FOTAS: Terrified stray dog learns how to love again

May 28, 2018

He wouldn’t let anyone pet him for two weeks.

Keegan, a 2-year-old, mid-sized, black retriever mix, was picked up as a stray in Graniteville, and being at a strange new place full of barking dogs was terrifying. Having no idea how to behave in such a situation, he shut down completely.

It’s not an uncommon scenario at the Aiken County Animal Shelter. Many homeless dogs and cats brought to 333 Wire Road in Aiken are traumatized before they arrive and have extreme difficulty adjusting to their surroundings.

“Dogs like Keegan want to be loved, but they don’t have the experience of being loved,” said Jackie Edel, a FOTAS volunteer who took on the task of fostering Keegan at her home.

While not ready to be adopted in his current condition, the Shelter staff and FOTAS team thought Keegan could gain confidence and learn to trust people in a quieter environment, where he could experience more one-on-one training.

Keegan had to be carried into the house but slowly began accepting Jackie’s direction. Watching the behavior of Jackie’s own four dogs, and being accepted by them, also turned him around. If her dogs – corgis Maisie and Heath, border collie Gabby and Australian shepherd Julia – trusted and loved Jackie, maybe he could, too.

“My dogs are older and know the drill,” Jackie said. “They helped him tremendously. I remember the first time Keegan hopped up next to me and licked my face, I almost passed out. I was so surprised and happy for him.”

Once Keegan accepted Jackie, he was ready to meet and accept new people. Jackie brought him for visits to the shelter, walks in the park and downtown, and to FOTAS events like the annual Woofstock Festival. Keegan also hung out with volunteers under the FOTAS tent at the Aiken Charity Horse Show.

It was during this period that FOTAS volunteers Jeff and Bonnie Martin started to notice Keegan. While promoting FOTAS’s programs at the horse show, Bonnie was handed Keegan’s leash and asked to watch him for a little while. That was all it took. Keegan’s sad eyes and timid licks on her hand sealed the deal.

The next day, Bonnie and Jeff introduced Keegan to Nala, their 9-year-old yellow Lab. The meet and greet was a success as the dogs happily played together. The Martins weren’t really looking for another dog, but that was before they met Keegan and learned about his struggles.

“We made a breakthrough this morning,” Jeff said with a big smile about a week after adopting Keegan. “He took a treat right from my hand instead of waiting for me to put it on the ground. He’s so appreciative, we love having him and he’s doing better each day.”

Their lives are in our hands.

By the Numbers

May 1-23: The County Shelter received 435 stray animals and surrendered pets in just three weeks (more than 20 per day). Please spay and neuter your pets and don’t surrender them to the shelter this month unless you have no other options.