The Sometimes Ups-and-Downs of Adopting a Shelter Dog with Issues

Lucky's family

Lucky seemed to have it made. A volunteer had posted his sad face on Facebook, and someone from the Chicago area saw his photo and decided to rescue him. Even though he was in the Miami Dade Animal Services, she was determined to save him. She was willing to foster him, and she had the backing of a local rescue, but she needed to know if Lucky was good with other dogs and with cats.

Marta Sanchez, the volunteer who had posted his picture, agreed to go to the shelter and find out. She walked him past the cat cages and he seemed uninterested. He was good with other dogs, too. A Florida Facebook friend recommended asking for transportation help on the Facebook page Florida Transport.

Within 24 hours, the transport was filled, with the last driver offering to drive Lucky to Atlanta. Marta went to Miami Dade Animal Control and adopted Lucky and brought him to a local vet to be checked and boarded for the ten days until the transport.

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Lucky’s friends carefully documented his journey. He was a perfect companion even after spending hours and hours in a car with just short breaks to stretch his legs and go potty.

Lucky’s transport went smoothly, he wore a double set of collar/harness with two leashes so that there was no way he would be able to escape, and he arrived at an Atlanta hotel at 10:00 pm that night. The transporters took pictures and kept in constant contact about Lucky’s journey, which was then documented on national television.

Lucky slept all night without an accident and waited to do his business until he was outside the next morning. His rescuer realized that Lucky had never seen stairs, so they took the elevator. (Lucky still will not go up or down stairs.) On the long trip to Chicago, Lucky lay peacefully in the backseat, running around on the leash each time they stopped for a break. Once in the foster home, he was perfect — good with the other dogs and cats. He was housebroken and well behaved. He seemed to like children, indeed, anyone who would pet him.

Lucky befriending a cat
Lucky befriending a cat

A newly-wed couple fell in love with Lucky and adopted him. They live in Chicago and planned on getting a dog walker to take Lucky out each day they were at work. When Lucky reacted poorly to the dog walker getting him out of his crate, the couple decided to take him to doggy day care instead. That worked wonderfully, and Lucky was happy and occupied during the day.

Lucky loved his new family and with good reason. They spoiled him, bought him a lovely wardrobe, got him puzzles to work on his intelligence, petted him, gave him treats, and took him to training.

Problems, however, occurred when friends and family came over. Lucky was aggressive to the visitors, lunging and barking in their faces. Lucky is a 55-pound dog, and while his coat is gold and he has an adorable white blaze down his nose, it’s frightening when a dog as large as Lucky does that. People were afraid to come to their house.

The couple, Anna and Stavan, took an obedience class with Lucky. They hired a trainer to work with them. They give him positive reinforcement and walked him on a harness. But Lucky is a strong dog, and when he reacts suddenly and unpredictably, Anna cannot control him. He has not bitten anyone, but they are frightened. They love Lucky. With them in their condo, he is loving, sweet and gentle. They bathe him weekly with a special shampoo because he has sensitive skin. They bought puzzles for him to play with, and he is able to quickly complete even the more difficult of them. He sleeps with them, and he has his own love seat — reserved for Lucky!

But they are depressed and stressed from the daily worry that Lucky will lash out at someone during their walks. They love having friends and family over, but are worried that people don’t want to visit them because of Lucky. A positive note is that Lucky now accepts a close friend.

They have had Lucky for nine months. They love him dearly. But they are not ready to have another dog in their small condo — which might alleviate the problem. They have called a new trainer highly recommended by the rescue, and he was positive about being able to help with Lucky.

If nothing helps and Lucky can’t get used to living in a condo without other dogs, the foster will take him back. Lucky will never be homeless again. Lucky is a dog who appears to be cage and fence reactive. There are dogs who were kept on chains or behind fences, maybe teased and abused without being able to defend themselves, so now they are more aggressive when behind barriers or on leashes. Yet in a pack with other nonreactive dogs, these dogs can be fine. Lucky looked to the other dogs in the foster home for guidance on how to behave in new situations. He doesn’t have that luxury now, so he reacts fearfully.

Lucky with kids and dogs
Lucky with kids and dogs

Perhaps the new trainer will be able to help Lucky feel more secure in his current home. The adoptive family — even if Lucky is returned to the foster so he’s in a better living situation — needs to have a rescue dog. They have proved their dedication and ability to love a dog with some issues. Sometimes, it’s in the best interest of a dog to give the dog back. If Lucky hurt someone, there would be no second chances. In another home with other dogs, he will have a chance to be himself — a loving, sweet dog.


Pamela Kramer

​Animal lover and rescuer. Lives with 4 cats, 4 dogs, 1 bird, 2 frogs and usually one foster animal (and very understanding husband). Reviews books (especially about animals) and educates children about compassion toward animals. Former household animals include rabbits, rats, and other assorted creatures. Also writes at

1 comment

  1. val says:

    7 and a half years ago I rescued a 6yo cairn terrier wh had been abandoned sevral times already. bastard was the only quiet dog in the shelter. the minute I started the car he slammed into the windows howling like there were no tomorrows. longest car ride in my whole life. been barking non stop ever since. biting me. ruining my place. climbing on tables and stealing cat food. I have also rescued 2 more female dogs and he has calmed down a lot to a point where I was able to move out. found out that with my bedroom door open when I am away, he doesn’t seem to bark anymore. he still is a total jerk, constantly whining when he wants something, but I know in a couple years this place will be too quiet ….

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