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474 Days

When a new animal comes into rescue, we always hope that their stay will be short. Some are lucky enough to find homes as soon as they become available, and to those animals we are just a short stop along the way to their new life. However, because we take in animals that have behavioral or medical special needs, we often have residents that stay with us for quite some time, such as Frankie who has now been with our rescue for over a year.

(Photo by Tischman Pets Photography)

Frankie came to us with the cards stacked against him. He is a bully breed, and sadly these dogs often wait longer for an adopter to come along. He is of an unknown adult age, which can make adopters anxious. That age range can be especially tricky because the adopters who are seeking an active dog typically want a dog under 3 years old, while adopters who want an older dog typically want them because of their calm and relaxed demeanor. As a moderate to high energy middle aged dog, Frankie falls in the zone that is very difficult to find an adopter for. Finally, Frankie came to us very much as a special needs dog; so much so, we actually expected him to be a hospice case when he first arrived. I won’t go into too much detail here on Frankie’s medical history, but anyone interested in learning more can check out his page at or watch the video on his story below. In addition to his medical special needs, Frankie also arrived very aloof and shut down. After a life of neglect he did not understand how to bond to a new person and connect to them. He was never aggressive or afraid, but also didn’t know how to be affectionate, meaning even if an adopter overlooked his other less adoptable qualities, they still wouldn’t meet a dog who instantly felt like a love connection.

Frankie came into our rescue on December 28, 2018, so as of today he has spent 474 Days in our care. In the average shelter, this would be a tragedy. There are dogs who have spent years in rescues in our area who have mentally deteriorated in that time. The concrete kennels runs, the constant barking of dogs, and the limited mental stimulation or human interaction can all take a toll on a dog’s personality and behavior, sometimes permanently. In my time working in shelters I have studied kennel anxiety and attempted to correct it using enrichment tools such as bubble machines, treat dispensing toys, aromatherapy, music, etc. For many dogs in a traditional kennel setting, this is an uphill battle. Municipal kennel facilities are not designed with long-term residency in mind. They are designed for a dog to be held on their stray hold until they are reclaimed by their owner for days, weeks, or a few months at most. However, with the push away from high kill shelters towards no-kill facilities there are now more dogs than ever who spend their lives in those same kennel runs for years waiting for the “unicorn” perfect home to come along.

(Frankie did spend some time in a kennel run when he was first brought to the vet to be euthanized. When the vet refused and asked us to take in Frankie we needed to wait a few weeks to bring him to us, and he stayed in the kennels at the vet hospital in that time.)

When we founded Wayward Ranch, our goal was to do something different. We anticipated that we would often have animals stay with us long term as they awaited homes, and we wanted to make sure that each animal had their needs met in their time with us. We do not yet have a kennel facility, so our dogs are all cared for at this time in loving foster homes, and that has been Frankie’s reality since he entered our care. We have found the difference in long term fostering vs. long term sheltering to be undeniable.

I have worked in rescue long enough that I can realistically predict what Frankie’s life would have been in a kennel run. He would have started out as one of the quiet dogs, but over the weeks and months in a kennel run listening to other dogs bark he would have joined in and eventually gone hoarse from continued barking. As a high energy dog only receiving an hour of time outside of his kennel per day (this would be at a high quality shelter), he would still be facing 23 hours in a kennel. With his personality he would eventually begin to show some obsessive compulsive behavior. Perhaps he would have begun to jump repeatedly or spin; maybe he would have pushed his nose against his kennel door until it bled. He would have arrived dog friendly, but after months and months of every dog he passed charging and barking at him from their kennel run, he would have developed defensive aggression, and would be labeled as needing to be an only pet. His high anxiety coupled with high play drive would have led to him becoming toy obsessed in the few moments he could enjoy a toy outside of his kennel daily, and eventually this could have developed into resource guarding. Arriving not housebroken, Frankie would have no problem using the bathroom in his kennel run, and he would learn that he should be going to the bathroom where he sleeps, making crate and house training a much more daunting task for an adopter. An adopter coming to meet Frankie one year after his arrival at a typical shelter would likely see a very anxious dog barking and spinning in a dirty kennel run and would be told he had to be an only pet in an adult only home. He would not be the most appealing dog in the kennel, and likely would be overlooked for a more manageable dog.

In contrast, let me give you a look inside what Frankie’s life has been like since the day he arrived into foster care with us. We were told that Frankie was dog friendly so we wasted no time and immediately had him begin to co-habitate with Brooklyn, a dog friendly senior pit I foster in my home on the Ranch. We saw that although he was not aggressive with her, he did not seem to know how to play or interact with her and would mostly ignore her. Over the last year, Brooklyn has taught him more that I ever could have about how to live with another dog. She taught him how to run, how to explore outside, how to wrestle, and how to share toys. Thanks to her, when Frankie sees a new dog, he assumes they will be gentle, friendly, and patient with him and he is excited to meet them.

Brooklyn and Frankie Day 1

Brooklyn and Frankie Now

As a high energy dog, we began exploring ways for Frankie get out some of his energy on a daily basis. What we have discovered is that while Frankie has no interest in fetch, going for runs with the atv, or playing tug, he absolutely loves large toy balls. We let him chase our gigantic horse ball around the indoor ring, we throw basketballs for him to push around in the yards, and we throw buoyant balls into the ponds for him to swim to retrieve. In our work to exercise and enrich him he has become more calm and relaxed over the last year and needs far less exercise and stimulation on a daily basis to be happy. His anxiety when he first arrived has completely dissipated because he trusts that each day he will have time to play and get his energy out in a positive way.

Frankie and his favorite game!

When Frankie arrived he was one of the hardest dogs to housebreak that I’ve ever worked with. He found nothing wrong with pooping in his crate and then using his poop as a pillow (gross visual, I know, but at least you didn’t have to deal with the reality of that like I did!). In foster care, we have been able to get him on and keep him on a regular schedule so that while I can’t promise in a new home he won’t have a few accidents in the beginning as he adjusts to the new routine, I can say that here he is now 100% crate trained and doesn’t have accidents in the home anymore as long as he is supervised.

Frankie was so aloof when he first came here. Many people who saw his story on our social media platforms wanted to come and say hi to him but when they’d meet him, he’d simply stand there, uninterested. We connected Frankie with one of our volunteers, Erin, who comes almost every single weekend to pick him up, take him for a car ride, visit tractor supply for a bath, and then go on a hike. In his time exploring the world with her he’s become so excited to meet new people, and go on adventures. In the home with me and Adam he has learned that cuddling on the couch is the best thing to do on a rainy afternoon. Frankie has learned to make eye contact and wag his tail when meeting someone new. This seemingly minor greeting can often be the difference in whether an adopter feels connected to the animal they have come to meet and will make him much more adoptable.

Frankie and Erin's Adventures

474 days after Frankie came to Wayward Ranch we can tell an adopter that he is reliably crate trained, loves people (especially kids), lives with another dog and is gentle and sweet with her, and what his favorite games are. When they meet him he will be friendly. When meeting a new dog he will be excited and playful. While Frankie has not yet met a potential adopter (truly, not one in the entire time he has been with us), we know this is his year. He has come so far and is so ready for a home. Take a look at his new video below and you tell us, doesn’t this dog seem adoptable to you?

Frankie’s story is just one demonstration of how foster homes save lives. Many people are interested in fostering dogs now while they are working from home, but even after the COVID-19 crisis passes, I hope many will continue. A fostered dog is far more adoptable and at peace than a kenneled dog. If you’d like to join our foster team, you can find more information here:

Thanks for reading, and please share Frankie so we can finally find him the home that he deserves!

Written by

Eleni Calomiris

Executive Director

Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.

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