Our Favorite Kind of Failure
The day we were approved to become New Hope Partners with the Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) I went online to look at the “at-risk” list. For many years I had dreamed of being able to pull dogs off of the euthanasia list at a city shelter. While many other local rescues choose to pull from the South where dogs appear “more adoptable,” I am passionate about helping the dogs right here in our state who need us, as well as the dedicated and overwhelmed staff members at local municipal shelters who really need the help as well. The photo below is the first introduction I had to Gimley, then known as Barry, while I was skimming through the list.
I was drawn to him because of the scar on his nose, a sign that at one point his mouth had been taped or tied shut so tightly it had cut and scarred him for life. I clicked on his photo and as soon as I saw the reason he was on “the list” I knew we could help him. Many dogs on the list have bite histories, severe behavioral concerns, or medical conditions, but all his report said was “fearful.” I read more and learned that he had been brought in with an imbedded chain in his neck absolutely terrified. I clicked on his video, and fell even more in love with this sweet soul.
Of course he was terrified, we don’t know his exact history, but from his scars we do know enough. Someone decided to keep him outside with a large chain around his neck, weighing him down. When he was sad and lonely and barked for attention, that same someone tied his mouth shut until the tie cut and scarred him. By the time the chain grew too small for his growing neck, he likely had given up hope that his someone would come, care he was in pain, and loosen it. So it grew tighter and tighter around his neck until it cut him, digging further and further into his neck, until one day that someone cut him free, probably expecting him to die from infection or being hit by a car in Brooklyn. We don’t know if Gimley ever was touched kindly before being saved, or if he ever met a single other person aside from this “someone” who was so unkind to him. Of course he was scared, but the video above shows a dog who is not beyond help. He wanted to learn, he wanted to trust, and before I even had a plan for where he would go or what he would need, I found myself clicking "reserve" to save his life and take him off of the list.
When I arrived at Brooklyn ACC, I was so excited to finally be bringing animals to my own rescue as a New Hope Partner, and I loaded up my car with a feral cat off of "the list" (who now is named Tigue and lives as the barn cat at the farm), two guinea pigs, and a tiny hamster. It was time to finally meet Barry/Gimley, who I had already fallen so in love with watching his video on replay for the few days it took for me to get to Brooklyn to pick him up. He was brought out by one of the few staff members he had grown to trust to in his time there and was passed off to me. He was terrified so we took it very slow, and after a few minutes in the waiting room letting him sniff me, we had built up enough trust for him to walk next to me through the front doors and outside to my car. I felt so proud walking out those doors, knowing we had saved his life, but that pride went away quickly when I almost lost Gimley immediately. The second I opened the door to my car he booked it as fast as he could to the end of the leash, convinced that the giant metal box was opening only to kill him. I slipped his leash over his neck and tightened it into a makeshift collar in a fluid motion that caught him off guard. He tried to escape even more urgently, but at least now I knew I had him, and I could give him the time he needed to panic safely. Finally he calmed down, and instead of trying to run he flattened to the ground like a pancake. I extended a hand, with my other prepared to pull him away with the leash in case he would snap at me out of fear. That would have been fair considering at this point he had lost the tiny bit of trust we had build in the waiting room, but instead he just made eye contact with me, and chose to give me another chance. He let me pet him and then lift him into the car, where he sat, trembling in the front seat.
Our ride home was one of my most memorable with a newly rescued animal. As we left the city and drove under bridges, he would panic as though each bridge we passed under would swallow us whole. Every car that passed us, horn that honked, or turn we took was terrifying to him. Eventually the noise and images of the city turned into empty and peaceful country highways as we made our way to the farm, and finally he fell asleep. We made it to the farm where he would be fostered through his initial two week quarantine at my house until we could figure out his next steps.
Over the next few weeks, Gimley lived with me and Adam and slowly learned how to trust. He only took a few days to bond completely to me, but he struggled to bond to Adam or any other men he met. He had a few minor medical concerns, but overall appeared healthy, and we introduced him to one of the other dogs I foster, Brooklyn. Immediately we saw a new side of Gimley! He wasn't shaking or scared while exploring the barn or property, instead he was a bouncing and happy puppy. He play bowed, chased, and jumped over her, and was an all-around goofball. This was such a breakthrough for him, and we knew he would need a foster home with other dogs to really thrive and prepare for adoption. At one of his vet visits he met his true hero, our vet Dr. Megan. I had been sending her photos of him ahead of time, and when she met him she fell for his sad puppy dog eyes and offered to take him home to foster. When we met for her to take him home, the fear he had of getting in the car suddenly disappeared as he jumped into her truck, ready for the next adventure, and soon arrived at his new foster home to meet all of his new foster siblings.
A fearful dog may never fully recover, and having an experienced foster home to guide them through learning how to socialize is critical. Luckily for Gim, his foster family had endless patience for him and his antics. As his fear melted away little by little, a VERY high anxiety and high energy dog appeared in its place. Gimley needed hours of physical and mental stimulation to curb his energy, and eventually was started on medication to help make his anxiety more manageable. As he learned what being "indoors" meant, he would test his boundaries jumping over baby gates, hanging out on the kitchen island, and marking around the house. Through it all, his foster mom and dad never gave up on him through the difficult adjustment period (as most other families would have), and gently showed him what the right choice was when he would make a bad one. He fell in love with his foster sister/soul mate Riley (yellow lab) and she helped teach him how to "dog." We stayed in touch as he settled into the home environment and routine, and slowly Gimley came more and more out of his shell. It took a long time, but he finally learned how to trust a man, his foster dad, for the very first time. He learned how to swim, he learned to be housebroken and crate trained, and he learned commands and basic obedience training. Finally, his foster family let me know he was ready to find a forever home.
Gimley will never be a perfect dog. He missed critical socialization development windows as an adolescent, so meeting new people, experiencing new things, and going new places will always be harder for him than other dogs, and he will always bear the scars of his past. Still, today Gimley is a different dog than the one I met at the Brooklyn ACC. After so many months in his foster home, he was ready for adoption, but the family needed to be very particular. He needed a family that lived in a rural environment with a regular and consistent schedule. They needed at least one other dog to show him the ropes, and would also need to have patience and experience to gain his trust. They would have to invest hours into his mental stimulation and furthering his behavioral rehabilitation, and would have to understand he would never be a "normal" or easy dog. This is not a simple family to find, especially when there are so many dogs with fewer restrictions looking for homes. Still, I had faith that in time, the right home would come along for him.
His foster family has put in so much time and energy into helping Gimley to thrive and be the best he can be, and today, about nine months after he went home with them, they failed as his foster parents, and decided to adopt him! Foster failing is my favorite kind of failure (I've done it myself three times!), because what better adopter could we find than a home where our animal is already comfortable, loved, and feels "at home?" Especially for a dog who would have a difficult transition into a new home, this is the best possible scenario for Gimley! Gim gets to live out the rest of his life with his mom, dad, and siblings that he already loves, who all worked hard for months to save his life and turn him around.
Happy life Gim! We hope you go easy on your mom and dad, you've already put them through enough with your antics. You're lucky you're so cute! Thank you to his foster family for not quitting on him when things got hard and he grew increasingly more frustrating. You are who truly saved his life, I just pushed a button on a computer to get him off of "the list."
Executive Director and Founding Board Member
Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary