I hadn’t taken on a new foster since before the pandemic, and I was itching for one. So I got two.
Not just any two. And not just from anywhere. We flew down to St Thomas, USVI, and brought back two scaredy dogs.
It started with an email to our International Program Coordinator. Did we have any contacts there? Could she find me some dogs to bring back? She was worried that it would be tough with the late notice, especially since we didn’t have established contacts there, but she’d try.
Meanwhile, we were on vacation, and I happened to strike up a conversation with a boat captain. He told me he was good friends with someone who worked with the St Thomas Humane Society I asked for her contact info, and reached across the aisle.
Did they think we could make it happen? They, too, weren’t sure. But they have a robust international program called Pets With Wings so are very experienced, and they got on the task.
The next few days were full of calls, texts and emails. Could we take cats? Dogs? Bonded pairs? Any breed restrictions? They were feeling us out, as they needed to know they could trust us. Luckily the organizer has heard of Secondhand Hounds and was willing to take a chance on us — and me.
When you travel with a dog to be adopted, there are lots of restrictions. May depend on the airline, and each airline might have different restrictions and requirements depending on where the flight originated. For example: I needed animals small enough to fit in carriers under the seat in front to me; they couldn’t be too young; they had to be healthy. So Rhea worked her magic in the Caribbean, and Taylor finagled from the cold, bold North. And Tammy met me at the airport.
Meet Tulip and Trillium, sisters (presumably from different misters) who were trapped as part of the island’s save the strays program.
The girls are about 4 months old, and scared of everything. Tammy was especially worried that we would try to rush them into acclimating, but I reassured her we would take it slowly.
We got all checked into our Delta flight (they were awesome).
The pups were drowsy thanks to a little Benadryl, and settled into the flight easily. We never heard a peep from them for the whole six hour flight.
When we got them home, I let them out of their carriers, and let them wander into the house on their own. Well, Tulip walked in, took her first right and found my dog’s kennel. Trillium frantically followed, and there they stayed. All night. No interest in food or water, and definitely not interested in the humans. When Stevie Nicks sniffed at them through the door, Tulip growled a little, but that was it. We all went to bed.
On our first full day with them, I began Operation Ignore the Dogs. When you have super skittish pups, they need to learn to trust you. Who knows what these babies endured in their little lives! They were not aggressive at all, but would cower whenever I tried to approach them.
They stuck around the laundry room (that’s where their kennel domain is), ad got busy catching up on what they didn’t do the day before: eat, drink, poop, pee.
If I tried to approach the kennel, they would press their bodies against the back wall and scratch like they were trying to escape.
Periodically I would come in the room and lay down prone on the floor, stick my hand in the kennel, and not look at them. It took awhile, but eventually Trillium, the black one, would do a cautious sniff — then a scurry.
The next day they decided to explore. First they discovered my closet, which is attached to the laundry room. That was interesting with its piles of unwashed vacation laundry. Then they expanded their horizons, going into the adjoining bathroom, then our bedroom. I decided to try something: I scattered kibble down the long hallway to the main part of the house. As long as they couldn’t see or hear me, they would nibble and follow the trail.
When in my office, which shares a wall with that hallway I could hear scampering feet, so knew they were getting braver. A peek around the corner discovered playing puppies! Things like that were big steps I knew If they felt comfortable enough to let their guard down and play, even for a second, we were making progress.
They discovered a dog bed in the great room.
Decided that was cool — but not awesome enough to stick around when they saw me. Back to the kennel!
The next day they decided they were obsessed with Stevie Micks. Not like, hey, she seems cool, maybe we could hang” way. But as in an OMIGODWHERE HAVE YOU BEEN WHERE AE YOU GOING? CAN WE TOUCH YOU? way. They would just flirt mercilessly, curling their bodies and lowering to the ground, frantically wagging tails and bowed ears.
Stevie thought they were weird. She kept escaping outside, which stressed them out terribly. They would cry and whine when she left, certain that the great glass portal door had swallowed her up for all eternity, never to return. I didn’t need to with the door when she wanted back in: the puppies would whine and scratch and jump around — until I walked over. Then they would sprint to the other room, torn between fear for me and lust for Stevie.
I started using that lust to my advantage. I’d put my had out for sniffs when they wanted her back in. Sometimes it worked, but rarely.
They started being naughty: dragging things from suitcases. Chewing slippers. Trillium realized she could jump on the couch. Tulip, a good 5 pounds heavier and three inches taller, wouldn’t get there for a few days. Taunting ensued.
We decided to see how they would do outside. We don’t have a fenced yard, so double-leashing was a must. That’s tricky, when they don’t let us near. But we managed, and out we all went.
They had a ball! Who knew little beachy babies would love the snow? Of course, the main quest was attempting closeness with Stevie, who loves to run and chase and knock puppies over. They were all in. Until, of course, I decided they had been barefoot in the snow for long enough. HWSNBN managed to grab Trillium, who screamed like she was being gutted. I used Stevie to lure Tulip in, so that was a little less dramatic but no less stressful. We have not tried the front yard since.
They prefer napping, anyway.
I have tried to get them used to the leash, by coating it with peanut butter and laying it on the ground. I don’t think they hate the leash — they just hate us getting close enough to put them on (and God forbid we hold the end when we do get them on). I’m going to reach out to the SHH trainers for advice on that.
We’ve had them now almost two weeks. Occasionally I can get close enough to pet or scratch them, but they certainly don’t relax when I do. I wish I could start house training them, but that’s just going to have to wait until we get more trust. I’d also love to get them outside for walks, but again, we seem to be a ways away for that. There may come a day when I decide to separate them, but I don’t think they are there yet, I don’t know that they are relying on each other exactly, so that may not be necessary. I am not ready for them to go up on the website yet: if they won’t let me touch them, bring potential adopters into the house could be traumatic.
I am not frustrated: I have four months of fear to overcome. I am sad they are missing out on walks and pets and cuddles, but all of a sudden one day it will click, and there will be no turning back. I know that they have lives of love ahead of them! And I know that if not for the valiant efforts of rescuers almost 2,500 miles apart, they would most likely have ended up with terrible lives.
So for now, I will continue to throw kibble around, and hope that one day they will look at me with as much joy as they do Stevie Nicks!
If you would like to save a dog or cat when you travel next, and live in the Minnesota area, click here for more information. If you are not in our area, contact your local rescue, or find a rescue in the country you are visiting.