Rufo's Legacy For Shelter Dogs

Today I saw a lovely video that brought tears of joy to my eyes. It was about the story of Rufo, a shelter dog that spent six years waiting for a new home. The video is sweet and full of hope, however, even though Rufo has a happy ending, his story is both quite sad and unusual.

While I understand why the shelter and all of Rufo’s friends and supporters really wanted to celebrate his triumph, I also fear that Rufo’s story may send the wrong message. I fear more shelters will try to keep dogs languishing or suffering for too long because “they might be the next Rufo”. I fear that people may be comforted by Rufo’s story and feel that it’s okay to surrender their dog at a shelter because “they all find good homes”.

Six years is a very long time to spend in a shelter, even a very good one. The video mentions that while Rufo got out for exercise every day, he generally spent 22 hours of each 24 in his kennel. That’s no way for a dog to live.

It’s a true testament to Rufo’s personality that he was able to withstand shelter life for so many years. It is not the norm. Most dogs show signs of mental deterioration within just a few weeks of constant kenneling and very few are still mentally healthy after over a year at a shelter. Many dogs learn bad habits in shelters and become reactive, de-house-trained, or fearful if left kenneled for too long.

Shelters are extremely stressful, they are smelly (even if they are very clean the chemicals used to keep things sanitary have strong odors), often noisy, and full of anxious and confused animals. The frustration that comes from being helplessly confined behind fences and in confined spaces can often lead dogs to become agitated and barrier aggressive or the overstimulation causes them to emotionally shut down.

The video also mentions that Rufo received regular one-on-one time playing ball with his favorite people and that he had been trained during his shelter stay as well. I’m sure this regular physical and mental stimulation helped to keep Rufo healthy over the years.

Kennel enrichment and training programs are essential for every shelter, because every animal has the right to live and learn with dignity, but programs such as Open Paw are particularly important for shelters that keep animals for long periods of time to keep them from deteriorating mentally and behaviorally. A good shelter instills the necessary skills in it’s residence to help them get and keep a new and permanent home.

So while Rufo’s story is inspiring and I’m very happy for him, the reality for most shelter dogs is not as sweet. Please help Rufo's legacy be a good one for all shelter animals. Please consider volunteering at your local shelter and help make the lives of all shelter animals a bit brighter and more bearable.

For more information on how to do so, visit OpenPaw.org