Friday, August 31, 2012

April Arrives

On Wednesday night I picked up foster dog #14: an 18-month-old black Lab/border collie mix named April.

April comes from Tennessee. One of the employees at a branch bank there kept seeing a little black dog hovering around the building. Eventually he realized that the dog was living there and fed her for a while until she and her puppy could be caught.

Life isn't easy for strays, and April was very young (she probably had her puppies in her first heat), and despite her best efforts, only one of her pups -- Scarlett -- made it into rescue. April was a good mommy: on the morning of her transport into Philadelphia, when a volunteer gave her some chicken for breakfast, she ate one piece herself and carried the second piece over to Scarlett's crate and pushed it through the bars so her puppy could have it.

The Tennessee rescue held onto these dogs for several months, but there just aren't a lot of local adopters in that area, so when it became evident that April and her pup weren't going to find homes where they were, that rescue reached out to Wags to take April, Scarlett, and another mother-daughter pair of yellow Lab mixes. This Wednesday, they arrived in the Philadelphia area. Scarlett went home to her waiting adopter, and April came to my place to do a foster stint.

She was very depressed on arrival. The day April came here was probably the first time she'd been separated from Scarlett. In addition to the usual confusion and transport stress that all the fosters undergo at first, April just seemed apathetic to everything. She didn't want to play, she didn't want to eat, she just laid down flat on the floor of her crate and didn't seem much interested in anything.

Crookytail, however, wasn't about to let her stay sad.

His early attempts to cheer her up were not entirely successful. I made this clip after Crooky had been doing the same thing for about 15 minutes. At first April ignored him entirely. By this point, she was tentatively interested (she approaches and sniffs at him around the 10-second mark, which is more engagement than she had shown up to that time) but she still wasn't up to playing. Her body language remains slow and somewhat stiff throughout the clip, she keeps her tail tightly tucked between her legs (when she first came off the transport van I wasn't even sure she had a tail), her weight is shifted to her back legs, and all in all she's just not into it. When Crookytail gets too insistent (0:33-0:35, that over-the-shoulder chin lean and scruff grab -- very rude!), she snaps back defensively.

But Crookytail does not give up. Undaunted, and now more respectful of April's personal space, he keeps flinging himself on the ground and rolling over to show that he's not a threat to the smaller dog. (You will never, ever see Pongu self-handicapping like that, although Crooky does it routinely when he's interacting with puppies and smaller dogs. Crookytail is willing to give up his dignity to have a good time. Pongu most assuredly is not.)

And by the end, it's starting to work. In the very last seconds of the clip you can see April relax a little: her tail comes out and wags, her ears come up a little, she shakes off the stress, and she flashes a smile.

20 minutes later, I threw out some toys:

Dog Mob immediately seized upon the opportunity to fling them around. Crookytail's still trying to engage April (note his little war dance with the green squeaky snake, which is his favorite toy to parade around in front of new dogs) but seems to have mostly decided that it will work better to play with Pongu for now and show April via demonstration that toys are fun!

April, who's both more curious and less pressured with this new dynamic, starts showing a little more spirit: her tail is still down but it's no longer tucked between her legs, and she waves it a little bit occasionally. Her ears are positioned higher. She's showing some interest in the toys and sniffing around the periphery of their games; she's not ready to jump into the middle of things yet, but she knows that Dog Mob is having fun and she's thinking about playing with them.

Toward the end, she makes much bigger and looser tail wags, is curious enough to start investigating the guinea pig pen, and gives me many big smiles.

Then they all collapsed in exhaustion.

By the next morning (today), April was actively playing:

She still isn't completely relaxed -- she snaps at Dog Mob a couple of times to get more space when they start ganging up on her, and her tail is tucked between her legs for most of the interaction -- but she's choosing to engage Crookytail again and again, and she's clearly eager to play pounce-and-wrestle games.

Overall, her mood appears to have improved a lot over the two days since her arrival. April is now eating, playing with toys, and displaying more curiosity about the world, including the guinea pigs:

She jumped into the pen once, but after being corrected with a "No!" she immediately stopped hassling the pigs, got out, and has behaved appropriately since then. Her interest in them appears pretty normal/safe to me, and I think it's fair to consider April's current behavior to be representative of her actual personality, so I'm stamping her as "cat safe" for potential adoptive households.

And that's where we are going into Day Two. She's come around enough that we can probably start formal training tonight or tomorrow.

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