Thursday, October 22, 2009

Consent and Compulsion

Please do not click on the photo link of Barry White in the second paragraph unless you are sure you want to see it. If you are easily upset by images of cruelty and animal suffering, do not look. I did not reproduce this photograph in the body of this post for a reason.

Instead, consider the portrait of Barry White as he is today.

Barry White had the honor of starring at the sentencing hearing of his former owner.

He was fortunate that he did not have to attend in person, but the sheriff's photo of him on the day he was seized as evidence glowed larger than life over the proceedings. His face screwed into a rictus of terror, eyes wide, tongue lolling and blue -- he has clocked out of a reality revealed by his emaciated flanks and pelvis (obvious even under his matted strawlike coat) and the necklace and cape of shit-and-mud pendants that must have doubled his weight.

Not long after that sentencing hearing, eight months after that photograph was taken, he and eighteen others were released from their special indenture by the judge, and I was allowed to evaluate him.

Most of our evaluations of the ONB dogs were pleasant, interesting interviews. Barry White's was not. I was traumatized by his completely genuine and inconsolable terror -- but not nearly as much as he was traumatized by having a leash hooked to his collar.

I promised his handler that day that, if it came to it, I would personally foster Barry White. She'd only recently taken him on -- he'd had several handlers in succession at ONB, and none had made much, if any, progress with him. With each failed attempt to leash and handle him, his spinning alligator reflex was reinforced and strengthened. This was not an act or contrived panic; the possibility that he would harm himself in his hysteria was real.

Parties with connections to Barry White's former owner were still planting and fertilizing rumors among the volunteers that Douglas and I were the Doggie Death Squad, "culling" (yes, that word was used) those dogs who "failed" their behavior evaluations. Handlers feared for the lives of the most regressed dogs; after eight months of repeatedly showing ourselves as good as our word, toxic slander still seeped into the hindbrains of otherwise sensible people.

I gave her some ideas for working on the leash hysteria, and steeled myself to welcome into my home a dog who could not be walked. She didn't have much time, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in the power of the few things I could suggest to work quickly.

Still, he was not an entirely discouraging case. He allowed his handler and me to sit with him in his stall and cut some of the few remaining mats from his fur. He did not seek the touch, but he didn't offer to bite us, or froth in terror, either.

And then there's his eyes. Barry White looks straight at me, and his eyes do not ask -- they require. Require acknowledgement, demand an answer, insist that I recognize him and work to give him what he needs.

A week later I watched him, leashed, following his handler willingly around the kennel of the Moore Lane hospital, where he'd come to be neutered. I still don't know how she flipped him so fast.

And three weeks after that, I opened his crate on the Barking Bus and led him out for a constitutional in my hayfield, then into the newly constructed kennel run that is his next waystation on the road to a life as a normal dog.

Every day we have our quiet time, during which we work on his willingness to approach a person and to be touched without flattening himself to the ground in surrender. And every day we have our walk, usually with my own dogs and young Cole, sometimes just the two of us. On many days, he can also follow me for some of my chores.

Until a few days ago, I held a 16' nylon long line on our walks. There was always a belly of slack dragging behind us as he followed at my heel sporting a huge dog smile, but I kept my grip, mindful of the possibility that something could panic him and make him bolt.

And there are points where he puts the brakes on. Barry White is afraid of doorways, gates, and constrictions. He still can't cope with a human being coming at him frontally at close range. At first, he tried to flee when I would pick up a tool or bucket -- anything larger than a paperback book was fearsome if it was in the hand of a human being.

When Barry White backs up or sets his brakes, I use gentle, steady, authoritative pressure on the leash to bring him through the scary space with as little fuss as possible. Since Barry White isn't interested in love and cuddles, praise, coaxing, a game of fetch, or a nummy bribe, I compel him to move through his fear.

We've never yet reprised the spinning croc. And there have been times when I've put a fair amount of pressure on him. He has the inherent ability to keep his wits, which is most of what he needs to advance towards normalcy.

Last week I took the plunge and dropped the end of the line when we are out in the pastures. And there's Barry White, sticking so close to my heels that I can't get a photograph of him unless I tie him to something and back away. I still don't have a decent picture of his beaming "go for a walk" smile.

Even though we've been doing beautifully with the drop-line on our walks and for some of the more active routine chores, it's good policy to tether the dog when one can't keep an eye on him. So Sunday, while Professor Chaos and I raked shingles out of the barnyard, I hooked his nylon line to a fence post nearby.

All was well until I walked away towards the house. I hadn't gone twenty steps before I felt a soft, familiar tap on my calf. Barry White's nose.

Barry White has determined that his Mission From God is to follow me around the farm. The leash interfered with the performance of that Mission. That Would Not Do. So he neatly, deliberately, without drama or fuss, without fear or panic, severed the leash and joined me. It looked as if he'd taken a pair of sharp scissors to it. He knew exactly what he was doing.

In other words, at any time in the past month, as I "compelled" Barry White to move through his fear, he could have chosen to opt out. He knows perfectly well how to make the leash go away; hundreds of times, he has chosen not to do so.

Barry White doesn't totally trust me; humans have been too unreliable and sometimes dangerous for him to let go of those parts of himself he has reserved. He doesn't like having his collar taken hold of, doesn't want me to reach for him. He doesn't want to be petted, though he'll allow it if "forced." He has a ways to go.

But one thing that Barry White does trust me to do is to walk him through fear and into the possibility of happiness. He can't always help himself by himself, but he consents to let me "compel" him to do so.

And now, I consent to remember what he has told me: that he makes his own choice about trusting me every moment of every day.


  1. I'm crying tears of joy after reading your post of Barry White. I did click on the photo because I needed to be reminded once again why I spent so many months, day after day, feeding, cleaning and caring for a breed of dogs that I had never heard of and thus became a part of a very heated debate of Billings people that we either for or against what we were doing. Each day as I hug the ONB dog I adopted I praise the Lord thanking him for the people who made saving dogs like Barry White possible. Thank you again Heather for your dedication, experiense and wealth of sharing with everyone.

    Billings, MT

  2. Dude. Be glad I'm not nearby, or I'd throw my arms around you and hug you, in thankfulness that there are people like you in the world.

    Well done, both of you.

  3. I'm speechless. And a little weepy. What a difference you've made in that dog's life, and what a smart dog he is.

    My foster came to me healthy, trained, and trusting because his owner chose to give him up before anything rotten could happen.

    Your post has made me profoundly grateful for people (like you) who think, and act on those thoughts in the best interests of the dogs.

    Thank you.

  4. Please, please, please tell me this was not one of the ones that she was trying to keep. The look on his poor face in that photo says it all -- as does his behavior since he left that place. Thank goodness he was able to leave, and thank goodness you can give him the help he is so clearly requesting.

  5. Seeing how wonderful he looks today, I felt I could click on the old photo w/some sense of security. I was wrong. I wish I hadn't clicked. My thought upon seeing him was "How is that dog ALIVE?" To think that his owner could see him (and others) in that condition and not realize there's anything wrong - well, I hope she gets appropriate treatment for her mental illness.

  6. Sad to say, Kris, Barry White was indeed on the list of Linda Kapsa's "favorites" that she wanted back.

  7. Shirley! What do you think I warned people for! When I say "You don't want to see it," believe me You don't want to see it.

    However, in the face of some current attempts at revisionism about the condition of these dogs when they were confiscated, I think it's important that the revisionists be confronted with the evidence of the truth.

  8. He is a beautiful dog, with hope now.

  9. I'm speechless. Humbled. That I should worry about my ONB foster's reluctance to accept us seems trivial. Barry White's face emotes that trust you've created. Thank you for your caring.

    Calgary, AB

  10. Wow Heather, he looks so handsome!

    It is amazing to me how willing people are to believe rumors that have no basis in fact and which wouldn't even make sense if one stopped to actually consider what is being alleged. Also, how easily some horrid behavior is waved off as not being as bad as it really is. My border collie cross and I just spent a couple of days with one of the ES foster families that decided to adopt their foster dog a whole three days after she arrived (what a happy puppy!), and the stories of the Linda appologists I heard were appalling. How do some people get so much benefit of the doubt? Even in the face of clear evidence?

    My BC mix and her ES mix puppy had such a great time playing together, my friend was trying to talk me into adopting one of the remaining foster dogs. If I were a little further away from getting my own rescue dog over her pretty strong fear aggression (towards women!), I'd be totally up for it as I've become quite the fan of English Shepherds.

    Anyway, good on you for such dedication and determination to do right by these dogs.

  11. I hope that someday you will be able to tell the whole story about the ones she was trying to hang onto. I sense there is a lot more to the tale -- and maybe, when all is said and done it is not worth rehashing. It makes me SO ANGRY that people would deflect attention on her behavior; interesting how it was done by alleging equally heinous behavior by others. Suppose that's one for the human behaviorists.

  12. I second what Kris just said.

    Hopefully Chan and I will be able to check in on Norway soon.

  13. As emotionally crushing and mind numbing as it was to see his 'before' picture, all I had to do was go look at the 'after'.


  14. All I can do is weep, and thank you for your sweet words, and dedication.

  15. Freddy, the ONB dog, is lounging on his sheepskin..

    He hadn't wanted to go through doors and can flip and slip his collar, sever his leash and hides whenever things get goofy here on the farm, in his estimation.

    Last week, acting on concern and guesswork, I took him for a very thorough vet' exam. Suspicions confirmed. Severe dysplasia, and very painful arthritis. Limited vision. What about the pups sired by this boy? They'll carry HD, no?

    Three days of glucosamine mix, and Rimadyl, he's far more animated and no longer hesitates at the steps. Seems a lot happier.

    OK, I need some advice about HD in the scenario of this way cool dog being as comfortable as possible, limits of tasks, etc. (He's about 5 years -going on 50.)

    The wet cold nose and sparkling eyes greet me every morning. The path has taken a new jog for us, but I need some good advice.

  16. Just in case there was any doubt, and there shouldn't be, every one of the 225 dogs turned over to NESR was placed in a home. Not one dog, not one. was "culled". A fair number are in foster homes but the overwhelming majority are in forever homes. While NESR played a part in this success, the real heroes are the volunteers at ONB and the people in and around Billings who opened their hearts and their homes to these dogs. NESR normally places around 20 dogs a year. Without the tremendous support of the folks in Montana we could never have placed so many dogs.


  17. Abnstranger: Some years back Heather's Lily (Lilith actually) began manifesting arthritic symptems and the vet recommended a New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel extract that really worked. I was also having that problem and Heather told me she didn't know if it was available for homo erectus. I looked for it and it is from Food Science of Vermont. It worked for Lily. it worked for me and it will work of your dog. You can find it by checking google for "New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel Extract for Dogs".

    Maurice (Heather's dad)

  18. That "before" photo...just wow. I couldn't believe he was still alive at that point, and for him to be one of her "favorites"? She needs help, and I don't know if what she gets will be enough until someone gets the idea to stick her in solitary with light bread and water for months on end. And even then, who knows.

    On a lighter(?) note, I got to where you mentioned that he was motivated by no toy, treat, praise, 'love & cuddles,' etc...and wondered exactly how many "trainers" out there would give up on him solely for that reason.

  19. Bless all of you for giving these dogs the time and training they need to have a good life. This is a fantastic reminder of why it is worthwhile to keep working even with the highly challenging animals.

  20. Abnstranger-
    I was Freddy's handler and I am so sorry to hear about his pain. It explains some things. He didn't like to spend a lot of time outside or on his feet. He seemed like he didn't have a lot of energy. He would often be leery of me until he heard my voice or was close. I had an old lab that was arthritic and rimadyl worked well for him, but I'm sure the knowledgeable folks on this blog and the yahoo list (if you post there) will give you many good suggestions. He is a special old boy and I remember that spark in his eyes well. Take care.

    As for this blog and picture - it is a wonderful happy ending for BW and I thank Heather for writing it. Everyone should look at the before picture just in case there is ANY doubt about the hell these dogs went through. There are many "before" pictures in this abuse case and it helps remind us why we are so happy, joyful, and tearful to see the beautiful "after" pictures. It reminds me about the resilience, intelligence, and forgiveness these dogs possess.

    Billings, MT

  21. Wow. If he was a favorite, I wouldn't want to see pictures of her non-favorites. And I consider myself to have a relatively strong stomach for such things.

    This was an astonishingly moving post. What amazing creatures dogs are. What an amazing creature this dog is.

  22. Just read your post, Heather. Thank you. I've been taking a lot of your work and applying it to working with Paige. It's hard to imagine a dog coming from a worse place than Paige, until I read about Barry White. I couldn't open the "before" picture. I know it'll be too upsetting. But he looks GREAT today. A really good looking dog!
    Laura in FL
    w/Paige (ONB)

  23. Aw damn. That poor boy. I'm amazed he survived. Were they all like that? Shit.

    He's so handsome now. Good job, all who've worked for him to be him.

  24. I just wanted to thank you for all you do Heather.

    The final photo in your Columbiana ES album is what helped me connect the dots and realize my heart dog is an English Shepherd. Without that rescue effort and photos I would not have gained valuable information about my dog's background and enjoyed the last four years getting to know other ES owners and their dogs.
    My boy is 10 1/2 years old now and I am confident that another English Shepherd will follow in his footsteps one day (hopefully many years from now!).

    I am an English Shepherd owner for life thanks to your hard work and commitment to our amazing breed.

  25. Thank you Heather -- I had no idea of how bad it really was. I am so happy and honored to have become part of the ES community.


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