Very grand things sometimes come from the smallest movements.
Nemmy was a dog who lived on the streets for years—eluding capture by neighbors and rescue groups. Feeders watched her freeze in the winter, dodge cars, scrounge for food, but could never get close. She was a little dog and they only ever saw her from a distance: a sleek, black tiny creature with the thin waist of a greyhound. Then one day the neighbors realized why. For years, the dog they knew since she was a puppy, the dog we came to know as Nemmy, had had a nylon belt tied tightly around her waist.
Now was the time to act. A dog trap was set up and Nemmy was finally caught. This feral, desperately sick dog was a long shot, but now she had a chance.
She got the medical care she needed. The vet was optimistic. The nylon leash tightly tied under her belly was surgically removed. She was a little anemic–with heartworms and tapeworms–but with proper medication and wound treatment, she had a good prognosis for recovery.
With medical treatment in progress, it became clear that Nemmy’s struggle wasn’t over: she was truly desperately feral. She trembled in the presence of any person. She shrunk in terror when we so much as met her eyes.
It was time for our behaviorist, Melissa, to provide a plan.
For 5 long months, Nemmy stayed at the shelter, where we followed the protocol prescribed by Melissa. They were very simple tasks: Nemmy stayed in a quiet room which became her space. Each of us was a part of slowly introducing her to humans. We were to quietly enter Nemmy’s room and, without looking at her, gently toss her a meatball.
For weeks Nemmy growled and shrunk away. She crouched against the far wall, fearful, distrustful. Sometimes she nibbled on the meatball. But mostly she did not. For some of us, without the patience of a saint, the situation seemed doomed. It wasn’t that anyone tired of working with her, it was more that we despaired of this dog having to live in terror the rest of her days. Would we ever be able to create a comfort level in her that would allow her to interact with humans and feel safe? Dare we hope she’d even someday feel–joy?
But then Nemmy started to growl less, started accepting the meatballs and we were able to move to the next big step: speaking to her in a low voice. Volunteers and staff would sit by her side, face away from her and simply read a book aloud. Over time, she began to turn toward us–although still watchful. In a few more weeks–and she began to relax and fall asleep with a person in her space. We were on a good path and ready for extraordinary foster parents. Enter Ken and Kim Scott. Patient, intuitive, committed, tireless are just a few of the ways to describe Ken and Kim. They have fostered many, many dogs for FFL but Nemmy was going to be the toughest case.
Nearly a year after Nemmy was trapped, we filmed a video of her running toward Ken to play with him.
Today, she enjoys scratches and massage and will climb all over you for a treat. This week, she found her forever family.
A case like Nemmy will push you, no matter how committed you are. There is a famous quote from a marathon champion: “The only thing you can be certain of in a marathon is that some portion of it will really, really suck.”
I have found that to be true of the shelter business. But those are the moments we learn who we want to be.Those moments are all the more reason to fix your course on your True North. For us, it is that Every Animal Matters. Every feral. Every senior. Every pit bull. Every single one.
When your day is like this: The feral dog just growled at me for the 5th month in a row. What do you do? You keep trying or you don’t.
Your True North will tell you what to do every single time. Choose it wisely.