Patience, persistence at Pets Lifeline
ELLEN BECK has spent two years working with Muneca, who came into Pets Lifeline scared and unsocialized.
Part two in a series spotlighting some of the hundreds of volunteers in Sonoma Valley.
Muneca wasn’t like the average dog that came into Pets Lifeline two years ago. She came in scared, withdrawn and painfully shy. It would take a lot of time, patience and dedication from some committed volunteers to bring her out of her shell.
She found that in Ellen Beck and Deanne Carr. Beck has been helping to make dogs more adoptable at the shelter for 14 years while Carr has been working with the pooches for more than three years. Neither have ever seen a case as demanding as Muneca.
“I think the most challenging thing with Muneca is that she’s a fear-based dog with humans,” Carr said, “She doesn’t handle new situations very well.”
For those who understand dogs, it’s easy to see how the shepherd mix became so anxious. Muneca came into the shelter two years ago as a stray found wandering the streets of Sonoma. Pets Lifeline contacted her owner, who declined to pick up the dog, relinquishing her to a life in the shelter.
“She was completely shut down,” Beck said.
Carr added, “She appeared to be a backyard dog with no socialization.”
Shepherds notoriously have trouble adapting to life in a shelter, filled with strange noises, smells, people and animals. The breed is known for its protective nature, but without knowing what or whom to protect. In a strange shelter situation, a dog quickly becomes uneasy and closed off.
“It’s such a stressful environment and you have a dog that’s so scared,” Beck said.
Beck and Carr began a diligent training program based on making small strides with lots of positive reinforcements, which in the dog-world means treats. Slowly, they saw improvement with the shy shepherd, who began to look forward to visits with her favorite handlers. She proved to be friendly, well behaved (unless she sees a squirrel to chase) and, most importantly, connected to the humans who trained her. The volunteers grew hopeful these signs of progress would translate into a forever home for the frightened dog.
“Once she gets to know you, she’s very affectionate and social,” Carr said.
Beck agreed that her new owner would have to be patient to get to the real Muneca trapped inside her scared exterior. “She’s much more confident with people she trusts,” Beck said. “Sometimes you just don’t know until you get them home and away from the shelter. She’s full of love, she just needs the right person.”
Muneca has been adopted twice in her two years at the shelter, but both times she was returned. The owners weren’t prepared to spend the time building confidence in the dog that had spent most of her life behind a fence, without a home environment.
“A lot of people don’t want a dog who’s a lot of work. But she’s worth it,” Carr said. “There’s more positives than negatives about Muneca by far.”
They began to look for placement in another shelter, somewhere that dealt with a higher volume of dogs might be a better fit for Muneca. Then someone breathed the word “euthanasia,” but the volunteers fought back.
“We just said, ‘No, no that’s not going to happen, not to Muneca,’” Carr said.
So the volunteers at Pets Lifeline continue to plug along. They enjoy their walks, and have been working on Muneca’s social skills by rewarding her for interacting with others. They take pride in the strides the timid canine has made, knowing somewhere, there’s the right home for Muneca.
“I think people that know the breed know how to handle her,” Carr said. “She’s such a love bug.”
To meet Muneca, call Pets Lifeline at 996-4577. The shelter is located at 19686 Eighth St. E., and is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.