PAWS AND PAGES: Patience for new pets

About 95 percent of the animals that come into the care of the Humane Society of Imperial County are found as stray or lost. They are found wandering the streets by animal control and are never claimed by their families.

Of the 200-plus cats and dogs (and the occasional stray bunny) that come in to our care from animal control each month, it is safe to say most of them probably do not know what the inside of a house looks like.

Many of these animals come in emaciated, covered in fleas and ticks, are dirty and quite frequently are in extremely poor health. It is hard to even say whether some of these unwanted and mistreated animals have ever had the bare minimum of veterinary care. One thing is certain, though, they were not loved.

Many were never taught manners or basic commands and were tossed in the backyard and given little attention once they no longer were cute. Animals like this crave love and attention and when they see their humans, they become overly excited and will often jump on and excessively lick people. People will often say that pets like these are “too rough,” “knock people down,” “are destructive” or “make too much noise.” It is sad to say, but they literally are attention-deprived.

When potential adopters come into our shelter to adopt a pet, many are looking for the same thing — an animal that is “pre-programmed.” This means that the animal already knows all the basic commands, does not make noise and is already potty trained. Unfortunately, in most cases, this is not a reality for these animals.

We like to take the time and explain to our adopters what these animals have had to go through prior to coming into our care. We like to take the time to help them understand how important it is to give them time to relax and to properly acclimate to the sudden and major change in their life.

Just as the adopter is getting to know the pet, the pet is getting to know its new mom and dad. These pets go from being at a home, to the streets (some becoming ill or injured during the process), scared out of their minds not knowing where they are, to being picked up by animal control, being placed in a kennel for several days, put into a truck again and then brought to our shelter. At the end of all that and in most cases, the people who were supposed to love them gave up on them.

That is a lot to go through in just five to seven short days, even for a human. This process is extremely stressful for the animals, and they do not understand why it is happening. Unfortunately, we have no way of being able to verbally communicate with them and tell them that everything will be all right.

Fortunately, most humans are incredibly good at showing these animals love and compassion and can help them realize that everything is going to be OK. It is our responsibility as animal care professionals to keep them happy, healthy and comfortable until they can find their forever homes. From that point on, it is up to our community to give them the second chance at a long life filled with unconditional love and happiness.

These animals rely on their new families to be patient and understanding. Their new families need to teach them right from wrong, what is allowed and what is not, and that now there is nothing to be feared. This process requires a lot of patience, love, positive reinforcement, proper and timely discipline, and a lot of consistency. After everything these poor animals have had to endure, they now are in an unfamiliar environment with new sites, new smells and unfamiliar faces. They are now expected to be well mannered when they have no clue what that is.

Some newly adopted pets are just so happy to be in a home that they adjust perfectly fine and in a timely manner. We do understand that there are some difficult cases, and for those who are willing to work with those animals, sometimes professional help is needed. Fortunately, the Imperial Valley has some great resources for pet training when that extra help is needed. Mike Burk is a very well-known dog trainer and behaviorist in the Imperial Valley and has more than 30 years of professional experience. Our local Petco and PetSmart stores also have knowledgeable trainers who have developed excellent training programs.

Some would say that making this kind of addition to the family is almost like raising a child. New fur-parents must understand that adopting a pet is a lifelong commitment (to the animal).

Our pets cannot understand the words that we speak to them the same way we understand when we speak to each other. They try extremely hard to understand what it is that we are saying or what it is that we want. They love us very much and they only want to make us happy. In that respect, our pets deserve the same love and understanding.


Dog training services in Imperial Valley

Mike Burk (760) 554-6569

 Petco (760) 482-9130

PetSmart (760) 679-5131


Devon Apodaca is the executive director of the Humane Society of Imperial County.

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