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Thanks to Great River Rescue’s Mod Squad program, this Chihuahua let go of his fear and became a therapy dog.
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For Ethan Larson, it was his first day on the job, but for Shiloh — a Chihuahua with a history of abuse and a fear of men — it was just another day at the Great River Rescue shelter in Bemidji, Minnesota. A timid barker who failed to impress potential adopters, Shiloh had already been at the shelter for three months when Ethan arrived.
“He was actually part of our Mod Squad program, and I was hired on as the coordinator of that program,” Ethan explains. “It’s a behavioral modification and training program for our shelter dogs to make them more adoptable.”
The program utilizes volunteers to work directly with dogs who need behavior intervention. A dedicated group of Mod Squad members spend time socializing dogs like Shiloh, enriching their quality of life and making them more adoptable in the process. The program also helps to effectively match the right dog with the right owner — something Ethan got a first-hand lesson in on his first day.
As he walked down the kennels to meet the dogs in his program, Larson saw Shiloh’s big brown eyes staring back at him and a connection was made.
“Behind every pair of dog’s eyes — even a shelter dog — there’s an interesting story. I was very interested in knowing Shiloh’s story,” he recalls. “Shiloh just looked at me, barked a little bit, and instinctively he knew that I was a dog person.”
Ethan was not only a dog person, he was a Chihuahua person. He already shared his life and home with a Chi named Diego, and as he got to know Shiloh he started to think there might be room in his world for a second pup. After learning more about Shiloh, Ethan decided to take him home as a foster to see if the shelter dog would mesh with Diego and his three cats.
“The first three days he sort of wandered around to get his bearings. He was in a new place, so he wasn’t really sure about things,” Ethan remembers. “After the third day, he just became a normal dog. He wasn’t barking. It was like all of his behavior issues disappeared overnight.”
On September 9, 2014, Ethan signed the adoption papers and officially welcomed Shiloh into the family. It had been two weeks since they’d first locked eyes in the kennels. About three weeks after the adoption Ethan enrolled Shiloh in obedience class.
“The way he was acting, he was very well mannered and even tempered, so I thought he would make a good therapy dog,” says Ethan, who then got Shiloh into therapy dog classes as well.
After passing his course, Shiloh was trained to work with hospital patients and assisted-living residents. These days he’s a busy volunteer, enriching the lives of dog lovers who unfortunately can no longer care for a dog of their own, as well as kids who need a reading partner. According to Ethan, sweet Shiloh is quite popular with elderly patients — and is more than happy to soak up all the attention.
“He lets people pet him, he sits in people’s lap,” he says. “About a month ago we went to a health care facility and he sat in a resident’s lap for an entire hour, which was the duration of our visit. He just sat there, he didn’t move, and the look on that resident’s face was priceless.”
Ethan credits Shiloh’s success to the Mod Squad program. The lovable Chi was among the first group of four dogs enrolled in the program when it initially launched at Great River Rescue in June 2014. Shiloh was one of 22 Mod Squad graduates adopted in the first year of the program, with another 21 dogs being adopted out in the second year. Ethan hopes more adopters will consider Mod Squad mutts in the future, and says Shiloh is the perfect example of how a little love can totally transform a dog with behavioral issues.
“He’s actually sort of like the ambassador of the program. Whenever we do promotions — radio, TV, or newspapers — he sort of helps me out because he’s such a success story.”
Thanks to the Mod Squad, Shiloh went from being afraid of men to being a man’s best friend.
Top photo: Shiloh by Trish Barthorpe.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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