Wilbur and Orville arrived at Secondhand Mutts after months of living in a hoarding situation and four months of living at a kennel in southern Ohio. We are not quite sure what they suffered, but it is obvious that at minimum it was extreme deprivation of proper human attention and any physical or emotional affection.
When they arrived in Cleveland, they were literally paralyzed with fear. Wilbur and Orville spent their first two weeks avoiding humans and human touch at all cost and they would spend hours in the exact same position, most often on top of each other if there was a human around. They would hide and keep their faces buried in corners. The Mutt Hutt staff member and Secondhand Mutt volunteer Leah was their most constant companion, given they were either in or near her office while she worked…it was a given they’d warm up to her first and there was their first human bonded relationship!
Soon after the boys slowly learned to trust staff members at The Mutt Hutt and allowed volunteers to “walk” them. They were terrified of strangers and cars and leaves blowing in the wind. Their “walks” often took them no further than the corner and took 30 minutes just to get there. It would take months before they were comfortable enough with anyone to just.walk.
The one thing the boys loved was dogs: all dogs! Thankfully we were able to secure a foster for them with two great dogs that are regulars at The Mutt Hutt. Early in November of 2014, the boys made their first adventure to that foster home. It was clear the change scared them but having the resident dogs and a kind and patient foster family (a set of female cousins) helped them transition to being able to show affection and sleep on couches and be more like actual dogs. They learned household behaviors from their foster dog sister, Maizey and would follow her and their foster brother Jack around, observing behavior and then eventually trying things themselves. The boys’ favorite activity was sleeping on top of the dogs or their foster mom Gina. Their potential for a lifelong companion was obvious—it was just a matter of time and trust. Oh, and a house without a lot of closed doors and strangers. The boys engaged in fear barking and fear piddling even after weeks in the safe environment with the same two people. The barking left much to be desired.
The boys returned to TMH for the holidays. By this point, they were getting better adjusted and were able to go to monthly adoption events at the Pet People in Rocky River. They were frequent guests at Pet People, and did well with the staff and customers. Their big brown eyes and obvious want for attention (even if they didn’t always know how to receive it) pulled people in and they’d receive treats and kisses and pets and ear scratches and learned over time to spend less of their visits huddled under tables and locked behind the legs of the volunteers they knew.
Over the course of the next year or so the boys would move in and out of different foster homes and trials for adoption. They made an escape through a broken fence at a foster home and ended up putting dozens and dozens of volunteers to work searching for Wilbur (Orville was caught right away) in the dead of winter. Good Samaritans found/captured him a week later but Secondhand Mutts volunteers and organizers always had to be on high alert with them…and this was something to manage whenever introducing them to new fosters or fosters to adopt.
It was Orville that relaxed into being a regular, trusting dog first…but he could be set off whenever Wilbur became anxious or upset (which was still often) and we decided, after much discussion and debate to try and separate them.
It worked for Orville and he spent a lot of his time with the same foster home that he had started off with. Meanwhile, Wilbur spent a lot of his time at The Mutt Hutt. During this time, while much of his behavior (alarm barking and charging) was challenging to the staff, everyone understood that Wilbur was the way he was because of the terrible situation he came from. Staff members worked endless hours with him and along the way, Jessica grew especially fond of him. Jessica and her family opened their home to him for a long-term foster over the summer of 2015, because Wilbur was not relaxing into this stable, quiet home and a regular routine (he continued to come to daycare because he has always loved being around the other dogs!), we consulted with our partners at Gateway Animal Clinic and decided to try medication for him, continues to be on medication to this day.
Even with all of this, in the end, he just simply remained too fearful and had latched onto Jessica and continued to bark and charge at anyone else in the home and so when she went back to school he came back to The Mutt Hutt.
In late July of 2015 a young couple, Amber and Shawn, arranged to meet SHM’s Wilbur, Orville and Sparkle. They recently moved to the Cleveland area and were excited to be in a position to add dogs to their family. They immediately fell in love with Wilbur and Orville, and took them home over a weekend for a trial. The couple had high energy and experience with troubled rescued dogs. Orville immediately adjusted to the spacious apartment and lifestyle but Wilbur’s alarm barking and charging was too much for this living situation in the end. Luckily for Orville, the family wanted to give him a chance and see how he did as a single dog. It was a happy surprise for everyone that Orville did great in the apartment. We were glad to give them the time they needed to acclimate to each other and on Labor Day 2015, they signed on the dotted line and made the adoption official. He lives a very active lifestyle with his new family and has a dog sister, Sparkle that the couple also adopted through Secondhand Mutts. Sparkle further helped Orville relax into being a great dog and enjoying the fantastic life he has. Orville now goes by the name Oakley and Sparkle is now known as Sophie!
The pair spends their evenings curled up and spooning each other in the center of the couch. Oakley still struggles with some of his anxieties and fears, particularly with men, but there has been a large improvement with his ability to start trusting and loving Shawn through the help of Sophie and Amber.
Wilbur was still waiting and finally caught the eye of a family of three. The husband, wife and adult daughter had noticed Wilbur on the website and felt he would be a great addition to their family. The couple understood Wilbur’s less-than-ideal character traits and had experienced similar nervous tendencies and anxieties with their beloved dog, Chester who had recently passed away. The family was looking to save another dog and their remaining dog Mason was looking for a new companion as well. So a trial was set and off Wilbur went and we all held our breath (again) waiting to see what would happen. The family started off spending hours working with Wilbur to overcome his anxiety and fear of men, and also give him his space to decompress and explore on his own. Their love for Wilbur and his bond with them became evident after Wilbur (typical behavior) bolted out of their door and was on the run…again! It was a whole new search party but in the end…he went right to Nora (Kevin and Linda’s daughter) once he spotted her. After that it only took a few weeks for the family to make it official.
The family has been a great fit for Wilbur. Their patience and understanding of his behavior has been keen. His family knows not to overwhelm him with too many guests, and to allow him to approach and cuddle on his own terms. He has a big backyard to run around in and a tiny brother dog to play with. They are all getting along great. We are so grateful this loving family has opened their doors to Wilbur, understands his needs, and is giving him the love and affection we all wanted for him for so long.
This truly is about our huge network of volunteers and supporters. Everyone from volunteer chaperones and dog walkers, to our vets and the staff at Gateway and the kind staff and visitors at Pet People and our foster families and everyone who shared their pictures or stopped to say hello. To those that walked the streets in the dark, calling for a dog that would never answer (btw: he wears a GPS collar now!) and to the amazing staff at The Mutt Hutt who endured so much alarm barking and charging from two little dogs as they tried to find their place in this world. We know that it’s always worth the wait in the end (for our dogs and their new families) but this never would have happened without the dozens and dozens of people who poured their hearts into this mission…to help these dogs become dogs and to find them loving and deserving homes. We never could have pulled this off without all of you: thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.