Ryan Graney, an animal lover from Nashville, Tennessee, is gaining quite the following on her Instagram page. With roughly 7,300 followers, Ryan has become popular in the dog world – but not for what you’d expect.
The United States is well known for its overpopulation of stray animals, especially dogs. We hear countless stories daily of abandoned dogs wandering city streets, or being found in piles of garbage. Fortunately, there are decent people in the world, like Ryan Graney, who take risks to save the lives of these stray animals.
For almost two years, Ryan has been working tirelessly to gain the trust of one very special dog.
Here is the story of Molly, and how she transformed from #feraltoforever.
Tell us who you are and why you are an animal person.
“I’m the crazy dog lady that will crawl into ditches and run around parks at 4 AM in a dress and 4″ heels with a flashlight, looking for puppies. I’m also well-known in my office to go out to lunch and, if I happen to find a dog while I’m out, I’ll just bring it back to my office and have everybody there help me find its owner.
I’ve grown up being surrounded by dogs. They have always been, and will always be, a part of my life. I just can’t stand to see dogs suffer with those sad puppy eyes. I’m fortunate enough in my life to have the means and the ability to help dogs that need me. It’s just a part of who I am, it’s a part of my soul, I have to help in any way I can, if I can.”
Tell us the story of how you got your feral dog. Why did you feel you needed to help?
“There was a posting on our neighborhood app about a dog that needed to be moved off of a lot, because they were starting construction on it. The lot was two blocks from my house, so I went over to take a look.
She was just sitting on the empty lot. The house that was there had been ripped down. Gathering info from my neighbors about her backstory, I found out she had been living on that lot for 7 years. The woman who owned the house sort of took care of her, but really, people in the neighborhood fed her. It was getting cold out, and she looked really sad, and being an animal lover , I couldn’t walk away from her and not do anything. So, every day, before work and after work, I would go and feed her. Real dog food, not the pizza people would throw over the fence to her.
It was a year and a half process of getting us to where we are now. During an ice storm last year, after I fell down a hill 3 times bringing her warm ham soup, she wandered up to my house and moved into my front yard. I set her up a shelter in the bushes and she kind of became my front yard dog. But she would still wander around the neighborhood. I couldn’t catch her yet.
Then, in July of last year, she started hanging out in the alleyway and the bushes behind my house. I have a back gate that I would keep open and she would sometimes come in the backyard. One night, she came in to eat her dinner, and I saw an opportunity. I slammed the gate shut, trapping her in the backyard. Both of us looked at each other like, “now what?” I immediately put a collar on her that already had a tag with my phone number on it. So, she is now safely locked in my backyard, and she never tries to leave.”
What’s the hardest thing about having a feral dog?
“The hardest thing is that they go against every normal dog interaction you could ever think possible. Every day is a different thing, it could be progress or regression. Getting to a certain level of trust and then having one small thing send you backwards 10 steps is really difficult to deal with. We are conditioned to think of dogs as living in our houses and generally enjoying our company. With a feral dog, that is all off the table. You need to be able to not take it personally when the dog doesn’t want anything to do with you. And you need to understand that they need their space.
My feral dog has never lived in a house before. To her, a house was a box of terror. It took a very long time, and one really big wrestling match, to get her into the house when we had a tornado warning. She absolutely hated it. She sat in the corner and cowered and shook in fear. So, now I just leave my back door open and she can come and go as she pleases. It is very difficult to have it be raining outside, and know that you want your dog inside, but she wants no part of it. You also might have to make modifications to your house. For example, my feral dog prefers to be outside and under my deck. So, I modified the deck and made her a place where she will be safe underneath it, against the house.”
What’s the best thing about having a feral dog?
“The best thing is when this dog, who didn’t really trust anybody, now runs to you to get back scratches and belly rubs and looks at you with very thankful eyes. When you can give them shelter, which they have never had before, or when you can feed them the food that they should be eating and when you get them the vaccinations that you know they need, but have never had before – it’s the little things like that. To know that you’ve absolutely changed the course of this dog’s life. It’s really amazing to have a dog that’s never really known love come and lay down next to you in the yard and let out a big sigh. But, of course, you can’t make any sudden movements or she’ll run away to the corner of the yard.”
What advice would you give to someone adopting a feral dog?
“Patience. You absolutely need every ounce of patience that you can dig out of your soul. Let the dog guide you in the direction of how your interactions are going to go. The last thing that a feral dog needs or will accept is someone pushing them to be uncomfortable. Their natural reaction to that is running away. You need to drop every expectation that you have for anything you’ve ever learned about dogs when it comes to a feral dog.”
What has adopting a feral dog taught you?
“This has been the greatest lesson in patience and acceptance that I have ever had to endure. I wanted to give her so much love, and show her that people are good. Show her what it’s like to be part of a family, and be loved, but she wasn’t willing to accept it at first. I had to be okay with that and realize that that was going to be what was best for our future.
It also taught me the kindness of strangers online and how much they are willing to invest in dogs that are not their own. Our #feraltoforever story on Instagram has almost 6400 followers (now 7,300) and most of them are people who check in every day to see what Molly is up to, and to see how she’s progressing in her life.”
*Interview from April 29th, 2016*
We contacted Ryan for an update on Molly’s progress over the past couple of months.
After almost two years of rehabilitating and working with Molly, Ryan Graney was finally able to get her to move inside permanently.
“She integrated so much faster than I thought she would. It was almost like she was relieved to be inside. She first bonded with the air conditioning vent and, nowadays, I have to peel her off of it to make her go outside. For the last year or so, I’ve been having my little dogs out in the backyard with her to get her used to them and I watched their interactions very carefully. I started with gating her off in the kitchen, when I wasn’t home, but now I can leave all three of them free to roam about in the house. She waits patiently for them to get their dinners first and she always cleans up their bowls of whatever they’ve left over. Sometimes, when I get out of the shower, she is sitting right there, waiting for me like she was always meant to be there.
Though Molly is improving, they still experience set backs every so often.
“We had one small hiccup. I came home from work one day and, somehow, she had gotten the gate moved and she bolted out the front door. She ran to my fence in the front yard, that isn’t completely closed, and stopped to pee. As I was sprinting towards her, she turned around and walked back towards me and into the house like nothing was wrong.”
But it seems as though they are consistently progressing!
“We also had one major victory! Last week, I went on vacation to Florida for a little over a week. I had 2 people watch Mollybear for me. One is a dog rescue friend and one is a professional dog sitter. Molly did wonderfully. She even went on walks on a leash with them. She let them pet her and she came to them for attention. She is slowly getting used to new people and it really makes me want to cry, because she has come so far.”
Molly has even learned to walk on leash!
“We go for walks in the neighborhood twice a day, and once, we even walked down to the house to see the women who fed her for 2 years when no one else would. Everyone cried.”
Molly and Ryan’s relationship continues to grow as they progress through Molly’s training. Now that Molly has learned the basics of being a dog, they will start to explore other activities together, like Molly’s first car ride, and first bath.
“Right now she is sound asleep on the AC vent in the kitchen. So, I would say she is happy.”
Molly’s story is touching, unique, and inspiring. There are millions of homeless dogs in the US alone, just waiting for their opportunity to transform from Feral to Forever. You can make a huge difference in a dog’s life, just by showing a little compassion.
“I feel like if people knew how rewarding it was to rescue a feral dog, more people would do it. It is hard work, and it takes every ounce of patience you have, but to know you changed, and maybe even saved, this dog’s life makes all the stress worth it. “
Thank you to Ryan Graney for sharing this story with us, and for allowing us to share it with the world.
And a big congratulations to Molly and her new home!
Photos: Ryan Graney Instagram