Behavioral Rehabilitation – A Life Changing Option 01/10/2022 By Kerry S Rescuing animals from states in the Southern United States makes great news. We see it on our local news stations and social media all the time. “Van saves 35 dogs from a high kill shelter in Kentucky.” By now the general public knows that animal overpopulation in the South is a crisis for those communities. But what many folks don’t know is that we have an overpopulation crisis in our Minnesota community too. It’s not as newsworthy… which means it’s not the focus of some rescue organizations. But it is for us. Local animals are needing help from all kinds of sources – owners in crisis; facing eviction, job loss, or medical bills. Many animal shelters are completely at capacity, struggling to keep their furry residents from going kennel crazy due to the ripple effects of the pandemic. Native American Reservations, whose community members want to get pets including baby kittens and puppies – and their beautiful mamas – into a foster home before the impending winter arrives and they freeze to death. Week after week we get these requests in the dozens, and they are not slowing down. Our phone lines are receiving over 300+ calls a month just from people asking for help. The greatest need is those animals who are struggling to cope with the life changes they’ve had to undergo. Without the ability to speak, their only way to express their fear and frustration is via behavior. These behaviors can appear aggressive, to some, but in reality are just a cry for space, calm, and understanding. These animals sometimes have accompanying medical issues that are exasperating their behavior. Some just need a week in a quiet home to decompress before returning to a ‘normal’ well-adjusted animal. Some need coaching from a professional behaviorist. All of them, though, deserves a chance. A chance to reset. A chance to show their best self. A chance to feel safe and understood, before being judged as worthy to live or die. We give them that chance. We are not a rescue that shies away from taking “behavioral needs” animals. These are the animals who might growl when you approach their shelter run. They are the animals who hide in the corner, trembling with every ounce of their body. These are the animals who were at one time cornered and exhibited a defensive bite, before being able to run away to safety. These are not animals who are proactively seeking to hurt others. These are not animals who are a danger to society. These are also animals that may not have been properly house-trained or may have litter box aversion issues, so many foster and adoption programs will not even attempt to help them. We help. We take the risk to give them an opportunity to be their best selves. We believe it is worth the investment. Goku was one of those animals. Brought up from an Oklahoma animal shelter during the height of the ‘Covid puppy’ craze in 2020, he was adopted out in MN by another local foster-based rescue as an adolescent pup. The home was not a good fit for his energy needs and socialization history, which resulted in a dog-to-dog bite, and due to this, the rescue would not consider taking him back. He was rehomed privately two more times in the next 6 months, with each transition wearing on his emotional well-being. Finally, his third Minnesota owner surrendered him to our local shelter partner, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. That’s right, Pet Haven family, this pup at less than 2 years old had already lived a minimum of 5 places. The insecurity and anxiety that grew in him as a result of not having stability is common. We see it a lot in the rescue community. This and can be modified with a commitment to providing a stable environment and behavioral rehabilitation work. In the shelter environment, Goku managed but did not thrive. What does this mean? He was handled by dozens of volunteers and staff members with no bite incidences, yet he was so anxious in the shelter setting – and after so much turmoil in his short life – that he showed reactive behaviors (such as alarm barking and fence fighting). Once allowed to leave the shelter on an overnight sleepover with a shelter volunteer, a different dog emerged. It was clear that this herding breed mix dog was so misunderstood. Was he anxious? Yes. Because he was “bad”? No! He had so much energy and intelligence that sitting in a kennel run for 23+ hours a day in total solitude was literally killing him. This took such a toll on his emotional health that for concerns over the quality of his life, the shelter had to place a euthanasia deadline on him. And that’s when Pet Haven stepped in. We met with the team at Follow Me Dogs to come up with a long-term plan for Goku. He would initially spend 4 weeks in their board and train program. There he would have an opportunity to decompress and have his needs evaluated by a professional trainer. They came up with a detailed training plan, which would be communicated to one of our experienced foster homes. The training team would support his foster through the transition period and afterward. Goku was also enrolled in group (agility) classes at another training facility near the foster’s home. This was to engage his brain, giving him a job, which working breeds like his need, and provide enrichment and exercise. This is a pup that likes to work and needs to get tired out! Each month the team checks in to talk about Goku’s progress as he continues to settle in and trust his team of handlers including his foster, and slowly we will work to generalize some of the behavior modification targets we have outlined for him as we seek to find a forever home that truly understands his massive potential and special considerations. We are happy to say Goku has advanced wonderfully! He still needs behavior support and trust-building. We cannot expect over 2 years of instability to wash away in a month or two. But every day Goku steps forward into a new life with less fear and more confidence to be the dog he was meant to be! What do we need from you? Financial support and we need people interested in changing a life through fostering. Every day we have – quite literally – dozens of “Goku” cats and dogs waiting to get into our program. We only have so many foster homes that are able to accommodate; the needs of a dog or cat who isn’t move-in-ready, but we are able to secure fosters much easier after the animal has spent some one-on-one time with a professional. However, that costs money. Once these pets are ready to enter into the foster homes, we need people willing to open their hearts and home to them and do the work the change their lives. Whether you can help us by donating to our program or fostering a special cat or dog, we can assure you it will be life-changing! Help us give cats and dogs in shelters a chance to feel safe and understood before judgment is made about whether they should live or die.