I Write About Homeless Dogs Every Day, But I Really Need To Find This Pit Bull A Home
I first heard about King from the Susie's Senior Dogs Facebook page: a sweet, 10-year-old pit bull with anxiety who was struggling to find his forever home. Susie's Senior Dogs is an organization that gets to know older dogs from various shelters across the U.S. and helps them find homes.
As I read about King, I could feel my heart gravitating toward him. He's an individual with anxiety struggling to find a place where he belongs. Nothing about that struggle is foreign to me.
I've struggled with anxiety my entire life. It affects every aspect of my life, every day, and I've had to work like hell to overcome it. King's battle is one I have been fighting since day one.
King is so deserving of a home, and I am determined to help find him one.
The story of King
King was found in Brooklyn, tied up and abandoned, in the middle of December. Erin O'Sullivan, the founder of Susie's Senior Dogs, has been following King's story since the beginning. "Who knows what his first 10 years held," Erin told me of King's life before he was found. "A lack of love and attention can do a lot of damage to a dog."
King was adopted from the Brooklyn ACC but had to be returned after a week, not by any fault of the family, but because the depth of King's anxiety hadn't been noticed until he got to his new home. After being taken to and staying at Animal Haven for a few months, King was sent to Instinct Dog Behavior and Training to work on his anxiety issues before returning to Animal Haven after 3 weeks. At Instinct, trainers got to know King and learned what makes him tick, and what he will likely need out of a forever home.
"From what we saw of King when he stayed with us, I actually think he'd be a fairly easy house dog with the right owner/right living situation," Sarah Fraser of Instinct said. "But he's an anxious boy to be sure, and I know that and other factors makes him tricky."
Due to King's anxiety, he'll need to find a home close by the NYC area, as transporting him long distances would be tough. King would greatly benefit from a quiet, peaceful setting with a person who works from home or isn't gone for very long stretches of time. A home in the suburbs with a backyard would be awesome, but city life would work for King as well.
As sweet and friendly as he is, he needs a home with no other pets or kids. King is also on medications, which would need to be managed by his new owner. He will also need to have two follow-up sessions with Instinct Dog Behavior and Training after his adoption.
I arrived at Animal Haven on a gorgeous day, ready to meet the dog I had read so much about. King is a special case, so I had to accompany him on his walk in order to meet him. When he emerged in the lobby of the shelter, I could see that he was anxious. He was eager to get outside and a little frantic, searching around for something. Erin presented King with a toy, and as soon as he had it in his mouth, his whole demeanor changed: King was instantly calmer. Maya Robinson of Animal Haven, the staff member taking him for his walk, explained that King has an oral fixation, which is a symptom of his anxiety.
King typically always has to have something in his mouth, which is part of the reason he needs to be the king of his castle - no other pets or kids in his new home. If he doesn't have something in his mouth, he tries to put people's hands or other animals in his mouth, but it's not because he wants to hurt anyone.
"It's not about aggression," Erin stressed. Holding something in his mouth just calms him. King is absolutely not aggressive.
I watched King as we walked, holding the toy with a sense of control. I thought of my own life, of my micromanaging, of always trying to feel in control when my anxiety makes me feel so out of control. Nothing about King's behavior seemed weird to me - it just made sense. As we continued on our way, Erin and Maya urged King not to destroy the toy he held. He gnawed at the toy, slowly ripping it, and I glanced down at my own fingers, freshly scabbed over. King and I weren't so different at all.
I knew King. I knew what he was all about.
Learning with King
"The majority of people see this difficult dog and don't see the dog that he can be," Erin said. "He only has a few good years left. It's not fair to him. Animal Haven is an amazing shelter but it's not where he needs to be. Certain dogs you feel a responsibility for."
In the right environment, King might not always have this oral fixation. "He didn't require or constantly seek out an object/toy to have in his mouth in our environment, especially after the first 1.5 to 2 weeks of training and relaxation work," Fraser, from Instinct, said. "When you start to peel away the anxiety and build a relationship with him, he offers eye contact, approaches for petting, and his desire to seek out toys/objects to put in his mouth decreases - it seems like a stress response rather than a stable behavior." King has even gone on walks successfully without his toy. If he can improve while staying in the shelter, there's no telling how much he can improve once he finds his new home.
King has some hair loss along his back and belly, and when I asked about it, Maya said it was likely stress-induced. I took in this information as I grasped at my own hair. My roots are graying from pulling on my hair all day long. King and I even matched.
"He needs consistency. They [Animal Haven] are giving King the best possible life he could have in a shelter, but it's not what he needs and it's not helping his anxiety," Erin told me. "The longer he's here, the harder it'll be."
King was constantly looking around at his surroundings, trying to take everything in. He truly seemed to love being outside. He's a very sharp, smart, curious dog, and is very into learning. Maya mentioned that his leash skills have vastly improved. Taking him for walks used to be much more difficult. He doesn't pull on the leash as much as he used to. Clearly, King is more than capable of making improvements. We paused for a moment to snap a few pictures, but King couldn't stay still for long, so we kept moving.
At the crosswalk, King looked up at me briefly before turning away again, back in control. When you're anxious, there are certain things you have to do to make yourself feel safe. There are certain people you feel safer around too.
Erin especially has taken an interest in King. As the founder of Susie's Senior Dogs, she works with many older dogs who need homes, but King is different - King is a very special case. "To me I don't feel like he's a tough case because I'm so attached to him. He's not this dog," Erin said of King's anxiety as we sat outside Animal Haven. "I know that there's a different dog inside. He doesn't stress me out. The situation stresses me out but he doesn't."
King can be a challenge, but after spending so much time with him, Erin fully believes that in the right home, King would thrive. "If you've never experienced this kind of anxiety before, it's hard for people to understand. With the right person and the right consistency, I wholeheartedly believe he can become a different dog."
Finding a home for King
After I left, I started crying as I sat in Starbucks, thinking about King. There had to be someone out there who could handle him. After all, there were people who could handle me.
When I was a teenager I switched from a public high school to a very small boarding school. Before the switch, I was a mess. The class sizes were too big and I wasn't getting the attention that I needed to succeed. I was failing. I was having panic attacks. I had lost hope. They told my mom I would never go to college. My anxiety was everything.
After the switch, everything changed. I excelled in school. I was comfortable. My anxiety was still there, it will always still be there, but it was managed. I had found somewhere that worked for me, and I was a completely different person.
I was lucky enough to find my place early on. King is already 10 years old, but that doesn't mean he has any less love to give. Everyone, no matter his age or circumstance, deserves to feel like he finally belongs.
That's what I want for King. I want him to find that place, that home, that person, where he can grow to be the dog who exists inside him. Everyone deserves that, especially King.
As Erin pointed out, "It only takes one person to see his story and think, 'I could take him.'"
Anxiety can be incredibly challenging, and sometimes people might find it hard to connect with someone who has anxiety. Once you bridge that gap, though, once you form that bond, that person will love you and appreciate you so much more than you could ever imagine. If you adopt King, he will be forever grateful to you, his knight in shining armor. He will never stop loving you.
To King's future owner: I know you are out there, and King is so excited to meet you. I understand what King is going through, and I know that you do too. I know that you will be the one who understands.
I write about dogs all day long, abandoned dogs who all need homes and love, and they will find that - but my friend King needs a little extra help. So please, spread the word and spread the love. King deserves the chance to grow and change in a place where he feels comfortable. My family and friends helped me to find that, and now I want to help King.
After all, we anxious ones have to stick together.