Front page of the NY Times, hey. A narrated slide show, too!
And I know I should be doing a happy dance over quotes like this:
“These dogs have been beaten and starved and tortured, and they have every reason not to trust us,” Mr. Garcia said as Georgia crawled onto his lap, melted into him for an afternoon nap and began to snore. “But deep down, they love us and still want to be with us. It is amazing how resilient they are.”But in order to reach that great quote I had to get past this:
“The successful rehab rate for these kinds of dogs is unknown because nobody has ever studied it until now,” Dr. McMillan said. “You might see an incredibly friendly dog, but does that dog’s personality change over several weeks, over several months, after psychological trauma? Are they hard-wired to be aggressive, or can they change? What’s the best way to work with them?”
Honestly, you'd think people at the nation's best-known animal sanctuary would be old hands at caring for unsocialized dogs, abused dogs, fearful dogs, dogs with obsessive-compulsive issues. City pounds and reputable pit bull groups have dealt with badly-scarred ex-fighters, and adopted them out. Yes, a dog's personality can change after psychological trauma [but I'd be very surprised to see "an incredibly friendly dog" become a dangerous, brooding loner unless some underlying health issue were involved. Dogs aren't John Rambo]. Some pit bulls are hard-wired to be dog-aggressive, others not so much, some not at all. What's the best way to work with them? As individual dogs.
[On the left, trainer John Garcia plays pillow.] To be fair to Best Friends, the dramatics may be due to quotes taken entirely out of context over the three-day period the Times reporter spent at the sanctuary. I hope people will remember that all the Vick dogs were treated badly, and over half are already in foster homes and slated for adoption. No dog on earth can survive terrible abuse heart-whole the way a pit bull can: a fact that makes those of us who love pit bulls feel some particularly serious anger and contempt for their abusers, believe me. [I know, I know: Don't hate -- educate.]
Some pit bulls are predisposed to issues like separation anxiety and sound sensitivity, and can suffer from these conditions as much as any border collie. (My male pit bull shakes like a leaf when the wind blows and a door starts to bang on its hinges [or he would, if I hadn't developed door control OCD years ago].) It stands to reason that abusive treatment would make these conditions worse. When I read in the NY Times article about toothless Georgia, my first thought was that she might have worn her teeth to nothing by chewing obsessively on rocks or on her chain tether. And talk about zero socialization:
Little Red is a tiny rust-colored female whose teeth were filed, most likely because she was bait for the Bad Newz fighters. Handlers cannot explain why loud noises make her jumpy.If someone wrote to the Border Collie Boards about a dog that jumped at every sound or rubbed its nose until it bled, you might see a response like this one [by a postdoctoral scholar involved in the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project]. Or a link to an article like this, by the veterinarian who literally wrote the book on companion animal behavior. Excerpt:
Cherry, a black-and-white male, has what seems to be chemical burns on his back. His file at Best Friends says he loves car rides and having his backside rubbed. But like many of Mr. Vick’s pit bulls, he is petrified of new situations and new people.
Oscar cowers in the corner of his run when strangers arrive. Shadow runs in circles. Black Bear pants so heavily that he seems on the verge of hyperventilation.
Storm and noise phobias are emergencies.But enough, already: I'm sure the Best Friends folks know all this. I wish for these pit bulls a comfortable future of long walks, cozy sofas and belly rubs from loving owners, and I know the people at Best Friends will do all they can to ensure that future. Follow the whole story here: Best Friends Blog - "They’re front page on the New York Times."
They will only worsen with exposure, and the rate at which they worsen depends on the neurochemistry of the dog and the severity and unpredictability of the storms [...]
Treatment not only saves lives, but it means the difference between a life of quality or a life of pain and suffering. Treatment can involve the dreaded behavior modification, but this is one case where drugs are essential and not optional.
Edited to add: Here's another nice write-up, this one courtesy of ABC News.