Cowboy’s Story

Meet CowboyMeet Cowboy, an eight year old golden retriever who was rescued from an environment where he was with nearly 50 other dogs all living in their own feces, crowded four to a kennel, and scared of the outside world. When our team was able to intervene on behalf of Cowboy and 20 of his companions, we found his fur completely matted, severe cataracts in one eye, and exhibiting behavior that suggested he had never felt the sun on his face. He had not had medical attention in years and would cower in the back of his kennel when humans approached. UVHS staff watched with broken hearts as our Executive Director had to carry Cowboy from our transport vehicle into the shelter because he was too afraid to walk.

Now, Cowboy is exposed to the loving care and attention of the UVHS team as we begin to attend to his body and his heart. We invite you to return to this page regularly and follow updates on Cowboy’s story, starting from day 1 of his new life at the Upper Valley Humane Society. We don’t know everything in store for Cowboy’s future, but we do know that we will offer him all of the compassion and care we are capable of to help prepare him for whatever new chapters lie ahead.

3/27/2013 – Cowboy Arrives at UVHS

2013_04_CowboyIntakeCowboy arrived at UVHS today with several other dogs from the same location, all frightened and in various stages of health. Cowboy stood out to us in particular. He was so frightened to be brought out of our van and into the sunlight that he lost control of his legs and was unable to walk from the travel crate he came to us in to the inside of the shelter. UVHS’ Executive Director had to carry him inside, where our team immediately went to work checking his body for harm or decline, and administered medical treatment. He remained in a largely unresponsive state during his entire intake, except for one moment, when our Executive Director turned away to speak to a team member and Cowboy climbed to his paws and tried to follow her. This moment gave us special hope for Cowboy that, despite his poor emotional and physical state, the will to exist and recover is alive inside of him. Cowboy’s day 1 with us has proven to be eye-opening and deeply saddening, but it has also given us determination in the battle to help Cowboy and his rescued companions discover compassion and a new life.

3/28/2013 – Cowboy’s Bath

Cowboy's BathDay two of Cowboy’s stay at UVHS arrived and our staff knew that his fur, thickly matted with urine and filth, had to be addressed. Though we were happy to find Cowboy standing on his own inside of his kennel, once we opened the door he became so terrified again that he lost control of his legs. Perhaps if he could know that in just a few minutes he would be set down in a sink with warm water washing over him and caring hands working the mats out of his fur, he might have felt relief instead of fear. Instead, he had to be carried to our wash room by two Animal Care Techs and set down in a large sink. The water turned on and green puddles came streaming down out of his fur. Our two staff members solemnly scrubbed and rinsed until the pools around his legs gradually cleared and his body was clean. Lifted from the tub and wrapped in dry towels, Cowboy was beginning to look much-improved. Though he still exhibited signs of fear and emotional distress throughout his bath, we hope that the pleasure of a freshly cleaned coat will prove to be an important step in earning his trust and building his confidence!

The Kennel Difference

Our team has been happy to find Cowboy sitting upright and standing on his own while inside of his kennel, and even though he still becomes afraid when being led out of his kennel, this is absolutely a heartening sign! We know that Cowboy has some tall hills to climb on the road to recovery, and every step in the right direction is a personal victory worth noting!

3/28/2013 & 3/29/2013 – Eye Surgery

Cowboy's Eye SurgeryThe cataract in Cowboy’s left eye is so advanced that it is creating pressure build up and causing him physical pain. If left untreated, the cataract can cause eye rupture with the further possibility of infection and unseat any health improvements he would otherwise be capable of making. The entire eye must be removed if there’s any hope of Cowboy recovering from his previous life. Cowboy was brought to S.A.V.E.S. veterinary practice in Lebanon, NH where the surgery was performed on March 28th. He has returned to us one step back in terms of appendages, but two big steps forward in capacity for recovering his wholeness now that the ever present pain in his head has been removed. Additionally, Cowboy won himself at least one fan from the S.A.V.E.S. team members, who covered his discharge paper in hearts and wrote: “We love Cowboy and wish him a speedy recovery and a happy new life!!”

4/3/2013 – Behavior Evaluation

Cowboy's Behavior EvaluationAn important part of UVHS’ intake process for all pets is a behavior evaluation. These evaluations help us assess what type of home the pet will succeed in and also alert us to any aggression or other unwelcome behaviors. Cowboy had to be carried into his evaluation because he is still too afraid to walk outside of his kennel. Once inside our Training Room, he dropped limply to the floor and could not be enticed to pick up his head, even for bits of hot dog barely inches from his snout. Two of our Animal Care Techs sat with him on either side and stroked his fur throughout the entire process to provide comfort, but nothing seemed to lift his spirits. Watching Cowboy remain in such an emotionally shut-down state was very saddening and UVHS’ Adoptions and Animal Care Manager decided to try something different. Cady, the golden lab was brought into the room and a wonderful change almost instantly came over Cowboy! In Cady’s friendly presence, Cowboy began to pick up his head and show interest in the room around him. He responded to the two people at his side and even accepted treats and kisses! We were overwhelmed and thrilled to witness such a positive moment in Cowboy’s recovery and are encouraged by it!

4/12/2013 – Cowboy’s Stitches Removed

Cowboy's Stitches RemovedCowboy’s surgical site was examined by UVHS’ staff veterinarian today and after noting that it has healed nicely, removed the stitches from his eye area. Cowboy remained in a shut-down state during the entire experience as we continue to see once he’s been removed from his kennel. We’re thrilled to see improvements in Cowboy’s physical health, but are sad to see that his struggle to recover emotionally continues. Previous moments of awareness and positive response from Cowboy tell us that we can hope for time and continued socialization to deliver emotional improvements that match those of his returning health, and we will continue to give him the patience and love he needs along the way!

4/17/2013 – Cowboy Joins a Staff Meeting

Cowboy at MeetingOur staff have come to realize that Cowboy’s emotional progress is being inhibited by allowing him to remain in a kennel where he feels safest, but which does not properly expose him to sunlight, people, or other elements he can expect to face daily as an adopted dog. We have moved him to our Executive Director’s office where he will have constant interaction with people, extra room to play, and can lay down on a soft blanket just below a sunlit window. Given an open pathway between Deb’s office and an outdoor kennel, Cowboy proceeded to make the most of his first day in a new space by observing our weekly team meeting from the safety of a doorway. His curiosity towards our group and willingness to approach, even from a safe distance, is enormous progress and we couldn’t have been happier to have a guest join us!

4/19/2013 – Cowboy and Cady: Office Buddies!

Cowboy decided to surprise us today by taking an enormous leap forward in his journey! UVHS Executive Director, Deb, and our Animal Care and Adoptions Manager, Robin, decided to bring Cady into Deb’s office to see if her friendly presence would have the same positive affect on Cowboy as during his intake. Upon Cady entering the office, Cowboy quickly responded by raising his drooped head from the ground to happily inspect and greet her. Cowboy’s spirits rapidly climbed past what he’s previously been able to to muster, even to the point where he began bouncing excitedly around the room to play with toys and Deb! It probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that this is a huge moment in Cowboy’s recovery, and gives us enormous confidence in the rekindling of his spirit!

Week of 4/21/2013 – Cowboy’s Visitors & Cady’s Adoption

Cowboy's VisitorsPhew! This has been another big week for Cowboy, and we continue to see daily improvements in his self-confidence and comfort! So much has happened for him in such a short time that we decided to include a few of his most recent updates into a single post.

Eye-MatesThe week started off with a visit from a UVHS volunteer and her two young boys, who have been following Cowboy’s story and decided to bring some gifts for him to play with. It’s very possible that Cowboy had never met children before, and we could tell that he was a little confused by their presence. He was not so confused, however, that he would miss the opportunity to take a new toy when offered! After his visitors had left, Cowboy plopped himself down in a cozy spot and set to the task of giving his new toys a proper chewing! He must have recognized something of a companion in his new stuffed animal dog because he immediately pulled out the toy’s right eye–a choice that leaves us chuckling and scratching our heads at the uncannily familiar pair they now make. Later on in the same day, Cowboy made his first free-will visit out into the Resource Center hallway to investigate the daily commotion of our administrative staff at work. Several of us sat on the ground and quietly cheered him on as he advanced and retreated and advanced again in hopeful indecision. Many a congratulatory ear scratch followed the adventure!

Cady's AdoptionToday (4/25) brought another of the happiest moments we’ve experienced in Cowboy’s story, because this afternoon, his good friend and furry supporter, Cady, was adopted. Cady and Cowboy were both rescued together by UVHS from the same location through our work in cruelty prevention. What’s more, Cady is the first of the 21 dogs rescued from that cruelty case to be adopted by us into a forever home. The goodbye was a sweet and happy one, with both dogs running around each other playfully; nuzzling our Executive Director and sidling up excitedly beside Cady’s new owner. Though Cowboy still has a little ways to go before he too will be placed up for adoption, we know that he, like us, was overjoyed to see Cady’s perfect moment finally arrive!

Other photos from this week:

Cowboy & DebCowboy Visiting the Hallway Cowboy & Cady Say Goodbye

5/2/2013 – Cowboy Learns to Sit

With Cowboy regularly walking around on his own, playing, and showing greater levels of comfort with our team, we set to the task of planning the next stage of Cowboy’s journey: getting him to walk on a leash. Even in light of the vast progress he has made since day one, Cowboy still becomes very uncomfortable when new elements are introduced to his environment. What might be a much simpler task for a dog of a different background proved to a more challenging experience for Cowboy. A  leash hanging off his collar doesn’t just feel like a few extra ounces of weight to him; instead, it becomes a wholly new and unfamiliar extension of his body, eventually leading him to collapse fearfully on the ground. We decided to tackle this challenge by working at sitting on command first, rather than jumping straight into leash walking. This provided Cowboy an easy and distracting entry in being led by a handler. In regards to sitting on command, Cowboy blew us away with his near immediate response to our method! Feeding him bits of cheese and walking towards Cowboy until he found himself forced to sit proved to be very successful, and neither his attention or interest wavered the entire training session. More importantly, he didn’t collapse even during what probably would have been an uncomfortable circumstance for him just a few short weeks ago.

Once we did attach a leash to his collar, Cowboy again began to display signs of anxiety and gradually responded less and less to treats until he dropped to lay unresponsive on the floor. Even though our hope of walking Cowboy on leash today fell a little short of the results we were hoping for, having witnessed him sit for the very first time due to our training is an undeniably marvelous step forward! Additionally, his relatively slow onset of discomfort after having attached a leash to his collar is a much improved sign when considering how quickly we’ve seen him shut down during moments of past anxiety.

5/7/2013 – Cowboy Walks Outside

Following last week’s training session with Cowboy, our team has continued working with him to increase his comfort level with having a leash attached to his collar. Today, Cowboy left the safety of his outdoor kennel to take a short walk with our Executive Director! Given some privacy behind our Resource Center, Cowboy would walk in short bursts, quickly drop to the ground, and then be encouraged back to his feet with lots of treats and friendly ear scratches! In our video clip, you’ll see Cowboy’s self-confidence and pleasure rise and fall rapidly as he feels warm stones under paw and bright sunshine on his back. Watching Cowboy willingly exchange his previous terror for a cautious enjoyment fills our team with a thrilling happiness! Today’s walk, even as short as it was, represents such a wonderfully stark contrast to Cowboy’s very first moments at UVHS when he’d collapsed unresponsively to the ground outside our transport van. We’re amazed more and more every day by Cowboy’s ability to overcome his past and allow love to transform his life!

5/21/2013 – Cowboy Goes Up for Adoption

As of today, UVHS is officially adding Cowboy to our adoptable pets list! Even though he has only been in our care for a little less than two months, his has been a long journey to recovery and potential adopters should expect that they will be facing some ongoing challenges alongside him for some time. We do feel confident, however, that he has developed the skills he needs to transfer to a new home and learn to trust a patient and supportive forever family! Cowboy’s Story has developed quite a large following since it began in March, and we expect a number of interested parties to submit match forms in the hopes of welcoming Cowboy into their lives. Because he will require special attentions, our plan is to review Match Forms for Cowboy as they come in so that we can coordinate an adoption built for success. If you are thinking about opening your home up to Cowboy, please consider these factors that we strongly feel will be needed in his home environment:

  • His family must have patience and tolerance. While he is very capable of forming strong bonds with people, he can understandably experience anxiety in their absence and bark or have accidents.
  • Housebreaking may be an ongoing lesson. Living in a house with a fenced-in yard will be a big help in this area, and we strongly recommend it; however, this is not a requirement.
  • Cowboy has shown a remarkable ability to overcome inhibitions given time and kindness, but he still retains a fearfulness of new situations. A consistent environment that can introduce him to new experiences slowly will provide him the courage he needs to continue improving!
  • We’ve found that Cowboy welcomes the presence of other confident dogs, and will often feel calmer in their presence. While it is not a requirement, an adoptive family that has such a dog to befriend him would likely be adding an extra pillar of support to his life.

To potential adopters: having these factors in your life and home would be a true gift to Cowboy and we encourage you to submit a Match Form to us. He will be an absolutely blessing in the life of the right family, as they will be to him. We do also ask all of Cowboy’s admirers to remember that he is just one of a number of dogs rescued from cruelty, together. There are other dogs at UVHS who have shared in Cowboy’s unfortunate past, and who also need good homes. They all have different needs and Cowboy’s Story is absolutely meant to draw attention to them as well.

Thank you so much for being Cowboy’s cheering squad along the way, and we eagerly anticipate the day when we can share the happiest of posts–Cowboy’s adoption! Our team would like to share a few pictures from Cowboy’s journey that didn’t make it into previous posts:


6/08/2013 – Pending Adoption

In the last few weeks, Cowboy has been visited by a number of wonderful families and his adoption is finally pending! We are still accepting Match Forms from those interested in becoming candidates for his adoption, but meetings between new parties and Cowboy have been postponed until a concrete decision is made concerning his adoption. We do have to share a short video clip of Cowboy having a marvelous time being introduced to a couple and their own Golden Retriever as they consider welcoming him into their family.

As Cowboy’s confidence has continued to grow since our last update he’s begun going for walks along the road leading up to our shelter, and even took a car ride to visit a possible forever home, yesterday. Our whole team is bursting with Cowboy pride and we hope to be sharing an extra happy update with you all very soon!

6/17/2013 – Cowboy Goes Home

Yesterday afternoon, the most wonderful moment in Cowboy’s journey took place. After having had existed without needed medical attention, human compassion, and probably even sunlight for eight years of his life, Cowboy was finally welcomed into a loving forever home. When he first came to the Upper Valley Humane Society in March, overwhelming fear left Cowboy unable to even walk from our van into the shelter. His fur was matted with urine and feces, and a severe cataract in his left eye created painful pressure and threatened to rupture if left untreated. The days that followed were filled with heart-wrenching struggle as our team began to mend his body and spirit, and laid the foundation for a relationship based on trust. Progress was understandably slow and both our team and Cowboy often came up against saddening barriers that inhibited his path to recovery. Unlike a creature who has absolutely nothing left, however, Cowboy responded to our efforts with encouraging moments of gratitude and life, and so we stuck with him through his trials–placing faith in his still present will to live.

Over time, the unconditional care and patience shown to him began to take root and we realized that the worst effects of Cowboy’s past were shrinking away. We could turn our thoughts from fixing what had been broken to finding him a family who could gift him the quality of life that only a loving forever home can. We received numerous phone calls and visits from interested parties–those who felt a bigness in their hearts and homes and who generously wished to play the ultimate role in Cowboy’s life. But, as he will continue to own very unique needs for some time, Cowboy’s adopters would have to be prepared to meet the remnants of his past with unending patience and their own uncommonly unique conditions. The day arrived when that family did finally arrive at our doors, and they brought their Golden Retriever with them to meet Cowboy for the first time. Following an introduction filled with joy and two very eager pups, it was quickly decided that Cowboy would be joining the family.

Yesterday, our Executive Director opened the doors of her truck and coaxed Cowboy down to the ground that is now the yard he will chase squirrels across and lap at spring puddles from. Our team are sad to say goodby to Cowboy, but we are so, so, so happy to think about all of the amazing things in store for him!

Cowboy’s new owners graciously allowed us to video tape his adoption so that all of you can be part of this personal, perfect conclusion of his time with us.

8/09/2013 – Letter from Cowboy’s Family

Cowboy has been gone from UVHS for nearly two months now and hardly a day passes when his name isn’t brought up by a staff member or public visitor. His new owners have sent regular updates about his adjustment to life in their loving care, and they kindly agreed to provide us with this happy letter so that we could share his heartwarming progress with you:

Cowboy and MidasAfter seven weeks, Cowboy is really starting to feel at home.  He responds well to quiet and ordinariness.  Routine is important.  He likes having everybody around.  He suffers from separation anxiety, so we try to balance not being out a lot together.  We are becoming more attuned to his needs and body language.  Our other dog, Midas, has been an important part of his adjustment.

He has adjusted to our routine of a long walk first thing in the morning with Midas, and he does all his business along the route from overnight.  Cowboy now shows more and more interest in the various sights and smells on our walks and usually heads for the side of the road to check things out.  He really likes going along with Midas on these walks, as they each discover things to sniff and explore for sharing-two heads (noses) are better than one.

Cowboy follows Garth everywhere, and has his reserved space under the desk when he is working.  At night he always lies down on the floor on Garth’s side of the bed, while Midas lies on the other side – they have worked it out.  He now rests easily at night, but at first he panted a lot, and we had to really work to get him up in the morning to go out.  Now, he is always ready when we get up and races down stairs with Midas, where we have a lot of interaction, with lots of nosing and licking.

We have five-half levels of stairs in our house, and Cowboy now just roams up and down all the stairs, some times charging up and down just for fun.

Cowboy still barks at people, sudden noises or surprise movement, even with us.  He approaches new individuals cautiously barking, while still madly wagging his tail, but will quickly warm up to most people.  So far the only obstacle has been young children.  He is very unsure around them.

We have taken both dogs down to our lake to swim.  The first time Cowboy just lay down in the water.  The second or third time he followed Midas and jumped in and started paddling and actually swam out a bit and back to shore, almost unaware of what he had done!  After that, he was content to just lie in the water and enjoy the waves washing by him, while Midas kept swimming and retrieving a ball.

The other day we took the dogs outside to go to the bathroom, and Cowboy suddenly took off running around the garage, with Midas in hot pursuit.  This was their first effort at playing outside Cowboy and Midas Asleeptogether.  Midas has been constantly trying to get Cowboy to roughhouse, but so far only small tussles. …

We all have a long challenge ahead, but Cowboy is a wonderful dog with a gentle disposition, is quick to learn and has made extraordinary progress already.  We are so happy that he has joined our family!

12/24/2013 – Giving Thanks and Growth – Latest Post!!

Though it’s been several months since we’ve shared an update on Cowboy, he has never been far from our minds or hearts. The time he has spent in the care of his loving adoptive family has proved to be a continual source of healing and rehabilitation that is capable of soothing the hurts of his past. This being the perfect season for reflecting on thankfulness and family, we checked in with Cowboy’s family about how he has been doing–a report we have a great deal to be thankful for.

2013_12_Cowboy_01Among many other pieces of great news, Cowboy has successfully completed level 1 Obedience Training, which has us more than brimming with pride! To have previously imagined that he could comfortably learn inside a class of more than a dozen strangers, numerous dogs, and regular commotion, would have at times seemed too much to hope for. Cowboy’s developing adaptability and acceptance of uncertainty was again displayed during his first real Thanksgiving. Even with a large group of people and activity around him, including two three year old children running through the house, he did very well receiving pats and hugs from visitors.

While he still doesn’t quite seem to grasp the concept of 2013_12_Cowboy_03playing with his furry companion, Midas, he will sometimes experience spurts of playfulness! He has surprised himself and his owners on several occasions by leaving the safety of their porch to energetically race around the yard before suddenly collecting himself and retreating back to his spot on the porch. His affections are also becoming more recognizably dog-like and common: nuzzling and communicating in happy murmurs when being pet.

At a time when many friends and families are exchanging gifts with each other, knowing that former UVHS pets like Cowboy are thriving in their adoptive homes is the ultimate gift to us. We’ll be thinking of you this holiday season and especially the love you’ve so generously shared with pets in need. Stay well and happy holidays from the compassionate and caring staff at UVHS.