His terse red fur; smooth, when rubbed from front to back; and coarse, when rubbed back to front, roasts in the sun as Rufus lounges in his back yard at The 16 Paws Estate.
In this moment Rufus is content and secure.
His quiet wooded paradise is nestled in the heart of Midwest Ohio—Hudson, an affluent suburb about 45 minutes southeast of Cleveland. The community boasts a historical registered shopping district, many fine restaurants and a history dating back to the early days of the Western Reserve.
The 16 Paws Estate boasts two humans and, you guessed it, four dogs. It’s happy home. For Rufus, it’s quite a step up from where his life started five years ago. Just a pup, Rufus was found, with his brother Rugby, emaciated and near death. He and his brother were brought to League for Animal Welfare (LFAW) a no-kill shelter in the Cincinnati area. It was their only chance for survival.
The 16 Paws Estate belongs to David and Ellen Homlong. The name pays homage to the Homlong’s four dogs that made up their resident family at the time they moved to Hudson 10 years ago.
In those 10 years, a few of the Homlong’s dogs crossed the rainbow bridge and other dogs joined their family. In fact, Rufus’ brother Rugby joined them in 2016.
“Our story with The League started a few weeks after the sudden loss of our flat coated retriever Mya,” Ellen Homlong said. “In my grief I thought she could be replaced, and I went to Petfinder. com looking for another ‘Mya.’ I found a flat-coated mix named Lynn in Batavia at the League for Animal Welfare (LFAW).”
Founded in 1949, the LFAW is a privately funded, non-profit organization that provides care for unwanted and neglected cats and dogs in Greater Cincinnati. It’s the area’s longest serving no-kill shelter.
Shortly after the Homlongs found Lynn online, they brought one of their three dogs and made the drive to Batavia for a meet-and-greet and by the evening on July 2, 2016 Lynn had a new home and new name, Ziva Lynn.
“While we were at the League and finalizing the adoption, we learned that a dog named Rugby most likely would be missing his pen and playmate Lynn,” Ellen said. “We never met Rugby, but I felt obligated to check in on him from time to time as I had removed his BFF from him.”
The Homlongs learned that Rugby was under-socialized and told it was difficult to find even a foster home for him due to his debilitating anxiety.
“We talked it over and in early September 2016, brought Rugby to our home as we took on the role as foster parents,” Ellen said. “Rugby struggled early on and so did we as his anxiety led to destructive behavior and he did not easily bond with us.”
At that time, with Rugby they had a total of five dogs. Ellen said Rugby needed this “pack” to help guide him and “after a few months he was spooning us in our bed.” That’s when the Homlongs experienced their first “foster failure” and Rugby benefited as they signed the adoption papers.
Rufus wasn’t so fortunate to find a home that quickly. But, The League did not give up on him.
None Left Behind
“It was obvious Rufus had had very little human contact,” said Marilyn Goodrich, LFAW executive director during Rufus’ stay at the shelter. “You couldn’t make eye contact with him without him huddling away in a corner in fear.”
Rufus was an ideal candidate for LFAW’s None Left Behind Program. This program, which began in the 90s, was started, Goodrich said because “the perfect companion may be one that, at first glance, people might be tempted to overlook.”
“Some people may have concerns about adopting a special-needs pet—one with a chronic medical condition requiring ongoing veterinary attention, one challenged by a behavioral, psychological or functional issue requiring special care or a senior pet,” she said.
None Left Behind benefits include a waived adoption fee; covered cost of veterinary care for special needs; provisions for necessary medications; special diets, ongoing treatments or other special care requirements and free behavioral consultations with the League’s animal trainer.
According to LFAW volunteer Pat Engelhardt the None Left Behind program saved Rufus’ life. He is a dog she’ll never forget.
Working with Rufus
“He has been the least socialized dog I’ve seen,” Pat said. “He needed the most help.”
According to Pat, to get Rufus to even approach her, she had to start out hand feeding him.
“I would walk up to him in his outside run, doggy door down so he wasn’t locked out, I would hold out my hand to him, say, ‘touch,’ and touch him,” Pat explained. “He had his collar on all the time so eventually I was able to put a leash on him and bring him inside.”
Slowly Pat and other volunteers and LFAW staff members added walking around inside the building, adding rooms and hallways and most importantly meeting people to Rufus’ routine.
“In the adoption room I would invite people to come in and offer him treats so he would meet more people,” she said. “I tried to challenge him with new experiences like going into the Annex, walking up the stairs in the storage room, walking up a ramp in the adoption room, going into the adoption van, lying down on a blanket next to me and letting me pet him, finally getting to hug him and kiss his head.”
Working with Rufus took lots of patience and could be very frustrating. Every advance had to be broken down into baby steps. He didn’t just go up the stairs, for example, Pat said. First, she had to walk him through the storage room. Then they would stop by the stairs for a moment. Eventually Pat started putting pieces of cheese on the floor leading Rufus to the stairs and putting cheese on three to four steps. Fortunately, he was food-motivated, and it only took a few tries before he was successfully climbing the stairs.
Pat said the None Left Behind program is essential because all animals need the opportunity to find a loving home.
“As hard as we try to provide the animals with a loving haven, they don’t get the same level of interaction, love and exercise in the shelter as they would in a home,” she said. “I feel happy and satisfied that I’m able to help a dog learn how to be a dog and to be comfortable with humans.”
After two years and eight months of “learning to be a dog,” Rufus was ready for the next step, fostering.
Another step in the right direction
Between May 2017 and September 2018, the Homlongs lost two of their dogs, becoming humans to only three dogs. This meant that 16 Paws Estate, was four paws short.
“We knew Rufus was struggling more than Rugby ever did, and we would routinely check in with the League for the latest update,” Ellen said. “I even reached out to friends on social media asking for help to foster. But, an evening in December 2018, I returned from Europe and unbeknownst to me, my husband David had brought Rufus to our home to foster through the holidays.”
Rufus was extremely anxious and hypervigilant and any sudden noise or the tiniest movement would set off a “fight or flight” response.
“I became frustrated as he would not bond and everything required significant effort when taking care of Rufus,” Ellen said. “At various times we were ready to give up on him but extended the foster period so he would not have to be returned to The League, but rather have him stay with us until another home could be found for him.”
Slowly he followed the lead of the Homlong’s other dogs and learned to trust their humans, as well.
“With time we realized we are the perfect humans for Rufus and we did not want him to be traumatized or feel abandoned again,” Ellen said. “This meant another round of adoption papers and our second foster failure experience was confirmed.”
Ellen said that the None Left Behind Program has been very helpful. The staff and volunteers at LFAW are very supportive and the Homlongs have great appreciation for The League, as vet visits and Rufus’ medication for his anxiety have been covered.
“With four dogs, financial assistance can make an ‘I can’t’ to an ‘I can,’” Ellen said.
Life at 16 Paws Estate
To this day, Rufus has a comfort zone that is extremely limited.
“We have two acres with a pond and our backyard borders the woods (owned by Cleveland and Hudson Park Systems) and as long as there are no unfamiliar sounds, he runs and plays happily with his siblings on our property,” Ellen said. “If the neighbors are out, however, Rufus stays in.”
Rufus is also a couch potato who loves sleeping in with his humans “while calling dibs on the heating pad,” Ellen added.
“He loves his canine siblings and wags happily when we return home and when it’s dinner time,” she said. The thing Ellen loves most about Rufus is him wagging his tail. “When Rufus feels safe, he runs and plays as if he was born to be free and happy. When the wind picks up, when there is any sound outside, weather related or not, he shivers and reverts to being
fearful and uncertain. We sit with him through it all.”
An equal opportunity
Ellen said she loves the equal chance opportunity that the None Left Behind program offers.
“I think my mindset is influenced by the fact I am a mental health therapist working with humans who has experienced both trauma and neglect in their lives and how these experiences hard wire your brain to experience hypervigilance and the fear response suddenly and frequently,” she said.
“I have to practice boundaries with my clients; I can’t ‘fix’ them or take them home, but to be able to make a difference in the life of animals who’s life has been void of kindness and nurturing is a win-win situation.”
Until LFAW became their destination, the Homlongs had pedigree dogs purchased as puppies and became well-adjusted members of their family. There was not the satisfaction, however, of trials and triumphs until Rugby and Rufus.
“I do not know if we will ever own a dog that does not have a story of survival. Rugby and Rufus did that,” she said.
“This has been quite a learning experience, and I do not think we would have been successful if we did not have the support from The League and the resources Rufus (and Rugby) needed to strive. We have both the space and the time; my husband is retired and stays home. We live a quiet life without much interruptions and we feel so fortunate to have Rufus accepting us as his humans.”
And so, The 16 Paws Estate is complete with two humans and four dogs. Rufus is “content” bathing in the sun or cuddling on the couch with the Homlongs.
None Left Behind
The League for Animal Welfare’s None Left Behind program started in the ‘90s. Since it’s debut, nearly 300 animals have been adopted through the program.
None Left Behind benefits:
- Waived adoption;
- no concerns over the cost of veterinary care for special needs;
- provisions for necessary medications, special diets, ongoing treatments or other special care requirements; and
- free behavioral consultations with the League’s animal trainer.
MELISSA REINERT is a former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter currently serving as communications coordinator for Lord’s Gym Ministries. She’s a pet mom with two two-legged sons and a husband.