In November, a feral dog that had been roaming around Pemberton for nearly a year was caught by bylaw officers and brought into Whistler Animals Galore (WAG).
The pup, dubbed Happy, needed a lot of work. A mature dog somewhere between three and five years old, she had damaged teeth — possibly from trying to chew a chain or enclosure — and was terrified of humans, harnesses and leashes.
"She came in and I said, 'She'll be here until the snow melts,'" said Shannon Broderick, executive director of WAG. "I knew that on the first day she came in it would be a minimum of six months. It might even be a year.
“One thing we all know is she can't stay here forever. When she goes, she'll be much more prepared for the world."
WAG staff have been chronicling Happy's progress online through a diary, which has been of particular interest to residents of Pemberton who left food out for Happy and reported sightings of her until she was finally caught. Although she still has to make progress before she can be adopted, Happy has slowly warmed to certain people, learned to wear a harness and stay calm in WAG's front office.
She's become especially attached to Lindsay Suckling, adoptions coordinator at the shelter, who said it's been incredibly gratifying to watch her grow.
"I could cry talking about it," said Suckling. "We're so proud of her. She's overcome so much and learned to trust all of us. Dogs are a great thing for her, too. She's so dog social. I think that's what she was doing up in Pemberton."
Happy's case is not rare. Last year, WAG adopted out 196 animals, many of which were rehabilitated. Working with dogs that have been through traumatic experiences, aren't used to being indoors or interacting with humans can be challenging and time consuming.
While the staff appreciates the dozens of people who come into their office each week hoping to walk some of those pent-up pooches, sometimes the dogs — like Happy — just aren't ready. People regularly get upset when they're told there are no animals to walk. So, Broderick and her team are hoping to spread the word.
"I think they need to come in with zero expectations," Broderick said of interested volunteers. "Come on down and say hi, and if there's an animal here that needs their help, we will absolutely use their time and have them interact with the animals. But if there isn't, that's OK too. They have to understand that we have a job to do and we're working really hard and this time it just didn't work out."
Currently in the shelter, besides Happy, there are dogs like Louie, a six-year-old husky cross, and Georgia, a one-year-old Rottweiler cross, who need special care, particularly to be walked. For that, they have volunteers who have gone through rigorous training.
"For weeks now we've only had one dog available to walk and no one seems to be willing to do anything else," Broderick said. "We get told off pretty much daily… We don't want people to give up on us. We don't want them never to come back here. We've had people come in to walk dogs and sit in our play yard with a shy dog for a couple of hours. If you're willing to come in and help in any way, that's the greatest thing for us."
For now, WAG workers are still working to get Happy comfortable on a leash.
"I've never seen a dog so fearful of just one thing as she is with leashes,” said Suckling. “It's kind of heartbreaking; if I put a leash on her she just shuts down. But we put the harness on her this morning. Now she'll walk down the hallway with the harness.
“The next step will be attaching the leash to that and eventually we'll be able to leave the shelter together."