Unwanted dogs often get labeled with negative character traits simply because no one ever took the time to train them.
A pit bull named Jake fell into that category. Jake was incredibly reactive when he was discovered in a high-kill shelter in Utah. The shelter planned to euthanize him because they felt he was too excitable and large to ever fit into a family home. With space at a premium, they needed to make room for dogs who had more potential to be adopted.
Thankfully, Best Friends Animal Society removed Jake from that shelter and brought him to their facility in hopes of rehabilitating the big fella. As soon as they took him in, shelter workers realized that he’s a sweetie at heart, but a big blundering boy who went batty over every new sight, sound, and smell he encountered.
“He was understandably overwhelmed, excitable, and surrounded by new sounds, smells, and faces,” shelter workers recalled. “Reacting intensely when he saw people or other dogs, he’d pull and jump, eager to get close to them. He was also big and strong and didn’t seem to have any understanding of personal space.”
Best Friends immediately placed the high-strung dog into a sanctuary environment to give him “time and space to unwind.”
At the new shelter, Jake started to learn basic commands and manners, and he responded well. Volunteer Susan Fishbein decided to take the dog home for a sleepover one night, and by the next morning she’d decided he was the perfect candidate to try Animal Assisted Play Therapy. She reached out to her friend, Dr. Risë VanFleet, who is a psychologist, play therapist, and president of the International Institute for Animal-Assisted Therapy.
Risë trains therapy dogs. She also helps humans connect and express their feelings through fun play activities with trained animals. After Susan sent her some videos of Jake’s behavior in the shelter, Risë became convinced she could transform this dog into a perfect play therapy ambassador.
“The more I saw, the more I liked. I also trusted her judgment,” Risë said of Susan. “Usually, I like to meet the animals in person, but I’m in Pennsylvania (and Jake was in Utah) — not exactly a day’s trip.”
Based on Susan’s recommendation and the videos she observed, Risë decided to adopt Jake. His training started on day one, and he has come a long way since he joined Risë’s household. He can now greet people and animals calmly, observe cats and other small animals without attacking them, and even watch other dogs from a distance without reacting.
“I try not to overtrain my dogs, but obviously they need to learn how to live politely with other dogs and cats, and us,” Risë explained. “Those are the main things we’ve worked on because most of the time is (spent) observing him, playing with him, having a good time, and understanding where his limits are when he does kind of lose his mind a little bit with the over-enthusiasm.”
Just four months after going to live with Risë, Jake’s new play therapy skills were put to the test! She took him along to an Animal Assisted Play Therapy: Theory, Research, & Practice program to act as a teaching assistant, and he did great! He loved meeting all of the new people, and you’d never know he was once so hyperactive he’d bowl people over just a few short months ago.
“I’m really pleased with how he’s doing so far,” said Risë. “I think he’s going to be a great play therapy dog.”
Jake had so much hidden potential; the fact that he was almost euthanized breaks our hearts! We’re glad he was found by the perfect people to turn his life around, and now he’ll return the favor through the power of play.
Share this story to root for Jake as he heads down this new life path.
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