Getting Dogs Back on the Adoption List with Baby Steps
Refusing to Throw a Life Away – Hope for Shelter Dogs

A few weeks ago, we told you about Ashley Gibson and the great work she does with McKamey Animal Center in our blog post titled "Hope and Bandanas for Shelter Dogs at McKamey." Today, we've got an update for you. But, first, to set the stage, here's a little from that previous post . . .

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Seabiscuit

Remember that scene early on in Seabiscuit when Charles Howard first meets Tom Smith, Sea Biscuit's eccentric trainer? Smith was tending a lame, supposedly broken down horse out in the brush. When Howard asked him about that horse, Smith said, laconically, "You don't throw a whole life away just 'cause he's banged up a little."

And the same goes for dogs: you don't throw them away till you've worked with them and given them a chance. It doesn't matter whether they are banged up physically or psychologically/emotionally. You try, and you give them a chance.

A few weeks ago, we told you about Ashley Gibson and the great work she does with McKamey Animal Center in our blog post titled "Hope and Bandanas for Shelter Dogs at McKamey." Today, we've got an update for you. But, first, to set the stage, here's a little from that previous post . . .

Ashley Gibson – A Fiercely Passionate McKamey Volunteer

You wouldn't think that a single mother with a demanding full-time career, a daughter who just graduated from high school, a son in college, and several pets of her own would have time to volunteer – frequently – at an animal shelter, would you? But Ashley Gibson does . . . because she's passionate about and dedicated to helping these animals live better lives and get adopted sooner.

How It Started

Ashley began her journey at McKamey Animal Center in July of last year as a participant in the Trailblazer program. In this capacity, her job was to choose a dog and then take it out into the community for a few hours. The idea is to give the dog some

exposure to other stimuli and simply to give him a day out of the confines of the shelter.

Her first dog to take out was Bailey. On their outing, Ashley took a bunch of photos and then put them together in a slide show depicting their outing. As a result, Bailey was adopted soon after. The next lucky dog was Gollum. Again, Ashley took photos and made a slide show . . . and Gollum was adopted just a week later. The slide shows appealed to and made the dogs more appealing to prospective adopters

And these events naturally led to the next inevitable step . . .

Because she wanted to get involved more deeply and with other dogs, Ashley signed up to volunteer inside the shelter. She soon discovered that her calling was working with dogs who had been in the shelter for some time. These "long-term residents" were the ones she wanted to help.

The First "Shelter Crush"

We all remember our very first crush, and it's no different when that crush happens to walk on four legs instead of two. Ashley's first "shelter crush" was named Killian. He had been in the shelter for 200+ days when Ashley first met him. He couldn't be with other dogs or cats and, owing to his size, needed to be in a family with older children. And this made him hard to place. Even after an intensive, all-night adoption event, Killian remained in the shelter.

Until . . .

The Sunday after that event Killian found his perfect home. He was adopted by a man with two older children and with no other pets. And that was the trigger.

The Passion and the Calling

The situation with Killion convinced Ashley that her passion was working with the long-term shelter residents – the dogs who get passed over because of behavior issues or restrictions like those Killian had. So Ashley set to work making videos for these dogs too. It worked. It took a little longer, but the first couple she took out wound up leaving the shelter to take up residence in their perfect homes.

And it just took off from there . . .

The BFF

Ashley and her fellow volunteers select a dog to become their BFF (best furry friend). The aim is to get to know the dog and his personality for the purpose of more effective training and better odds of adoption. During the course of this, Ashley found her new "shelter baby" – Tritan.

Even after a two-week board-and-train session with a local dog trainer, Tritan remained in the shelter while receiving absolutely no reinforcement for his training. So Ashley convinced the trainer to conduct a refresher course for her and Tritan and then committed to working with Tritan daily. And it worked . . . eventually.

Working from home, Ashley knew she had the flexibility to work with Tritan regularly. She started out working with him for 30 minutes on her lunch break every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In addition, she invested more time with Tritan on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, but especially during the extended shelter hours for Tuesday's "Yappy Hour." It worked, too.

Keeping Tritan's training and obedience refreshed helped him overcome the adoption challenges and obstacles he was facing. He was a large 65-pound pit mix who had to be placed in a home with older children and no other dogs and couldn't be kept in a kennel. But after Ashley's extra efforts, a family who came in and saw him wanted him. The family first chose to foster Tritan, but later decided to adopt him.

It was a perfect match all around. The father works from home so Tritan doesn't have to be kenneled. He has a large back yard to run around in free all day. Tritan also has a little to girl to feed him every day while he patiently sits and waits for her to put his food bowl down. A win for everyone.

Bandanas and Hope

But Ashley Gibson does even more for these dogs. She has found a way to help the long-term residents get extra attention when potential adopters come to the shelter. The trick is personalized bandanas. After all, what's cuter than a dog wearing a custom-made bandana?

Pretty impressive, huh? But now Ashley's affiliation with McKamey has taken a new tack.

Stymie, the New Foster Dog

Over the last few weeks, Ashley's work with shelter dogs has been primarily as a foster parent to Stymie, a pit mix just a little more than a year old who had a few issues. Because . . . well, because she doesn't like to give up on a dog and throw a whole life away. Ashley took Stymie home after Tritan got adopted because he exhibited "aggressive behavior." In particular, he didn't like being stared at. So he was taken off the adoption list.

Stymie posed what is called "stranger danger." He just didn't like men he didn't know. He had been a stray and was picked up as a puppy. In order to get him to the shelter, he had to be trapped and looped. He just hadn't had much of a break in life: he had never had any love or care. Ashley set out to remedy that.

So she began reaching out to trainers and finally connected with one who was willing to work with Stymie.

Damon and Good Citizen K9

Damon at Good Citizen K9, who holds a bachelor's degree in animal psychology and had worked with Tritan, had an opening and was willing to take Stymie for an evaluation. As the lead trainer at Good Citizen K9, Damon has trained thousands of dogs, a good number of them search-and-rescue dogs and police canines. They mostly board and train, so Damon took Stymie in for a time.

Damon was able to make some progress with Stymie. But he is a high energy dog and needs personalized care, so Damon advised against putting him back in the shelter. That would, he said, cause him to regress and so undo what he had accomplished so far.

So back home with Ashley Stymie went.

Consistency and Baby Steps

At first she was nervous about taking him out when and where they might encounter people. So she took him out at times and to places where they weren't likely to come across anyone. She also made sure to keep him on a short lease and to have plenty of treats along to reward good behavior.

Chickamauga Lake and Big Soddy Gulf

Then one day Ashley took Stymie to Chickamauga Lake. It turns out he loves water and swimming. Still, she wondered whether she could

take him out with people. The next big outing to Big Soddy Gulf answered that.

Big Soddy Gulf has a five-mile hiking trail, so plenty of opportunity for Stymie to get some exercise. Still, as a precaution Ashley took along a bunch of cut-up turkey hot dogs and again kept him on a short leash. They saw several people along the trail, but had no issues. Ashley just made Stymie sit still till the people passed.

That's progress . . . slow but sure. As Ashley says, they are taking baby steps, but those small steps will get you to your destination eventually. And, as any horse trainer or dog trainer will tell you, the slow, patient way is the best way.

The Routine

As per Damon's instructions, Ashley and Stymie keep a fairly rigid, structured schedule so that he knows what to expect and has no upsetting surprises. A typical day runs much like this . . .

  • 6:30 am – 10 minutes of morning training
  • 10:00 – Five minutes of training
  • Noon – Five more minutes of training
  • 3:00 pm – Potty break
  • 5:30 pm – Another potty break
  • 6:30 pm – Feeding time
  • 7:45 pm - One-on-one time for an hour to an hour and a half, walking and reinforcing commands
  • 9:15 pm – Out of the crate for a brief one-on-one session, just sitting and talking

Apparently it's working. Now, Stymie will allow Ashley to lie down with him. And just a few nights ago, Ashley had her parents walk with them. Stymie was, she said, a little apprehensive at first, but he didn't bark or lunge, so it went well overall.

Stymie doesn't mind getting into his crate, and he likes to go with Ashley on trips to the drive-through windows. He still needs some work to be allowed around kids, but he's coming along. Once Stymie is adopted, Ashley will be available to help. And the people who adopt him will have to go through extensive counseling.

See? That's what can happen when you're not too quick to throw a life away.

Some Adoption Successes for Long-Term Residents

Now, some other successes . . .

Thanks to Ashley and the other committed volunteers – as well as Ashley's custom-made dog bandanas that help make the dogs more noticeable – McKamey has had some recent success in adopting out some of their long-term residents. Two of these are Spunky, who had been the shelter for 275+ days, and Blossom, who had been there 308 days.

Spunky, a pit mix with a light-brown patchwork color, had been adopted, but then returned because he chased cats. He was a sweet dog, but just needed some manners. So one of the shelter volunteers took him under her wing as her BFF (Best Furry Friend). Now he gets along with everyone and has found his forever home.

Unfortunately, Blossom was returned shortly after being adopted. The man who took her said he just had too many work commitments to have a dog. Still, she got a week out of the shelter and is happy. You can read more about Blossom on Ashley's Facebook page, Diamonds in the Ruff.

Also, on Father's Day, they took 10 dogs out to a local park for a Trailblazing event. This gave people a chance to take a dog walking or a fee. Within a few minutes all the dogs were out walking. A brindle senior dog got adopted from that event. The adoption success kept rolling after that because they now have only a few dogs left to be adopted.

And More Dog Bandanas

As we told you in"Hope and Bandanas for Shelter Dogs at McKamey," Ashley makes special bandanas for the dogs to help them get noticed and get adopted. In fact, she made a batch of over 30 the last time. The dogs wear the bandanas so that they can be all dressed up when people come to McKamey to see them. Now, though, to keep the bandanas clean, Ashley says they are going to tie them to the kennels to identify the dogs. They will, however, still wear them for special events.

We also asked Ashley why she gets all her bandanas from Wholesale For Everyone. It is, she said, pretty simple really. She can buy in bulk and get great prices and great customer service. "If you have any needs or want to do special things, they have the best prices for bulk orders."

What keeps her coming back is the great customer service, the fact that they are very giving and very caring people. Ashley said, "I feel like they are a proponent of paying it forward and supporting good causes. Wholesale For Everyone is not just a business, and their bottom line is not just a dollar. They pay it forward and support good causes."

Follow Stymie's Story

Ashley has also set up a Facebook page to chronicle Stymie's progress. It's called Diamonds in the Ruff, and you'll love the photos. So if you want to follow Stymie's story, check it out.

McKamey Animal Center is celebrating 10 years of service and over 6,000 adoptions. If you'd like to contribute to the good work they do, they welcome donations.

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Read about some special cupcakes for dogs in "Pupcakes . . . Where Dog Treats and Cupcakes Meet at the Queen's Cups."


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