I suppose it was inevitable that at some stage during the fostering process we would have a dog that needed rehabilitating to such a degree that in the end we would be defeated. And in the case of Sammy, foster number 13, it is sadly the case. Sammy is an 11-month Staffordshire/ Ridgeback mix with big gangly legs and lots of goofy kisses. He arrived at the shelter at five months of age with two other puppies having been taken out of a dog-fighting ring where they had been used as bait. The two other puppies were sadly beyond help having been so psychologically damaged from their ordeal and were put to sleep, but Sammy passed his tests with flying colours. He was cleaned up and transferred to a boarders where he was socialised with dogs, but, for whatever reason, remained there for six months. About three weeks ago, he started to lose a scary amount of weight – presumably from depression – so I agreed to have him come stay with us to fatten him up and introduce him to family life.
When I met him at the boarders he bounded over and jumped up and I had the highest hopes that we would be able to fix up this big oaf with love and get him ready to be adopted with time. But having spent his whole short life in a crate had taken its toll. The first day with us he was at a loss. Our tiny New York apartment must have seemed enormous and bewildering to him, and reflections of himself in the mirror, window and even oven door sent him into fits of barking. Sammy had also never had a bed before, so every bed was regarded as a bathroom, and the thought of lying down and settling was beyond him. But these are hurdles that one expects from traumatised dogs, and not ones that cannot be fixed with time and love. After a few days, he was soon a permanent fixture on his comfortable bed where he could rest his bony body.
But his fear beyond the apartment increased over the week. Sammy refused to go outside. Here he is in the photo remaining very firmly on our door step but venturing no further even with the aid of chicken, toys and excited voices. For the past week we have been carrying him out onto the streets where his fear increases tenfold. The happy and calm dog he has now managed to become in the apartment is gone in the big wide world. He is terrified of people, noises and is even a little fearful of other dogs now. He cannot bear to be too far from the front door and we have had to come up with all sorts of schemes like carrying him several blocks away so he becomes disoriented just to be able to let him relieve himself and then run home for exercise.
As he has started to unwind, his fears have become more pronounced. Men are terrifying to him. As are any visitors to the apartment. I have used exercises from Lee Charles Kelley and Kevin Behan to try and help him but it became clear that our set up here was not enough. Sammy needs a foster family with a big yard somewhere quiet, with perhaps some other dogs so he can take his time becoming acclimatised to being outdoors. Above all Sammy needs probably months of training before he can be adoptable. Rushing him into being on the streets would be detrimental to him. It is just too much for him to take in so soon, and it became clear that even with all the love in the world, staying with us in our three-storey high apartment in a busy part of the city is not going to help him. Without exercise he will become bored and frustrated.
But fosters with a yard, and the time to let him learn slowly do not come easy in New York City. And trainers who can give months to a rescue dog cost more money than a charity can afford. After much deliberation with Posh Pets Rescue, the hard decision was made to transfer Sammy to a sanctuary in Florida where he can live out his long life ahead of him cared for professionally and with a big field to play in with other dogs.
As wonderful as the sanctuary is and for all its good work, it is so sad to have to give up on a dog that has so much love to give to those he feels comfortable with. Sammy will greet me every morning by jumping up to kiss me on the nose and tell me it is time for breakfast. He loves to lounge on my lap while I'm working and he loves to play tug and has even started to fetch balls. It's heartbreaking to think that with just a few months and money he would probably be ready to be with a family.
On a positive note, I like to think that his time with us has helped him deal a little better with space. We've also fed him up so that he has put on several pounds which will provide a cushion for the long and stressful journey he is about to take down to Florida.
While it is not an ideal situation, it is a relief that places like the sanctuary exist so that dogs who are rescued but who cannot be placed with a family, will still receive love, food and places to play. They are a true blessing.
And he has managed to have one final New York adventure! Today he escaped the vets, and after two hours with police on motorbikes and in cars he was tracked down on the FDR highway on the east side of Manhattan! He has now been renamed Sammy FDR.
He leaves us Saturday when Posh Pets Rescue holds its annual fundraiser. Let's hope that enough money is raised so that other dogs like Sammy will be able to have the training and environment they need to overcome their fears.