Why I Do What I Do: Stories of Redemption in Rescues

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned since being a dog behavior consultant, it’s that all dogs are capable of learning. No matter how sad a dog’s origin story is, how long that dog has been in the shelter, or how many breeds the dog is mixed with, all dogs can learn and grow.

In dog behavior consulting, we all have the dogs that stick with us forever. These are the dogs that remind me why I do what I do.


Mia was tucked into the back corner kennel of the rescue. She didn’t present well at the kennel front and was highly aroused at the sight of other dogs. She was one of the ones prospective adopters didn’t make it to; they always seemed to stop before they got to her. Even the volunteers sometimes forgot to take her out unless the volunteer coordinator reminded them.

Mia the dogIn the new facility, Mia got a kennel suite at the end of an aisle. Because the kennels were set up like an island where you could walk completely around them, she had higher visibility. Unfortunately, this also meant Mia had higher visibility of other dogs. We worked steadily on learning to calm, starting with going to her mat and slowly adding in other impulse control exercises. Before she was adopted out she had several tools in her toolbox to calm herself in addition to the standard repertoire of sit, down, shake and stay.

She was adopted by a woman who was advised of Mia’s reactivity to other dogs. The woman’s response was to take her home and let her off leash with two other dogs in the house. In the resulting melee, Mia redirected onto the woman and bit her as she tried to break up the fight.

So Mia came back.

I did everything I could for her. I thought about her when I was at home and often cooked special things to bring in for her (sausage, bacon, steak, and chicken). She knew me. When she saw me come in, her little face lit up and she got her happy little Mia grin. My heart ached as I saw her in her small kennel, no longer in her corner suite. Still, she remained happy Mia when she was out. She loved to walk and she was so intelligent. She trained well and was so food-motivated I could offer her mere crumbs from my treatbag and she was perfectly happy. She liked it when I came in the middle of the day and we could walk in the quiet together. She was thrilled whenever there were birds she could chase!

I was in the middle of a conversation with the kennel manager, advocating for Mia to get moved to a bigger kennel when someone came over and asked if they could see Mia. Excited, I ran to get a leash and took Mia to the play area. Brett was there. It was love at first sight.

Mia was her usual charming self and even demonstrated she would go through the agility tunnel and the kiddie pool all by herself. She chased toys and did tricks. She was a good girl. I disclosed her bite history and dog issues to Brett; he was unconcerned. She would be the only dog in the home and he planned to take her on a long backpacking/camping trip during the summer.

Brett adopted Mia.

Mia the dog kissing ShawnaThe last time I saw her she was on her hind legs, tail wagging, front paws hooked over the gate of our play area looking at me with a big grin. My heart was so happy. He sent me updates every couple days, starting with their drive home. Mia looked content sitting in the front seat of his truck. I got video of her discovering her new yard and her happy tail and grin said it all. Mia was home. I got pictures of her looking chagrined after a bath; cuddling with her new dad; playing with a new purple pig toy in her yard. There was even a video of her interacting successfully with another dog. I was thrilled.

One day, I got a call from Brett. Thinking he was calling to tell me about something cute she’d done, I answered the phone. Mia had been hit by a car. She didn’t survive.

I breathe but I can’t catch my breath.

He asked if I wanted to come with him to bury her. I wanted to but thought cremation would be better. He opted to bury her in Idaho City, an hour or so outside of Boise. I am glad he did what he felt was right.

I hope she is happy. I hope she ran over that Rainbow Bridge exuberantly. I hope that she saw Dakota eating his bees, and Tyler doing tricks. I hope she remembers me when I come to join her.

But most of all, I hope I did enough to make a difference in her life.