Daphne, a young Pit Bull mix, came to SAS as a stray, and it soon became clear that she was an unusual dog. Daphne was the most ball-obsessed dog ever seen by the staff. “Her world revolved around a ball. Any ball, any color, any size, any texture,” volunteer Jeremy Hein remembers. “Ball was her life.”

Getting her to leave the play corral, where she played ball with volunteers, was nearly impossible. She once got loose from a volunteer on a walk, and she ran straight to the corral where she jumped the 6-foot fence to get in and find the balls. Daphne needed more training and stimulation than she could get at the Shelter, so after three months at SAS, she went into a foster home.

Her new foster parents Kelly and Kim found that while Daphne was a sweet dog with good house manners, she was nearly impossible to walk. Her high energy, her ball obsession, and most of all, her reaction when she saw another dog, made an ordinary dog walk extremely challenging. Daphne was terrified of other dogs, and became uncomfortable if a dog came within two blocks. Even the distant jingle of a dog’s collar would trigger a meltdown. The Shelter recruited a group of volunteers, dubbed “Team Daphne,” to give Daphne’s overwhelmed foster parents as much training and help with exercise as possible.

Overcoming challenges in foster care

Foster parent Kelly recalls, “When we brought Daphne home, we had no idea how challenging it would be.” Kelly and her partner Kim taught Daphne to walk on a treadmill, and they played fetch in areas where no other dogs were present; they also worked with a trainer and an animal behaviorist. Daphne’s ball obsession continued to amaze everyone. In one instance, Daphne jumped out of Kelly’s bedroom window when she spotted a ball; she also jumped over a five-foot fence to get balls in the neighbor’s yard.

Even with these challenges, her foster parents and Shelter staff knew she was worth the work. Kelly recalls, “Daphne was a charmer, with her beautiful coat and sweet eyes. She was also the best cuddler ever!” Daphne’s sweet and loving nature helped her thrive in her foster home. When Kelly and Kim hosted a dinner party, Daphne “was the hit of the party, so wonderful around everyone. She paid special attention to the 10-year-old boy that played with her.”

Despite her good qualities, it was becoming clear that Daphne was not cut out for the life of a house pet. Former Shelter staff member Kara Main-Hester says, “It was always apparent that Daphne was different. Her focus and intensity could be turned on and off with just a presence of the tennis ball. We found a working dog trainer that had a similar philosophy to the Shelter, and we asked, is this dog able to be a working dog? The answer was a resounding yes.”

Daphne_Web_2

Daphne in training for her new job. She sits when she identifies the target, and waits expectantly for her reward: a ball.

Daphne finds her mission

The Shelter had placed dogs in working dog programs in the past, but staffers were initially unsuccessful in their attempts to find a spot for Daphne. While training a dog with “high ball drive” can be easy, finding an opening in a working dog program is not. SAS had previously placed dogs with two organizations: the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines, and the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Narcotic Dog Academy. It took a year before either had a spot in their program, and then, both programs suddenly had openings at the same time.

 

 

 

 

Daphne in training

Daphne in training

SAS chose to place her in the DOC program with trainer Barbara Davenport. Kelly remembers, “The day we met with Barbara, you could see their connection. Daphne was the exact type of dog she was looking for.” Daphne had been in Shelter care for nearly a year and a half, and Kelly says, “It was a bittersweet goodbye. She clearly was a dog that needed a job and would be successful in her new life, but we surely do miss her cuddles!”

Daphne completed her training with ease, and even helped to train a new dog handler. She loves to search; she sits when she finds the target, and gets her favorite ball as her reward. “She is such a hard worker,” trainer Barbara raves.

While the DOC was ultimately unable to find a human partner for her, Daphne moved to the Conservation Canines organization, where she currently helps to identify the threatened (and non-venomous) eastern Indigo snake. She’ll be traveling to Georgia for field work this fall.

Kara Main-Hester explains, “At the Seattle Animal Shelter, we look at dogs and ask, is there a home for you? When the answer is yes, we use the resources we have to find that home.”

 

SASF helps to provide adoption resources for the Seattle Animal Shelter, from training and behavioral assessments to foster care support. Please donate today.