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Volunteer buys stressed-out shelter dog a pink princess tent to make him feel safe

If you’ve never seen a male dog lounge inside a pink princess-themed tent, you have to meet the adorable Starsky.

The 2-year-old pit bull has lived in I Heart Dogs Rescue and Animal Haven in Warren, Michigan, since November 2020. He entered the animal shelter with his brother Hutch, also a stray. After a few months, Hutch got adopted by his forever family, but his sibling wasn’t as lucky.

Starsky had lived in the shelter for so long that he started to feel stressed. The dog began to develop unwanted behaviors, including lunging at potential adopters that walked by.

Understandably, staff and volunteers became hesitant about handling Starsky, so the shelter moved him to a more isolated kennel near an exercise yard. It did him good because he’s more relaxed when playing outside.

However, the placement didn’t shield him from the barking of other dogs and the birds flying through a hole in the wall of his room, which required him to stay vigilant against the winged intruders.

“In his kennel, Starsky is on edge, defensive, and unsure,” Megan Synk, a volunteer adoption coordinator, told HuffPost in an email. “His pupils are dilated, ears pinned forward, furrowed eyebrows, barking, pacing, and toy shredding.”

But when he’s outside his kennel with someone he trusts, the dog transforms into a “bouncy, affectionate, curious boy” who loves getting head and body scratches.

Megan recently learned that hiding spaces can help relieve stress for shelter animals and make them feel protected. Since dog houses can cost a lot, Megan decided to get Starsky a unicorn tent.

“I set it up and put a brand new toy in there and a bunch of treats,” Megan told TODAY. “When I saw him go in there and lay down and chew his toy and kind of be able to hide from the world, it felt really good.”

Starsky enjoyed his new special place for about a week until he discovered that the tent poles make for good chew toys.

With the unicorn tent ruined, Megan bought him a replacement—a pink princess tent, and without poles this time.

Starsky absolutely loved it!

“The tent has given him a place to hide in times of stress or anxiety. Instead of pacing and barking, he has grabbed a nearby toy to take in his tent with him and lay down instead,” Megan said.

She also takes Starsky home for weekend sleepovers about once a month to give him a break from shelter life. Megan and her husband already have other dogs who aren’t interested in adding a new member to the pack, so they can’t adopt Starsky.

I Heart Dogs shared pictures of Starksy in his princess tent online, and the cute photos got an overwhelmingly positive response.

“We’ve become such good friends and it’s a wonderful feeling seeing others love him as much as I do,” Megan said. “It means everything to have so many people rooting for him.”

The organization recently announced that it will collect new and used kid tents for the other furry friends in the shelter.

Starsky is still nervous around new people and situations, and he’s currently working with a certified dog trainer to help him with his behavioral issues. The dog is also starting to see more volunteers. Hopefully, they will soon be able to take him on sleepovers.

Megan said that Starsky is “doing great” in his training. The dog isn’t currently listed for adoption, but Megan said the shelter might consider placing him in a home “if the right people came along to help him.”

I Heart Dogs hopes he finds a family willing to work with his specific needs and help him feel safe. But until then, Starsky stays with them—in his pink princess tent.

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