We’ve all seen that phrase somewhere – dog is my co-pilot. For the dog enthusiasts of the world this message is simple – life without a canine companion is not much of a life.


Jada spent much, or perhaps all, of her first 2 years chained up outside. Metro Animal Care and Control (MACC) rescued her from a life of abuse and neglect. Her third year of life was spent at MACC in a kennel while the human who had legal ownership went through the court system. Almost one year to the day after she went to MACC Jada entered the foster program at Crossroads Pets. Happy ending?

Jada is safe. She’s in a foster home where she gets good food, a soft bed, toys, treats, chew toys, affection – but that’s not enough. Jada now has the challenge of learning how to live in a home; that’s not something she has any experience doing. It’s a tough challenge. Jada needs patience, consistency and time to help her overcome a traumatic past.

Human-Animal connections

Walking through the adoption kennels at MACC is part of my job. Several times a month two or three people from Crossroads make the trip to MACC. Our task is very simple: transfer dogs and cats into our foster & adoption programs. Most of the time I walk away knowing I’ve helped, knowing that the dogs & cats in our program have a bright future ahead of them. Some days the walk knocks the breath out of me, leaving me with a deep sense of hopelessness and despair. Some days I meet dogs like Jada, needy souls who claim a part of my heart, who haunt my thoughts.

I knew that Jada would require behavior modification and training. I knew the possibility that she suffered from anxiety. I knew that fostering her would be hard, it would be challenging…I knew that some days I would question my decision. I knew that somehow Jada and I had connected. I knew the road to recovery for Jada began at Crossroads. I knew that I needed to step up to the challenge. So, Jada left her shelter home on January 8, 2014, a year and 5 days after going to MACC and entered Crossroads’ Foster and Adoption program.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPanic attacks, toys, and kisses

Even after all that Jada lived through during her first years of life she is one of the most affectionate, personable dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Much of the credit goes to the staff at MACC. Overworked, understaffed, and tasked with a nearly impossible job, people took extra time to interact with Jada. Human interaction makes a huge difference for shelter dogs; it helps them endure the isolation and loneliness that shelter life is. A caring staff and volunteers are crucial for shelters to be successful in their adoption programs. Too often county shelters are short of staff and volunteers.

Jada’s days are full of challenges. Left alone she will cry and bark, scratch at the door, and whimper all in a desperate attempt to be with people. Once a person appears, she’s full of loose body wags, soft happy eyes, and kisses. In the presence of people she’ll play, romp, squeak her tennis ball and snuggle.  Two of Jada’s sources of fear and anxiety are being alone and unfamiliar dogs.

There is an important distinction between fear and aggression. Jada, like so many fearful dogs, does not know how to interact with other dogs, which prompts her to give warning barks as dogs approach her. Dogs who are tethered outside are vulnerable and cannot defend themselves, so they bark at whatever is frightening. When the intruder leaves (human or animal), the dog makes the connection that barking made the ‘scary thing’ go away. When a dog gets too close to Jada she barks – warning barks, barks that communicate ‘leave me alone, stay out of my space.’ Perfectly reasonable behavior for any creature left in a vulnerable situation for months or years. Will she overcome her fear of other dogs? Time will tell. She has made friends with my blind/deaf Great Dane, but still shows fear around the other two dogs. We are proceeding with respect for Jada’s comfort level, allowing her time to settle and get comfortable in the presence of the other dogs before making more introductions.

Jada’s future

Jada is ready for her HOME. But until her ‘just right’ person walks into her life she will continue living in her foster home. She will continue learning that the world all around isn’t always scary. Will she overcome her anxiety and fear? I believe she will in time. I suspect that the human that opens his or her heart and home to Jada will experience a level of love and loyalty from Jada that few people share with their canines. Jada is a rare and beautiful jewel, one of the special pups who survive unimaginable cruelty and neglect  at the hands of humans and then emerge with grace, dignity and boundless love to share.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJada, co-pilot in training

On that first morning commute with Jada she planted herself between the front bucket seats, watching the road. The HOV lane was empty, so I maneuvered into the lane and cruised, Jada at my side. She watched my every move. Once in awhile she laid her head on my shoulder. I opened the window slightly so she could smell the air, something my dogs enjoy. Jada startled and moved far away from the window.  A simple thing that most dogs enjoy unsettled Jada. I closed the window and she relaxed. Every moment during our commute she soaked up new information, she learned new things about the wide world around her. Right now Jada is a co-pilot in training. She’s learning that humans will protect her from scary things rather than subjecting her to the things that cause fear.

A day is coming for Jada – her “gotcha day” – when that ‘just right’ human says to Jada “let’s go home TOGETHER”.  Jada is the canine companion that a special dog enthusiast can’t imagine life without. Jada is someone’s co-pilot.