Used to be, the first thing I did when I got to the shelter for my shift was ask if there were any dogs who need a little extra attention or care. The manager would usually respond, “They all do.” Last week, though, the manager approached me. “Do you think you could hang out with the dog in kennel 4? She’s having a pretty tough time.”
Sombra, a big, black Lab mix had been brought in earlier in the day, along with her sibling. The owner said the two dogs were too much for her to handle and didn’t know anyone who could take them. A few hours later, the woman came back and inexplicably reclaimed the male she’d just surrendered. Sombra watched as her family left the shelter premises without her.
She was shaking, tail tucked, when I slipped into her kennel, but approached after a little coaxing. I sat there quite a while, petting and trying to provide some comfort. She stayed close, but didn’t take the treats I offered. She never sat down, never stopped shaking.
The few times she moved at all was when a car could be heard pulling into the parking lot. She’d scurry to the outdoor part of her kennel to see what she could see. This behavior was familiar — and one of the saddest I witness in shelter environments: owner searching. The newly surrendered dog keeps checking the last place she remembers seeing her person, hoping to glimpse someone coming back for her. But it almost never works out that way.
I can’t know for sure, but I imagined Sombra’s anxiety was extra intense. Being suddenly dropped into a completely foreign situation is traumatizing enough. But to then experience a second abandonment of sorts, watching her brother leave with her former owner, must have been even more heartbreaking.
Currently Sombra is kenneling with two other females, in an area of the shelter that doesn’t border the parking lot, and the company seems to have improved her spirits some. She still leaks a little, and staff is trying to determine whether it’s a medical issue (and if so, what prescription might help). But her appetite has mostly returned and she loves being taken out to the run for fetch. Inside, she sticks close when I come to visit, lifting her paw to request more pets.
Seeing that treats and ear massages and a sturdy tennis ball provide at least little bouts of pleasure gives me hope for this delicate girl. I know that she’s feeling safer here with each passing day, shaking less and wagging more. But I also know that what she’d like most of all is a family — as committed to her as she will be to them.
Interested in adopting Sombra? Contact the Espanola Valley Humane Society.