Diary of a Little Red Shelter Dog

by Jennifer Guglielmo

Insights from pit bull Sienna Toby

Dear Diary,

October 19, 2014

What am I doing here? They call it a Shelter. What is a Shelter? I’m scared. Who are all these strangers looking through my kennel door? I need to make myself very small. I’m in the corner. I’m growling. They are walking away. No one asks about adopting me. I am overlooked. I do not seem friendly to strangers. I am a small, red pit bull. My birthday is in 5 days. I’ll be 2 years old.

Shelter dogs come in all shapes and sizes, all with their own unique quirks. While many dogs are adopted as happy additions to loving families, there are some that are overlooked at shelters because of certain “less adoptable” traits. Senior pets, pets with special needs or behavioral issues, dogs that will require additional outside training, and pit bull type dogs can take up to four times longer to get adopted than the average pet, according to adoption database Petfinder.com.

April 3, 2015

There are nice people that take me on walks. Some people here refuse to walk me. I growl and jump on my fence and show my teeth. I try to look very scary. The truth is, I’m scared. There is one nice lady—they call her Jen. She brings me treats and talks to me quietly. I do not scare her. I like her. She walks me in the park. I drag my belly along the cool grass. Jen comes often. It’s my favorite part of the day.

Most shelters depend on their volunteers to provide additional socialization, training, and nurturing for their pets. This greatly reduces the length of time spent in the shelter before being adopted, as it reduces a dog’s stress, boosts their immune system, and makes them overall more adoptable.

Check with your local shelter if you’re interested in walking dogs or possibly volunteering in other areas, such as adoptions and customer service, community outreach and education, animal care and socialization, veterinary medical services, photography and videography, or fostering.

March 18, 2016

Jen is taking me home! It’s through something called the Ambassador Foster Program. They put my picture in the newspaper. I got a new pink collar. Jen is an owner of Doggie’s Day Out of Palm Springs. I get to play all day! I live there with Jen. I get to meet lots of new dog and human friends, every single day. Jen is hoping to help me find the perfect family through fostering and training me at her doggie day care.

The Palm Springs Animal Shelter (PSAS) Dog Ambassador Foster Program was created to pair volunteers with appropriate dogs that have behavioral issues that can be worked on to prepare them for adoption. Examples of behavioral issues are fear, reactivity, or simply just bad manners. Ambassadors work with PSAS to create a treatment plan and goals for their dog to prepare them not only for adoption but also for life in a home. Ambassadors work with the same dogs until adoption.

Foster guardians provide love and care to animals on a temporary basis—sometimes just for a few days, sometimes a few months—depending on the needs of the animal.

October 24, 2017

Today is my 5th birthday!Jen is crying. I bit another dog on the leg today. Sometimes I am naughty. I have been acting out a little more lately. Jen is sad. She says I cannot stay because I must get along with others at the doggie day care. I am still a fostered dog, and I belong to the shelter.

October 25, 2017

Jen and I are walking to the shelter. She is still crying. I don’t understand. Why is she sad? We’re sitting at a table. Jen is talking about having to leave me there. She says she can’t do it. Wait … what’s she saying? She wants to keep me forever? Yes! Jen wants to adopt me! On my birthday!! Jen says she’s my ambassador, and we’re going to work hard together to be even better. I am so happy! We walk back home. Together.

Many people set their dog up for failure and don’t even realize it. A dog is very tuned in to its owner, sensing what the owner anticipates will happen and how the owner feels about it.

It’s all about awareness. First comes awareness, then ownership, then commitment, then change. Try to start seeing naughty behavior as an invitation to learn how WE (the pet parents) may be making THEM feel, and to help both of you change for the better.

In Sienna’s case, I learned through the help of others that I was the cause of her playgroup stress and bad behavior. I was so NERVOUS and “on guard” about her possibly misbehaving, it caused HER stress, putting “on guard” herself. I made the simple change of not entering the playgroup room when Sienna was playing, and this greatly improved her enjoyment of play time and her behavior while playing with others.

February 9, 2018

I have lots of friends that help me be the best girl! I get to be in the doggie day care lobby all day now, greeting everyone. I get lots of pets … and lots of treats! Visitors think I’m funny because I love to hold toys in my mouth while I try to talk. Sometimes people think I’m growling. But I’m just happy and talking with my mouth full! Hasn’t everybody done that? I like it when visitors tug my toys with me. This is one of my favorite games. I’m strong. I never let go. Some visitors say I help them see that not all pit bulls are bad doggies, and I help change their perceptions. These people are my favorite.

Needless to say (it’s obvious), I’m a bully lover. While I would love to show statistics that say bully breeds are not any more or less dangerous than any other breeds, the unfortunate truth is that most reported statistics show pit bulls categorized as the top “U.S. Dangerous Dog Breed.”

I understand the perceptions, hesitations, and sometimes even fear of the bully breed. But simply remembering that all dogs, including bullys, are individuals, and treating them as such by providing care, training, and supervision is the best way to ensure that dogs and people can continue to share safe and happy lives together.

Aggressive does not always mean dangerous. Chihuahuas and dachshunds, two of the smallest breeds in the world, tend to be the most, socalled “aggressive” dog breeds. But don’t worry, their bite is usually not powerful enough to cause any real damage and likely won’t require medical attention. In the United States, pit bull types (and many other large breed dogs) are categorized as “dangerous,” because their bites are powerful and can cause significant damage.

The stigma that marks bully breeds has contributed to their continued rise in U.S. shelters. One in four of all dogs brought into shelters are bully breeds. According to onegreenplanet.com, the average euthanasia rate hovers at 93 percent across the board for pit bull type dogs.

March 22, 2021

Remember when I said tug is my favorite game? Oh boy—my second favorite human, Fernando, has taken me on a long car ride … we’re at the place he calls a “seminar.” We’re staying at a hotel, and we get to eat tater tots! We’re playing a game of tug on something called a spring pole. I jump high … I get it! I hang on! This is so fun! I release and sit whenever Fernando commands me. That’s the game. Again, because I’m up for all kinds of play, I’m called a rock star by the training team!

Jay Jack, creator of the ‘Play as the Way’ seminar teaches a play-based approach to training. Training should be fun for both humans and dogs, and dogs naturally learn through play. Play, if used well, can teach them the MOST of what they need to learn. Obedience is taught in the context of a game, with play as the motivational engine to drive the behaviors.

June 5, 2021

I REALLY AM A ROCK STAR! I was asked to star in a real live music video! The artist, Kari Kirkland, was very nice and so happy to see me. She sang to me and gave me lots of treats and hugs. I rode in a convertible car, snuggled on a bed, and played in the pool. It was the best three days. No autographs, please!

At press time for this article, Kari Kirkland’s Break your Heart (Taio Cruz Cover) has more than 250,000 views! Check it out, and all of Kari’s other music, too!

October 5, 2021

I will be 9 years old soon. I’ve had a lot of adventures in my 63 dog years. I still look like a puppy. I love to please and be a good girl. That’s when I’m the happiest.

Sienna is just one of the many cases in which people who want to adopt overlook a dog that has been labeled “less adoptable.” When it comes to the needs of your family, your time, your commitment, and what type of dog personality you are looking for should be at the top of your list of requirements in your new dog. You may find your dream dog’s personality in a senior dog, a mutt, a dog with a disability, a shy dog, a bigger-than-expected dog, or a smaller-than-expected dog. They may not have the physical appearance you first imagined in your head, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

You may just find your very own ROCK STAR in a dog you never imagined!

Sienna (and her human, Jen) would like to thank those at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter for her love and special care, which continues to this very day! A monumental THANK YOU to all staff at Doggie’s Day Out who made our Sienna the “staff” dog and helped her be happy, loved, and trained—from taking her on home trips and fun adventures, to the daily snuggles, treats, and encouragement.

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