Staff member: Laura (trainer)
Jinora came into my life as an older adult with an unknown history. She was found on the streets, emaciated and with frozen ears. She was captured by animal control officers and brought to Detroit Animal Care and Control, during one of the many times that they were overloaded with so many abandoned animals that they could not provide more than a five by five kennel in which to spend her days. Dedicated volunteers tried their best to keep her clean and fed, but struggled without the resources they needed to truly care for each animal as they wished they could.
She came home with me a month later, on the coldest day of the year, in January 2019. I wondered how I could ever build trust with an animal who had already lived so many lives. I had observed that she was not comfortable with touch, as she had ignored each DACC volunteer who kindly reached out to her, focusing on finding an escape route. She was ill, anxious, and wary, but climbed into my lap that first day. I restrained myself and allowed her to rest, half in my lap and half on the couch, without petting her large but thin body. I wanted her to know I could hear her and that I was listening.
Over the first few weeks with her, I learned about the extent of her physical and mental trauma. She had a hard time standing up and her back legs would give out under her when she walked; she was mostly deaf and had ear infections in both ears; she woke with night terrors in a full state of reactivity up to ten times a night; she reacted with aggression when the vet reached out to inspect her itchy skin; and she panicked when I left her home alone, leaving herself and the walls bloody. She was definitely more than I had bargained for when I made the decision to bring home another foster dog.
But she was also kind, sweet, and smart. She would jump into bed with me and snuggle close to my body. She learned in just two days how to put her collar on herself so we could go on walks and take it off to avoid the risk of strangulation when I had to leave. She went on small adventures with me to empty parks and explored within forty feet of the car before running back to safety. Within a few weeks, she began to press into my hands for cheek and neck pets. She stuck by my side and would throw me little smiles that reminded me that this life was better than the one she had the month before. Most importantly, she chose to accept my friends into the house when introduced through a predictable greeting protocol that showed her no one would touch her without her permission.
My friends became Jinora’s community, an army of dog sitters and amateur dog trainers who stepped up to ensure her safety when I had to go to work. One became my partner and Jinora’s second most trusted person in the world. She finally had another human who she could let down her guard with, cuddle with, and accept pets from. With their help, we tackled the daily struggles of Jinora’s medical care.
We learned together about the importance of consent in all our interactions. Jinora clearly communicated her comfort and discomfort by choosing where she moved her body, turning her head when she was uncomfortable, and in rare instances when I missed a signal, just barely showing her teeth to be clear she needed to be left alone. We taught her behaviors to signal she was ready for physical contact and responded immediately when she said she had had enough.
With these consent behaviors in place, Jinora allowed me to brush her, wash her, trim her nails, inspect her raw skin and wounds, give her shots, and even aspirate her multiple tumors. This dog who, months before, would bite someone simply for reaching a hand towards her, allowed me to shave the fur over an infected wound, scrub off the scab, and apply antibiotics. She was relaxed the entire time because she knew that all she needed to do was turn her head and I would stop; but as long as she let me continue, tasty treats were available to her.
Forming a relationship with an older dog who has experienced trauma is a daunting task, but Jinora’s smile when she feels safe is so worth it to me. As the weather starts to once again become warmer, I’ve been delighted to see her do somersaults in her new yard and roll around in the grass like a carefree puppy. She’s become a completely different individual than who she was a year ago when she joined my family.
I feel so lucky to be Jinora’s guardian and trusted friend. As I watch her grow older, I wonder what the next few months and years will bring. I know that although some days will be difficult, we will get through them together.