Warning: This rescue story contains descriptions of an animal that was abused and how he looked before being nursed back to health.
Just over a year ago my guy and I decided his service animal Rusty (a chihuahua pit mix) needed to go into retirement for the sake of his quality of life. He had been a working dog for about ten years and with him being twelve he had earned the right to live his golden years in comfort on the air conditioned living room couch surrounded by his toys and favorite blanket.
What dog could replace Rusty? Rusty was a unique case to begin with. He had trained himself. By living with my guy since he was a puppy he just picked up on his seizures (usually 30 min before they happen) and somehow learned pressure points (tiny 10 lbs. dog cannot man handle a 6ft 250+ man) to keep him steady during bad attacks. He had also taught himself to get my purse when I had an asthma attack and even jumped on me to wake me up when a bad attack in my sleep caused me to stop breathing. Rusty is truly a remarkable dog, so how would we even began to look for a replacement?
We started with age. We wanted a puppy somewhere between 10 weeks and six months. They would be young enough to train. Next we needed to look at the size of the dog. Considering my guys size it is a miracle Rusty worked out. Granted he wasn't meant to be a service dog it just kind of happened. We figured we would need a medium/large dog. It would be a good size for him and not too big to adapt to apartment life. The next thing to consider was breed. We needed an easy to train intelligent breed that would do well around people. A few breeds came into focus: Golden retriever, Lab, Pitbull, German Sheppard, and Australian Sheppard.
We began looking at adoption ads at local shelters and craigslist. In the shelters most of the dogs that fit the criteria were too old to train for our needs (5+ years). The one we did find was deaf sadly and would be unable to hear our commands (it also said it was bad with cats we have 2). Many of the puppies were too young and really shouldn't be away from the mother. Then we found one lonely ad. It was for a litter of mixed pit/lab puppies. Most of the puppies had been sold, but 2 males remained.
At first this looked like a reputable breeder (we would later discover it was not and any numbers/emails/info was deleted by them by the time we realized and tried to report them). The litter was a result of a white lab male getting out and into the area of a female red nose pit. This accidental litter was being sold at less than half the rate of the purebred puppies and even cheaper than our local shelters adoption fees. We decided on the puppy with the heart on his nose (he would grow out of the heart and it would be a blobish heart later on). I paid the money (as an anniversary present to my guy) and my guy went to pick him up.
The hand off was very fast and in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't until he got him home that we got a good look and could see the rough shape he was in. He had wounds on his paws, the tops of his ears, his eye, his nose, and his tail. It was as if he had been placed in a wire cage too small for him and then beaten on his face. He was so skinny you could see his intestines working and see every bump on his bones. I doubt he would have survived another few days.
We were told he was 10 weeks. We found out he was 14 weeks and 6lbs... He was scared to lay on soft objects and would gravitate to cardboard. He would refuse to eat if someone was watching and would run into a corner and piddle if you saw him eating. He would often lay in his own messes to sleep and mess next to his food which means he never got let out of his cage. He would shake anytime we got near him and was especially scared of females usually peeing if he got picked up by them. Any loud sound or voice he would run away peeing. To top it off he had worms in his poop and a few fleas on his coat. It was truly heartbreaking to watch.
It was the other animals that helped us start the rehab process. Rusty immediately took to him and started treating him as his own puppy. He would bring him food, lick him, watch over him while he napped, bring him toys, introduced him to the pet beds, and got him to go to the bathroom outside and away from food.
Midnight (our black cat who was only a year old at the time) decided this was his new best friend. He constantly laid on him, played with him, and cleaned him when he was feeling nervous. Journee (old calcio 13 years old) just watched him. She doesn't have much to do with anyone besides me.
Our first goal of rehab was to get his weight up slowly (so he didn't get sick) and fix his obvious health concerns (worms, shots, and wounds). We got him some chicken cooked it and put some liquid vitamins on it. We also added some egg yolk for good measure. Then we proceeded to hand feed him. We knew there was a risk he could bite out of fear or starvation needs, but we didn't have a fake hand and he needed to learn to trust us. Luckily he never bit, but he did end up turning into a begging goat later in life (any food he will now eat and we have to make sure he can't get to the trash).
We got rid of the worms and he put on weight steadily. He was an absolute angel for the vets. He never nipped, didn't even flinch from shots, and gladly ate any medicine. He would also make sure to give the vets lots of kisses.
We started training him on basic commands and he was picking them up within an hour or so. We started putting him in view of my guy and rusty when an episode was happening and he started alerting. He also did things we didn't train him to do, but I guess he thought it was in our best interest like putting his muzzle under my guys head to prevent it from hitting the floor (he didn't even whine when his head hit the muzzle). He also would open blinds if the room was dark and something was flashing on the tv. He then decided he should be a brace for walking after an attack (Rusty could never do this due to size). He even alerted to my brothers dogs episodes and licked him to comfort after.
We also trained him to not mind pulling of ears, tail, skin, or paws. As well as constantly put out hands and arms in his mouth to train him not to bite.
The only reason his training isn't considered complete is due to us not being able to expose him to a lot of crowds and new places due to covid concerns. Once things get a bit better we will start on his final bit of training.
If you look at him today you'd see a happy dog who has a few fat rolls and thinks everyone is his friend. He is a working service dog who is a rehabilitated rescue.