Meet my most recent foster, Day-Day. He is truly a dream dog in every way. I cannot say enough good things about him. However, I never would have known the amazingness of Day-Day had I only judged him from our first meeting at the shelter. This little guy reminded me of such an important life lesson about judgment, stress, and the power of love…
“Oh no. I can’t do this. I made a mistake.” was the first thing to cross my mind when I picked up Day-Day at the shelter. He was barking the loudest, most piercing bark I’d ever heard. It was incessant and made me want to plug my ears. He was so dirty, his fur was full of mats and he was covered in his own urine and feces. As we left the shelter he barked aggressively at a woman we passed on the street, and again I thought, “Oh no. What have I done? I can’t foster this dog.”
I told myself…
His bark is so loud, he will disrupt me and my neighbors.
He’s covered in his own feces and urine, he’s going to have so many accidents.
He barked at that woman on the street, he’s going to be aggressive.
He is too difficult, I cannot do this.
And even though, as a shelter volunteer and foster mom, I should have known better, I judged him. I made a snap judgment about how he would be in a happy, safe environment, by how he was acting in a stressful, scary environment. And in doing so, I made a terrible mistake, because I almost gave up on one of the sweetest, most amazing dogs I’ve ever known.
In reality, in a safe, comfortable, loving environment, Day-Day was a totally different dog.
He was housetrained from day one and never had a single accident.
He never, ever barked. Not one single time after we left the shelter.
He was kind and gentle to humans and animals alike.
He let children pet him and bunnies sniff him, all with a sweet demeanor and happy tail.
He was happy to go for walks or happy to just relax and cuddle.
He was always well-behaved. He never did anything naughty or mischievous.
He was happy to wake up early or sleep in – whatever I preferred, he was happy with.
He was, simply put, just the best boy.
And the fact that once we got home he proved to not only be a pretty good dog, but one of the sweetest, easiest, most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever known, reminded me of how stressful the shelter environment can be.
At the shelter Day-Day went to the bathroom on himself not because he doesn’t know not to, but because he had no choice. No one had had time to let him out since the day before.
At the shelter Day-Day was barking so loud because he was stressed and scared. He had a bad case of kennel cough so he felt like crap. There was no air conditioning and it was 90 degrees outside, so that made him feel even more like crap. He was uncomfortable in so many different ways. He was barking not to be annoying, but because he needed help.
At the shelter he barked aggressively at that woman because he didn’t know he was safe yet. He had been through so much, more than we will ever know, and he was terrified. He didn’t know yet who to trust versus who he needed to protect himself from. And with just a little bit of love, that initial sign of aggressive behavior disappeared forever.
The difference between Day-Day at the shelter, and Day-Day once he was home, reminded me how important it is not to judge a book by its cover.
To have empathy and try to stand in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s a person or an animal, before ever judging them.
To remember that any dog at a shelter has been through tremendous stress, and just as we would not be our best selves in the conditions listed above, neither are they.
And to remember that behind every shelter dog, lies so, so much potential to be the companion of a lifetime.
Day-Day has been adopted, but there are millions of other dogs just like him sitting in shelters looking for their forever home everyday. To find dogs in your area look up your nearest shelters or visit petfinder.com.