02 Jun 10K Lives Saved: Blanche’s Adoption Story
Written by: Andrea W., longtime LHK9 volunteer and Blanche’s Adopter
Blanche became a part of Last Hope K9 Rescue in the second year of its organization. Pulled from a southern shelter in late 2013, she came north in early 2014 when she was about two years old. She was (and still is!) a smart, alert, fifty-ish pound, Australian Red Heeler mix with large brown eyes and pert ears. The camera loves her.
When my husband and I first started fostering with Last Hope, her photo caught my eye, but she was listed as “in training” and so we moved on to foster other dogs. When my (first time dog owner) in-laws were looking for a dog, I asked the rescue’s trainer “What about Blanche?” She quickly replied “Not Blanche” and then suggested a good-natured 80 pound pit bull mix instead.
In August of 2015, a posting went up that Blanche needed a foster so she could move out of boarding. I messaged the rescue indicating I’d always been interested in fostering Blanche, but wouldn’t be available on weekends until fall. LHK9 responded by offering to cover the costs for her boarding the weekends we were gone. My husband was on board to foster Blanche, so we told LHK9 that we were interested in moving forward. A plan was set and, since she was located well north of Boston and we were well south, Blanche would be transported to us through a chain of transport volunteers.
Before we started fostering Blanche, we knew there were some behavioral concerns related to her. We had dealt with some behavioral issues with previous foster dogs and I was confident that patience and structure would work wonders. For those who continue reading about Blanche’s behaviors and say “Why rescue a dog like this? Why when there are so many friendly, well-adjusted dogs in shelters that would happily and easily fit into a family home?” please know…I agree with you 100%. Most dogs in a shelter aren’t like Blanche was in 2015. Most just need a few days of decompression time, followed up with clear and consistent communication about the rules of the house, and you’ve got yourself the “best dog ever.” Blanche is an outlier. I tell her story to illustrate what the combination of the right training, a supportive rescue, and the right-fit, dedicated foster home can accomplish. I also hope to paint a realistic picture about how much work it can take when adopting a dog with behavioral concerns.
It was evening when she arrived. I met the transport volunteer in our driveway and heard barking coming from the crate in the backseat of the car. The volunteer looked at me with huge eyes and said “Do you have experience with dogs with behavior issues?” My first thought was “What did I get us into?” My husband came out of the house, approached the car, and spoke softly to Blanche while she was in the crate. She was not having it and the barking became even more intense. Since she was not leashed, and she did not seem amenable to anything involving anyone, the decision was made to keep her in the crate and carry the crate into the house.
We placed the crate in the room we used for foster dogs and opened the crate. Blanche ran around the room and pooped three times. I looked at her and called her a brat, then pointed to the crate and said “kennel up,” which she did immediately. I wish I could tell you she woke up the next day ready for her new life. Or that night was the last time I had the thought I had gotten us in over our heads by agreeing to foster Blanche. But that was not the case. Some early behaviors we experienced with Blanche included:
- We couldn’t grab Blanche’s collar to clip on a leash without her clamping teeth down on us, but we could switch leashes. So we kept her leashed 24/7 until October when she went to a board and train/behavior rehab.
- Blanche wouldn’t allow to put a collar on her. Her collar broke early on and it took BOTH my husband and I working together for 15 minutes to slide a martingale collar over her head.
- Any physical touching past her shoulders would cause her to snap at us. We thought maybe she had hip problems. Basically, she didn’t seem to want our hands anywhere she couldn’t see them.
- She was over stimulated by our mere presence in the room and had no house manners. If left loose, she ran through the house frantically. If crated in the room with us while we watched TV, she panted anxiously for at least 30 minutes.
On the plus side, Blanche had the following things going for her:
- She had some of the best obedience skills of any dog we ever had in the house. While she was not OK with most physical touch from humans, she confidently and happily followed commands.
- She was food motivated. Anyone training a dog who is NOT food motivated can tell you what a plus this is for shaping new behavior.
- She was a rock star with the crate. I suspect she felt safe there and it was a welcome break for us from her very large presence in our lives.
- My husband would sit with her 20 minutes at a time and just calmly pet her. She would get ramped up and he would tell her to go into the crate so she could calm down. It was during these sessions my husband describes a moment when he touched her face and she leaned into his hand as if to say “I’m in here, don’t give up on me.”
But our hands and arms were bruised from nips and bites and I was emailing my contacts at the rescue daily. We couldn’t help this dog on our own. LHK9 was willing to schedule training with Solid K9 Training in Providence if we could commit to taking Blanche back after the training. At this point, we’d had Blanche for two weeks and were starting to see slight improvement. We’d worked with Solid K9 Training with our own dog, so we were willing to hang on until October and take Blanche back after training was over.
Blanche continued to slowly improve. She still needed to be managed, but we were celebrating milestones every week. My husband, Neil, even managed to muzzle train her two weeks prior to going to the board and train at Solid K9. We were able to give her treats through the muzzle, so we would have her wear it on a regular basis and would give her affection and treats to make it as positive an experience for her as possible. We knew we still didn’t have the time, knowledge, or resources to help her get to a more balanced place, so we were excited to see what the board and train would do for her.
The day we took her to board and train, she seemed unusually ramped up. We decided to muzzle her since we weren’t sure what we would be dealing with once we got to the training facility. As it turns out, she became even more ramped up when we arrived and just before we left, she snapped aggressively at the trainer when he tried to put on a slip lead. In that moment I watched the weeks of our work with Blanche disappear before my eyes. Blanche would wear the muzzle for the first four days of a five week training period, fed only through the muzzle during her initial training sessions.
When we went back for the mid-training session, she greeted Neil enthusiastically…and eventually noticed I was there too. She and the trainer had become buddies. He could pet her anywhere. Her nails had been done. The trainer said when she was left to her own devices in the training room, she didn’t rest. She investigated every corner of the room. I’d been told over and over how smart she was. Since I’m not an expert on dog smarts, I asked the trainer what he thought and he responded immediately “she is intelligent.” The trainer said most dogs can be trained for 20 minutes before mentally checking out, but Blanche could go an hour and the trainer stopped because HE was tired.
At the end of training we brought Blanche home a much calmer dog, and much better socialized. Solid K9 Training set her on a new and improved path, and every day she continued further. She started to opt in to hanging out with us in short spurts while we watched TV. She could still be watchful, but she’d moved to a new level of trust and was willing to give us the benefit of the doubt rather than her “bite first, ask questions later” perspective.
We started thinking about getting her out there to find her adopter. Her first adoption event she was muzzled. As time went on, she no longer needed the muzzle, but she would vocalize and occasionally jump straight up in the air next to us during events. We would tell people “she’s really not like this at home” because she really wasn’t. We were forthcoming about her history, but also about how far she’d come.
Blanche was with us still in the summer of 2016. She evolved from being a dog that was crated 23 hours a day, to a dog allowed to roam freely in the house with our resident dog. We’d check on her during the day on the foster camera and were charmed to see our resident dog opting to nap in the chair near her crate. She was (and still is) very ramped up in the car. She improved after training but driving with Blanche is not really a pleasure.
In July 2016, we threw caution to the wind and decided to drive her down to Cape Cod with our other dog and take her sailing on the boat we had at the time. “What’s the worst that could happen…we can always just turn the boat around.” A very optimistic perspective based on her behavior in the car. And that’s when we found out she is a natural sailor. This dog, who approached new people, places and things with hyper awareness took the smells, bouncing, noises, and movement of parts that come with sailing all in stride. She was relaxed and content.
And that July day was probably the beginning of the end of our lives as Blanche’s fosters. In December 2016, we reached out to LHK9 saying that the adoption events were starting to feel like we were trying to give OUR dog away and we wanted to adopt Blanche. We are not the only people in the rescue with stories about their experiences with Blanche, and we could go on with many other stories of our own to tell. She’s not OK with humans that she doesn’t know touching her without being asked. Doing her nails is still challenging and the vet will probably never be her buddy. But today, Blanche woke up in a bed shared with two humans she trusts and her canine buddy. At night, she curls up next to my husband on the couch and makes noises of contentment very much like purring. At nine years old, she’ll still jump two feet in the air when I have a ball ready to throw. On the boat she’ll lean against the mast when we’re rocked by wake and lie on top of the cabin like the Sphinx, undisturbed by the boom moving over her head.
Thanks to Blanche, I read body language for “permission” before petting a dog and have saved YouTube videos of working cattle dogs. And every so often I tell Blanche “You are a brave girl and a good dog. We love you very much. No regrets Blanchey girl, no regrets.”