no doggie daycare, no walks, no dog parks, constant muzzles, shock collars, and hours of being crated. This wasn't fair on him; his quality of life would be diminished to him living in constant fear of trying to protect us. We decided to humanely euthanize him, it took 3 vets, my mom, a muzzle, leashes, and blankets to even bring him in the pet clinic to put a catheter in him. He died in the arms of my mom, with some one he loved. He was vehemently trying to protect us, which was the saddest part of it all, there was nothing wrong with him but the fact that he loved us and didn't want someone to take that away. He fell asleep, the vets even allowed him to remain un-muzzled with my mom for his last few moments. In the end, logistically, he was a public hazard who could have significantly hurt someone, but that doesn't make it any better.
My last day with Denali
The Take Away
Getting a dog shouldn't be an emotional decision, it should be one all parties are 100% on board with. With over 3.9 million dogs living in shelters across the U.S. and over 1.2 million dogs being put down each year, America has an enormous over population of dogs; due to people wanting to buy pure bred puppies. There are plenty of wonderful young, adult, and senior dogs at the shelter that are in need of a loving home. But before you go out and adopt a furry friend, it's important to understand the shelter, they do evaluations on animals available and not all of them are friendly. If they are screened as friendly, it is likely they are friendly to both people and dogs, there is also a strong chance these dogs have previously been in a home. As a volunteer at a shelter, I understand how little information there is on the dogs we adopt out, we screen as much as possible to only have friendly dogs adoptable, but as I have learned there are things that are impossible to screen out. It's good to prepare yourself for all possibilities and understand that the dog you see at the shelter is probably not going to be the dog you will have at home. Having a permanent family and territory brings out characteristics you simply cannot identify at the shelter; you must acknowledge getting a dog at the shelter is a risk NO MATTER WHAT. I see a lot of dogs adopted out that leave with happy endings, but I have a new respect for people who return their new dog, it is not easy and that dog might have acted differently in a shelter environment compared to your home.
Denali was a beautiful boy I will always miss and love him, but I feel its important to inform people of personality traits that are almost impossible to screen for: separation anxiety, sensitivity to particular genders, compulsive chewing, yippee dogs, cat friendly dogs, aggressive tendencies, various unknown medical conditions or over protective behavior.
Some Warning Signs We Learned to Look For:
Whining at other animals including dogs (this does NOT necessarily mean he is anxious to meet another dog this could mean possible aggression and/or a high prey drive)
Growling or snapping at you EVER (even when you are messing with their food this should be an immediate indication something is up)
Adopting a dog within 3 days of being neutered (any medication can drastically change their personality)
Tail in-between the back legs (especially when they are acting aggressively, this points to fearful aggression)
Watch for scars this could point to their background and history
If they were previously listed as people aggressive, animal aggressive, food aggressive, or fearful
Identify any triggers your dog may have
Protectiveness of toys
Shaking of toys (this isn't always a warning but it shows that the dog is "killing" the toy not just chewing it)
I wouldn't trade my relationship with Denali for anything he was the sweetest dog; unfortunately he had displayed aggressive behavior that could endanger the public and because of that his quality of life would be greatly diminished. His death stings, but I have learned a lot from him and dog behavior in general. I wish it didn't end as badly as it did, but I truly believe he had a fantastic last week and that he was happy with us. His behavior reveals a traumatizing backstory that we did not anticipate. This is post isn't meant to deter anyone from adopting a dog at shelter, but rather a warning, do not assume that you know this dog, take precautionary measures and display assertiveness over your new companion. I advise anyone looking to get a dog to get a trainer out to do an evaluation, and to do plenty of research on dogs to better understand their body language and subtle signals they tend to depict.
There are plenty of extraordinary shelter dogs out there; hopefully we can eventually find the heart to give one of these dogs a chance in our home.
Alex and I promised each other we would find the time for a girls weekend together at least every quarter - no matter how busy life gets. To celebrate sticking to the plan for a year now we decided to have a special getaway this time and booked a 3-night Disney cruise to the Bahamas!
For the first day we signed up for the sea lion encounter excursion which was totally amazing! Once we had docked in Nassau we were taken on a 40 minute boat ride to Blue Lagoon Island.
The dolphins were so incredibly friendly...
We couldn't take cameras for the actual experience but we got to pet, hug, feed and kiss these beautiful animals. It was unforgettable - we loved them:)
After we were done, we were allowed to stay on the island for a few hours. It was idyllic...
That night was the Pirate show and fireworks!
The following morning we arrived in Disney's private island - Castaway Key. We snorkled for hours and even saw a sea turtle...
Bingo was a big hit...
We didn't win but we laughed a lot and had the best girls weekend ever!!! Thank you Alex for your beautiful friendship for the past 15 years. I don't know what I'd do without you:)