Woman drives across country to adopt longest standing resident of Pensacola Humane Society

*Editor's note: This story was updated to correctly reflect the title of Animal Care Coordinator Elle Banton.

The Pensacola Humane Society adopted out its longest standing resident Tuesday after 3-year-old Rylan's new owner drove across the country to come back for him.

Owner GiGi Mahoney was introduced to Rylan only two weeks after he was brought into the Pensacola Humane Society as a stray in January 2021. Rylan had been perceived as being aggressive toward people he was unsure about, leading to over 20 unfulfilled applicants during the year he spent at the shelter.

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Humane Society Animal Care Coordinator Elle Banton said when Rylan met Mahoney, his joyful attitude was unlike any behavior she had ever seen from him.

"She's just his person, and we know that," Barton said. "She has worked hard for that dog."

Mahoney said she recalls the disbelief on the Humane Society volunteers' faces when she sat in the "quiet room" with Rylan for an hour and a half as he licked her face and flopped down on her lap.

Dog trainer Catey Cuesta works with Rylan outside the Pensacola Humane Society on Tuesday. The 3-year-old, mixed breed dog has found his forever home after a year at the Humane Society.
Dog trainer Catey Cuesta works with Rylan outside the Pensacola Humane Society on Tuesday. The 3-year-old, mixed breed dog has found his forever home after a year at the Humane Society.

Despite the clear connection, Rylan still had challenges that he needed help with, Mahoney said. The first night she brought him home to foster, for example, it took her an hour and a half just to coax him out of the car and into her house.

She noticed how even the smallest changes would disrupt his routine. A full moon, a new parking spot or a male's presence were all enough to send him into a frenzy. Not only did this create problems for Mahoney to work through, but she felt Rylan was missing out on enjoying his life.

"I gave him a bath and a bed and he started to open up to me … but he was afraid of everything else outside," Mahoney said.

Though Mahoney continued to foster Rylan, she eventually decided he needed more professional help than she was equipped to give him.

Rylan, the longest resident of the Pensacola Humane Society, was finally adopted Tuesday.
Rylan, the longest resident of the Pensacola Humane Society, was finally adopted Tuesday.

Mahoney had planned a trip to drive back to her home state of California to see family and friends. She thought about all the stressors she felt would be too much for Rylan to take — new surroundings, new people, campsites. Trying to avoid putting him through the turmoil, she said what she thought would be her last goodbye.

"When I dropped him off ... I thought I would never see him again," she said.

She made it all the way to California with plans to travel farther up north. However, about two months into her trip, she made the decision to cut her journey short and head another 2,000 miles back to Pensacola after something within her just didn't sit right.

"I was brokenhearted, I knew something in my life was missing," Mahoney said.

Getting Rylan the help he needed

Little did she know, while she was away on the road, Rylan would become eligible for an extensive training program through a donation. Without the donation, the Pensacola Humane Society would not have been able to afford the help he needed, according to Jessica Fischer, head of events and communications for the society.

The donation made by Pit Road Pals, an organization founded by NASCAR driver Brittney Zamora, was able to cover two-thirds of the cost of a training program that would typically cost about $4,000, according to Fischer. The opportunity would allow for Rylan to undergo an extensive 30-day board and training process to help build his confidence in new environments and trust with new people.

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"Throughout his training, we learned that Rylan was not aggressive to new people and situations but rather, he was defensive and nervous," according to a statement by the Pensacola Humane Society.

Catey Cuesta, lead trainer for Revive K9: Pensacola, who worked closely with Rylan, said a dog's transformation requires regular practice and commitment, not just a temporary session.

As Cuesta demonstrated the new skills Rylan had learned, Mahoney struggled to hold back tears as she watched the timid dog she had grown to love perform each skill that Cuesta asked of him seamlessly.

"That's huge," Mahoney said with emotion.

Mahoney said after seeing the progress made with Rylan, a dog who carried the misconception of being unadoptable, she hopes to become a certified dog trainer herself one day.

"It breaks my heart to think there's so many others like him out there," she said.

Alysia Martinez, head of fosters at the Pensacola Humane Society, said there are plenty of options for those interested in fostering an animal and encouraged those interested to get involved.

"You can take an animal home for a sleepover, a weekend, a week or for as long as it takes until they find their forever home. You decide!" Martinez wrote in a statement. "If you've thought about fostering but haven't given it a go, please consider it!"

For more information about fostering or adopting through the Pensacola Humane Society, visit pensacolahumane.org.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Pensacola Humane Society adopts out its longest standing resident