By Jason Raiche
ESCANABA - Finding homes for animals with special needs can be a daunting task, but as one recent owner of a special needs animal can attest, a little time, effort, love, and affection can go a long way in improving an animal's life.
Greg Corsten of Little Lake feeds Dakini, a blind black lab he and his wife Linda adopted from the Delta Animal Shelter, in the shelter’s back yard Wednesday afternoon. Dakini was brought into the shelter as a stray and was identified as blind when she arrived due to a blunt force injury to her head. (Daily Press photo by Jason Raiche)
The story of Dakini, an approximately one-and-a-half year old black lab, began when she was brought into the Delta Animal Shelter as a stray a few months back. Right from the start, Dakini's adoptability prospects looked uncertain, according to shelter manager Sue Gartland.
"When she actually came in, she was so nervous and freaked out that we were so cautious with her as a potential rabies case because she would alligator roll," said Gartland. "As we were trying to get her into the building, she would lay down and just roll on the leash and if you'd get anywhere near her she would snap at you."
After getting her into a cage to settle down, Dakini began thrashing around and continued to exhibit some unusual behavior.
It soon became evident that Dakini was actually blind following an unknown blunt force head injury that caused spontaneous blindness and left a depression on her head.
"From a shelter point of view, we really were faced with the dilemma of what to do with her because the shelter is a very stressful environment for a dog with such an injury...," said Gartland, noting Dakini was fearful of her surroundings. "It really took a lot of time with the volunteers to sit with her in her bed and comfort her and talk with her. We honestly didn't know how adoptable she would be, but she was so sweet that there had to be somebody out there that would be willing to work with a special needs dog."
That's where Dakini's new owners Greg and Linda Corsten of Little Lake entered the picture.
According to Greg, Dakini seemed like a dog that would demand more from him, which attracted him to her during a visit to the shelter in May.
"She also seemed like she would be a dog that would do well with other dogs and we have those," he said.
Ultimately, Greg and his wife decided to adopt Dakini and welcome her into their pet-friendly home, which also includes dogs and parrots.
However, adjusting to her new surroundings proved difficult for Dakini at first.
"The first couple of weeks she wouldn't even sit down," said Greg. "She wouldn't lie down. She'd be on the porch pacing the whole time. At the end of the day, we'd bring her in the house, put her in the kennel and then she'd lie down and sleep until she got up the next day."
This behavior occurred for about a week, until Dakini grew accustomed to lying on the porch, outside pen area, and outdoor dog bed.
Dakini has been further acquainted with her new surroundings, though creating the mentality of having a blind animal at home required some work on the Corsten's part; they had to be careful about rearranging furniture and needed to get Dakini a new food and water dish with a wider base as she kept stepping on the edge of the bowl.
They even used scented oils in the house at first to help her navigate through rooms and recognize where her bed was located.
Greg is currently trying to enforce several safety measures with Dakini, particularly by use of sound.
"I've got a triangle sitting up above her food bowl," said Greg. "Each time before I feed her, I ring the triangle, hoping that she'll associate that with food so some day if she does escape, maybe I can ring that and she'll hear it."
Dakini has also grown accustomed to the Corstens walk routes in the woods, but Greg is now working with her on the trails in anticipation of the winter season, noticing some positive reactions.
"I'm working with that trying to get her to slow down a little bit and relax on the walks, because the ice is coming and I've got a deadline here before the ice hits the ground. I don't want her pulling like she does now," he said.
Greg also noted how well Dakini gets along with the Corstens other dogs, especially the family's smallest who enjoys playing with Dakini the most.
When the Corstens initially came to the shelter, Dakini's reaction to their other dogs was very positive, according to Gartland.
"It was fascinating with Dakini when we first had her out in the yard as a potential adoptable dog, her posturing was so nervous, her shoulders tense, her tail tucked," she said. "When Greg brought his other dogs, she perked right up and acted like a happy lab, her tail wagging."
Greg said the whole experience with Dakini has been wonderful.
"I really love adopting dogs," he said. "My ideal job would be having a hospice for dogs. I'd love to do that for the ones that have no other place - they're unadoptable - to give them a safe place to live."
Seeing how well Dakini has been doing and the progress she has made is great, added Gartland.
"It's so nice for us here at the shelter, all the volunteers, to see a dog that would otherwise have been unadoptable find that second chance and to see how wonderful this is working out," she said.
Those who would like to follow Dakini online can visit her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dakini.corsten.