As I was making my way through as many jobs as possible this summer, Gerry a 5-year dog walker volunteer, saw me in the hallway and said: “You should walk dogs with me”. I took her up on the spot, and we scheduled a time to job shadow her.
You may think anyone can walk a shelter dog. Well, it is not that simple. In our shelter we have “green” dogs, who are easy-peasy Fidos, we have “yellow” dogs, which can be a bit more challenging to walk and need an expert hand to make sure they are successful in their walks, and we also have “red” dogs… these guys need a very experienced dog walker who every time is helping the dog become a better member of our dog-human society.
And guess what? The vast majority of the dogs arriving in our shelter are more yellow and red than green. So we have a need for trained, experienced dog walkers, who undergo a lot of sessions with our Behaviour team, job shadow for a while, and finally become ready to take on the most challenging pooches under our care.
As with everything else at the WHS, dog walking is a well-oiled machine. There is a board, where each dog has a space and we record information in terms of when was the last time the dog was walked, the type of dog (green, yellow or red), and any behaviour or medical concerns. Volunteers pick dogs based on the last time they were walked and their respective skill level.
On a Monday morning, Gerry introduced me to Koda. He is a 1.5-year-old large breed pup, which came to us with a fractured jaw from Beausejour, Manitoba. He is pure energy, is super goofy, has very little manners, and likes to jump and pull as hard as he can. Thankfully, he also loves food, and that helps to re-direct all that energy.
The first step was to open the door of his kennel/adoption condo without Koda running out. Gerry used a technique I call the “treat grenade”: she brings homemade treats -cheese, ham, hotdogs- and as she opens the door she throws them to the floor as far as she can. With Koda trying to get to all that goodness, we got in the room. Success!
Then, we had to place a proper walking harness on him to make sure our walk will be safe. While Gerry was offering Koda a nice big cookie, we quickly placed the harness on him and then made sure it was properly secured. I tried to help, failing on my first two attempts to get the latches on, but finally succeeded. I am clearly better at sending emails than placing a harness on a jumpy dog.
We were ready to start the walk. Koda is very keen on other animals… very keen. We don’t quite know his background or history, most rescue dogs come without records, so we want to go slow and make sure we understand the difference between wanting to investigate and wanting to chase another pet. So for now we are steering away from other pets.
The coast was clear. We opened the door and headed outside. Koda was pulling quite hard, and Gerry re-directed that energy with a calm pace and her fabulous home-made treats. “Let’s walk this way”, she told me, and then we realized another dog was approaching in the opposite direction. “Let’s walk the other way”, Gerry said and we quickly changed course.
Koda knew Gerry. He stayed close to her the whole time. And to confirm how much Koda likes Gerry, when I was finally given the okay to walk him, he was always looking to make sure Gerry was around. That is how amazing, competent, committed and well-trained our volunteers are. Everything we do here, we have top-notch people. I am a very lucky CEO, no doubt.
Koda did his business, and as the reader of our blogs may know already, we pay attention to poop. So we noticed it was not as solid as we would like, and Gerry made sure to note that in the chart by Koda’s door. But before going back, we headed towards one of our outdoor pens, so Koda could run without a leash and burn some of that energy he has. Koda needs to find a home where he can really run around and display all his goofiness. And he did! The good news is that Koda was updated shortly after this walk.
To reward Koda for a good walk, and to entice them to enter his kennel, we put a few more treats and then took the harness off him. Before saying goodbye, we did a few good bum rubs and praised Koda for being such a good boy. He is a happy-go lucky guy, and he jumped a little bit. To signal that jumping was not okay, Gerry simply turned her back and said “no”. Koda understood and sat, semi-patiently. With a bit more work, love, and commitment I know Koda will turn out to be a wonderful dog.
His jaw is healed, it looks a bit funny, but there is no more pain and he can eat normally. Thanks to our donors, thanks to our volunteers and the staff, we took a seriously injured dog that obviously did not know about city life and were able to provide Koda a new chance.
As for Gerry, I am sure glad she invited me to job shadow her; and I am so inspired by her commitment and her passion for all animals. Not only she has become an expert dog walker helping us with the most challenging pups; she also donated TVs, so our cats in adoptions who are not suited to live in a community cat condo have the opportunity to watch cat-friendly videos to enrich their day and make them happy.
Be sure to check out my past posts in the Undercover Boss (not really) Series here.