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May 20, 2024

A Soft Landing for Rocket


When senior dog Rocket needed time outside of the shelter, one of DCHS’s foster families immediately stepped up. Now, she’s thriving in her new home.

A wiry-haired black female dog, her face white from old age, was wandering alone on a busy highway. She was confused and lost. Thankfully, a good Samaritan stopped and was able to bring her safely to Dane County Humane Society (DCHS).

During her initial admitting exam, she sought solace and comfort from our staff. Her gentle demeanor and her requests for pets quickly captured our hearts. Yet, as the days unfolded and her guardian didn’t come forward, it became increasingly apparent that despite our best efforts, the shelter environment was a source of stress for this senior soul.

During her first in-depth exam, DCHS veterinarians discovered that Rocket was additionally suffering from several medical issues common in senior pups.

We were most concerned that Rocket had urinary incontinence, because we knew we’d have a hard time finding her a home if she wasn’t house-trained. Our veterinarians suspected her incontinence was due to medical issues and age, which meant it could be managed with medication. If the right treatment could alleviate the leaking, Rocket would be a good adoption candidate, even with some of her other senior needs.

However, her mental health was quickly declining. Rocket was deeply unhappy in the shelter, barking constantly whenever she sensed someone nearby who wasn’t petting or playing with her. Our care team tried several enrichment tools to keep her occupied and content, but nothing worked. She didn’t respond as well as we wanted to anti-anxiety meds, and we were worried her constant barking and pacing could be signs of cognitive issues.

It quickly became clear that the best thing we could do for Rocket was send her to a foster home.

It’s a big ask to bring a dog with incontinence into your home, but Rachel and her husband, Ron, didn’t hesitate.

“Rocket came to us with a few pretty significant issues,” Rachel says. “She had a heart murmur, she had a medical issue related to her bladder function that had her constantly ‘leaking,’ and she had some behavioral issues that the vets were concerned were maybe a sign of cognitive decline (aka doggie dementia). They wanted to get her into foster to see if medication would help her bladder issue and if her behavior would change in a home environment.”

Rachel and Ron have a separate dedicated room in their house where their foster dogs usually stay. Rocket moved in and was given some time to decompress and settle into her new surroundings.

“It only took a few days,” Rachel says. “Not only did the medication start working, but she didn’t show any signs of cognitive decline! We learned quickly that she was simply a very sensitive, smart girl, and she was very in-tune with her environment. When something was happening that she didn’t like or didn’t understand, getting agitated was the only way she knew how to express herself and communicate.”

Rachel’s observations were in line with what DCHS staff had seen during Rocket’s stay at the shelter, but Rachel and Ron could focus more on Rocket’s specific needs and better accommodate her behavior. In their loving home, Rocket flourished.

“As she settled in and started feeling confident that she was safe and everything was okay, she relaxed into her normal self,” Rachel recalls. “All she wanted was to be near us, watching what we were doing, and waiting to see if she might have a ‘job’ to do. She spent her days keeping me company while I worked from home, playing with her favorite squeaky toys, and politely following our own dog around the back yard — and mimicking whatever shenanigans he would get himself into!

“Rocket was one of the sweetest, most well-mannered, gentlest pups we’ve ever fostered,” Rachel continues. “We truly adored taking care of her and loved watching her come out of her shell.”

After a couple weeks in their home, Rocket came back to the shelter for a follow-up examination with DCHS’s veterinarians. Based on their findings and Rachel’s report that the medication had cleared up Rocket’s incontinence issues and that she was showing no signs of cognitive challenges at home, we determined Rocket was ready for the next chapter of her journey.

It was time for Rocket to find her new loving home.

“It was love at first sight,” says Anne, Rocket’s adopter. “I knew even before I met her that she would be coming home with me.”

Anne has shared most of her life with dogs, but her last dog passed away at the start of the pandemic.

“I needed some time to heal after she died,” says Anne. “Every now and again, I would look at pictures and profiles of adult dogs who were available in the area, and there were lots of beauties. When I saw Rocket’s profile, I just knew. When I saw the profile and video of Rocket....I’m not completely sure how to describe it, but I was struck by her. I went back, over and over, and watched her video. I forwarded it to friends. I could feel the certainty growing that I would adopt her.”

As part of DCHS’s adoption counseling sessions, we discuss all the medical and behavioral information observed about an animal during their time with us. For Rocket, this included the behaviors that led DCHS veterinarians to suspect she might have some cognitive dysfunction. But Anne has had the same positive experience Rachel and Ron, Rocket’s foster family, had with the dog.

“She’s snoring softly next to me as I write. She is softening and relaxing and feeling more at home. She’s a great dog, and Rocket is a good name for her. She can really move on a walk! Senior dog with a real zest for life. She loves people, kids, and other dogs. She’s curious and smart and adventurous. She doesn’t mind getting her paws dirty on a walk or the cold.”

To Rachel and Ron, Anne says, “I want to say thank you to the couple who fostered Rocket. You gave her a spot to regroup. And the video you took of her tipping over and rolling on her back in your yard really got me!”

As we reflect on Rocket’s journey, from the uncertainty of a busy highway to the warmth of Rachel and Ron’s foster home, we are filled with gratitude for a community who transformed her life. Rocket’s resilient spirit, Rachel’s passion, Anne’s open heart, DCHS’s dedicated staff and volunteers, and donors like you supporting our work all give animals like Rocket a soft landing.

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