March 22, 2016. Exactly one year ago today. That is when I met her.
We had just lost Bruce, our greyhound, from skin cancer, and we needed a break. We had taken a road trip to California with our four dogs, Luna, Emma, Frankie and Hiro, to spread Bruce’s ashes and to just get away for a little while and allow ourselves to process Bruce’s death. On the way back from California I was reading my emails, and there was an email from Dallas Pets Alive that showed pictures and descriptions of all the dogs that were currently at the shelter looking for a foster home. I flipped through the pictures and showed Art a couple of really cute dogs. He kept saying, “But we’re not going to foster a new one.” Then I saw one that really stood out to me, and the description said that the dog might need some training. So I told Art that it might be good for me to foster a more difficult dog to learn more about the training aspect. He agreed, and I asked DPA to tag the dog that I had just looked at online. As it turned out, the dog was already adopted, which was great, but now I was already committed to fostering a dog. I asked the rescue team if there was another dog that was considered urgent and needed to get out of the shelter as soon as possible. Of course there were more dogs. So they sent me a couple of intake numbers and I looked them up. There she was. A925112. Nala.
She looked so sweet and so scared. I told DPA that I would like to go look at her the next day and assess her to see if there was potential to foster and train her in order to make her adoptable.
The next day was March 22. It was a bit of a hassle to actually get to Nala because she was locked up in the protective custody section labeled “unsociable,” and the shelter staff can’t just let anyone go back there because there are some dogs with severe behavioral issues. Later, one of the staff members was able to take us back there. There she was in the very back of her kennel, scared like a tiny mouse that was trying to hide from a cat. I think that was the moment I fell in love with her. We opened the kennel door and waited. She took a couple of steps toward us and then ran right back to her corner. That’s when we decided that we could definitely foster her. She was horrified, yes, but she was curious. At least she was curious enough to take those couple of steps before her fear took over. We notified both the shelter staff and DPA that we wanted to take her home that day to foster her. They arranged everything while we waited in the lobby. About 20 minutes later, they brought her out. She wasn’t walking on her own; they brought her out in a wagon because she was too scared to walk. She had also pooped in the wagon out of fear. It was sad to see this, but we were more excited to get her out and start her new life. We carried her to the car and took her home.
I wanted to help Nala become confident in walking and moving forward in general, so Art explained to me how to use the right amount of leash pressure to get her to get her to advance in the direction I wanted her to go, and it worked. As soon as she put one paw forward, I let the pressure go so that she would understand what pressure meant and that nothing bad happened if she took that one step.
Then we learned that Nala came from a hoarding situation where she had lived with 60 dogs and eight horses on a woman’s property in South Oak Cliff, so we knew that she had been around other dogs before. And she has been great with every dog she’s met from day one. She was scared of people because she had never experienced human interaction. The City of Dallas seized the dogs and horses in January 2016 and brought them to different shelters. While researching the situation, we found some news articles and reports that showed pictures and footage of Nala; it was so interesting. Again, yes, it was a terrible situation that she came from; however, we could not feel bad for her at that point. We were determined to help Nala out. If we had let our emotions take over, we would have nurtured her fear. Dogs don’t live in the past. They are ready to move on no matter what happened to them previously. It’s us, the humans, who live in the past and who can’t let go of it. Nala was scared because she didn’t know any better, but she wasn’t thinking about the hoarding situation she had been in. So it was up to us to show her that she didn’t have to be scared anymore and that she could trust us.
It was helpful to have our other dogs, who trust us completely, around, so she could watch them and realize that humans might not be so scary after all. She was comfortable around our dogs and then became OK with us being there, but whenever I moved closer to her, let alone tried to touch her, she would back away. That’s when I started our bonding experience. I put a slip leash on her and attached the leash to myself. I wasn’t really interacting with her, but she also had no other option than to follow me because of the leash. So whenever I was moving around the house, she would move with me. I didn’t look at her; I didn’t try to touch her. I just wanted her to follow me, and she did. She understood that concept quickly. This allowed us to go on walks together. That was step one. By doing this, she also didn’t have the option to hide in her crate, in a corner or under furniture. If I had let her stay in her crate and waited for her to come out on her own, she may not have done it at all. She would have been stuck in the crate. Her mind would have been stuck in the crate. This is why I used the leash to guide her out of those situations and get her mind unstuck, which helped her realize she didn’t have to hide, both physically and mentally.
Then, I implemented the “touch” exercise with her. I would only hand-feed her one piece of kibble at a time, and I would only give it to her after she touched my other hand first. She picked it up in no time, and it became a game– you nudge me, I feed you. So, she touched me instead of me touching her. It was on her terms, and I wasn’t forcing the issue. She still does it to this day. She walks up to me and nudges my hand or my leg, and now I pet her as a reward for doing it. No more food needed.
We took one day at a time. I kept everything very calm and positive. No fast movements; no loud noises. I hardly ever talked to her. Our words have emotions attached to them, and I didn’t want her to get confused. I simply wanted to show her that she was safe around me, that she could trust me and that she could move forward and be a happy dog. It took a couple of weeks, but every day was better than the previous day. I learned so much during that process, not only about her and about dog training but also about myself. She taught me patience, positive thinking and how to truly live in the moment. Watching her be able to not focus on her past showed me that I can do the same thing. The only thing that matters is the present moment. The past is in the past, and I can’t control the future. It was as if she wanted to say, “Be here now; that’s all that matters.”
She slowly came around and started to really trust me. She started following me around everywhere without a leash, and we became really close. When I received her first adoption application, I started crying, and I knew that I could not let her go. It was meant to be. I foster failed. Big time. And I don’t regret it one bit.
We’ve gone through some tough times medical-wise with little Nala girl. She’s had three hernia surgeries since I met her. The last one turned out to be an emergency surgery, and we almost lost her. It was heartbreaking. However, Nala, the fighter that she is, surprised us all, including the vets, and made it out alive. Not only that but a couple of days after her massive surgery she was walking around as if nothing had ever happened. I can’t believe how strong she is. She is one tough cookie!
I am happy to report that Nala is doing wonderfully now. She is as happy as can be and lets people pet her, sometimes even strangers that she’s never met before. She is healthy and is loving life. Nala is the kind of dog that is the best teacher to us all. We gave her a chance because we believed in her. She understood that she could trust us. She didn’t want to be the shy and scared dog that was cowering in the back of her kennel. She just needed a little help and guidance, a bit of patience, trust and positivity and someone to bring out her full potential. She still reminds me every single day to leave the past behind and to enjoy every second of every day.