Thursday, April 30, 2009

Saving Bobby

From the letter to Best Friends Animal Society: On the night of March 31, the first of two large brindle puppies was picked up by Toronto Animal Services South after someone reported it wandering at large. The next morning, another pup of the same age and breed was found, by another pedestrian, sheltering under a car with its chain still attached to its collar, and after calling the police, Toronto Animal Services was notified for the pick-up (for the news report, please see In both cases, the pups could not be collared without significant struggle.

I was writing as part of a package Toronto Animal Services sent off to BFAS to see if there was a chance they might be willing take in the two Filas (I'm calling them that though the breed is still not 100% determined and probably never will be unless someone decides to do a DNA test - if those things even work). There had already been some previous communication with BFAS and it was all started by a blog reader, Joanne, who after reading the post and comments about the pups, decided to put action into words and cold called BFAS admissions.

Joanne has a gift for that, for stepping up and getting results and a day later BFAS returned her call and she and the woman on the other end of the line chatted about the situation for almost an hour and by the end of it, the BFAS admissions coordinator said she would call Toronto Animal Services to inquire about the pups. That was on a Thursday and because of people's schedules, we figured it would be the following week before that call would be made.

Meanwhile, that weekend, the pups were given names: Bobby and Andy. Bobby, while nowhere near to being people friendly, was tentatively making some progress. He was at least not retreating to the back of his kennel every time someone went into the room. One of the female staffers was even able to get him to snatch a couple of snacks out of her hand through the wire mesh of his kennel door.

Andy, however, the one who had sent someone to hospital already, wasn't getting any better. He'd bite the staff, basically not letting anyone get within a few feet of him before he'd lash out. And he didn't bite and retreat like Bobby did when he first came. Andy would bite and bite again.

The rest of the BFAS letter:

There was some uncertaintly about the breed of the pups - and there still is - but it's likely they are the offspring of two Azores Cattle Dogs (or Cao de Fila de Sao Miguel) which were, in a third and separate incident, seized from a family three days later, on April 4, in the vicinity of where the pups were found. Those mature Azores Cattle Dogs were rescued along with another 3 smaller dogs and various smaller animals from filthy, cramped living conditions in a backyard shed. (The parents were seized and are being held at another animal shelter not associated with Toronto Animal Services.)

The two pups, both male, now being housed at Toronto Animal Services, are extremely fearful of people, both exhibiting a strong tendency to fear bite if approached too closely. Even after a few days of intermittent interaction with the same people, the fear biting behaviour is still prevalent. One of the staff has made some headway with one of the pups in that after a long period of her calmly and quietly sitting just outside his kennel, he tentatively approached her when she continued to offer him food.

Also, on the plus side, the pups seem to display an unaggressive, curiosity towards other dogs.

It's obvious these pups, recently named Bobby and Andy, have had a bad start in life, more than likely never having had any positive interactions with people other than their original owners - if that. Toronto Animal Services is able to offer them a stable, clean, kennel environment but is not staffed to deal with such behaviourally challenging dogs. TAS engages in significant rescue and adoption work but generally, if dogs exhibit strong biting tendencies, they are euthanized. In this case, though, given the age of the pups, we wanted to try to pursue other possibilities for them. They are young and we are hopeful that in the right environment with a consistent and positive behaviour modification program, they can be turned back into the good dogs they are meant to be.

We are turning to Best Friends Animal Society for help with Bobby and Andy because your reputation in rescue, rehabilitation and providing sanctuary, is unsurpassed. And, in turn, please let us know if there is any support we may be able to provide on our end to help make the rehoming of these two pups easier for you, if you choose to take them on.

We're very grateful for your consideration of this matter and sincerely hope that some arrangement can be made for Bobby and Andy for a place at Best Friends.

Thank you for your time.

It was a long shot, of course, but we all collectively held our breathes waiting for that return phone call from BFAS to TAS.

It came the following week. It was the same woman whom Joanne had spoken to and she requested an information package from TAS about the two pups - hence the above letter and some additional photos. She said the package would be forwarded to their board which would be meeting in a few days to look at admissions requests. But, there was also talk about how shelters in the U.S., including BFAS, had been hit hard by the collapsed economy with surrenders way up and donations and adoptions way down. And there was talk about how BFAS was full or pretty near full and how their trainers were already overworked.

Still, we held out hope.

Bobby was progressing. He'd venture out of his kennel even with someone standing nearby and he'd allow staffers to enter his kennel without cowering or completely freaking out. When I went to see him, while he didn't quite trust me and wouldn't take the cookie I offered, he was brave enough to walk by me to check out the other dog in the room, wary but not nearly as anxious as he had been the week before.

Andy, though, was no better, maybe getting worse. Still biting and snapping at anything and anyone who got too close and now sometimes charging.

Why did Bobby behave one way and Andy behave another? Maybe their previous owners might have had some clue but I doubt they'll be talking to anyone. No one's actually ever stepped forward to claim the two pups.

The following week, we were hoping to hear back from BFAS on Tuesday but it was Thursday when they contacted TAS. They had decided not to take the dogs. Theirs was an understandable decision but still, a very disappointing one for everyone here.

The next day, a review was done of the two dogs and with Andy getting significantly worse, a decision was made to euthanize him.

I don't know what was discussed to arrive at the decision to put Andy down but I imagine it had a lot to do with cost and liability because when it comes to the nitty gritty of saving animal lives, that's what it almost always comes down to. I can debate, probably endlessly, both sides of the argument but then I wasn't the one facing the possibility of a lawsuit nor was I the one about to be injected.

What isn't debatable is that Andy was never given a fair chance in this life. Certainly not by his previous reprehensible owners who kept him locked and chained in filth and neglect; not by our animal welfare network - and I'm not just talking about TAS here - which isn't financed or organized well enough to allow dogs like Andy some more breathing space; not by us, the public at large, because even though we've created these creatures with such great capacity to love us, we still allow some people, with minimal reproach or penalty afterward, to pervert them into dangerous creatures which hate and fear us.

* * * * *

They made a decision that day to end Andy's life but at the same time, they also decided to try and save Bobby's. He was given a lifeline.

Staff began spending more time with Bobby, sitting with him daily, coaxing him with treats, soft words and their presence. Day after day, for an hour, sometimes much more, over the course of the day, staff visit and sit with him. It's slow work and the time dedicated to him is exceptional considering TAS is not staffed to be a behaviour rehab clinic. Actually, it's exceptional under any circumstances, but especially so for a city shelter to be doing this.

His progress was slow at first but then by the fourth week, his rate of improvement seemed to be noticeably better. He was bonding, well maybe not bonding, but accepting of one female staffer in particular, allowing her to enter his kennel and hand feed him. There were even reports of him wagging his nub of a tail.

Now, in this, his fifth week at TAS, his improvements seem to be coming almost daily. Bobby's engagement with people is really starting to surface. He watches people now without too much anxiety and will approach for a sniff if the person doesn't move or make any loud noises. He'll take food out of certain familiar staffers' hands with no problem. He's still very nervous about anyone touching his head area and he gives warning snaps. Amazingly, though, he did allow his favorite staffer to brush him, everywhere except his throat/upper chest area, and he even seemed to enjoy the attention a bit. He's even letting her pet him but only with an extended hand, still nothing too close.

He's also starting to exhibit the first signs of play. It always surprises me when a dog doesn't know how to play but that was Bobby when he first arrived. He certainly didn't understand toys at all. Nothing in his previous behaviour indicated any experience with fun with inanimate objects. Then just a couple of days ago, after a short grooming session, he started to nose a comb and brush which were placed on the floor. He pushed them around a bit and tried to pick them up.

This might not seem to be a big deal but it was huge because up to that point, Bobby had never shown any interest in inanimate objects and certainly he had never felt relaxed enough to express any sort of curiosity directed at an inanimate object when there were people in the room.

And then later, when he was given a cookie, he ate it right in front of us, instead of at a distance, and looked at us as if he were showing off his new found bravery. Of course, as soon as I spoke to him, he got spooked and brought the cookie back into his kennel to eat it out of my reach.

Staffers are still trying to get a collar and leash on Bobby without stressing him out too much. So far, every time someone tries to leash him, he falls to the floor and crocodile rolls in a complete panic attack. He can't be taken outside until he stops reacting so badly to the leash and he really does need to face to outside sooner than later.

He has a long, long way to go yet. Even with all his progress, he's still not that far from behaving like a badly neglected feral dog who bites, and with strangers who aren't careful, he'd probably revert to that behaviour.

While Bobby is safe at TAS now, it's not the ideal place for him to be spending all his time over the long term. Rescues are being researched and contacted but there are very few, which reputable people in the rescue community can personally vouch for, that have the ability, space and willingness to accept a large dog that bites. The short term goal, then, is to try to get Bobby comfortable enough with people so that he won't lash out. If he can get to that point, then a lot more doors will be open to him.

I'm going to try to post frequent updates on Bobby over the next while. I really want to see him win this battle over his terrible life experiences. I hope to see what was done to him undone.

(Continues here.)


Miz Minka said...

He's such a beautiful pup. Here's hoping that someone will be able to rehabilitate him, he deserves the chance. The change after just a few weeks is remarkable! "Where there's life, there's hope."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that update on Bobby and Andy.

Godspeed, Andy, you never had much of a chance, but I'm glad TAS found you and tried to help.

Hoping for a rescue opportunity for Bobby. It's great that he's making such progress, especially with that dedicated staffer that he seems to trust.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

That's unfortunate for Andy. I assume he's already gone? In another two weeks I would have space in my runs ... makes me frustrated that my timing on this whole thing was so poor. I would have loved to take this guy.

The gal I have now is finished her rehab and ready to rock-and-roll. It took me four weeks working with her before I was able to touch her without her snapping. Before that, she was at the pound for three months learning not to run away and freak out when people walked into the run.

I'm glad progress is being made with Bobby. It takes a long time but ultimately it's well worth the work.


Anonymous said...

(This was moved over here from another post because there were some problems with the comment button here - Fred) I'm sorry to see that things didn't work out for Andy. You can see the improvement in Bobby from video to video. Poor guy, I hope he can come around enough.

Sorry to see you decided to disable comments on that post. Hopefully not because of me, I'm certainly not at all the "I told you so" type. Just realistic! I would have much preferred to be dead wrong.

Anyway, I'm sorry for these guys and I place ALL blame squarely on the shoulders of those responsible for bringing them into the world in the first place. Irresponsible cowards!

Thanks for the update. I'd been waiting to hear. Sending good thoughts Bobby's way.

Heather B said...

Fred, can you forward my email to Dogs Deserve Freedom, somehow.
I have a 16 month old that really needs a chance. His story is sad but at least I have facts and reasons for his behaviour. I am so very sad that Andy couldnt see past his fear . Some people just dont deserve to own animals ever.
I`m praying for Bobby to show the world he can make the turn back to people.

Fred said...

HeatherB, if you click on DDF's name (usually in blue lettering) at the beginning of her comment above, it will take you to her profile where there will be link to her e-mail if she chose to put it up.

Good luck with your young 'un.

Joanne said...

Fred, first of all I want to thank you for the acknowledgment. Second, would you mind, on both my behalf and Bobby's, saying a heartfelt thank you to the TAS person who is working so hard with him.
I just wanted to say that, as far as I am concerned, it was not necessary to euthanize Andy. I had three rescues in the US that were willing to take both of these dogs on an "as is" basis without any indemnity or liability for injuries sustained. They were all even willing to sign a waiver to that effect.
When I first saw Bobby I kept saying that he was not aggressive. Aggression is forward movement, fear and flight are backwards. You can still see that he is fearful, he jumps back from any forward motion. He is more than likely reluctant to let anyone touch his neck or chest as he has probably been grabbed or kicked there. As for the leash, the approach to try might be to take a $.35 show lead, leave it in the kennel with him for him to explore. If it is put on him without a chance to examine and acclimatize himself to it, he is definitely going to do the alligator roll. You then touch him all over his body with the leash to desensitize him and in time, with complete calmness, you should be able to drop it over his head like a lasso.
I had phoned a wonderful man who was Chief of the Humane Societies for Monmouth County in New Jersey. He and his wife run a rare breed rescue and they were willing to take BOTH dogs immediately. They said they had dealt with this type of aggression many times and did not hold the same opinion as TAS. They were confident they could turn these dogs around.
I just want to say that I was willing to pay out of my own funds to have these dogs shipped to New Jersey just to ensure their safety and I am sure that you know enough about me by now to be fairly certain that I would keep my word in that respect.
Right now, if someone had genuinely considered the offer made by these rescues, these two would be running and playing in a safe place, not confined to a kennel. And, oh yes, Andy would still be alive.

janavere said...

This dog looks like a Black Mouth Cur. I am fairly positive. They are tough dogs, American frontier dogs, bred to herd cattle, protect 100 acres at a time, hunt to kill boar and fight to the death to protect women and children. They need WIDE open spaces and I know folks who are breeding them very irresponibly and they are getting WEIRD. I had to find a new home for mine after she nearly killed my chihuahua twice and bit 5 people. SO loving to the family but VERY leary of strangers. Many phobias and STRONG... It was like having a pet tiger. GOOD LUCK. Thanks for being such a caring soul.