As many of you know, I work at an animal shelter. It is my pleasure to care for dogs until the day they find their forever families or the day they cross the rainbow bridge. My shelter has adoptions six days a week. Which means we go through a lot of dogs. So much so that our canine care techs don’t know every single one–and that’s not a bad thing! If a dog goes home to their forever family, then we know they’re in good hands and we don’t have to worry about them. We can keep our focus on the dogs that take longer to get out than others.
One of those dogs in our care was my big man: Bane. Bane is a 7 year old, black Labrador retriever/husky mix (at least that’s what our admissions team decided he is). I don’t know all of Bane’s story. He arrived at my shelter in December 2021, but our records indicate this isn’t his first time here. Back in 2016, Bane was caught as a stray and brought to us. No one claimed him, so he became available for adoption and he got adopted within a month–which is a pretty big thing for a big man like him. The sad part of his story is that he came back. Like I said, Bane arrived in December of last year. He came to us on a transfer from a different shelter, so that begs the question of was he surrendered there by his old family? Had he escaped and found as a stray? The truth is: I don’t know. None of us know. There’s no way to know what Bane’s life was like before he arrived at the shelter.
But, I can tell what his life was like at the shelter.
Like all our dogs, Bane was behaviorally and medically evaluated before being made available for adoption. He got added to our walking list and put on the adoption floor so he could be seen by the public. He did have one adoption meet and greet in December, but the family decided he was too big. Yeah. Bane’s a big guy. Which meant, he filled quite a bit of space in our kennels. A big dog in a small space like that for long periods of time leads to high stress levels. It got to the point where he was hypersalivating and barking at our volunteers when they tried to take him out for walks. We tried putting him our biggest suite to see if that would help him, but all the activity that happens around that suite also had him on edge.
I, personally, never had many issues whenever I took Bane out for a walk. He had an easy walk harness and (with me) he learned that he couldn’t leave the kennel without it on, so he let me slip it on him without issue. Once on, he’d bark until I opened the kennel door. Going through the shelter was Bane’s biggest problem. He doesn’t have the greatest dog skills and all the barking dogs in the shelter would hype him up. He wanted to meet every single one and he’d lunge at each kennel just to try. Getting him through the shelter was like fighting a runaway lawnmower, but once he was outside, he was great! Pulled a little, but was great!
Now, our volunteers weren’t always up for dealing with Bane’s antics and since I’m one of the more physically stronger members of my team, I ended up taking him out a lot. We had a bit of a rocky start to our relationship with all of his antics, but he became my number one dog at the shelter.
Shelter stress was still getting to Bane, though. A normal kennel was too small for him and our biggest suite made him too high-strung, so he ended up getting moved off the adoption floor and into one of the smaller suites in our holding area. The behavior team made that decision after Bane started making volunteers feel uncomfortable. Bane wasn’t letting volunteers harness him. The behavior team and I went back and forth about him. He was made “staff only” and since he was most comfortable with me, I walked him the most to ensure no incidents happened. I also decided to make him work harder for treats during our training sessions.
Eventually, Bane got to the point where volunteers could walk him again and he was enrolled with a staff member in our training course (unfortunately, no. I was not the staff member)! Things were looking up for him! He liked his small suite in our holding area. We could sheet him so he didn’t get stressed by all the people and dogs going by and he was getting out of his kennel a little more with his training. I thought things were going well. I got my hopes up too soon.
To my great misfortune, Bane had an incident. One of our vet techs needed to give him multi, a flea and tick deterrent. It’s supposed to go right between his shoulder blades. The vet tech didn’t feel comfortable giving it to him, so they asked me to do it. Bane let me in the kennel just fine and happily took treats from my hand. I showed him the multi since I know how he is with new things–he doesn’t like what he doesn’t understand and he certainly didn’t understand what that multi was. Every time I’d try to give it to him, he would back away. He’d still come for treats and hotdogs and I made sure not to go over his head with the multi, but he wanted nothing to do with it. Eventually, he did snarl at the multi and I took the hint, gave him the rest of my hotdogs, and left the kennel without getting the multi on him. I wasn’t going to tell our behavior team, but the vet tech did, so Bane became a behavior team only dog.
I’ll admit it. When they asked me to hang “BE ONLY” (Behavior evaluators only) signs on his kennel, I burst into tears. I’ve had so many dogs at the shelter that I’ve worked with and fallen in love with get euthanized some time after those “BE ONLY” signs got put up. Lucky, Yodel, Indiana Bones, Dusk, and more. Losing them kept me from wanting to get close to another shelter dog. I always seem to attach to the trouble children that make bad choices or lose the battle against shelter stress and they end up getting euthanized. Bane and I had a rocky start to our relationship because I didn’t want to get close to him. I didn’t want my heart broken again. Yet, Bane got his way and I fell in love with him. If it weren’t for the animals I have at home, I probably would’ve adopted him. So, when I was told to hang those “BE ONLY” signs on Bane’s kennel, I feared that it was only a matter of time before he crossed the rainbow too.
The incident with the multi happened on my Friday. Throughout the weekend, I was expecting to come back to an email that Bane was unadoptable and therefore getting euthanized. Yet, to my sweet relief, he was made available again and anyone could walk him. I even overheard a conversation of a behavior member speaking to the coworker who had Bane in the training class. They were asking if that coworker still felt comfortable taking Bane to class after what happened and I can’t describe how relieved I was to hear that coworker still wanted Bane in class. Later that day, behavior sought me out to inform me that Bane passed all the tests that they did. Like I figured, it was just the multi that he didn’t like with the incident. Bane passed their food test with flying colors, he was even afraid of the fake hand they used for it. The only thing behavior saw wrong with him was that he was a little headshy, which meant they where taking away his harness–I was okay with that. Bane loves hugs, but not from people he doesn’t know.
With Bane made available again, I kicked his training into overdrive and pushed the different departments to make him noticeable to the public. I didn’t want him to be another victim of shelter stress. So, on nice days, I took him to our agility park. I let him run around off leash and played fetch with him so he could burn off the energy that the shelter stifled inside of him. He’s a glutton for treats and, using that against him, I taught him to speak, loose-leash walk, got him to work our A-frame, jump the three different hoops in the park, and roll over (he already knew sit, shake, and laydown before he arrived at our shelter)! I was getting with my team to get a video together of him doing all his tricks so we could show him off to the world and hopefully get him adopted!
Then winter came back.
We got hit with below freezing temperatures and knee-high drifts of snow. The dogs can only be out for about five minutes a walk in weather like that. Bane and I didn’t get to the agility park. I’d take him out to pee and I’d take him back inside. The team did our best to give the dogs lasting enrichment in those days, but there’s only so much that can be done that will take a long time and not make them fat.
Then we got a huge transfer of animals. 95 animals, both cats and dogs (but 80% dogs), arrived at our shelter. I ended up working a ten hour day last Friday to help with it. Working those ten hours put me over for the week. Since I work at a nonprofit, they frown on people for getting overtime. Being over for the week meant I had to leave early on Saturday. It wasn’t the best Saturday. I was tired, grumpy, and deep cleaning got on my nerves (again). I’m thankful for my coworkers being patient with me. That morning, I cleaned out Bane’s suite, gave him all fresh toys and blankets and a new bed. Then, I sat with him a little bit. Like I said, he loves hugs if he knows you and I was hugging and squeezing my big man because that was the cure I needed that grumpy morning. I made him run through his tricks before I tossed him all my treats and left. I thought I would see him again.
I had nothing on my mind except for a shower and a nap when I left that day. Yet, I arrived home to text messages from my coworkers stating that Bane had a meet and greet. He’s only ever had one since he came back to the shelter. Being a big, old, black lab mix on the holding floor doesn’t bode well for dogs. I’m not sure how the couple found out about him. Maybe they saw him as the featured dog for the week? When I heard he had a meet and greet, I watched the meet and greet log like a hawk. It took a long time–which was good. It meant the adoption counselor was being thorough and the family was taking the time to get to know Bane. I prayed. I held my breath. I breathe out again. I paced. I did the whole works! This was my big man’s big chance! I didn’t know anything about the family, but I did know that there was hope. Bane could get out of the shelter and live in a home. This was his chance to slip through the fingers of death and live the rest of his life happy! I wanted it so badly for him!
And, you know what? The log turned green. Bane got adopted.
I cried like a baby. My coworkers were texting me. Everyone was so excited! Yet, I couldn’t respond because of all the waterworks. I’m so happy for Bane! He’s gonna live his best life! But, it hurts that I never got to say goodbye.
I was informed that Bane was adopted to a couple who roughly appeared to be in their 50s. The couple had taken in strays before and they were used to dogs who took a little bit to open up. Then, I found out that they also have three acres of land. He essentially going to the perfect home. I have faith to believe that this time the adoption will stick. He won’t get returned somewhere else and then brought to our shelter. He won’t be so stressed that he hurts someone and there’s no other dog in the home for him to misunderstand. He’ll be happy! And knowing that makes all my hard work worth it.
Bane may never jump hoops or run an A-frame again, but I did my part. I helped him survive shelter life until that perfect family showed up. Shelters do that for a lot of dogs. We get thousands of adoptions a year. Yet, every shelter worker can tell you about their favorite dogs. The ones they worked with. The ones they cared for and gave their hearts too. Bane is one of those dogs for me and as much as I’m gonna miss him. I don’t ever want him to come back.
Proud of you, Bane. You’re my best boy!