How Love, and a Stroller, Helped One Dog Come out of Her Shell

The East Bay SPCA staff never imagined how far they’d go to help Cali adjust to her surroundings.
By: Christina Chan
Cali at home

Cali, a two-year-old Border Collie mix, left the state of Florida just ahead of 2017’s Hurricane Irma as part of evacuation plan to help make room in local shelters for displaced animals. When she arrived on the tarmac at California’s Hayward Executive Airport on September 7, the East Bay SPCA was there to greet her.

Although her fellow four-legged passengers were under an understandable amount of stress due to the journey, Cali displayed a much higher level of anxiety than most. “She was catatonic, immobile and non-responsive,” says Linda Sackman, director of shelter operations for the organization.

Sackman and their team knew they’d have a long road ahead of them, but they could have never imagined how far they’d go to bring Cali out of her shell.

A Tough Transition

Acclimating Cali to the shelter took a little extra ingenuity and care. Sackman initially brought Cali into her office, put her in an anti-anxiety vest and was gentle with her. But three days into her office stay, Cali destroyed Sackman’s office, breaking her computer monitor and soiling the furniture.

“Something must have startled her and this incident happened because of her anxiety,” Sackman says. “But she also could have hurt herself.”

It became clear to Sackman that they needed a new strategy to help Cali. Marti Zuckrowv, a long-time volunteer with the East Bay SPCA, noticed Cali would perk up and sniff the air whenever she was carried from place to place, but staff and volunteers could only take her so far because she wasn’t a smaller dog and she wasn’t comfortable enough to walk. At that point, Zuckrowv suggested putting Cali in a stroller to help acclimate her to her surroundings.

“The stroller mesh gave her a safety barrier while allowing stimulation from the sights, smells and sounds around her,” Sackman says.

Stroller Therapy to the Rescue

Zuckrowv had worked fearful dogs in the past, and was ready to help Cali so she could be adopted. While Zuckrowv was game to try “stroller therapy” sessions, Cali was admittedly on edge in the beginning.

“She was trembling and frightened,” Zuckrowv says. “But pushing her around was a riot.” People would stop to comment jokingly or would get a good-natured laugh at the sight of Cali in a stroller. The other dogs at the shelter took Cali’s transition in stride.

“They’re used to kids coming to the facility, so the dogs didn’t bat an eye,” says Zuckrowv.

After a few trips around the facility, Zuckrowv noticed a change.

“Cali started to look around a bit and each time and her interest in her surroundings increased,” says Zuckrowv.

Cali in stroller

With Cali beginning to become more social, the staff felt it was time to take the next step.

“We decided to pick her up and put her in the yard,” says Zuckrowv. “She just cowered in the corner, frozen. It was like she was trying to be invisible.”

Cali wasn’t comfortable in the yard alone, but the situation began to change as she was introduced to other dogs.

“She was still reluctant and fearful around people, but found her place with other dogs,” says Zuckrowv.

One canine in particular took a liking to Cali. Ragamuffin, a Chihuahua with severe skin issues, became her partner in crime.

“Ragamuffin became her therapy dog,” shares Zuckrowv. “They loved each other.”

The Perfect Home for Cali

Dan Franklin and his partner Ashley Lumpkins had talked about getting another dog and, after breakfast one day, decided to head down to the East Bay SPCA.

“We were reading the bio for Cali and Marti [Zukrowv] asked us if we wanted to take her out,” Franklin says.

Between her gentle demeanor and gorgeous white and brown markings, Franklin and Lumpkins were smitten.

“She was scared and anxious, but you could see her happy demeanor, especially when she was in the room with another dog.”

Knowing Cali would do well around another dog helped solidify the decision. At home, Franklin and Lumpkins already had a Chihuahua named Bubba, so the match seemed ideal.

Cali and Bubba

“We felt good about adopting her because she did so well with Ragamuffin and saw that our own Chihuahua could be an aid to her,” says Franklin.

Today, Cali is becoming more acclimated to being just another family member in the Franklin/Lumpkins household. Pack walks have helped Cali feel more comfortable outdoors (Bubba can only walk so far, but Cali is now able to continue on without him) and the pair spend their days napping and relaxing at home.

Despite the fact that that there’s been more energy involved in making Cali feel comfortable in her environment, Franklin says the rewards have been well worth it.

 “When she does something small like go for a walk and lick your hand, you know that’s a huge step for her,” says Franklin. “I wouldn’t pay attention to something like that with another dog and that’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

Images via: East Bay SPCA, Right Brain for Hire