Faces of No-Kill: Saving a dog with a sensitive soul

Vera the dog next to a smiling person who has both hands affectionately holding her
Vera went from a busy shelter to a charmed life in her new home.
By Kelli Harmon

Vera is a sensitive soul, and it’s no wonder that she was overwhelmed when she lost her home and ended up in a busy shelter. The pretty brown dog was still guarded when she came to Best Friends. The team at the adoption center saw how easily Vera was spooked. Accidentally drop something to the floor and she would retreat and cower in the corner. And she seemed to make quick decisions about people — some were instantly a “nope” in her book for reasons only she knew.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

So staff made it their mission to get to know Vera and help her feel more comfortable. She needed a home, and to match her with an adopter they’d need to unlock the secrets to helping her feel safe.

Operation Vera

One staff person befriended her first and discovered that Vera loves to sit in people’s chairs. She’d climb (somewhat awkwardly) into an office chair that wobbled and swiveled, and even if all her limbs didn’t really fit onto a chair meant for humans, it seemed to make her happy.

Then another person took her for walks around the neighborhood, and Vera liked that. Then there were playgroups. Romping around in the play yard with fellow dogs? This she understood.

Different staff people and volunteers started taking Vera out for walks and found that her ears perked up when asked to do common cues like “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “shake.” Someone had spent time teaching Vera these things before she went to a shelter.

Even as Vera started to get more comfortable, she was still terrified of some new people, barking at them while retreating. Other times, she’d lean on the door to her enclosure when people came through. Whoever adopted her would need to have the patience and understanding to earn her trust, rather than expect it. And if they’d let her sit in a chair, well, she’d like that too.

A chance at a new home

Vera must have had a good feeling about Maurice Demus and LaNora Hayden. She didn’t bark or retreat when they stopped to say hello to her as they walked through the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Los Angeles to meet the dogs and possibly adopt one. In fact, it was the opposite. She leaned up against the door wagging her tail. She was the only dog in the room not barking.

[Faces of No-Kill: A scared dog learns to trust]

Maurice and LaNora asked to spend some time with Vera in a meet-and-greet room, where she seemed overjoyed just to be in their presence. She showered them with kisses and cuddles. Whatever reservations she had about meeting new people, she liked LaNora and Maurice right from the start. The staff shared all the details about Vera’s reluctance in meeting some people and offered advice about going slowly whenever she encountered new people.

There was also the fact that the couple has a senior cat, and Vera would have to be able to coexist safely with a feline friend.

The only way to know what Vera would think about all this was to give it a try. So they brought her home to see how things would go.

Getting to know Vera

Things went beautifully. Right from the start, they thought about what they could do to help Vera settle in. “We gave her safe spaces in our house to help her decompress and feel more at ease,” LaNora says. “We bought her lots of toys to let her have some fun and occupy herself. We also created a consistent walking schedule for her to have a routine and get comfortable with the neighborhood.”

That all went a long way in helping Vera adjust. They saw her sweet and shy side but also her playful side. She loved meeting new dogs while out on walks, and at least once a week they’d go to a park where she could, as LaNora says, “run around and get out the big zoomies.” She was patient with the senior cat in her new home. She loved obedience training. It all added up to her feeling a little more confident each day.

[Faces of No-Kill: Swift action saves puppy’s life]

As for meeting new people, Maurice says, “We took our cues from her. She decided the pace and comfort level. We noticed that the more often she met a person, the more she warmed up to them over time.”

When they wanted Vera to meet their close friends, they would plan it at her favorite park. They’d ask their friends to sit on a blanket and give Vera treats. Having new people be on her level (and handing out goodies) helped her feel not only more comfortable but even excited to meet new people.

A chair for Vera

Seeing Vera for who she really is has made all the difference in her life — from that first moment when she arrived at a shelter to being cherished in her new home.

And then there are the chairs.

Of course, Vera has her own after she sampled all the options in the house. “She has her own loveseat and a favorite corner on our living room couch,” Maurice says. “She tried to claim our office chairs, but we wouldn't have a place to work!”

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

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You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

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