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Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Enrichment Buddy - Abacus

Stray Rescue started a new program called Rehabilitation and Enrichment Program (R.E.P.). Volunteers are assigned to dogs who have been in the shelter for over a year or who are doing poorly in the shelter - losing weight, spinning, etc. - or in the case of the dog I was assigned to, both.

To help make the dogs more adoptable, volunteers are asked to spend at least five hours a week with their dog, take them on outings, to training class, and on overnight visits if possible. The hotel near the shelter offered to let us use their rooms for overnights with the dogs if we can't take them to our homes. Blues hockey player Barrett Jackman is a huge Stray Rescue advocate, and since he leaves for the offseason, he's offered his St. Louis home (with a caretaker) for that as well.

I was assigned to Abacus. He is labeled "staff approved volunteers only." That means only certain volunteers are allowed to walk him because he humps and nips people and bites at the leash. He is crazy. He's not mean or aggressive, he just has so much energy that he doesn't know what to do. In his "apartment," he jumps up one side and down the other in a sort of rhythmic fashion.

The first time I tried to get him out of his apartment he bit me in the upper thigh as soon as I opened the door. My heart was absolutely pounding and I slammed the door shut. How am I going to enrich him if I can't even get him out! But I love a challenge and was not about to let him intimidate me. So I opened the door again and let him know who was boss. He jumped and jumped and tried to run out. But I stood tall, blocked him with my legs to prevent him from escaping, and demanded that he "SIT!"

And he did.

As soon as I leashed him and walked him out he was an angel.

We got in the car and headed to the park. Apparently the water looked inviting because he jumped right in. I still had him by the leash, so I fished him out and he gave me a look like, "What'd you push me in for?!"

After hanging out at the fountain, I gave him an antler to chew on; he loved it.

See the halter he has on in this picture? He had it on because if a regular leash was used, he pulled so hard that he choked himself. And rather than having to take it off and put it on twice a day for his walks, they left it on 24/7. His skin was rubbed raw under his legs. I insisted it be taken off, and it was. Stray Rescue is amazing and they do a wonderful job, but with so many dogs, sometimes a special advocate is needed. Which is why I love this R.E.P. program!

Even though he looks happy here, he's so much happier without the halter.

For a few days in a row I picked him up and took him to the park. We practiced loose leash walking and he did great. If he strayed from my side at all, I gave him a little tug and he walked right next to me. He looked up at me so proud that he was behaving. He honestly reminds me of a 6-year-old with ADHD.

Yesterday I took him to a restaurant called Luvy Duvy's, where the servers bring dogs a plate of food and bowl of ice water. I could tell he'd never been to a restaurant. He wiggled his whole behind and wagged his tail, jumping on the table and knocking chairs over like a bull in a china shop. He acted friendly and wanted to say hi to everyone, but until I get to know him better I have to keep him close to me.

It took 15 minutes for him to settle down.

Using his bacon, cheese and chicken platter, I worked with him on "leave it." At first he wondered why in the world I would leave a perfectly good piece of bacon sitting on the ground, so he thought he'd help out by trying to pick it up. He finally figured out that if he did leave it he would eventually get to EAT it!

The server, who knew I was a Stray Rescue volunteer, came over later and said my lunch was free and that the owner wanted me "not to give up on the dog." It was so unexpected that I got teary.

I showed Larry this picture and he said, "He is not a cute dog." Okay, well maybe not in the typical cute dog sense, but I think he's adorable.

We piled back in the car after lunch. He laid down, so I thought he'd go to sleep, but as soon as I stopped at a stop light or stop sign he shot up in the seat, like "Do I have to go back to the shelter already?!" I wanted him to relax, so I drove up and down the highway and stroked his sweet head while he slept.

Poor Abacus just needs someone to love him. If I can be his little bit of heaven by showing him love until his forever person comes along, I will do that for him.




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