A Second Chance
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"We may not be able to save them all, but together maybe we can save just this one."
Looking inside the hearts of misunderstood, troubled dogs
The Pit Bull breeds are undoubtedly the most misunderstood breeds, based on ignorance, irresponsibility, and media portrayals, creating a constant battle to negate the stigma of the Pit Bull breeds. As Pit Bulls face misconception, so have the dogs mislabeled aggressive by the shelters. Buddy was both.
Certified Canine Obedience Instructor Nicole Ribeiro's, MBM, commitment to the animals needing the most help in the animal shelter system, many of whom are considered, "bully breeds," began with the "bully" who captured her heart, Buddy, a Pit Bull/Lab mix, "a forgotten, voiceless shelter dog that was deemed untrainable and not worth saving." "Saving one bully at a time," is the driving force behind Nicole Ribeiro developing Project Buddy Rescue (based in Kingston, Washington), with Ashley Stamm, when she grew tired of shelter animals being euthanized due to deemed aggressive behavior and limited shelter resources. No-kill shelters humanely euthanize animals with behavioral and/or medical issues; what exists is the mammoth problem of perceived aggression; potentially wonderful companions are put to death due to misperception.
A trainer for over ten years, Ribeiro was volunteering at the local humane society, where 90 percent of her work is with dogs with behavioral issues. There she met 1-year-old Buddy, whom other volunteers viewed as "aggressive" (jumping and barking at people who approached his crate), refusing to give him the attention he needed, and was soon forgotten. However, Ribeiro recognized that Buddy was anxious, rather than aggressive, resulting from his confinement in his crate and not being walked. Most importantly, she saw in Buddy what no one else saw: potential.
Buddy was taken home and given one-on-one attention; Ribeiro and Stamm discovered how good he was with people and other dogs. Buddy gained his confidence, and was adopted into the Family Dogs New Life Rescue in Portland, Oregon, a no-kill shelter with caring and invested volunteers working with each dog one-on-one. Buddy was adopted six days after staying in Portland. He is now well loved by two parents and two canine siblings, with a big fenced backyard.
Buddy's situation was the catalyst in Ribeiro and Stamm re-evaluating the dire predicament shelters face: the lack of trained volunteers capable of assessing true aggressive behavior. Ribeiro took action by developing Project Buddy Rescue in 2009 with the help of friends and other volunteers, who all shared the sentiment that each dog is worth saving, with the goal of fostering these troubled souls (who had no hope in the shelter system), in order for them to rebuild confidence, so they could find another home. What is notable is that Ribeiro's rescue functions as a foster home, rather than a "shelter," where she offers lifetime training for every dog adopted from her rescue.
The process of rehabilitation is intensive, which makes it that much more rewarding; this was the case for Vivian, a Taiwan Mountain Dog. Vivian came from match-making rescue Saving Great Animals, who worked with Animal Rescue Team Taiwan. Dogs in Taiwan are regarded more of a nuisance than a pet, and as so, they are commonly found living in the streets. The goal of the Taiwan rescue is to bring as many of the street dogs possible to the United States to be adopted.
The dilemma with Vivian was her learned behavior of not needing people, since she had been surviving on her own on the streets. Initially, she was placed in a foster home ill-equipped to deal with her, since she had no desire to be a pet. Vivian regressed with each "forced" human interaction, such as being petted, or even being loved; she simply could not escape her independence mentality. The foster home contacted Ribeiro, who took Vivian home that day; on the drive home, Ribeiro made a commitment to Vivian; despite the uncertainty, it was the right thing to do.
It took two months before Vivian would come out of the room if Ribeiro or any of her five dogs were in sight. In order for Vivian to use the bathroom, all the dogs would have to be out of view, Ribeiro would open the crate, then hide; Vivian would then scurry outside, run inside, and Ribeiro would shut the door. Ribero's approach with Vivian was to allow her the space and time she needed to acclimate. Ribeiro would go into Vivian's room and not pay attention to her; little by little, Vivian would creep out of the crate while Ribeiro was in the room and sit beside her.
Fostering her for a year, Ribeiro slowly built a bond with Vivian. Interest in adopting Vivian was imminent, but Ribeiro felt she wasn't ready; Vivian met one potential adopter and was simply not interested. Adamant in their interest and commitment to adopting Vivian, her eventual family emailed Ribeiro every day. To Ribeiro's amazement, the day Vivian's family met her, she did something she had never done: walked up and sat next to the strangers. Vivian just knew; she chose them.
Two months after living in her new home, Vivian reverted to her innate mentality of living on the streets, darting in and out of cars, when she escaped on a walk in downtown Seattle. Ribeiro and Vivian's family were devastated. Vivian's family would go out every few days to look for her, posting flyers, dreading, "She's not coming back...." Two and a half weeks later, Ribeiro received a call: Vivian's family caught sight of Vivian returning to their deck to eat. Ribeiro recognized that Vivian wanted to come home, and suggested they leave the door open; Vivian walked right in. She knew she was home.
Vivian was the dog that touched Ribeiro the most. Vivian embodied the feeling of what a real bond is between dog and man, where Vivian "transcends everything about how we feel about animals." Emotional, Ribeiro reveals, "They really bond with us and is it amazing. It is very humbling." Without Ribeiro's love and patience, Vivian wouldn't have made it; at another rescue, she would have been euthanized.
Another "rescue happy tail" is of Cleo, a Shepherd/Lab/Collie mix, whose original owner trained her to be vicious, as her only purpose was to guard his junkyard. Cleo developed a fear of men, eventually bit her owner, and was brought into the humane society. Cleo, now an older, unsocialized dog, was homeless with an uncertain future. She did not have the basic understanding of a submissive approach, signaling no intent to hurt her, lunging and barking, acting aggressively in hopes that people would go away. Like Buddy, Ribeiro saw potential in Cleo.
Cleo spent nine months with Ribeiro, where she was given space until she was ready to be worked with on obedience and boundaries. Ribeiro's dogs were paramount in Cleo's rehabilitation, in taking cues and learning how to interact with other dogs; it was as if her "light-bulb" switched on. Progressively, Ribeiro introduced Cleo to situations where she would have to encounter people, enabling her to become comfortable around them.
Cleo's new dad found her picture on the rescue's website, where he saw something in her. Ribeiro felt Cleo might not have been ready, but he wanted a chance. To Ribeiro's surprise, Cleo was willing and is now inseparable from her new dad. He took a leap of faith: Cleo was something worth saving. Cleo overcame her fear of people, men in particular, and is now loved, spending her days exploring the dog park and playing in the nearby lake.
The most difficult case for Ribeiro was Jackson, a Lab/Terrier mix, who was adopted after two years with the rescue; at the humane society, he would have been euthanized for mislabeled aggression. Jackson was a fearful dog; he would growl once he saw the leash when volunteers attempted to walk him. Ribeiro's instincts told her the growling was learned behavior in response to fear that was dealt with improperly. Ribeiro would sit with Jackson in his kennel every day, without talking to or touching him, until he was accustomed to her; she made minor adjustments in how to interact with him, such as passing the leash to a new person walking him, rather than having the new person get him. Jackson was exposed to a myriad of people and environments with success. Jackson now has a brother, Chesney, and is a bit "plump" since the last time he stayed with Ribeiro, but he is "the happiest dog ever." Ribeiro is "so proud of how well he is doing and how dedicated his new [parents] are."
All dogs, especially the difficult ones, deserve a chance. These abandoned, voiceless and forgotten dogs are remarkably resilient, where "dogs with the issues turn out to be the best dogs," according to Ribeiro. The foremost problem is the misperception of aggression, where a great dog can be mistakenly euthanized due to that misperception. It is because of Ribeiro and Stamm's love for animals that sprung them into action; that misunderstood dogs, would otherwise have been euthanized, now know what love is every day, in forever, loving homes.
"We may not be able to save them all, but together maybe we can save just this one." Thanks to Project Buddy Rescue, approximately 300 dogs were rescued, medically treated, trained, and adopted; Ribeiro and Stamm truly rescued and gave these once troubled dogs a second chance at life, giving them the voice that they all deserved. Ribeiro is now working on a project to help with the training of harder to adopt dogs, with plans of expanding Project Buddy Rescue to Massachusetts.
For more information on Project Buddy Rescue, please click here.
Louisa Lew, Contributing Writer: Louisa Lew graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Liberal Arts, double majoring in Political Science and Film. She is currently a Freelance Copy Editor and Writer, living in Seattle with her two dogs. (more...)