The relationship between a boy and his dog is, quite possibly, one of the purest forms of happiness out there.
For shelter worker Abbie Van Der Plas, the immediate bond forged between her 7-year-old son, Zach, and a newly-arrived shelter dog doesn’t need any explanation. It was just a welcome relief after days and days of futile efforts to make the dog happy.
Van Der Plas had donated a whopping portion of her week in an attempt to obtain the trust of Nala, the pitbull rescued as a stray in New Zealand that arrived at her place of work in March of 2016.
According to the shelter supervisor, “Nala had been living on the streets of the New Zealand town for quite some time and was extremely shut down and terrified,” Van Der Plas said via Facebook, a few weeks after Nala arrived via pickup with the Christchurch shelter, which is known predominantly as a Bull Breed shelter and rescue location in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The rescue shelter itself is a one-story building with about 40 kennels per side of a long, two-way corridor. The operation is run predominantly by funds raised through dog registration fees in the regions, which range anywhere from $50 to well over $100 for dangerous breeds.
Some of the dogs that arrive are in good spirits; with 67 percent of all dogs taken in returned to their original forever homes, a number of the animals picked up and brought to the shelter have been well-loved and simply wandered off out of curiosity or a broken fence latch.
Others, though, are more like Nala. They come after spending significant time out on their own, whether due to familial abandonment or other more concrete forms of abuse. They, like the hard-to-win-over pit, can be closed off from attempts by Van Der Plas and her staff to win them over.
She set up the camera, hoping that she would catch the moment that she finally managed to forge a friendship with the gentle dog.
When all was said and done, though, Van Der Plas herself wouldn’t be the person Nala would ultimately connect with.
After a week of sitting in the back of her cage, shut off and refusing to make contact with the shelter boss, Van Der Plas brought Zach in to try and help.
The effect was immediate.
Nala’s reaction to Zach went viral, as Van Der Plas continued filming what was an almost night-and-day transformation for the frightened dog.
She sat up in the back of her cage, making the first noticeable movement caught on camera since filming had started; she then moved her way to the wire at the entrance of her kennel, immediately connecting with the young boy and showing the first signs of trust since her rescue a week earlier.
The connection didn’t change the trust issues Nala experienced. There was no way to be certain exactly how long Nala had been on the streets, how she had first come to be on her own, or how she’d been treated prior to her abandonment, but it was clear that she dealt with significant anxiety.
Despite this, the gentle-natured dog showed that she was clearly capable of forging a loving connection—and quite quickly—in her immediate and trusting reaction to Zach upon his arrival at the shelter.
Nala’s story made the rounds for the same reason that people watch romances or feel-good movies. Everyone loves a happy ending, and Nala’s ability to connect with someone so quickly was a promising sign that she’s got the tools to thrive in a family environment.
The story isn’t isolated, of course. There are plenty of Nalas out there, waiting to connect with their own Zachs after leading tough lives. They make up the nearly 20 percent of shelter pick-ups at Christchurch that head to new forever homes, after something clicks between them and the people who come to try and win them over.
Despite the fact that Nala isn’t the only dog with this kind of story to tell, though, it’s hard not to feel your heart melt when you watch her finally sit up and head over to Zach for her first interaction in days. That’s the kind of hope that you simply can’t manufacture.