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Bandit proves shelter dogs can be rehabilitated

by Jen Day-Thompson

I will never forget the day I adopted my dog Bandit two years ago. I had just moved in with a good friend of mine, and having grown up with dogs, our house didn’t feel like a home to me without one. So one day my roommate and I went to the Humane Society adoption center.

After spending time playing with some of the dogs, I had almost settled on a beautiful rust-colored, green-eyed Chihuahua mix. She had lots of energy and was the perfect size. I decided to take one more stroll down the row of cages and realized I had not yet seen the very last cage at the end. As I knelt down to peer into the crate, I saw Bandit. A mix of pug, dachshund and who knows how many other breeds, he couldn’t have weighed more than about 15 pounds. As he sat in my lap and looked nervously into my eyes, I knew he was the pet adoptee for me.

Bandit enjoys a nap in the sun, too lazy to swim on a warm summer day.

Despite warnings from the Humane Society adoption center staffer that he would never do well with an owner who worked full time, Bandit blossomed into a happy, energetic dog. I ignored my male friends who called me “an abusive parent” for dressing him in sweaters and T-shirts because I have never seen a dog prouder to be cared for than Bandit. He pranced when he walked and held his head high.

But Bandit suffered from serious anxiety issues, probably the result of being abandoned before he was even a year old. He would bark and growl if someone he didn’t know came into the house, and he would shake all the time. He was primarily fearful of men, and he wouldn’t go near a black pair of men’s dress shoes. Some people said he would always have these problems, and I worried that I would never be able to have gatherings at home without sedating him.

I decided I was never going to give up on the idea of Bandit one day being sociable. I began putting all my energy towards showing him that the world could be a good place. I continued to have company over and host small gatherings, each time giving him only enough of his prescribed sedative to relax him. I never gave him enough to make him go to sleep, and the small amount I did give him allowed him to be around guests without getting so stressed out.

I worked with Bandit constantly, holding him and letting people pet him, asking people to sit on the floor and wait for him to come to them. After moving in with my husband and his Akita Leonidas a little over a year ago, we enrolled Bandit and Leo in puppy training class, even though Bandit was two years old. Every Saturday, I smiled as I watched Bandit improve one week at a time, allowing shoppers to get a little closer to him and wagging his tail as he sniffed through all the toys in the aisles.

Recently my husband and I had our families over to watch a football game and his father asked me how much medicine I had given Bandit that night. When I said “none” his father looked at me, smiling a little because he thought I was kidding. I proudly told him again that I had not given Bandit his sedative in almost a year. At that moment, as I watched Bandit rub his head against people’s hands, I knew what a proud parent must feel like when they witness their child reach a developmental milestone.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened to Bandit if he had been adopted by someone with a little less patience. I often think back to the day I brought Bandit home, and I’m amazed at the lessons he has taught me. Not only can people now enjoy Bandit, but he can also enjoy other people. Basically he's been rehabilitated. While he may never fully grow out of his distrust for strangers, I will always have to believe in him because I have seen what love, patience and stability can do for even the most traumatized creatures. All I can say is that he was well worth the wait.

Bandit proves shelter dogs can be rehabilitated
by Jen Day-Thompson
The US Report (Oct. 22, 2009)

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