The Red Dress Syndrome


In the world of animal sheltering there is a science to getting animals adopted in the shortest amount of time. I would never had thought that much about it before I got started in rescue, but it is true.

You have to keep a variety of animals on your floor that all look different. If you have two hound dogs, you don't pull another until those are adopted. If you have two Pits, you get those adopted before pulling more. I often compare it to shopping for a red dress. If I go to a store and all they have are blue dresses, but I had my heart set on red, I might pass up the most beautiful blue dress simply because I didn't see a red one and couldn't even take the time to notice. I then leave with no dress at all. The store's inventory would never change, and no dresses would ever be purchased or worn. A no-kill shelter must operate on the same level. People often ask how we decide what to pull. My answer is, we have to know what we have on hand at all times and make our shelter as diverse and colorful as possible.

At the same time, we have to evaluate the animal's temperament. There are fast trackers that we know will get adopted the second we open because they are small or young or are full of personality and there are slow trackers that might be really shy or "ordinary" or bark behind barriers which people tend to see as something bad and walk by. The animals with quirks stay longer, but they are very worth our time and deserve to be loved as well. We still pull slow trackers, but just like the dresses, we can only have a few at a time or our animals would never move and the longer they stay, the less lives we can save.

Miss Hattie is neither a beautiful red dress nor is she what we would call a fast tracker. In fact, she might be considered a risky inventory selection. But she needed someone to take a risk on her and boy did she deserve it. She arrived at my home petrified of everything, including me. She found a safe place in my garage and although I left the door open all the time for her to come in the house, it was days before I could get her through the threshold. She shows the signs of abuse, neglect and lack of socialization. It is clear to me that no one ever loved Miss Hattie.

She delivered eight of the sweetest puppies. All are fast trackers since they are puppies and cute ones at that. They will all be quickly adopted and Miss Hattie will be left behind. It is always my goal to get my mamas adopted, too. This might be my biggest challenge yet given Miss Hattie's personality. On the outside, she is an ordinary brown hound with sagging boobs and scars that have no fur on them. She cowers at an outstretched hand, runs from footsteps and hides at the sound of a voice. But as her foster mom, I can tell you that she is so much more than what you see. She is courageous. She is a fighter. She is fearfully loving. She is gentle and in the quiet moments when she gets brave enough to approach, she has the most beautiful and soulful brown eyes you could ever see. Her story is in her eyes and all she wants in this world is comfort, love and safety.

She has come so far. She now chooses to spend her days inside with us. She uses the dog door and has never had an accident. I've never heard her bark. She always wags her tail at me, even when she cowers, as if to say she is sorry for being afraid. She will never be a snuggly dog, but she will lay near your feet and that should be enough. She will never let you hold her collar and might not ever chase a ball, but she will keep you company and adore you, even if it is from afar. You will not meet her and feel an instant bond, but you will feel her soul in your bones when you see how much she needs you. She just needs someone to love her just the way she is and to believe in her. Miss Hattie still deserves a forever.

I'm glad I don't wear red dresses or I might have missed this one. I think if you tried her on for size, you would see how beautiful she is, too.

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