Two of the individuals we board dogs with are also dog trainers.
Yesterday, I had opportunity to visit (along with a friend) the boarding/training home where we are currently keeping six of our rescued dogs.
All six dogs were happy, healthy, balanced and enthusiastic.
But, the dog who had made the greatest "transformation" from the time he was first rescued was "Dutch," a beautiful, Chow/Duck-Trolling Retriever cross pulled from the AC&C Euth list last Spring.
When I first met Dutch at the shelter, he was a very nervous, wary and untrusting dog.
I attributed the young, 1-year-old dog's lack of ease and socialization to the stress of being in the pound after his owner was evicted (for non-payment of rent) and apparently went to a human shelter where she could not bring her dog.
I did have concerns however, about rescuing Dutch. His hard stare and stiff body posture along with the poor behavior assessment at the pound suggested a dog that was not going to be an easy adoption by any stretch of the imagination.
Initially, I put Dutch in an Upper East Side boarding facility where either I or one of my volunteers could walk him everyday and get to know him better.
But, over the weeks he was boarded, Dutch became even more wary, defensive, unpredictable and untrusting.
We had to be very careful when handling Dutch. He was extremely uncooperative and stubborn when we attempted to put Dutch back in his little room ("kennel") following a walk.
But, of even greater concern, was Dutch's reactions (lunges, attempts to bite) to joggers, skateboarders or cyclists when out on a walk. On one occasion, Dutch actually nipped a man running too close to the dog and the volunteer walker. Fortunately, the man was nice about the incident and did not seek any kind of compensation.
But, the incident alarmed me enough to contact the shelter again and request the cell phone number of Dutch's former owner. I needed to have a sense of Dutch's "history" and the kind of home he came from.
I was able to get in touch with Dutch's former owner -- which unfortunately helped explain a great deal of Dutch's defensive, insecure and worrisome behavior.
His former owner told me she acquired Dutch when he was only "3 weeks of age" from a friend whose dog had puppies. (Three weeks is way to early to separate puppies or kittens from their mothers. Animals separated this young from moms and siblings often display neurotic or even aggressive behavior later in life.)
"Iris" (Dutch's former owner) also told me that by the time he was a year old, Dutch had already sired two litters of puppies. This said a lot about the owner's lack of awareness and care to the pet overpopulation problem as well as her general lack of responsibility to properly vet, care for and neuter her dog.
But, most of all, Iris failed to properly expose Dutch to the normal activities of everyday life (i.e walk her dog) and socialize him with strangers.
Although Irish swore up and down to me how much she "loved" her "baby," she never once took the time to visit Dutch while we had him boarding in Manhattan, despite my pleas with her to do so.
"He's so stressed," I told Iris. "I realize you can't take him back, but it would really help Dutch to see you."
My pleas fell on deaf ears. Iris was full of excuses.
Finally, Dutch became even too difficult and combative for even the staffers at the boarding kennel to deal with.
I was told I needed to make arrangements to get Dutch out of there.
About this time, I was under added pressure from several people, including one of my own volunteers to have Dutch euthanized. The dog was a "liability."
Feeling conflicted and desperate, I contacted a reputable dog trainer in Manhattan and requested that he come and evaluate Dutch for me.
"Ken" came the following day to the boarding kennel and together, we took Dutch for a long walk. When anticipating Dutch's reactions to joggers and cyclists, Ken gently snapped the leash and gave a mild correction to Dutch. Dutch did respond favorably to the training technique immediately focusing on his handler.
Ken later told me that although Dutch needed "work," he was not beyond redemption and should be saved.
That is when I called Chris in Brooklyn.
The best way to describe Chris is like a New York City version of Cesar Millan.
Chris is a long time dog lover, rescuer and trainer. He has 8 rescued dogs of his own and also works with rescue groups like ours to save, board and train dogs pulled from death at the city shelter.
Chris agreed to take on and work with Dutch.
Upon arriving to Chris' home in Brooklyn, Dutch immediately tried to bite Chris when first removed from the transportation vehicle.
According to Chris, Dutch was one very stressed out and wary dog who required several days to calm down and begin to settle in.
But, since then, Chris has reported back to me positive developments over the months with Dutch.
But, I guess one never actually or totally believes until actually seeing the dog for one's self.
Yesterday, I could not believe Dutch was the same dog I sent out to Chris so many months ago.
Instead of the hard staring, stiff "Don't mess with me" dog I remembered from last Spring, out in the yard bounced a happy, carefree, "I'm in love with life!" Dutch who came up to my friend and me with zest, enthusiasm and total trust.
It took a few minutes for me to realize that I no longer had to be "careful" in handling Dutch. He welcome petting and even some light roughousing as a trusting puppy would on the precipice of life.
It was one of the most amazing transformations I have ever seen in all my years of rescue. -- Something one could never have foreseen or imagined six months ago.
Not only did Dutch welcome handling and affection from humans -- but he fully reciprocated and gave back in limitless abundance.
When my friend, Jane and I finally left after spending half the afternoon with Chris and a bunch of happy, playful, affectionate and balanced dogs a thought occurred to me:
Yesterday, was the first time I had ever seen Dutch smile. -- PCA