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

Jax the dog in a person's lap while being cradled in her arms
With time, patience, and TLC, Jax went from a fearful dog who needed a home to a happy pup who’s blossoming with his new person.
By Karen Asp

The Faces of No-Kill series highlights stories about pets who have become a statistic in the best way. These are just a few of the many pets who once slipped into danger; they lost their homes, they had health or behavioral challenges, their families couldn’t care for them, or all the above. But each one of them got assistance, and today they are thriving thanks to an animal shelter program that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every animal shelter and every community to reach no-kill by 2025. The story below is just one example of why it’s so important.

When tiny 2-year-old Jax arrived at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Los Angeles, his confidence level matched his diminutive size. His posture was tense, and he avoided eye contact.

“Every dog exhibits a little bit of (fear, anxiety, and stress in a shelter environment), but some are lower, others higher, and Jax was on the higher side,” says Ana Pulido, coordinator of lifesaving outcomes with Best Friends.

[Big, brave steps for one scared dog]

At the pet adoption center, he either hid under his bed or glued himself to a corner. He even refused to walk, which meant that the staff had to carry him wherever he needed to go. Fortunately, he didn’t mind the cuddling. “He just needed comfort, and the care team did a wonderful job making him feel special and loved,” Ana says.

Best Friends Animal Society works with shelters and rescue groups across the country to give pets like Jax all the time and care they need to let their personalities shine and be matched with homes. It’s all part of Best Friends’ goal to save pets’ lives and reach no-kill nationwide by 2025.

It quickly became clear that a foster home would be best to help Jax decompress and learn to trust. And that’s when Andrea Kramer inquired about a dog to foster.

Finding the right foster match

Andrea has always loved dogs and even grew up with one. But for the past few years, she’d been living nomadically, doing volunteer work at shelters in the various states she visited. When she finally settled in Los Angeles in February, she was adamant about getting a foster pet for the first time. The one caveat? She was looking for a foster pup who was on the smaller side.

She was already familiar with Best Friends and loved its mission, so she decided to see what dogs in Los Angeles needed foster homes. She met Ana, who introduced her to several dogs, taking them outside and playing with them to learn about their personalities. While Andrea met many sweet souls, most were on the bigger side. And then she saw Jax. “One of the (Best Friends staff members) told me he’s so special that I should look at him,” she says.

So she did, taking him into the yard to play, and she knew she’d found her foster dog. “He was like a little potato in my lap,” she says. “Although he was nervous, he was the sweetest dog, and I could tell he just wanted to be loved and held.”

A foster win

For the first day, Jax was a bundle of nerves in Andrea’s apartment. He was so scared that he didn’t leave his kennel the entire day.

After watching Jax curl up in his bed, though, Andrea had an idea. The next day, she decided to swaddle Jax and take him to a beach to get some peace. “I wanted to do something to show him he could trust me, and I think that was the turning point,” she says. “From that minute, we started building a bond.”

While Andrea was working with Jax to be less fearful, she and the little pup had to work through another issue: kennel cough. The Best Friends team guided her through treating the canine respiratory illness, providing Andrea with everything she needed to get Jax healthy. Less than a week later, he had made a full recovery.

[Loving a shy dog: An adopter’s story]

Meanwhile, Andrea continued to bring Jax out of his shell. She went slowly, introducing him to new textures under his feet. He was wary at first but began to love playing in the grass and zooming around the beach. “It was so rewarding to see him run on those surfaces,” she says.

Finally, after about a month, Andrea knew Jax had found his way into her heart. “I had built such love for him that I couldn’t let anybody else adopt him,” she says. So she made Jax an official member of her family.

Gaining confidence and living his best life

Since then, Jax has blossomed into a more confident dog, and he and Andrea have become inseparable. She takes him everywhere with her, often putting him in a dog carrier bag. “I never thought I would be a small-dog owner with a purse dog, but he enjoys the bag when he’s in a high-stress environment,” she says.

Jax even took his first flight to see her parents in Washington, D.C. Andrea has also worked with a trainer to learn how to build Jax’s confidence more — setting up, for instance, his own “puppy palace” at home where he can go to feel safe.

Whenever Andrea takes Jax out and people ask about him, she’s outspoken about fostering and adopting dogs. “The bond you build with (rescued) animals is significantly different,” she says. “They’ve gone through so much and have a past that may have caused some trauma, but ... it’s so fulfilling to know that you’ve given them a better life.”

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.

Jax the dog sitting on a green floor under a white bench

Open your home to a shy dog or cat

You can help shy pets come out of their shells, too, and they will give you a lifetime of love in return.
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Help save homeless pets

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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