As I walked through the crowded holding room, most of the small dogs were happy to see me as I gave them treats—all except for one. Toby was lying in a little round ball and quietly showed me his pretty teeth almost immediately. Someone said he likes to show off those teeth to everyone. I have a soft spot for Mighty Dogs (what we call small dogs with big attitudes), so I quickly committed to helping this little guy find himself and overcome the life he left behind. As I opened the kennel door and spoke to him in a soft voice, he sat up and looked at me. I very carefully picked him up and off we went to a semi-quiet office.
Toby made himself comfortable in the nice big bed, but he did not want anyone to touch him, including me. It took several days for me to earn a little bit of trust, and I wondered what could have happened to this poor dog, who was only a year old. He had hair loss around his neck from a collar that had been too tight, and he was scared to death of the leash. As employees and volunteers came by my office, they would pitch treats into the room to let him know good things came from the people around him. Eventually, I began to pick him up and talk with him. Picking him up was the only way he could outside to potty since he clearly did not want to potty on a pad. Over the few weeks and months, we introduced him to new people and a collar. While Toby snapped at me some when I attempted to put a leash on him, I was quick and ready, and with some positive reinforcement training, he eventually stopped snapping when he understood good things were happening when he wore his leash.
Toby made a lot of slow progress, and he began to excel when we started to taking longer walks away from the shelter. He absolutely loved to walk at a nearby park and ride in the car. He began to go to the office gate and let the volunteers and staff members rub the side of his neck after they gave him a treat. It’s almost if he was rewarding them by letting them rub his neck. He was visited by several helper dogs for extended periods of time, and he absolutely loved his friends. My office became a home for him, he became “Toby Bean,” and a staff member even wrote a song about him during this time.
Although Toby Bean began to improve, he still had trust issues and was selective about who he wanted to touch him. His home office became a source of sadness on the weekends when I was not in the office. While he was cared for by staff members, he began to get depressed, as living in an office was no longer enough. He needed to be in a real home. We decided Toby Bean had made enough progress to be made available “as-is” from my office. He was put on our adoptable dogs web page with full disclosure of his behavior challenges, and only one family came to visit. While it was a great family, Toby didn’t pick them.
We didn’t want to give up on this special dog, and we knew we had to do something more for him. One of our employees agreed to take him home as a foster to see what his behavior was like in a home. She and her husband discovered several things about Toby Bean. The most enlightening discovery was that Toby Bean screamed in terror and ran to hide when the husband took off his belt. It was a light bulb moment: Toby Bean had probably been hit with a belt, and we thought this might be why he was terrified of the leash. It was a heart-wrenching discovery, but it strengthened our commitment to finding a home for him. Toby needed a family that would understand his need for gentle understanding and patience.
Two days later, someone called and spoke with one of Toby Bean’s biggest fans. She said she and her husband were interested in meeting him. The adoption counselor was very transparent about Toby Bean’s behavior, and to our surprise, the couple still wanted to set up a meeting time for the next day. The foster mom brought him in, and Toby warmed up almost immediately to the couple—who were Chihuahua savvy—and to their resident Chihuahua, Rocky. They had rescued Rocky six years prior, after he had spent days living outside their home, not allowing anyone near him. It took some patience, creativity and a good steak to capture him in a humane trap. They brought the terrified little dog into their home. They couldn’t touch Rocky for four days. Instead, they gave him the space and time to make his own decision. Slowly, Rocky began to trust them, and they accepted Rocky for who he was.
My eyes began to fill with tears as I sat there listening and talking with these wonderful adopters. I took a good look around me at the other staff members and volunteers and was reminded of how wonderful they all are, how their commitment and dedication to each and every animal in our care makes a remarkable difference in the world. We all knew this was it. Toby Bean was finally going home.
Saying good-bye after Toby had been at the shelter for more than six months was difficult. Many staff and volunteers shed happy tears for the tough little Chihuahua who had won our hearts. But as much as we knew we would miss him, we were thrilled he finally had a family who would love him for who he is, and who will cheer him on as he continues to make progress—just like Toby’s shelter family did.
These days, Toby travels the United States with his new parents, who are retirees, and his new brother, Rocky. While everyone at the shelter misses Toby, we are able to keep track of his progress, thanks to his new family, who blog about Toby and Rocky on their website, Chihuahua Road Warrior, http://chihuahuaroadwarrior.wordpress.com.
Happy travels, Toby Bean. And don’t forget to write.