September 20, 2020

Loving Lily: Helping a dog with a checkered past become a great companion

Lily the gator slayer

photos and text by Michele D’Amour McDanel


My husband and I both grew up with dogs. Earlier this year, we discussed adding a dog to our household of cats, guinea pig, and rabbit. We started looking at the available dogs from our local shelters.

We knew we didn’t want a puppy, and were looking for a medium sized dog that would get along with the existing pets, particularly the cats, and my son. We saw a few that might fit the bill at a local shelter a few minutes from our house. My son and husband and I then decided to go meet the candidates on a Sunday afternoon.

The organization we went to is called Homeward Pet ( ) in Woodinville, WA. When we arrived, we were assigned an adoption counselor and asked what we were looking for. Based on what we told her, the adoption counselor narrowed it down to two choices.

The first dog, a seven-year-old male, was more interested in exploring the meeting room than seeing us. His story was a sad and increasingly common one – he had been surrendered when his elderly owner had to enter a nursing home. Lily was next. Her records showed her as a Pug / Chihuahua mix (we later found out through doggy DNA that she is actually a Pug / American Staffordshire cross). As soon as she walked in the door, she made a beeline for where we were sitting on the floor. She flopped on each of our laps, one by one, and begged for attention.

Lily’s history was that she had been picked up as a stray in another state, where an animal rescue organization found her. She made the rounds of a few shelters in Washington before arriving at the one in our neighborhood.

Before we could make an adoption final, we needed to know how Lily would do with cats, since that was a question mark on her record. To test this, the shelter staff put her on a leash and walked her through the cat area. All she showed was mild curiosity.

So after some paperwork and paying the fee, Lily came home with us, and she has been a great addition to the family. We are learning more about her every day, and we are working hard to help her overcome her past. One of the best things in helping us be more effective with Lily was a one-month course in “Basic Manners” that was included with her adoption. Here are a few of the things we have figured out so far:

• She was five years old when we adopted her, and had obviously had several litters of puppies. Because of that and her breed profile, there’s a distinct possibility she was a breeder for a puppy mill.
• Although Lily was picked up as a stray, she shows every sign of having been around humans. What we’ve seen indicates that her previous experience wasn’t positive. For example, she definitely knows what “No” means, and that it’s bad, so we use commands like “Leave it” instead.
• We’re learning what things Lily dislikes or that cause her anxiety. So far, the list includes tall men, people wearing sunglasses, and small / confined spaces. She’s also NOT a fan of other dogs unless they are very submissive.
• She doesn’t know how to fetch and is completely disinterested in going after balls or sticks, but loves anything she can chew. So, rawhide and squeaky toys it is.
• Daily exercise and limiting treats are very important to keeping her at a healthy weight.
• Separation anxiety has been an issue, but Lily has come a long way and has never been destructive when left, just incredibly anxious.
• We also initially had some instances of her begging at the table and being aggressive about food. We now feed her in her room while we are eating and let her out while we’re done; this has seemed to alleviate a lot of the problem.
• One issue we are still working with: she sometimes barks at friends and family when they come to the house, or have been visiting but re-enter a room. We think this is a territorial response; based on her past, she probably didn’t have any territory and/or felt as though she always had to defend it. So, we’re working with her gradually to give her positive experiences with people and build her social skills and comfort level.

Lily on couch

A couple of tips that seem to help: meet visitors outside with Lily and maybe even take a walk with them, then let them enter the house first, before we come back. Also, we will give her some commands (with rewards) and things to keep her occupied (like sitting with a nice rawhide chew on her dog bed) so she’s not so focused on the strangers in the house.

In keeping with the “Sanctuary” sign that hangs next to our front door, we are working hard to make our house a sanctuary for Lily, and learning more every day about how to make her feel safe.

What are your experiences and tips in adopting a rescue dog?

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