Christopher Aust, Master Trainer
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Many have written to me asking where I was last week and I assure you will understand my absence was quite necessary. It would seem I have become involved in a dispute with a non profit organization. Can you believe it? Me of all people! ;) This one however is really sad in my opinion. It's not like my series on HSUS but it does clearly show I have been right about an issue I have mentioned a number of times over the years. I want you all to follow this story closely because it is so important to every single one of you and, more particularly, to your dogs.
Like many people I do enjoy decorating the house. However, we have to remember to keep it safe for our animals. Keep the lights and seasonal plants off the ground where they could be gotten to by our pets. Secure your tree so it doesn't end up following over by a rambunctious furkid. If your dog is a ball freak, then it might not be a good idea to leave the glass ball ornaments off the tree. Use common sense and your pet will have a safe holiday.
Also, we need to remember that dogs like consistency. Remember, changes in the house during the holiday, the hustle and bustle of shopping, parties and house guest can all be stress for our dogs as it disrupts their lives as well. Try to keep things as normal as possible and remember to spend the usual amount of time with them. I hear from people every year who can't figure out why their normally wonderful dog is suddenly acting up.
Okay, that's it for now. I'm outta here!
Dog Chewing the Sofa? Puppy Eating Your Shoes? Or WORSE?
What you are about to read is the story of a dog named Buster, a German Shepard mix. Buster was one of the many dogs from New Orleans that was rescued and sent to be fostered in Colorado until his owner was found and they could be reunited. He was found in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans which was one of the worst hit districts. The shelter that fostered Buster was Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE) located in Glenwood Springs Colorado.
Sue Schmidt, who at the time was a Board Member for CARE, was on the ground working at Lamar Dixon and was one of the main care providers for Buster until she brought him and several other dogs back to be fostered until they could find his owner.
When she returned, for whatever reason, it was determined by CARE that Buster and several other dogs should stay with Ms. Schmidt, who is a dog trainer, at her residence where she has facilities for the animals.
I first heard about Buster when a community member contacted me and told me a Katrina dog had bitten the Director of CARE, Leslie Rockey and that it might be euthanized as a result. They went on to tell me there were some special circumstances surrounding the bite and asked if I would be willing to evaluate the circumstances of the bite.
I offered to do the evaluation for free so there was no question about my objectivity and also because a rescue was involved. However, I made it very clear they would have to be prepared for me to determine the dog needed to be euthanized if that is what I felt was warranted and that I would send copies of my report to all involved parties if that was the case.
I was then put in touch with Ms. Schmidt who gave me information about the incident and advised me she had statements from everyone present at the time of the bite with the exception of Tracey Yajko who is CARE's “behaviorist.” I had her send me copies of all the documents and set to evaluating the bite.
Now before I go into facts surrounding the bite, I think it is important you all understand exactly what the dogs affected by Katrina have been through and the residual effects.
Most of us have seen the pictures, heard the stories or were there on the ground at Lamar Dixon. Many, like Buster, were forced to spend days and weeks separated from their owners, trying to survive in toxic sludge and human waste with no food, clean water or a safe place to get out of the elements.
They were then rescued by volunteers who often had to noose them, use snare poles, drag them out from under houses or simply chased down the street until they could be cornered and secured. Many were found with chemical burns, and/or injuries of all descriptions. They were then taken to the temporary shelters where they were housed in terrible conditions where their human interaction and veterinary care was limited. They were then shipped across the country with people who weren't their families and placed with fosters or kept at the sponsoring shelter.
That's one hell of a couple of weeks. We have seen how traumatic it was for the people who went through the hurricane but at least they had the advantage of knowing why their lives and world had been destroyed. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out many of these poor dogs are going to need a lot of time to decompress and that they are going to be extremely anxious and fearful and need to be handled very carefully and with a great deal of patience.
Okay, that said, lets get back to Buster.
There is currently a lawsuit involved regarding custodianship of Buster and a few other dogs so I will not speak about this portion of the story at this time. Let me give you the nuts and bolts of the dog bite incident. I'm not going to talk about any about any of the other issues flying around. I am simply reviewing the facts of the bite as we know them.
Rockey arrived at Schmidts home for the purpose of drawing blood and evaluating some of the dogs to determine if they were ready to go to the CARE facility. According to Rockey, the dogs received a very low dose of acepromazine, a very common drug used for these types of situations. She says she showed up without a plan and admits this was her first mistake.
Rockey stated, “Sue got Buster out of the crate, and walked him around. This was our next mistake, he should have been muzzled as soon as he was removed from the kennel.” Anyone want to know where the muzzle was? It was in her hand!
She goes on, “He came up to me, smelled my leg and hand. He took treats from Tracey, we all got too comfortable. He was on a long leash that Sue was holding and he was standing in front of her. Again, we still did not have a plan, we were just watching the dog.”
“I was a couple of feet away from Sue and Buster and mentioned something about looking at his teeth. I took a step forward, I had my left hand in front of me a bit and my right hand by my side holding a muzzle.” Rockey says.
Rockey adds, “All I did was step forward and before I knew it the dog bit me. He bit me in the inner thigh of my right leg. There was no warning and it was a bad bite.”
Witnesses stated Rockey stepped forward without saying when she was going to, throwing the handler off guard. According to witnesses Rockey is fairly tall (approximately 5' 10”) she was wearing dark sunglasses and remember, the muzzle was in her right hand.
There is a difference between Rockey's and the witnesses statements as to what happened immediately after the bite. According to witnesses the dog returned to Sue while Rockey jumped around screaming profanities. While Rockey's statement says the dog continued to lunge at her and she was in shock. Perhaps the shock has her confused.
According to Schmidt, Busters caretaker in Louisiana from the time it was rescued to the time of the bite, she had never seen any aggressive tendencies since she had first seen the dog. According to statements from witnesses who had been around Buster since his arrival in Colorado, they have never seen anything to indicate the dog is aggressive before the bite. The behaviorist in Louisiana obviously felt the dog was safe to foster if it allowed it to go out.
Just based on the statements made by Rockey herself, I can't believe this woman is running a non profit NO KILL shelter. She is also a certified vet tech. And just where the hell was this Yajko person who acts as CARE's behaviorist? Rockey can remember which hand she had the muzzle in, I wonder if she can tell me which hand the finger was on that Yajko, the behaviorist, was picking her nose with during all this?
Personally, I would expect the director of a non profit animal shelter, not to mention their “behaviorist,” would ever show up to exam, evaluate or draw blood from a Katrina dog that doesn't know you without a plan. Even though I have worked with aggressive dogs for decades, I would never jeopardize my safety by being complacent. I also wouldn't believe that because an extremely traumatized dog (that doesn't know me) sniffed my leg and hand, that I can suddenly reach for its head and teeth. In my opinion, that is simple ignorance.
There are some discrepancies in the statements from Rockey as I have seen in more than one statement. As their Director, she is their primary spokesperson as far as I am concerned.
She states in the email to contributors, that Ms. Schmidt never asked if she was okay and that she didn't have an opportunity to examine the bite until “much later.” She later says in the same statement it “immediately swelled and bruised.” Did she see it immediately or not? Which is it?
She goes on to say, “There are always three sides to every story, my side, their side and the truth. This is my side.” I guess this says it all. She acknowledges her version isn't the truth. Her differing versions would appear to support that.
Then there is the “drug dealer” theory that has surfaced from a CARE board member. One of their board members told a contributor who was concerned about this issue that they believed it was possible, based on the facts of the bite, that this was a dog trained to attack by drug dealers. This is grossly incorrect based on the facts of the bite and the manner in which attack dogs are trained.
Police dogs and competitive bite work dogs are trained to hold their bite until they are commanded by the handler to release. Amateur bite work handlers often have to literally choke the dog to get it to release. A dog trained to bite wouldn't release the bite, as Rockey says. It would have held.
To me, this is nothing more than a classic DEFENSIVE bite.
Now let's top it off with the dog being drugged. Rockey says, “that tranquilizing a dog is a very common drug used for these types of situations.” (Whatever that means!) We have never, in the time we have all been alive, seen a situation like this. Think about it. You are a dog that has lived through the storm, lost your family, have been forced to live in deplorable conditions before and after “rescue” and are then shipped to a new place. Did she miss this? Please keep in mind the dog understands none of this.
This is my overall opinion of this dog at the time I wrote it:
“In my professional opinion as a trainer who has specialized in aggressive behavior for over twenty years, I see no reason why this dog should be considered a threat to the community at this time. In fact, I think the actions and lack of knowledge of CARE and its personnel are detrimental to the behavioral health of this animal.”
This dog needs immediate care. He needs home based training with a person he recognizes and is comfortable with. This animal has been through so much that an average shelter can not care for him. For this reason, based on my professional opinion, this animal needs to be placed in familiar surrounding to be allowed to decompress for a few weeks so it can be properly rehabilitated. My opinion is that place is with Ms. Schmidt.
When I did my initial evaluation, I made the above determination. I didn't know who Busters original owner was. Well, guess what. We found the owner!
As it turns out Buster is owned by an 80 year old granny and Buster has never has never exhibited any vicious propensities or aggressive episodes. Before the hurricane, this dog interacted well with family members, other animals and guests to their home. CARE, its director and behaviorist really nailed that one! Go figure!!
The long and short in this matter, at least as far as I see it…
In my thirty years of working with dogs, shelters, kennels and rescues all over the world, I have never seen what I personally consider a more incompetent evaluation of a dog. In fact, based on CARE'S evaluation, I fear for the welfare of all dogs evaluated behaviorally by their “experts.” It takes more than a six week course at a shelter to make someone a behavioral expert. Additionally, it takes more than a Vet Tech with little and or no true field experience to run a rescue operation.
This situation is not going to resolve itself. The Board of Directors of CARE has decided to stand behind the evaluation done, in my opinion, of unqualified people. Unfortunately, the only ones that are truly going to suffer are the animals. Some of the Katrina dogs are going to suffer because of the faith in their director and behaviorist.
In my opinion, CARE is only hurting itself and showing their true colors. If this is the choice they choose to make, they're only extending their liability to the public. They're also, in my opinion, misrepresenting their intentions in the community. If they plan to run a no kill shelter, they should hire qualified personnel to make the determination as to whether a dog should be killed or not. As far as I am concerned, they have failed in this obligation to the community.
I am sure you all can see the stupidity of the actions of CARE's personnel. Obviously, to me anyway, they have no interest in protecting the animals of their community, or this country, especially the ones who need it most, the dogs affected by the Katrina disaster. It appears to me, that if CARE could repair their reputation, they would have accepted my offer to come to their state and help them revamp their program. They chose to ignore not only my, but also their contributor's, desire to have this happen.
I offered this organization two weeks of my time, free of charge, and agreed to cancel all of my appointments, appearances, and give up my entire income for two weeks to come and help the local community. I also offered to teach Bite Prevention and Responsible Ownership. They have rebuffed my offers. This does not sound to me like an offer a non-profit would refuse. Why would anyone pass up such an offer for not only their organization but for their community. You do the math.
This bite never should have occurred. It happened because a certified vet tech, who was also the director of a non-profit, no kill shelter screwed up. The director's behaviorist also screwed the pooch. Their negligence and complacency caused the bite and they need to be culpable for their actions.
We will continue to follow this story for a couple of reasons. First, if you screw up, you need to admit it. Don't change your story once you realize you blew it. It is the same principle I try to instill in my kids, and, even they know if they blow it, they are going to be in far more trouble if they lie. If my kids can figure that out I would figure that Ms. Rockey and Yajko would understand that.
We will never know the trauma, level of fear or the thoughts of all the animals that were rescued as a result of Hurricane Katrina but you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Only the dog truly knows what the dog has been through.
In my opinion, to ignore these factors shows a lack of knowledge, intelligence, and professional education of the individuals who evaluated the dog. They (Rockey) openly admit they made numerous mistakes and have also said they violated the basic rules of approaching a dog that has been through a traumatic situation.
This dog was given an unfair shake. This dog did not appear to
be aggressive from the statements and everything else I have
received about his behavior. I will let you know about the
legal crap later. They screwed that up too.
The dominance games advice was wonderful as well. After 27 years of rescue, it continues to amaze me how many people CAUSE dog behavior problems and then believe that the dog is at fault. These same people then drop the dog THEY conditioned to do these thing off at the nearest shelter (or in rare cases where we have some room, the nearest rescue) and then proceed to go buy a puppy (usually from a questionable source) and repeat the cycle.
All a part of what I call the "Wow, I had no idea Lassie was a fictional character" syndrome. You get back from a dog what you invest in it -- if you invest the time, energy and money in finding a reputable/responsible breeder whose sole concern is producing puppies with a sound mind that is housed in a healthy body, you have the perfect start. If you then invest the time, energy, and money needed in training, socializing, feeding and vetting the puppy, you'll see it grow into a wonderful, balanced dog that provides companionship for many years to come. And of course, the investment continues to need "care and feeding" to remain healthy in both mind & body. A lot of work, but for an amazing payoff!
Please keep encouraging people to ask the IRS to investigate HSUS. This huge political lobbying organization that has a vested interest in seeing that most of the problems just mentioned are perpetuated needs to stop being a blight on our nation, and the animals that share it with us. My most recent outrage at them stems from what I read at the following:
Let me paraphrase -- if you adopt from a breed rescue, it is likely a hoarder or collector that is handing out physically sick and/or aggressive dogs. However, if you go to the nearest open-door shelter where they know next to nothing about any one dog there, you will find the perfect companion. What a truly unfair piece of nonsense!
When you are in deep trouble, say nothing,
~ Unknown ~
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2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.
3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3
4. You email the person who works at the desk next to you.
5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends and family is that they don't have email addresses.
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7. Every commercial on television has a web site at the bottom of the screen.
8. Leaving the house without your cell phone, which you didn't have the first 20 or 30 (or 60) years of your life, is now a cause for panic and you turn around to go and get it.
10. You get up in the morning and go on line before getting your coffee.
11. You start tilting your head sideways to smile. : )
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13. Even worse, you know exactly to whom you are going to forward this message.
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And, now you are laughing at yourself!
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