The Story of “Them”
The Feral dogs of Hayward
One of our main animal shelter partners is the Hayward Shelter. I am there frequently pulling dogs, getting paperwork or just checking in. Over the past year or so I have overheard the shelter staff talking about the “feral dogs.” The shelter has been trying to capture these two dogs for months. The dogs’ territory was in the same vicinity as the shelter so animal control officers and shelter staff spotted them frequently. Chasing the dogs proved fruitless, and they had avoided traps. Recent investigations led to information that a family in the area was feeding them but were unable or unwilling to assist in their capture. Reports from various neighbors revealed that a family had them as puppies, then moved away and left the puppies to fend for themselves. That is when a nearby family took over the feeding, but allowed them to run free, otherwise.
A Life on the Streets Comes to an End
One day while I was at the shelter, there was a sense of excitement in the air. I asked what was happening and was told that the feral dogs had finally been captured by the family that was feeding them, and they had just brought the dogs to the shelter in wire crates. Of course, I wanted to see these epic dogs that had been the folklore of the shelter for quite a while. The shelter managers looked at me and said, “Don’t even think about it. These dogs are truly feral and cannot be rehabilitated.” I begged the shelter administration to hold on to them for a little while and let’s all just observe how they do. The dogs were placed in the vicious ward, not because they were deemed vicious. Dogs that are anticipated to struggle tremendously in the shelter or are scheduled to be euthanized, wait out their time in this ward. The dogs were separated, there had been an observation that one time in the field when bait food was used, the dogs fought over the food. After about 3 weeks in the shelter (and many visits by me talking to the shelter about the dogs’ future), we were granted permission to rescue them. The dogs were skittish, unwilling to take treats from the staffs’ hands, and not able to tolerate being handled, but they weren’t aggressive.
Oliver and Stanley Rescued from the Shelter
We discussed at length what options we could possibly offer the dogs. We were very realistic in that we didn’t think that the dogs would ever be “adoptable” to the general public. Maybe we could eventually find a sanctuary for them to live out their days? We also knew that there was the possibility that we might have to return them to the shelter if they were unable to adjust to life other than the streets.
We decided it would be best for them to go to separate foster homes. We pulled the brindle dog first, as he seemed to be less skittish. Then a week later when we secured a second foster home, we pulled the cream-colored dog. We assumed they were littermates and that could contribute to conflicts between the two dogs if they were in the same foster home. We also needed to get them neutered and vet checked before we started working with them. Since they couldn’t be handled, special procedures were enacted to get them from the shelter to the vet’s office, where they would be sedated then vet checked and neutered. We also had the vet staff put on collars, harnesses and leashes while the dogs were under anesthesia. We forewent the e-collars. The brindle’s foster mom decided to name him “Oliver.” Given Oliver’s more dominant personality compared his partner’s more submissive demeanor, it made perfect sense to name the second dog, “Stanley.”
Oliver’s foster mom sequestered him in a separate living space where it was just her and Oliver. The rest of the family and their dogs didn’t have any interaction with Oliver for the first few weeks. In that time Oliver was able to bond the foster mom, allowing her to give him affection, cuddling, belly rubs and even play, but it took a lot of time and patience. When it came time to introduce Oliver to the outdoors, the other dogs and family members, Oliver struggled – growling and charging at new people and dogs. We would have to change gears with Oliver’s rehab to get him to the next level.
Stanley was also sequestered when we initially pulled him, living briefly in our adoption center, where volunteers could work with him during the day, but he would have to spends nights by himself. Not much progress was being made under those arrangements, so it was decided to move him into one our most experienced foster homes, that also had a lot of other dogs. Stanley quickly settled in with the other dogs, enjoying their company and playing. However, he struggled with direct human interaction, he seemed to enjoy being in the vicinity of people (2-3 feet) but flinched or even screamed at being touched.
Oliver and Stanley Reunited
Oliver’s foster mom had to go out of town for a few days, and the rest of the family were not comfortable taking care of Oliver during her absence. Unfortunately, the only available place to put Oliver for those few days was in the same foster home as Stanley. They hadn’t seen each other or been together since their street days a few weeks ago. We had no idea how they would interact when they met again. We brought them together at our adoption center with a couple of other dogs in the same foster home as Stanley. There was tension between the two of them when they first met. Strong verbal corrections, which they abided by, helped lower the risk of the encounter turning aggressive. Then about 5 minutes into the interaction, the two brothers seemed to figure out that they knew each other and the love fest began – licking each other’s faces, rubbing bodies where Oliver would stick his rump under Stanley’s belly (something that seemed to be a familiar ritual for them, as they still do it occasionally). Oliver quickly bonded with the humans in the new foster home, as well. He was then introduced to the rest of the pack in the new foster home and did very well. After the foster mom returned from her trip, it was decided to continue having Oliver and Stanley fostered together, for the time being.
The dogs are young – maybe a year to a year and a half. They have a lot playful, excited energy. They love being around other dogs. Their tails are always wagging. Oliver continues to seek out physical attention from his main human, whereas Stanley is still more comfortable leaving some distance between him and someone’s hand – anywhere from 6 inches to a couple of feet. There is a part of Stanley’s brain that wants to physically interact with people, but then there is another part that just can’t do it . . . yet, anyway. You can see the conflict on his face. Living with Stanley is like a perpetual game of “Tag, You’re It” or “Catch Me if You Can.” Everywhere you turn, he is right there with you, tail wagging, seeming to want to play. When you go to pet him, however, he moves away just out of arms reach. Sometimes he will take off then come back right away or look to see if you are chasing him – it is playful, but it’s not.
Both dogs can be handled. What we find with many skittish dogs is that they have their “safe spots” (or keeping with the “Tag, You’re It” analogy, they have their “base.”) When they go to the safe spot, then they will allow you to pick them up. When we need to crate them to take them somewhere (like the vet or adoption center), Oliver will often voluntarily go into his crate, and Stanley will go to his safe spot so that he can be picked up and put in the crate. They both spend a lot of time at the adoption center interacting with the public. Interestingly, Stanley is more likely to allow someone to sit next to him or even be petted when he is at the adoption center rather than his foster home. We are not sure why that is. At first, they were more active and somewhat engaging with the public, but lately, they like hanging out on the top tier of the cat trees. Oliver can also be a little more growly with other dogs when he has a toy and doesn’t want it stolen by another dog. The other foster dogs will still steal it at the first opportunity, and Oliver moves on to something else. He can also be a little bit of a bully with shy and insecure dogs. The area where little progress has been made with either of them is walking on a leash. They started with freak-outs, biting the leash, and alligator roles. Then they graduated to “pancaking”, and now they dig in their paws and put on the brakes. They may never be dogs that are leash walkers.
The Future for Stanley and Oliver
We would like to find them a permanent home, and not just a sanctuary. They truly love being with people, and they love the company of other dogs. It would also be our dream to have them adopted together. There have been a couple of “spats” between the two of them, but the spats quickly ended with a stern voice command from the foster family. Since they aren’t dogs that can be walked, a big fenced-in backyard where they can romp and play, is a must. If the family had a one or two other playful, friendly dogs, it would help, but not a requirement.