So I drove out to St. Louis from Colorado over three days a few weeks ago. Parked overnight at the head of the rescue's house in very rural Missouri near Jefferson city. Bit of "Deliverance" vibes but no banjos where he had me park on his wooded property so I could plug in my AC
Next morning on Friday, July 15, we drove two hours to the St. Louis County Pet Adoption Center. Despite the name, they don't adopt to individuals? They only "transfer" animals to organizations like the rescue even though Kuma never went through the rescue's hands.
Kuma's owner died and the owner's family left Kuma in the owner's house by himself for a month coming by to feed him and let him out. His owner had taken Kuma everywhere I'm told. Evidently, he always sat in the passenger seat which is relevant to the story. Remember the huge changes and stresses he's been under.
The family had Kuma in his car with a stranger to Kuma in his front passenger seat. The woman reached back to pet Kuma and he growled at her. So she did it again (!?!) and there was another growl. The third time Kuma "bit" her. He did not break the skin but the family turned him in to the county shelter as "ORE", Owner Requests Euthanasia.
The St. Louis County shelter is a kill shelter. They're overrun with dogs, especially pit bulls, but the shelter workers recognized Kuma's actual nature and kept him off the euthanasia list. They tried hard to get him adopted for more than month as large dogs don't get adopted easily. And he is a big dog.
The first day driving from St. Louis to visit a friend in a south Chicago suburb was anxiety provoking with Kuma growling every time I put a hand near his crate. First few days in general were anxiety ridden, my underlying anxiety issues not helping, wondering what I had gotten myself into. I was thinking the worst, my life was going to become very difficult, he was not going to get along with my current dog, Charley, be an escaper, be dog and people aggressive, can't take him anywhere and on and on. Anxiety thoughts.
You don't see the true personality of dogs in the extremely stressful environment shelters. It takes time for dogs to learn that they are in a safe, stable, loving environment before their personalities slowly emerge. The "Rule of Threes". 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months are supposedly time points where their personality comes out in stages as they learn trust.
Kuma's size doesn't come out well in the photos. Charley is not a small dog, he's 50 lbs. I was seriously intimidated by Kuma's size. The initial growliness didn't help. At all.
He's coming along fine now. And quickly as trust is building. It took a few days for him to stop growling at me. It took two weeks for his actual fun and playful nature to emerge. I followed standard Malamute introduction protocols keeping him and Charley separated. They were always kept apart by gates while in the house and were always in the yard by themselves. A friend helped me walk them together, initially with no contact until they lost interest in each other. You really want to avoid an early fight as they may hate each other forever after.
Random thoughts. A dog that will growl is good. He's polite enough to tell you that he doesn't like whatever it is you are doing without biting you. Some people freak out and yell at their dog for growling and train the growl out. What can happen is that the dog's bite threshold is now lower than their growl threshold. If the dog is again stressed enough they may bite instead of growling first. Kuma is very polite as the family's "bite" incident is clearly him elevating things to the next stage, moving the woman's hand away with his mouth, the only way dogs can. Kuma is so big, he could've done serious damage so easily and so quickly if he had wanted.
A dog's personality is often hidden in the high stress environment of a shelter. They'll be aggressive or completely withdrawn in the shelter making them difficult to adopt. This is where fosters are valuable by providing a calm and loving environment where the dog can show his best side to potential adopters. And the adopters gain valuable information of the dogs actual behaviors and quirks from the foster parents.
Kuma is turning out to be a great dog, without the usual negatives of Malamutes. He's not an escaper, not dog aggressive, not destructive, not a counter surfer (not too much anyway). We'll see what happens in three months when he's fully comfortable here.
On the way back home, I met up with @Shop-Teacher for a pleasant lunch and chat in Chicago. Always nice to meet a fellow Oppo!
Kuma's new elk buddies:
Took about a week to be comfortable enough for zoomies to emerge: