My Darlin’ Clementine
I have been working in rescue, specifically with dogs with behavioral special needs, for over a decade now and still every single dog that comes across my path touches my heart in a special and unique way, and Clementine is no different.
When I first laid eyes on her it was just in a photo in an email, one of many emails I receive every single day from the NYC Animal Care Centers. Her name then was Skye and she was known as #105929. We get daily emails from them featuring long stay dogs, new arrival dogs, and in Clementine’s case, dogs that are at risk with a euthanasia deadline. Normally we can get 10-30 emails daily from the NYC ACC asking for our help taking in animals. Of course, to most of these pleas we have to say no, as we simply do not have the room, the man power, or the finances to save every single animal we are asked to. When Bertha, a mastiff mix in our rescue, was adopted it freed up a space for us to take another from the city. I was finally in the right place at the right time where I could say yes on the day when this photo was emailed to me.
Something about her face stood out to me. I watched her video and she seemed gentle and kind. I then read through her behavior notes to find out why this little pibble was at risk of euthanasia. I learned that she was suffering from kennel anxiety that was now making her a risk to handlers. She was reported to spin repeatedly in her kennel until she would pass out panting, having exhausted herself with stress. When brought in and out from her kennel she would cage fight all of the other dogs on her way and at one point mid-cage fight with a dog she turned and bit her handler in redirection. She failed her dog test (for obvious reasons) and had been consistently deteriorating since her arrival in October, making her a longer stay resident there.
She sounded like a difficult dog and I paused to weigh our options and what we could handle at this time. Did I have time for an extended rehabilitation case? Not really, and that wasn’t really the spot we had open. In fact, we have a waiting list for rehabilitation cases right now full of dogs who are waiting for one of our tough case dogs to be adopted to make room for them. I hesitated for a moment and decided to read the notes from her previous owner before deciding. I was shocked to find her surrender notes spoke of what seemed to be a completely different dog. One who had been surrendered after growling at the 3 year old child, but otherwise had been a wonderful pet and had been gentle and sweet with the other young children in the home. She had been friendly and social with strangers, housebroken, and gentle when playing with other dogs.
I’ve seen firsthand that long term housing in a stressful kennel environment can change dogs, but I have also seen that giving those dogs times to decompress in an experienced foster home for several months can be all they need to remember who they once were. I decided to stop thinking about the reasons why not, and to take the leap and figure the rest out later. I couldn’t risk a dog with so much potential being euthanized because of kennel anxiety when I had an open room in my home.
Days later Clementine arrived and I fell in love instantly with this tiny, stressed, red brindle, city dog who now found herself face to face with horses, goats, and country life. She was clearly very shell shocked when she arrived and as I brought her into the house and the crate in her room for the first time she sat down and shut down. She did not want to make eye contact or connect with me at all. She would take treats sometimes but other times avoid them too. We decided to keep things minimal for the first few days, I would just come in to her room and sit and talk to her. We talked about everything and nothing just to get her used to my voice. I was able to take her out three times a day for potty breaks but if I tried to touch her she would flinch or shy away from me. We decided to take it slow, stay consistent and give her the time she needed.
While she was at the city shelter she was on a large amount of sedation for her anxiety, so much so that we could tell when all of the sedation started to leave her system a few days later. She went from being shut down to being panicked. By day three she was desperately trying to find an escape whether it was out of her crate or out of her room. She would run around whining, not wanting to stop and interact with me at all. Still, we decided to stick with the plan. We needed her to come off of the sedation so we could get to know who she truly was and create the best plan possible fo her.
After the first week, she finally began to relax. We taught her nosework games, making her hunt down treats in her room and outside using the command “find it.” This allowed her to learn and engage with us without the pressure of eye contact or physical touch. A few more days passed and then we had a breakthrough. I brought her outside to go to the bathroom and it was snowing. She sniffed, peed, and then stared out just like normal, but then for the first time I saw her take off running, not panicked trying to get free, but to play. My heart swelled and my eyes filled with tears. I heard the voice in my head that tells me to stop worrying all of the time and let things take the time they need, say “I told you so.” Under all of the stress and anxiety I finally had a glimpse at who she really was. I didn’t dare move or breathe; it was clear she was not ready for me to join her in play. She only seemed able to frolic having forgotten I was there watching her.
In the days after her first play time in the snow it became her routine. She loved to be outside! That was her safe space to be comfortable and she took advantage of it. Eventually I picked up a tennis ball and decided to try to throw it and see what would happen. Not only did she want to play with it, but she gave me eye contact and jumped on me, finally including me in the game! Since then every time I have her outside we play fetch and we have a blast! She brings it right back, drops it and takes off for the next throw. You can tell her previous family taught her how to play and took the time to play with her; a fact that both warms and breaks my heart at the same time.
One month has passed since Clementine has come to us and when I say she has made a complete change, I truly mean it. Even though to other people it may seem a subtle change, to her and to me it is enormous. A dog that once refused to sniff my hand or look in my direction even for treats, now, as I write this, is loyally laying on my feet under my desk. I can now say Clementine loves belly rubs, to be picked up and held like a baby, and to give me kisses. She is a dog again. She remembered who she was before the kennel stress broke her. She has so much potential and I believe she will someday soon be in her forever home, loved by the family that will stand by her for life. Don’t get me wrong, she is not “fixed.” She is a difficult dog, and has lasting personality changes from what she has been through, just as a human would have PTSD from passed trauma. She will never trust new people immediately; she will make you earn it. What I can say is once you do earn it, it is so worth the wait!
Stay tuned for more on Clementine and if you want to help sponsor her care, visit Patreon.com/waywardranch
Clementine now loves life in her foster home!
If you want to donate to help us continue to help dogs like Clementine, you can do so through our website waywardranch.org/donate or through PayPal to the email address Wras.firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director and Founding Board Member
Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.