Abused dog on the brink of death gets second chance at life

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SCOTLAND, Pa. (AP) – Surrounded by old feces, urine and the bodies of two other dogs, a nightmare of neglect ended for two German shepherds when their human saviors found them last June. But ultimately, there was only survivor.

Today, Bear’s then-hollow sides and protruding ribs are filled out like they should be, and he is able to run around the huge farm that is his new home, far away from the Greene Township basement where he went famished and forgotten.

Two people were convicted of several counts of animal cruelty for the deaths of the three dogs and the near-death of the fourth, Bear. While the pair lived right above them, the dogs were left in a basement for an unknown period of time. It was long enough for two of them to starve to death by the time authorities found them, with a third on the verge of death, ever so slightly lifting her head when Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter Humane Office Cindy Byers found her.

Bear, who was forced to eat one of the dead dogs to survive, weighed 35 pounds when Byers found him. She took him straight to the veterinarian, along with the other one who was just hanging on to life. That dog could not keep food in her system and had to be euthanized.

“Bear was so full of fleas that when we bathed him to get some of them off him, the blood just filled the sink over. It was awful,” Byers said.

There was a smell, she said, of decay from his skin rotting because of the fleas, and also from the decay of the other dog.

What killed her the most, was that there were people living above the dogs. There was also an almost full bag of dog food there, while the dogs starved.

As of the sentencing hearings for the dogs’ owners, both claimed they had not been living in the home at the time the dogs died. However, it was only because authorities were called to the home for other reasons that the dogs were found, Byers said after one of the sentencing hearings.

For the next five months, Byers worked closely with Bear. Part of what she did was outlined by local dog behaviorist Bonnie McChesney, who said that while Bear had problems after being saved from the basement, he was a good dog and was “workable.”

Byers worked with him every day. She trained him to walk alongside her and with a leash, because she got the impression that he didn’t know what a leash was. She got him doing agility work as well and basic commands.

“He turned out to be a very smart dog, and we bonded,” Byers said. “It was hard to let him go.”

Bear now lives out of state, on a farm where he has more than 100 acres to run around, Byers said.

It took a lot to get Bear healthy again

Getting food back in Bear’s system was a key part of his rehabilitation. He was fed in small amounts at first, to get his body used to it again. He received special food for the skin problems he suffered due to the fleas. Bear was also put on fluids because he was so dehydrated.

“He lost all his muscle. He had to build muscle before he could build fat back up,” Byers said.

When Bear left the shelter, he was 71 pounds, finally a healthy weight. He also went through the basic vaccinations, received treatment for worms, and did all the things that should have happened at early vet visits, which Byers speculated never happened.

“This was my worst case. I’ve seen other people- I’ve seen cases where somebody walked out and left their dog behind and the dog died. Starved to death. They weren’t there,” Byers said. “These people lived above these dogs, heard them in that basement every night and did nothing.”

Byers said right now, abandoning a dog is only a summary offense, with a maximum of a $750 fine, and the only felony charges in Pennsylvania are for crimes involving zoo animals and dog fighting.

CVAS Communications Director Jen Vanderau said these cases get frustrating because before state Sen. Rich Alloway recently became vocal about animal abuse, the shelter would work to add up fines for wrongdoing, but they’d get “knocked down” in court.

“Honestly people leave there thinking they won, they really,” Vanderau said. “It’s not enough to deter them from doing it again, and it’s not enough to deter anybody else not to do it.”

The shelter sees abandonments fairly often, Byers said. Often, landlords will call the shelter to let them know a dog was left at their properties after the tenants left.

Byers said the shelter’s primary role in abuse cases is educating pet owners, because they often don’t know what they’re doing. She said she sometimes sees cases of tethering, which is when a collar is embedded into an animal’s neck, and other kinds of mistreatment.

“The truth of the matter is, we get a lot of animals who I think have had some form of abuse in the past. Some are made aggressive by it, some are scared to death by it,” Vanderau said.

She said she is blown away by animals that despite their clear apprehensiveness, still come up to people, trusting.

“It’s one of the most powerful things you’ll ever see,” Vanderau said.

The best thing the shelter can do for many of these cases is give the animals time to acclimate and readjust to being around humans, ones that care for them.

“Give them that time and (work) with them, get them to trust again, that’s what they need,” Byers said. “They need to know not everyone they see is bad.”

While Bear is one of the most horrific cases the shelter has seen, they consider themselves somewhat lucky because more horrors have appeared at other shelters.

“If Stephen King can come up with what some human being will do, it’s probably been seen in an animal shelter somewhere,” Vanderau said.





Information from: Public Opinion, http://www.publicopiniononline.com

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