Friday, February 8, 2013

Success Series - Trust (Sam) UPDATE

by Anna Geletka

UPDATE!! Trust/Sam's person, Susan, left a wonderful comment on this post. Be sure to read it to get all the latest information about Sam in his forever home!

Welcome to another installation of our Success Series! Every Friday for the next several weeks we will post the story of a pet who has found their forever home through HSEC. If your animal was adopted from HSEC and you want them to be featured on the blog, contact us here:


Hiding in his crate
When I met Trust, I was first reminded of a deer. He moved like a prey animal, this small lab mix with sleek black fur and a gaze that constantly monitored any human presence while avoiding any eye contact. Along with his three siblings, Trust had grown to the age of nine months without any human contact at all.

He would not come up to the end of his run or let a leash get slipped over his head. He would not solicit play or attention, and in the play area he paced restlessly. If I crouched submissively, making myself small, looking away with my hand stretched in the opposite direction with a piece of cheese balanced atop my palm, he eventually might risk approaching. A delicate brush of his snout against my hand, and the cheese would be gone. By the time I looked, he would already be on the other side of the yard.

And that was a good day.

I have long been drawn to the underdog, and Trust was as under as a dog could get. So naturally my husband and I decided to foster him. The week before we were scheduled to bring him home from the HSEC facility, he got off leash in the play yard and I couldn't get him back. For almost an hour we tried coaxing him in - me, my husband, other volunteers, staff - while he hovered nervously just out of reach. I was only able to reach him by belly-crawling toward him, inches at a time, until finally I slipped the leash over his head.

We took him home. For two days he wouldn't eat. We had to carry him in and out of the house for bathroom breaks (but he was so terrified inside our house, he never once had an accident). He hid in his crate. On day three, a hot dog finally convinced him to break his fast. I was just beginning to understand what I'd gotten myself into.

After a few weeks, Trust found himself a new safety spot, in the corner next to the couch where I work (I work from home). He would curl up there, small as he could get, only surrendering to sleep when he could no longer hold his head up. Then one day, I felt something brush my hand as it rested over the edge of the couch. I sat forward to look. Trust and I stared at each other. He licked his lips and yawned, a nervous behavior that he performed almost constantly. I started working again, and felt the nudge again. This time I didn't move.

Trust was pushing his head under my hand. Cautiously, I scratched. When I stopped, he bumped his head against my hand, more insistently. Wanting more scratching. Wanting attention. It was the very first time I had ever seen him show interest in me, much less a desire for affection.

I cried. (I cry a lot in this story.)

Trust learns that toys are fun to destroy
Trust lived with us for nine months. Every baby step toward normality was a major accomplishment, like when he finally began sneaking out from his crate, or when he began to eat food from my hand, or when he would go in and out of the house by himself. But for every step forward, there were days when his all-consuming fear would reduce me to tears. For example, he was particularly scared of the back door. Something about that pinch point just freaked him out. He would pace on our back porch sometimes for fifteen minutes before finally making the dash inside.

As people who adopt or foster these difficult, unsocialized dogs know, their progress can only be tracked in months or years. Even by the time Trust left us, he still couldn't do a basic "sit" (too afraid of the standard training method which involves raising the hand over the dog's head). There were rooms in the house he still wouldn't enter. He also wouldn't jump in and out of the car by himself, and while daily walks had improved dramatically, he was often driven to utter panic at something as simple as a car going by.

Video taken about six months after entering foster care - from refusing to approach us to wagging his tail! Note how he licks his lips and nervously paces up and down the stairs, still anxious about approaching me.

When the HSEC staff suggested I bring him to an adoption stand at PetSmart, I was skeptical. A noisy environment with constant unfamiliar stimuli and dozens of people shoving their hands into Trust's face. How on earth could that go well? But I had underestimated him. For one thing, unsocialized dogs raised with other dogs are comfortable interpreting doggy signals. Surrounded by dogs who were comfortable around people, Trust wasn't as freaked as I expected. He hugged my leg, but he would take treats from me, a sign that he wasn't shutting down.

A moment in the sun
There wasn't a lot of attention paid to this small black dog. A couple stopped next to us to look at a litter of puppies. Trust snuck out. My heartrate sped up as he approached the woman's leg. Silently, I begged her not to jump or startle or, worst of all, stick her hands in his face while shouting endearments. Trust sniffed her leg, ever so gently.

Then he put his head under her dangling hand and nudged her. Pet me. And she obliged, sucked in by the honey softness in his liquid brown eyes.

For the first time I saw a future for Trust outside our house or the HSEC facility. In his willingness to go up to this total stranger, his hopeful soliciting of affection, my sweet little Trustman had demonstrated a courage and resilience that many humans can't match.

I cried. Again.

Almost a year after we began fostering Trust, he was adopted from the facility. My phone number was given to the adopters. None of us were sure if this would stick. Then, a few weeks later, I got a call. Trust was now called Sam, and his new owner wanted to tell me how great he was, but I sensed something more in her voice. "You know, it might take some time for him to get comfortable with you," I said. "You have to be really patient. Sometimes he can be really frustrating."

The woman let out her breath in a rush. "Thank you for saying that," she said. "Sometimes I just don't know what we're doing wrong. I just put my head down on the table and cry."

"Well, it's not you, believe me," I assured her. And we talked for a while about him - I recommended a thundershirt, which had worked wonders for our nervous chocolate lab - then she hung up. I fretted for days that he would be returned to the facility.

I got another call weeks later. It was Thanksgiving, and she left a message. "I just wanted to tell you that Sam is like a different dog. He's just the most wonderful dog. He's a part of our family. We love him so much."

Yes, I cried.


  1. Well, here I sit sobbing. I'm Susan Basnight, and my husband Tom and I adopted Sam (Trust) in October 2011. It has been quite a journey to say the least. For the first three weeks he was with us, Sam had little to do with me and absolutely nothing to do with Tom. Sometimes he'd nudge me for some pets, but most of his time was spent upstairs in the corner of a bedroom on a little bed I had fashioned for him. Finally at my wits end, not knowing what we were doing wrong, determined not to return him, wanting so much for him to feel safe and happy, I got up the courage to call the number of the person who had fostered Sam. Anna was a treasure from God! She assured me it wasn't us, educated me about unsocialized animals, and urged us to be patient and loving. She also suggested a Thunder Shirt. Ironically, I had been in PetsMart the day before I spoke with Anna, and an associate sang the praises of the Thunder Shirt. Being skeptical, I declined to purchase it. After talking to Anna, I couldn't get back to PetsMart fast enough. When I finally managed to get the shirt on Sam, I thought he was going to keel over dead. For the longest five minutes of my life, he simply froze on the spot where he stood. Then he decided to carry on, and the improvement was amazing. His confidence shot up, he began to enjoy things, and he thought we were okay too. We took the shirt off after about a month, and things have been fine.

    I so wish people could see how far Sam has come. He struts confidently in "his" domain, runs like a bullet, loves tummy rubs, loves his toys, loves having snack time with Tom - all of it. Yes, he has his quirks and reversals and always will. Sudden movements, loud noises, strange people, and some other things (which we are still discovering) are not his favorites. BUT he has come so far and has given us so much love and happiness. I only hope that we may have given him back a fraction of that happiness.

    Thank you to the Humane Society for giving Sam and all the other animals in your care a chance. Anna, you are an angel. From fostering Sam to "fostering" me, I am forever grateful.

    To everyone, please consider adopting your next pet. The love you will receive is beyond compare.

  2. Well now I'm crying again, Susan. I can just picture Sam freaking out with that shirt on - he always would freeze like that! I'm just so happy that Sam has found his forever home and that we could be a stop on his journey.

    From my perspective, your family are the angels - everyone who adopts is an angel for that animal, but those who choose to take on those with special needs have particularly shiny halos!

  3. It took everything I had to hold my tears back, but when I saw the video - I broke down. What a transformation Sam has made with the help of being fostered and LOVED. Thanks Anna and Leland for opening up your hearts and home to Trust (at the time!) and helping him learn that it is okay for him to be a dog. And thank you, Susan, for opening up your heart to Sam and choosing the wonderful path of adoption. Anna is correct when she says, "your family are the angels - everyone who adopts is an angel for that animal."