‘Diamond in the rough’ dog loved just as she is

Raquel the dog smiling in front of some wildflowers
Wary of new people and other dogs, it took some extra time to find Raquel a home, but now she has a family who embraces everything about her.
By Sarah Thornton

Raquel loves her friends. When she spots a familiar face, she’s all tail wags and tappy toes, ready for whatever adventure awaits — a hike, a car ride, a dip in the lake, or even a quiet afternoon at home. It just takes a little while to earn that coveted “friend” title.

It’s hard to blame Raquel for being a bit cautious. At a young age, she’d been abandoned into a big, unknown world, and that kind of trauma sticks with you. She became so scared and wary of people that a rescue organization had to set out a humane trap to get her off the streets. Her fear of strangers and her tendency to rush at barriers and bark at them, however, made it difficult for potential adopters to really get to know her. Plus, her reaction to other dogs meant she’d do best in a home where she was her family’s one and only. She needed time, somewhere she could unwind and have the chance to be understood.

Best Friends’ goal is for all shelters to reach no-kill by 2025, and that means working together with other animal welfare organizations to save pets who need extra care or time. So, to give Raquel that time, she came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. And patience would pay off when Raquel, at last, went home.

Slow and steady wins the heart

Raquel’s early days at the Sanctuary were all about her caregivers getting to know her. To keep things comfortable and low stress for the anxious pooch, introductions were made slowly, and she started with just a small circle of friends among the Sanctuary staff. Together, they discovered Raquel’s love of exploration and playtime — and her knack for learning new tricks. She was a whiz on the agility course. And with some patience and plenty of treats, soon she was running outside on cue (instead of charging at her door) and leaping into the arms — or onto the backs — of her newfound friends.

She gave wet canine kisses freely and wasn’t against being a bit of a lapdog when it suited her. Once you were in with Raquel, she was a friend for life. And soon, her friends list started expanding. Dedicated local volunteers and those who came for longer stays could, over the course of a few days, get that slow Raquel introduction and, inevitably, fall in love with the not-so-secretly sweet spotted dog. Such was the case for Penny Black.

For a few years, Penny had visited the Sanctuary to volunteer for months at a time. Renting a pet-friendly local home with a large, fenced-in yard, she was in the perfect position to take dogs back for extended sleepovers — especially those who needed extra time getting comfortable with people and who had maybe never had that opportunity. You might see where this is going.

[Slow-to-trust dog finds kindred spirit in patient adopter]

Last year, Penny says, she was introduced to Raquel by caregiver Ben O’Riordan-Tingley. On the first day, he took Penny to Raquel’s yard in Dogtown, and they tossed treats to her through the fence. On the second visit, Penny joined Raquel and Ben as a quiet companion on a walk through the woods. And on the third, it was Penny’s turn to take the lead. “He is so patient, kind, and intuitive to Raquel’s needs,” Penny says. “He knew exactly when she was ready and just said: ‘Now, I'm going to hand you the leash.’”

Soon, Penny was the one putting on Raquel’s harness before their walks. And then, fully accepted into Raquel’s social circle, Penny could take her home for sleepovers. Over the next couple of months, Penny and Raquel spent a lot of time together. Overnights and outings, trips to the reservoir for a cooling swim, hiking, exploring new places, and car rides — they did it all. Then, all too quickly, it was time for Penny to head back home to Oregon. But the newfound friends would only be separated for a little while longer.

When Penny returned in January 2023, she was right back at Raquel’s yard with Ben running them through reintroductions so they could start from where they’d left off. They were quickly back to outings and sleepovers, and then things got serious. “When I knew I was going to bring her home with me, we practiced stairs and entering a motel room a few times at Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile,” Penny recalls. “We also took a very long car ride to see how she would do on the trip back to Oregon.”

On the day they were going to be heading home, Penny says, she joined Ben again as he gave Raquel a bath to get her fresh and spiffy for her new life. “Raquel really didn't like the bath, but I could clearly see she completely trusted and loved Ben,” Penny says. “When I observed that, I hoped that someday she would trust and love me like that, too. At the time, I was also thinking about how Ben — along with all her other caregivers and volunteers — had been caring for, training, and loving Raquel for so many years. And they were now entrusting me with this sweet little diamond in the rough.”

As word got out that 10-year-old Raquel was leaving the Sanctuary, everyone who had grown to know and love her — from up close to afar — buzzed with excitement. It had taken some extra time, for sure, but that was just what Raquel had needed.

Teamwork makes the dream work

It took about a month for Raquel to settle into her new life in her new home. There were many new experiences, both in and out of the house: lots of new places to walk, rain and puddles, the screened patio door (which, Penny says, is still a mystery to Raquel). There were the friendly neighborhood dogs who just wanted to say hello and of course new humans wandering about — all of whom Raquel had to figure out. She was very interested in the area’s flocks of wild turkeys, as well as the rabbits, squirrels, skunks, deer, ducks, river otters, and nutrias.

But even with so many new things to figure out, life has never been better. “Raquel is the most sweet, gentle, quiet, and patient dog I have ever lived with,” Penny says. “If I sleep past her breakfast time, she lies patiently on our bed waiting for me to wake up. (There’s) not a peep out of her. If our last walk of the day is at 10:30 p.m., she is ready to go. She doesn't bark in the house or car anymore.” For Raquel, it’s enough just being glued to Penny’s side 24/7. Yes, she has become a Velcro dog — endlessly endearing despite the occasional blocked door or tripping hazard.

[How one of the least adoptable dogs finally found her people]

Penny does everything to make sure she’s setting Raquel up for success. With plenty of open, quiet space around their home, it’s usually fairly easy for Penny and Raquel to avoid other dogs while they’re out on walks, but the occasional crossed paths do happen. And while Raquel’s first instinct on seeing another dog is to bark and pull against her leash anxiously, Penny keeps an eye ahead of them so she can gently guide Raquel to the side where she can distract her with treats and attention. By becoming a safe place for Raquel to turn when she’s feeling overwhelmed, now all it takes is a quick “uh-uh” when they spot another dog for Raquel to lean back, relax, and return her attention to her beloved person.

In the case of spooky yard decorations (well, spooky for a dog who doesn’t know that giant toad is just made of rock) … they’re working on it.

As for meeting new people, Penny says she sticks with what Ben taught her. For anyone Raquel hasn’t met, Penny has them stand with their hands out of sight so Raquel can sniff as much as she wants. Then come the tossed treats. Then a treat from their hand. And then they’re in. “This has worked so well for her, both here in the neighborhood and when we are traveling and exploring new places,” says Penny. “Anytime I am not sure of a situation and ask her to walk away with me, she has responded 100%. She now has several friends we meet along our walking paths. It is so lovely to see her happy to greet them, wag her tail, then sit and ask for scratches behind her ears (while hoping for a treat from them).”

Watching the change in Raquel, as she gains confidence in herself and her place with her person, has been a reward all its own. They’re teammates, Penny says, working together and taking turns compromising throughout their days — a brisk walk here for Penny’s exercise, a slow walk there for Raquel’s sniffing pleasure. It doesn’t matter if some things take longer than others. It’s what works for them.

“She has a wonderful, distinct personality, which includes being a tiny bit stubborn,” Penny says. “I don't consider her a diamond in the rough anymore: She is now transforming into a polished gem.”

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