Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Operation New Beginnings

Got into Billings yesterday Monday afternoon, and had enough time to do a "drive-by" of all the dogs being kept at the Metra facility and get a sense of the personnel and facilities. There are puppies staying at the women's prison in town, sick dogs and new Moms at veterinary hospitals and the animal shelter. I haven't seen those guys yet.

Since I hadn't slept since Saturday night, had to go do that.

Back to the Metra at 8; first task on the agenda -- a bitch had given birth in the night. The two county ACO's and I wrangled her freaked-out cellie out of the stall so that Momma dog could have some privacy. The other little bitch was quite glad to get away from Momma. Later in the day the new family was moved to a vet's facility.

At nine, there was an orientation for new handler volunteers, run by Tony Barone, the Billings-area trainer who has taken the lead on behavioral rehab.

Handler orientation

Each handler takes responsibility for the dogs in one or two stalls, and provides a consistent point of reference for each animal.

At this phase, the dogs must be tamed before they can be trained or socialized, or their true temperaments and possibilities assessed.

NESR provided a protocol for the taming phase, and I was happy to see that the workers here have found it useful. I'll adapt it and post it on this blog soon.

Watching the watcher
I started doing baseline behavior assessments (not temperament tests!) on each dog today -- stall-by-stall. There are two buildings, each with two ranks of 12 stalls -- 48 stalls, with between two and five dogs in each (more dogs in the sick bay stalls and one stall with five pups). I photograph the stall door, which has the dogs' descriptions, microchip ID, and the new names that the handler (if there is one yet) has given them, plus the handler's name and any instructions for the other volunteers who might enter to clean and feed. Then I go inside, orient sideways, and crouch down quietly. And wait.

Some dogs were curious and would approach and even touch me. Others paced and scurried. There are a few pills who will bluff charge, barking and growling. Many will huddle in the corners and watch. The quality of their eyes varies, from soft and searching to round and wild to pinched and haunted.

I've so far seen not one genuinely aggressive dog.

Then there are the dogs who worry me most:

This guy would occasionally look quickly away from the corner to see if I was still there -- never long enough for me to capture his portrait.

It will take three things for this dog to trust human beings: patience, patience, and patience.

And yes, those are shit dingleberries on his flank. He did not accrue them on the clean straw at the Metra. I would not have believed that an ES, with the breed's teflon coat, could acquire such an accessory.

In contrast, some of the dogs are already accompanying their handlers on walks.

There is such hope here, and such devotion.

For every dog, the path to a good life.

Billings Channel 8

Channel 8 Video


Billings Gazette

As always, keep checking National English Shepherd Rescue for updates.


  1. Hi,
    I haven't a chance to read all the articles and someone might have mentioned this already but this situation is quite similar to the Montana Collie situation back in 02-03. ( ). It was a case of a once terrific breeder (one of the first to push for health testing & breeding for non-CEA carriers) who in her latter years lost it (way too many dogs, neglect, but unable to see it herself).

    There were 171 collies held in Shelby and the AWCA and the local volunteers did an astounding job of saving and during the months between seizure & trial, socializing those collies. After the trial, many were adopted by the volunteers and the rest were sent to new homes all over the US. So with the MT Collies in mind, I'm betting with calm, steady socialization, many of these ES will turn around and go on to become loving pets.

    Good luck

  2. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Heather for taking time out of your VERY busy schedule to do this. Everyone - dogs AND people -will benefit greatly from your expertise.

  3. Thank you to you (and all the volunteers) for your efforts in helping create a new life for these dogs. I appreciate your taking the time to provide information and photographs on the conditions and progress.

    Many of your readers probably join me in wishing we could be there to help with the taming and socialization work with these dogs, however, we can take comfort that our donations to NESR are helping you and others to do this good work.

  4. Aw,crap.

    Heather, thanks for going out and doing this. I've sent money to NESR this morning. I wish we had room to foster...especially since your first picture in this post has a b/w who looks amazingly like our beloved rescue Kipper.

  5. Oops. I meant *second* picture.

  6. I'll join the chorus. Heather, thank you for taking the time out of your life to go help these dogs.

    I'd also like to extend thanks to everyone at NESR that are working their tails off on every aspect of this project, including getting you out to Montana.

  7. Hi Heather, a quick question. I've looked at the NESR website and while they do obviously need monetary donations, I was wondering if you knew if they need any supply donations as well. They briefly mentioned it once but then did not go into any more detail about what they might need, and where to send it. Do you happen to know anything about this, or should I contact NESR? Thanks!

  8. Heather,

    I am glad you are here in our cold state of Montana. It is going to warm up again in the next few days. I hope we meet at some time. I work during the week and have not been able to be assigned a group to socialize. They need one constant right now, and trying to socialize them on just the weekends is not fair to them. If I am needed this weekend, I will maybe see you.

    I am not in a great frame of mind right now. I have a golden retriever at home who is losing his battle with cancer and he is my number one priority right now.


  9. Thank you for all your hard work Heather. People like you brighten my day. God bless you and all the dogs you are saving!!!

  10. Heather, Your assessment of the situation helps make it sound a little less hopeless as reading the Billings Gazette! Many thanks , many, many thanks to you and *all* the volunteers for helping with this mind-boggling rescue effort.

    Sylvia and ES rescue Luke

  11. My heart is so conflicted as I sit here and cry looking at all of the photos. I have a 9 month old ES from Linda Kapsa. As much as I love him, it breaks my heart that I unknowingly supported such a sick operation and that other Eng Shep related to him are in such circumstances. Thank you, thank you, thank you Heather for your efforts.


  12. Heather~This is a great thing you are doing. I am sure that even though there are many volunteers there helping evaluate these poor dogs, you have tons more of education and experience with the ES and will be a great attribute in the success of this rescue.
    And, although certainly a pityful situation, we ES owners and breeders know HOW resiliant these dogs REALLY are. I feel optimistic that irregardless of their prior negligent situation, when placed in a loving and ES knowledgeable home with JOBS we will see a significant turn around in these dogs. Only time will tell as you well know.
    I truly wish I could take several on my farm! But, as you know, Skip is still recovering from that "deer hunter" gunshot wound if not so much physically now, but mentally.
    Good luck on your venture. Take care of yourself too! There are many prayers coming from our end here. If I can help you in any other way, please do not hesitate to contact me. Best Regards~ Cat

  13. Heather, thank you for taking the time to keep your fellow ES owners informed of what's happening in MT. Hearing and seeing the situation as told from your perspective should further help NESR with raising funds.

    I've read and seen all I could find on the situation and didn't find any of it, even the charge document, as disturbing as I find your pic of the ES facing the corner. That pic and his description sum up how bad the situation really was for me. He's the one that breaks my heart. I pray that he and others like him find the patience they need for a chance at recovery and a good life. If not, I pray they find gentle peace.

    Now that you are there, I know that every ES that can be helped, will be. Thank you for your willingness to go to MT and the hope you give.

    Ken, thank you for holding down the "fort".

  14. Heather - we were advised of the situation in Montana by a reputable breeder in Ontario who we were speaking to about purchasing an ES puppy - having seen the rescue efforts she suggested perhaps I could adopt a puppy from Montanna (i would be most interested in this)- I live in Vancouver, BC - please contact me with suggestions/procedures at looking forward to hearing from you .. Tam

  15. Hi Heather, we too have heard about the Montana situation from a breeder in Ontario. We are considering adopting a puppy as well and are located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Could you please advise us on procedures and further information as well? (email: Thank you!

  16. Hi, I was wondering what ever happened to the shy guy with his nose in the corner, afraid to look at you. I wish there was a book documenting each dog's story. Thanks! Dana

  17. Dana --

    Since August, Harry has become quite the traveler.

    His owner reports that he loves going for rides in the truck.


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