This tragic case has caused shockwaves throughout the state and beyond. Hopefully justice will be served for Mary and result in better laws related to animal welfare. Eyes are watching closely.
While it’s too late to save Mary, it’s not too late to help other Wisconsin dogs who are survivors of abuse and neglect. A number of them are in foster care and rescues, waiting for a loving forever home.
According to dog behaviorists and seasoned rescuers, dogs that have survived abuse and extreme neglect require a special kind of love and patience. While their external wounds may have healed, they have internal scars that take much longer to heal. The normally strong bond of trust a dog has for her owner has been cruelly broken.
Mary Schmittinger, Rescue Director at Wisconsin Adopt a Golden Retriever, estimates that about 25% of the dogs brought into their rescue have been neglected or abused at some point in their lives. In most cases, it takes much more time to find the right home, sometimes up to a year or more.
She confesses that these dogs often leave deep impressions on her heart and their caretakers. Their stories are almost unbearable to hear, if not for some happy endings. Here are several of them.
Sunni. Sunni was blind and heartworm positive. He had a chain and padlock around his neck when he was rescued. WAAGR rescued Sunni and provided the medical care her so desperately needed. Today Sunni is in a loving forever home.
Buttercup. Buttercup was left in a field tied to a calf hutch in northern Wisconsin. The neighbors were threatening to shoot her. Buttercup was adopted by her WAAGR foster mom and is living the life she so richly deserved.
Through a network of rescuers, Kirby was brought to WAAGR for foster care. Sadly, two failed adoptions followed, including one where he was severely neglected for a year, chained on a porch and burned with scalding water. At the time, those same owners also enrolled him in a disreputable training program designed to turn him into an aggressive guard dog. (The worst thing to do to an abused dog.)
After WAAGR rescued Kirby again, he was placed with an area dog trainer to unlearn his aggressive behaviors. That led to his malnourishment and the loss of over 20 lbs. The severe loss of weight resulted in Kirby contracting a lifelong seizure disorder.
Kirby is back in WAAGR’s foster care. While he’s safe and happily socializing with other dogs, he is desperately in need of one to one bonding with a person or couple who won’t give up on him.
Karen Congdon, Kirby’s foster mom, says, “Kirby is a good boy. He just wants someone to love him with all their heart because he has so much love to give.”
Dog trainer Maureen Berge, owner of Straight from the Heart, has been training special needs dogs for 28 years. A volunteer with WAAGR, she worked months with Kirby when he first came to Wisconsin and recalls his delight in being introduced to the ever popular tennis ball.
“You have to earn his trust,” she said. “But if you pick up a tennis ball, everything is good.”
Is it possible to change an abused dog’s behavior?
Absolutely! It takes time, patience, consistency, discipline and love. That’s the recipe for healing them.
What’s the best environment for a dog like Kirby?
Ideally a single person or couple with an active but quiet lifestyle. These dogs may not be dog park dogs nor like big parties with people coming and going.
What’s the best way to help these dogs?
Consistency and structure. Let them know what behaviors are acceptable in a firm but calm way. Use your voice or a spray bottle of water and reinforce positive behaviors. Play and exercise is important. Playing ball lets anxiety out. You are dealing with injured souls. Being positive with them is just as important as the consistency and discipline. Their trust was broken because they were highly disappointed by someone in their life. Yet still their nature is to please you. All they need is one person or a family they can rely on.
Adoptive parents of special needs dogs will tell you that their relationships include challenges, surprises and ultimate joy. Thankfully, many rescues like WAAGR are committed to supporting new owners with resources and tips throughout the dog’s life. Watching the transformation of a scared, anxious and hurting dog into a playful, loyal and loving companion is priceless.
For more information about Wisconsin Adopt a Golden Retriever:http://www.waagr.org/
Denice Ryan Martin is a freelance writer and social worker based in Genesee, WI. She is also a forever mom to Rilee, a special needs rescue golden retriever.