Rescue dogs don’t always get a second chance.
“Can you please help me? Two vets told me to put my dog down and I’m calling you as my last resort” This is the most dreaded phone call a trainer can get.
13 years ago I got this call about Rocky, a 10 month old Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix who was scheduled to be put down because he was becoming viscous with an 8 year old boy. My first question was “How did you come to call me?” Her reply…The third vet I called told me to call you, so here I am, can you help? Please it’s not the dogs fault!”
My heart sank as I knew this mother was in deep despair as she somberly and tearfully gave me the story behind Rocky and her son. Rocky, was 8 weeks old when he came to this couple with only one child. He was a happy, healthy puppy who’s only joy was to be with his new family and play, play, play. Oh, yeah and learn too. He’s a Border Collie/Aussie mix, can’t leave the ‘teach me’ part out of the equation.
What occurred over the next 8 months was the worst nightmare a mother could ever dream. At first it was a jab here and a nudge there, to which she explained wasn’t a nice way to treat the dog. However, this soon turned into a deck of cards being thrown at Rocky, coming into the room to find Rocky with a pillow over his head while the boy sat on him, smothering him. Another time the mother came downstairs only to find this poor puppy’s legs tied to different pieces of furniture, front legs to one chair and hind legs to another and stretched while books were being thrown at him. Imagine the horror this mother is facing as she’s witnessing these heinous scenes between her child and her #puppy. With each month the torture is getting worse and she couldn’t deny it.
It took 8 months for it to sink in. Something was terribly wrong with her son to behave this way and the puppy was beginning to show signs of aggression whenever the boy came near. At first, it was running from the boy but it was thought to be a game of chase. Then Rocky began to hide under the table or run to one of the parents. Soon he started to get stiff, stare directly at the boy and finally he started to growl any time the boy came near.
Finally, when Rocky was 10 months old, the boy came home from school and went to Rocky but Rocky would have none of it, running upstairs but the boy pursued him into the bedroom where he found Rocky on his hind legs standing in the corner with his teeth barred, barking and snarling as the mother is yelling for them both to stop. She grabs her son as he’s about to reach for Rocky yelling “Stupid Dog, you can’t hurt me”
She does grab her son in time and Rocky retreats having peed and pooped out of complete terror. She knew deep in her gut that Rocky needed to go but she also knew that he was only acting out of pure fear so with no where else to turn, she brings him to her vet. He tells her to put him down. A puppy who bites this young is only going to get worse. She tries another and in not so many words gives her the same advice. Finally, she tries another, and I got THE call. Phew!
I called the vet who referred her to me, a vet who refers many #dogs to me but this time I called and asked him what his thinking was being a 10 month old dog who was aggressive and a biter. He said “Jill, take this dog, it’s the boy, he needs to get out of that house and I know you can turn him around”. That’s all I needed to hear. I then told the mother than she needs to be completely honest with me about why this dog was going to bite her son. That day and every day since, I thank her for her courage to see through some extremely challenging stuff about her son and to know that Rocky wasn’t a biter but a product of severe trauma and torture who could be rehabilitated given a chance. I told her I would take him and do my very best to rehab him and place him in a loving home when I felt he was ready and will keep him as long as that takes.
Rocky, now Rascal has been living with me and mine for the past 12 years. He will be 13 in October and has been the best teacher to every dog that has come into our home to be trained as a Service or Companion Dog. He is known as The King in our circle because he truly is. Rascal got a second chance with us and has lived a life of joy and freedom with confidence, something he never would have had the opportunity had he not been taken from his current situation. Death was not what he needed. He needed love and understanding and a chance to show his true nature.
It was a rough go at first because he tried to bite me the first night when feeding time came around. The new dog always gets fed last. Seniority ranks in my home. When he went after one of my dogs, I grabbed him and he put his mouth on my arm. I kept my hand on his collar but completely shut my energy down, kept my grip but no pressure. I held him. I was quiet and calm yet stayed with him. What happened next told me that he would be mine forever. As I sat with him, he matched my energy and slowly released his grip on my arm. Together we melted into the floor in a pile of tremendous relief. We both knew everything was ‘gonna be alright’!
I called the mother the next morning and told her I found him a new home. She was shocked and worried thinking I was just passing him off onto someone else. He’s going to stay right here with me. He’s one special dog and he’s not going anywhere. I could feel her smile.
Over the course of a year I went to a friends house who had 2 boys, 7 and 8 years old and together we learned to play fetch, sit together watching movies, sharing meals and Rascal learned to love not only them but all boys and all people. Given his breed mix you can imagine how sensitive and smart this boy is so we had a blast learning together and going out in the world. Today, he has 64 commands under his belt, is not only my best teacher, he’s my soul mate, my guardian, my joy and owns the biggest part of my heart.
Rascal learned to trust. Any dog can, given the right environment, tons of patience and most of all LOVE. If you are considering a rescue dog, please be patient because most of the time you don’t know anything about their history and it may well be similar to Rascally’s past. Rescue dogs when loved can be some of the most loving and loyal dogs you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing.