Let’s be honest. We took one look at Saul sitting in his kennel at the shelter, and the same adjective crossed all our minds: stud muffin.
Now, we’re known for our unconventional take on medium-large breed shelter dogs who have some behavior quirks caused by the shelter environment, but no one who met Saul could disagree that he was cutest, most handsome, most gorgeous, most … uh … well, you get the idea. All of our volunteers took one look him and, like us, fell head over heels in love with him.
The trouble with that was that everyone wanted to take Saul out, but Saul wasn’t quite the dog for every handler (yet). For one, he didn’t seem to know what petting and touch was all about, and he didn’t like it. For another, he was incredibly frustrated that he couldn’t hang out and play with all his neighbors, and his sheer size coupled with some barrier frustration meant walking the gauntlet to the end of his kennel row wasn’t for the faint of heart or weak of upper body. Saul was a young dog, and as with all adolescents, he had some maturing and learning to do, or he wasn’t going to make it to an adoptive home.
With the help of our dedicated volunteers, Saul learned that his real calling in life was to be a 65lb “lap dog”. He came to our weekly group class where he learned, and then on one breathtaking occasion demonstrated, a fantastic recall. He went for car rides. He regularly visited the homes of our directors where he watched TV (seriously) and awkwardly played with one of our directors’ dogs.
However, all of this wasn’t enough to ensure Saul a safe passage through the shelter to an adoptive home. He hated the shelter, and he suffered physically with rashes and hives as well as emotionally. But as it turns out, good looks and a winning personality can sometimes carry even a naughty youngster to better circumstances, and this was the case for Saul. Through our marketing and networking efforts, one of our very generous and kind-hearted donors offered to foster Saul just when it looked like he wasn’t going to survive the shelter. And then with a little more marketing and a stroke of luck, one of our supporters made an introduction that ultimately led to a very happy end of Saul’s shelter journey. We couldn’t be happier to bring you Saul’s story.
I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. But in January of 2015, after years of dog sitting for everyone else (and loving it), I decided this was the year I would adopt a dog of my own. I was partial to bully breeds and wanted to give one of them a home, since the shelters seemed to be full of them. I painted quite a picture in my mind of the dog I would have. He or she would be middle aged, well adjusted, quiet, and calm. We would have a lovely life sitting on café patios together. People would come and pet him/her while I sketched and sipped coffee. He or she would take it all in, calmly laying by my side.
Well, I got the bully breed part right.
A friend directed me to Dogs Out Loud, who encouraged me to meet Saul. He was a big, beautiful, one-and-a-half year old pittie whom they affectionately called “beefcake” and “meatball.” He struggled with shelter life and DOL had placed him in a foster home. The first time I met him was at an outdoor event, where he ignored me. I thought he was adorable, but didn’t feel much of a connection. The next time I met him was in his foster home, where he jumped in my face, almost broke my nose, and then stared out the back window at some feral cats for the rest of the visit.
Can we say “socially awkward”?
No, no, no. This was not my dog. This beast would scare off all patrons at my fantasy café patio.
But, his foster situation was ending soon, and DOL asked if I’d be willing to house him temporarily. Even though he was a very different dog than what I wanted, I felt for him and I didn’t want to see him go back to a bad situation at the shelter. I agreed to give it a try.
He arrived at my house on a chilly night. DOL brought a bed for him and we put it in front of the fireplace. He quickly curled up and went to sleep like he’d lived here all along. I remember covering him with a blanket and seeing him completely at peace, a far cry from the bounding barrel of energy I had first met.
Over the next few weeks, we became friends. He followed me everywhere, and was sad when I left the house. We played tug and went on walks. I began to see the goofy, sweet, loveable, people-pleasing dog that he is. Though there were a lot of good things happening, there was a lot of stress as well. He ate things that weren’t his, he barked at and jumped on my guests, he pulled me on our walks, and he literally knocked me over while playing in the yard. For someone who had never owned a dog, it was all a bit overwhelming.
I never doubted Saul’s character or intentions, but I very quickly doubted my own ability to take good care of him. This dog was special. I really wanted him to get the training he needed to interact with people more politely. I was not a professional dog handler, and I didn’t feel I had the experience necessary to really help him achieve his potential. Knowing I was becoming attached, but fearing I was not the person for the job long-term, I decided it would be best to part ways with him. DOL found him another foster and we said a tearful goodbye.
But wait! This is not the end.
A month or so passed, and then I was asked to dog sit for Saul while his new foster dad was out of town. Having him this time was a little easier. I knew what to expect. I was able to relax and enjoy him for who he was, rather than focus on all the things we’d need to “fix.” I noticed that even though things weren’t perfect, he seemed happy at my house. I began to suspect that my caretaker skills were not as bad as I thought.
Foster Dad had to travel one or two more times, so this process repeated until I just couldn’t take seeing Saul leave anymore. I was completely in love. He had become such a presence in my house. Even friends and roommates noticed a void when he was gone. I knew having him permanently would be a challenge, but I was ready to take on that challenge. I committed to learning how to help him, while loving and accepting him as he was. He was not the calm and collected dog of my dreams, but that was ok. In fact, that was great. He made me learn. I loved his funny quirks. He certainly loved me with all of my quirks. With DOL offering lifetime support, I knew I wasn’t 100% alone in this. In May of 2015, I signed the adoption papers, and he was my dog.
With the help of Dogs Out Loud, some trainers, and some friends, Saul has come a long way since then. His greetings with new people have gotten better. He has been able to live with 2 other dogs successfully. He understands which household items are his and which are not. We continue to work and learn together every day. I have no doubt that there will be a day when he can sit on that patio with me and take it all in while staying calm. Although, let’s be honest, I don’t live in Paris, I’m not retired, and I rarely end up sitting on public patios sipping coffee.
I’m forever grateful that DOL saw potential in Saul when they met him at the shelter. I don’t even want to think about what may have happened if they did not. The list of things they’ve done and continue to do for him is endless. What’s special for me, though, is the potential they saw in me to be his person, even when I did not. Without their guidance and support, I would never have thought it possible for me to adopt him. I’m so lucky that the timing all worked out, and DOL was able to keep Saul safe and comfortable until I became confident enough to make it permanent. Mostly, I’m just lucky to have this dog.
While most shelter dogs go on to lead wonderful lives with no extra support or resources needed in their forever homes, there is a group of good, savable dogs who need creative solutions to make it to adoptive homes. Even though Austin is “no-kill”, those dogs are still at risk of long stays, unsuccessful adoptions, and even euthanasia at Austin’s city shelter. The support Dogs Out Loud provides to foster families is an important way we help fill that gap and ensure dogs like Saul have a place to land while waiting for that stroke of luck that will be their forever home.
That we can provide this level of support to foster families is possible because of the donations we receive. For dogs like Saul and all the other foster dogs we support, we spend a minimum of $300 on items like a crate, bed, high quality food, enrichment items, treats, sitters (when needed), and more, for each of our fostered dogs. If you would like to help us help shelter dogs succeed in foster homes, please consider donating to our Amplify Austin campaign and help us meet our goal of $15,000 so we can help medium-large breed dogs at Austin Animal Center stay in loving forever homes.