Helping formerly tethered and neglected dogs to love life

When Cookie and Diamond first arrived at Fulton County Animal Services in Atlanta, Georgia, after being saved from an animal cruelty case, they were scared and hungry. They had been living outdoors — chained in a backyard without enough food or water — and were understandably afraid of people.

Best Friends in Atlanta works collaboratively with area shelters, animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in the region. The Best Friends Pet Adoption Center is a lifesaving hub for animals and a base for local programming and coalition-building to help the metro-Atlanta area in its final push to achieve no-kill, while strengthening the movement in the Southeast. Together, we will Save Them All. 

Shelter staff knew it was a given that they could give Cookie and Diamond the food, water, and shelter they needed. But could they help them trust and accept love from others? Well, that was going to take some time.

During their first days at the shelter, Cookie would hide (shaking) in the back of her kennel, while Diamond, although less afraid than Cookie, was also timid around people.

Every day, the staff and volunteers tried everything to encourage them to let their guards down; however, most of the time this proved difficult (especially with Cookie). But that was before volunteer Amy Cornell saw Cookie out in the play yard for the first time. When Cookie was too scared to return indoors, Amy helped a fellow volunteer get Cookie back in her kennel.

“I made a connection with her the minute I met her,” says Amy. “She was so thin and terrified. It broke my heart.”

Then Amy met Diamond and learned about what the two scared dogs’ lives were like before coming to the shelter. That day she made a commitment to help them overcome their fears. “I wanted to be part of making sure that the girls' futures were nothing like what they experienced in the past,” she says.

How to help shy dogs

Cookie the dog was too scared to return indoors

A move toward happiness for two abused dogs

Amy began visiting Cookie and Diamond nearly every day, knowing she’d have to be patient above anything else. At first, she’d simply sit quietly with them and let them warm up to her when the time was right. Diamond was the first to let her guard down, sensing that Amy was a friend (and one with treats, even). Progress came fairly quickly for Diamond, but Cookie remained fearful.

Diamond the dog looking up lovingly at a woman

Little by little, Cookie learned to trust Amy. With every brave step she took, Amy’s resolve to help the two dogs thrive and find a home grew stronger. “As I got to know them, they quickly became very special to me,” says Amy. “I wanted them to experience nothing but happiness and love, and I wanted to help them with that in any way I could.”

LifeLine Animal Project, a network partner of Best Friends Animal Society that runs the Fulton County shelter, is hard at work with Best Friends and others to bring the Atlanta area to no-kill status. Best Friends often helps by taking dogs with special needs from the county shelter and providing them with the extra care they need to be adopted.

Soon after she began helping Cookie and Diamond, Amy learned they would be going to the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Atlanta. Rather than saying goodbye, Amy made arrangements to volunteer there and continue what she started. She’d made a commitment, after all.

Cookie the dog kissing Amy the volunteer's face

A place where dogs can be less fearful

“LifeLine has an amazing team of staff and volunteers who work so hard and truly care about the animals,” says Amy. She also understands that a crowded shelter environment can be difficult for dogs like Cookie and Diamond, who need a bit more individual attention.

“I knew that when Cookie and Diamond moved to Best Friends, they'd get the attention and care that they needed to continue to build trust with people, and to thrive in their forever homes someday,” she says.

She was right. Cookie and Diamond flourished with the help of the center’s staff and volunteers, including Amy, who divides her volunteer time between the Fulton County shelter and Best Friends.

To the staff and fellow volunteers at the center, Amy’s dedication to Cookie and Diamond was inspiring. “They would greet her like their long lost mother,” says Carol Atwood, volunteer and foster coordinator at the center. “Amy was able to work with them to help them become confident enough to stay in kennels with other dogs, where they became social.”

A smiling Diamond the dog, sitting in the grass

Two dogs who just want to have fun

On most days when Amy would visit Cookie and Diamond, they played in the yard or went for walks. They also spent time working on cues like sit, down, come and shake.

“Thanks to the Best Friends staff, I learned Cookie's favorite thing in the world is water,” says Amy. “She can be entertained for hours running through the sprinklers, and we play ball in the sprinklers on hot days. She comes back into the center drenched, happy, relaxed and ready for a nap.”

Diamond doesn’t share Cookie’s love of water, but she does love laps. So, while Cookie played, Diamond would relax in the yard with Amy.

Recently, Amy took Cookie and Diamond for a long walk at a local park where they met many nice people and dogs. Then, they went to the Starbucks drive-thru for puppuchinos before heading back to the center. They’d come so far from the sad lives of neglect they knew before their rescue. All they needed were new homes.

Amy volunteering with Cookie the dog in her lap

Scared dogs learn what a wonderful world it can be

These days, Cookie and Diamond have come a long way from being too scared to let anyone touch them. Now, Cookie often greets Amy by knocking her down with kisses. And best of all, Diamond has been adopted. Amy says that knowing Diamond is in a home has brought her work full circle. Cookie’s day will come, too, but in the meantime she’s getting all the love and attention she needs at the center.

Diamond the brindle dog has been adopted

Amy says that Cookie and Diamond have taught her some things, too. “I’ve learned a lot of about resilience, and that no matter where you came from or what you’ve been through, there is always something better — if you’re open to trust. Your past does not have to define your future.”

Volunteer near you

Photos by Nichole Dandrea