Adopted Pets Teach Us Patience (“Love Don’t Come Easy” for some)

Sometimes you hear the story of someone who adopted from a shelter and discovered the dog or cat was really timid and shy. They might have expressed disappointment, or even made the fatalistic judgment “this animal must have been terribly abused and will never be able to be a loving pet.” People can mistakenly give up on such a pet and take them back to the shelter without ever giving them a chance to develop a bit of trust and courage. Adopted animals have something valuable to teach the person they choose, and often that lesson is patience. When you adopt you receive the simple life lesson that something good is worth waiting for. Adopted dogs and cats can also show us the truth of the song lyric “you can’t rush love.”

I have seen time and again how rewarding the love feels to both the person and the pet when that pet is a reluctant new family member. When such dogs or cat are given the respect and space to find their own way to express and receive affection, the result can feel like a miracle! Maybe those dogs and cats were not even abused — they’ve simply never experienced the love of humans before. They make us realize that depending on what has come before, even good things can take some getting used to! It’s always impresses me when someone who adopts is willing to postpone his own pleasure in having a pet to interact with, and instead is willing to delay that gratification and let the animal adjust at her own pace.

My friend Jacob adopted a Lab-mix dog, Millicent, who was so fearful that she spent the first months (not days or weeks!) slinking around at the perimeter of rooms and curling up in the back of her soft-sided crate, as if to hide herself. Jacob kept the zippered mesh door of the crate rolled up like a tent opening but he never reached in there to disturb Millicent or tried to coax her out. Sometimes he’d sit outside the crate door and read with a few extra delicious treats in bis lap, letting Millicent sniff him out and acclimate when her curiosity (or thirst or need to pee!) enticed her out of the crate. Jacob never rushed Millicent — he let her decide when she was ready to come over to him. Little by little she took a deep breath and learned to trust him. Once she crossed that line it was a matter of weeks before she stood up straight, walked confidently right through the middle of rooms, and the tail that had been tucked between her legs uncurled and began to wag, first tentatively and then with abandon.

Jacob’s patience paid off with a sense of accomplishment and even of triumph — and with those patient beginnings he allowed Millicent to develop a comfort level that will serve both of them in good stead for many years to come.

—Tracie Hotchner

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photo credit: 2012-12-11 zoe the lab-15 via photopin (license)