Makeovers help place shelter pets
Sunday, February 16, 2003
AN INNOVATIVE makeover project has been launched by the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association to transform shelter dogs and cats into adoptable pets. Although outward appearance is a consideration, the primary focus is to deliver a healthy, well-behaved candidate for adoption.
The process includes behavior modification (if necessary), socialization and a bit of basic training. First to volunteer his services was Larry Wolf of the Willingboro Veterinary Clinic in Burlington County, who shared the tale of the first successful makeover.
The project began last fall when Cliff Sporn of Schoolhouse Animal Hospital in Burlington told Wolf he had a dog that fit the bill. "No one seemed to want the spaniel-beagle mix, who was running out of options," Wolf said.
When he met the friendly fellow, estimated to be about 4 years old, he found the dog "sweet and deserving a good home." But first, Wolf and staff had a host of problems to tackle with the 35-pound pooch -- a perfect fit for the new program.
"Shelter dogs need homes. We did everything we could, so that Fortunato could get one," said Wolf, who chose the dog's quirky name (rather than Lucky, which, the vet said, seemed "too obvious.")
Clever as the name was, it was quickly shortened to Fort.
In the five months he was being readied for a permanent home, the hospital was his base. "Everyone on staff loved him. Fort kept morale up," Wolf said.
Fort is a spaniel-beagle mix who got a makeover to prepare him for adoption.
A prime reason that Fort hadn't been adopted was a gimpy hind leg. Blood tests also revealed Lyme disease, accompanied by a nasty case of ringworm.
Surgery for the leg was dismissed because it was estimated to be an old injury, most likely from an auto accident. "Surgery did not seem in his best interests because he does so well," Wolf said. "It was only about an inch shorter than the other hind leg. It just wasn't causing him any problem."
Initially, too, Fort displayed fear when any large dog passed his kennel -- probably reflecting a past confrontation, Wolf guessed. "We got him acclimated to larger dogs and he was fine," the vet said, attributing the change to behavior modification techniques. "He was fine with cats and small dogs from the start."
Home at last
When Leona and George Fluck of Robbinsville spotted newspaper photos of the work in progress, they were hooked by the cute dog engulfed in soapsuds as he receiving a bath at Wolf's hospital. Without realizing it, Leona Fluck echoed Wolf's words: "Shelter dogs need homes," she said. "His picture caught our hearts.
"We've always had rescue dogs. We found Teddy Bear, an abandoned dog estimated to be around 16 and took him in," she said. The chow-mix enjoyed three more years on their 20-acre wheat and soybean farm in relatively good health, aside from arthritis, which, she said, was controlled by acupuncture.
Around the time of Teddy Bear's death, the makeover article had appeared. The couple waited a bit before making the call to Willingboro. "I thought he probably would be gone, but he was obviously meant for us," Leona Fluck said, her voice emotional.
A trip to Wolf's practice proved her point. "George picked him up and put him on his lap. That was it," she recalled, although they had to wait three more weeks until the ringworm was completely gone. When they drove to Willingboro for the official adoption, the rehabilitated dog rushed directly to George Fluck. "Fort remembered him," she said. "He's very smart."
Fort takes a seat on the lap of his new owner, George Fluck of Robbinsville.
Fort found a menagerie waiting at the Fluck's farm: 11-year-old Max, a cocker; 8-year-old Max, a black Lab, and Missy, an 11-year-old border-mix -- all rescues.
Because the two Maxes came pre-named, "we call them Max 1 and 2," said Leona Fluck. Her husband offered a unique comment about the addition of Fort to their furry family: "We weren't just bringing in another animal. We were bringing in four more feet."
Because of Wolf's socialization techniques, Fort has blended in quickly with his new family, which also includes five cats, making a grand total of 36 feet traipsing around the Fluck's farm.
George Fluck handled the intros, one dog at a time, not to overwhelm the newcomer. There were no fights, and only one growl emanated from Missy, described alternately by the Flucks as the "queen" or the alpha dog.
"Fort's disability doesn't slow him down for a minute. He runs like the wind on three legs and then uses his back leg walking or standing," said Leona Fluck. "It's like Fort has always been with us. Our dogs are part of the family."
"Dr. Wolf and his staff provided very loving care all those months. ...," she said. "The staff was so sad to see him go and hugged him good-bye. They gave such good advice, it made his adaptation so easy. They were so kind, I call them with updates."
At this writing, Fort had only been with the Flucks two weeks. "We just hope other folks' hearts will be touched and they'll adopt a shelter dog," Leona Fluck said. "Fort has already done pet therapy with Max II, the cocker. He's a natural."
Leona Fluck spends a moment with Fort under the watchful eyes of Max, another canine in the family.