For Christians, Easter has a very special meaning. Easter is about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His death and ultimate resurrection. It’s a story of loss and gain, of sorrow and joy, of despair and hope. I want to share with you a very special Easter story that has touched me deeply, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever really be the same again.
As a dog trainer, I evaluate dogs prior to training. I look at all kinds of criteria, but one thing I’m mindful of, is how the dog and owners interact, and whether or not I see trust or responsive behavior from the dog, and whether the dog fits well with the owner’s lifestyle. Most of the time, I see a good dog, and a good fit, but once in a while, I’ll see that this particular dog in this particular home is like gas on a fire! If the fit isn’t good, sometimes, training just won’t fix what’s needed. Sometimes, the dog just needs a home that can supply what he needs in order to be healthy and happy and thrive.
Two weeks ago, I came across a very dangerous situation with folks who wanted to give their four year old the dog that he had been begging for, and adopted a puppy without regard to breed, temperament, energy level, or leadership needs. He was an adorable puppy, and he needed a good home. He was six weeks old, and he came from a friend whose female had become pregnant accidentally. His puppy Mama had only allowed three humans to ever get near her or touch her. No one knew who or what breed his puppy Daddy was. The puppy looked like a Corgi/ Jack Russell Terrier mix, and he was as cute as a button!! They named him Sir Panda Bear, and brought him home with all of the usual excitement anyone feels when they get a new puppy! His new family had the best of intentions in wanting to give their new puppy a good home and life, but instead, what they got was a ticking time bomb.
At an early routine well puppy checkup, their vet had said, “You need to get this puppy some training!” At a very early age, the vet was being able to spot a difficult temperament, and troubling behavior. Not really understanding how serious things were, the owners never got around to seeking help, until things hit critical mass when the puppy was six months old.
Panda had always been a puppy with a lot of rough play and nipping and mouthing behaviors. But things escalated when he had a couple of nasty bites with the parents over being asked to do something that he didn’t want to do. Suddenly, they realized that this thirty-two pound, adorable six month old puppy could very seriously injure their son or a guest visiting in their home. They called me to get some training for him.
When I arrived in their home, Panda was outside, sunning himself on a beautiful spring day. He was a darling puppy, and I fell in love at first glance! As we walked out into the yard, he came charging at me, barking, with full piloerection from collar to tail in a wide band, with the band of fur across his shoulders, higher and wider. He stopped just short of me, and warily watched me, skittering a bit nervously when I shifted my weight from one foot to the next. We went back inside for two to three minutes and tried coming out into the yard again. This time, he didn’t bark, was calm, and cautiously approached to offer some very polite sniffing. Once satisfied, he went on his way to explore his yard again. It was clear that he was pretty scared around strangers, which is not a good behavior to see from a puppy!!
As we sat down to begin the questionnaire, he came running over to his human mom, and began roughly mouthing her with some pretty intense jaw strength. I was told that this was his predictable behavior from sun up until close to bedtime most days. Their son came calmly outside and I watched as Panda jumped on him and offered the same rough mouthing and nipping behavior, causing the child to wince, show fear, and pull into himself to withdraw from his puppy.
What was really alarming, was when the child began to jump on his enclosed trampoline. Panda simply seemed to lose his mind over the activity. He barked furiously from under the trampoline, jumping and nipping at the child’s feet over and over. Again, lots of full arousal from the puppy, and piloerection across his shoulders and into maybe a third of his back. When the child was ready to get off the trampoline, Panda was excitedly waiting at the ladder, ready to find success with the nipping and biting that he had not been able to successfully do while under the trampoline. At his point, I had to intervene, asking the child to wait and the adults to place the puppy on a leash before the child came down the ladder. I knew a bite was moments away, and it was time to intervene in the situation before that happened!
I really thought I had seen most of what I had needed to see about the dog’s negative behavior, and then the owners began to show me their battle scars from the puppy’s aggressive puncture bites. They started to tell stories of his aggression, so I was all ears at this point. His behavior went beyond the normal run of the mill puppy play biting, and into a more aggressive rough play all the time. He produced aggression when pushed into something he didn’t want to do. When aroused, he couldn’t calm himself, which is dangerous when small children are involved. This is truly alarming behavior from a six month old puppy!
I knew that this puppy should never have ended up in this home. The owners were clearly providing excellent physical care of Panda. He was housebroken, up to date on his shots, neutered, and on monthly heart worm and flea and tick prevention. He was very clean and at a very good weight. Once on a leash, it was clear that he had been on a leash before, and he walked nicely with his owner. But living well with a dog means being able to meet all of the dog’s physical, emotional, and mental needs, and this family simply couldn’t do that. It was time to be frank and have an honest, open discussion with his owners about re-homing Panda.
Fortunately, they were in complete agreement with me, which was really a big sigh of relief. I secured a promise from them to let me find a suitable home or rescue within two weeks, which they agreed to do. They had obvious love for Panda, but his behavior was off the charts and creating a dangerous situation with a small child in the home. They were quickly losing their patience, and things just simply had to change! I work with aggressive dogs as a dog trainer, but I draw the line at aggression with children in the home!
Before I left them, I gave them very strict requirements for Panda so that I would know that everyone would be safe until I could get him into a suitable new home. They agreed to do everything I asked them to do. So, with the time clock ticking, I left their home, knowing I would have to move quickly or this puppy would never make it. I knew that if he had one more aggressive episode, he would likely be shot or surrendered to a local shelter, where he would have been immediately put down based upon the behavior that I saw in my visit to their home.
I knew that if Panda was going to stay realistically alive, it was on my shoulders…..a heavy weight indeed as I came home to stare into the eyes of my own thrown away puppy, Rugby James. I didn’t want to fail Panda in the same ways that Rugby’s previous owners had failed him. Panda was a puppy, a mere baby, just trying to figure things out in the human world. I knew in the right home, this puppy would do well, because he wasn’t inherently a bad or aggressive dog. He was scared in many situations and that’s what produced the aggressive behavior. Otherwise, he was just a rowdy puppy with no boundaries for behavior.
I knew that placing Panda would be challenging, because most rescue groups don’t hang out signs saying, “Bring us your edgy or aggressive dogs!” Rescues so often operate on a shoestring budget, and good foster homes are difficult to find, and fill up quickly with the number of dogs who need to be placed. Finding a rescue group or foster home for a dog who is producing aggressive behavior when pushed into something he doesn’t want to do, is really tough! No rescue wants to see any of their very valuable fosters or foster dogs injured by an aggressive dog who is being placed. Dogs who are scared are more likely to be aggressive, and so safety with dogs like Panda becomes a huge consideration in any type of placement.
The honest truth, is that there really isn’t an easy place in the world for dogs who don’t fit a pretty standard mold of behavior. Dogs like my own Rugby James often are bounced around because no one wants them. Rugby was repeatedly passed back and forth through multiple homes until he finally crossed my path and I chose not to give up on him. My guess is that previous owners fell in love with how cute he was, but had no idea how to live with him, so out he went!! With the level of naughty nipping and biting that Panda was already producing, I knew he wouldn’t get more than one chance to make it in the world, and he was just a baby at six months! I had to find a home that was a good fit, or a rescue who could rehabilitate him, but where to start with a tough dog like Panda?
I contacted a Corgi rescue who told me that they didn’t think there was any Corgi at all from the photos I sent them, and they also had no fosters, yadda, yadda, thank you very much. However, they were the catalyst in suggesting that I put a post on a Corgi Facebook rescue page, and mentioned key words that would turn heads! So for a rescue that didn’t think he was a Corgi, they were actually the contacts who helped get the ball rolling for Panda to find his new home, and I’ll always be so very grateful for their help!
Once Panda’s post went up on a countrywide Facebook rescue page, within a couple of short hours, I had someone who said, I’ll work with him if you can get him here! That someone turned out to be Brett Butler from Corgwyn Rehabilitation Sanctuary, and for thirty years, he’s been rehabilitating dogs at his farm in rural Iowa. He’s fallen in love with Corgis, and they are the breed of dogs he currently works with. He noticed right away that Panda was just a puppy, and like me, really wanted to see him have a chance at having a great life.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing I had a definite place for Panda to go, but the transport turned out to be far more challenging than I had expected. I knew of the huge network of drivers who selflessly donate time and hours to drive dogs from point A to point B. The problem was getting Panda from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Iowa, which meant two days of driving, and multiple car and driver changes. I didn’t know how it could happen with an edgy, potentially dangerous puppy who was seriously afraid of strangers!
A really fabulous group of Corgi lovers circled me, all having different areas of specialty in the transport process. We all engaged in a Facebook messenger group chat to brainstorm and problem solve. Safety became the issue, and all of us were in agreement that Panda really needed to fly so that he could arrive at Brett’s sanctuary in hours rather than days.
The air transport coordinator began contacting her pilots to see who had time to fly Panda within my two week deadline, which was now under ten days. Pilots promised to get back to her on it. Meanwhile, we looked for a possible foster home, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Panda was a tough little nut, and I knew that he would really need to have a home where someone truly understood how to work with his aggressive bent. As expected, there were no suitable foster homes. Daily, his owner would faithfully text me for a progress report, and daily I mustered up encouragement about the progress we were making with his transportation. The truth was, we were hitting one roadblock after another, but I couldn’t tell Panda’s owners about that! I had to dispense hope, and buy time for Panda!!
A week into the process I received a rather frantic text from Panda’s owner saying that Panda had been really spun up that day, and she wasn’t sure that they would be able to wait the extra week. She wanted a foster home until we could arrange his transport. And she asked the question I had been dreading, ” Did I have anything in place yet?” My heart sunk, because this was my biggest fear!!
I dreaded the day that I would hear her say that she appreciated my help, but that they had decided that it was best to take him to their local shelter. I asked her to hang on, reminding her that she had promised to give me two full weeks, and that they had agreed to that! I reminded her of the safety rules I had put into place before I left their home, reminding her that those rules were going to keep everyone safe during the rehoming process.
Panic was rising in me, and I was trying to fight back fear while I waited to hear back about the flight schedule. The transport team and I came to the conclusion that Panda and the family would be safest if we could put him in a boarding kennel until the transport could be arranged. Trying to find pilots who were comfortable transporting a scared, edgy puppy who might bite as a major holiday approached proved to be very difficult. I started researching possible boarding kennels, hoping that they would agree to keep that same scared, edgy puppy who might bite their staff!! I found two kennels that might work, and contacted Panda’s owner, who shot down my idea. She just did not want Panda to be boarded, because she knew that he would be scared, and she was worried about the safety of the staff. So it was back to the drawing board as Panda’s owner reluctantly agreed to try to hang on for the balance of the week.
I was starting to really feel fearful for Panda’s safety, because unless we could pull together a fast transport, time was going to run out before I could rescue him. It was time to post a prayer request for Panda’s transport on Rugby’s Facebook page. One of his dear friends went to work behind the scenes, and a few hours later, I started to received email after email saying, “You have cash!” A dear circle of dog lovers had sent me funds to pay for Panda’s transport and rehabilitation costs! Flying him commercially became a new option, and really, our only shot!
Having never flown a dog before, I Googled “How to Fly a Dog on a Commercial Airline.” I found a commercial business who did all of the work for the owner, and that was exactly what I needed. Their reviews were really great, so I called them with excitement and hope rising. In 24 hours, I left three messages and never received a return phone call. In fact, in the six days since my original phone calls, they have yet to attempt to contact me at all!! While waiting for them to respond, I had watched another precious 24 hours slip by with no progress forward. The clock was ticking, and I was starting to worry!
I truthfully did not know the first thing about flying a dog, but I was about to get a quick education! The old saying that, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me” rang in my ears as I started the process of contacting the airline to get Panda aboard a plane and on his way to Iowa! With no other options, I decided that I was going to have to simply dive in and just sort it out as I went along! It was now Wednesday. Tick, tick, tick. I had until the weekend.
The airline boarding request showed a flight available on Saturday, April 15th….the last day available to get Panda from his home and still be true to my word of keeping my end of the two week deadline! I submitted the paperwork application online, and waited the airline’s 24 hours for someone to contact me.
As I waited, I knew that Panda would need an airline approved crate with a host of trimmings, so I started doing research while Panda’s owner tried to get reliable measurements from a six month old puppy playfully biting at her and her tape measure! She sent me her very best guess, and we crossed our paws that the measurements were accurate!
Airlines have very particular requirements about the size of the crate and how the dog has to fit inside it! Not even the tips of a dog’s ears can touch the top of the crate or its sides. Clearance around the dog is very important, and they refuse to bend on these rules at all. To be absolutely safe, I ordered a crate that I guessed would be too big, but that I knew would absolutely hold Panda and meet the requirements of the airline. Thank goodness for two day shipping! The crate and the extra kit of goodies needed to fly Panda were on their way to his owner! Things were starting to finally fall into place, but if either of the shipments were late, all bets were off!
By Thursday morning, the airline contacted me about his reservation. What exactly was Panda’s breed of dog? Because of the breathing issues some dogs have, the airline restricts some breeds from flying for safety to the dog. Not really knowing for sure what breeding Panda was, I told them my best guess, and waited again for confirmation.
Another email arrived in a few hours telling me that the crate was too large to fly on the jet that they would be using for his flight. They sent me the maximum crate size that they would allow. It was the next size smaller, and the one that I had originally thought would work. However, it was likely going to be close with those cute ears of his! With a Corgi, honestly, headroom is rarely ever an issue, but if the ears couldn’t touch the top of the crate, we could probably have an inch or less to spare!! I told the airline that we would use the smaller crate, and waited again to hear back from them.
While I waited, I had to get the smaller crate for him. However, it was now Thursday, and his flight was leaving early on Saturday, so I had no time to order anything. Nowhere could I find a company who could overnight his crate to his owner. I knew that our only hope would be to call a local pet store and hope that they had exactly what I needed! His owner told me that if I could find the crate she would pick it up. Lo and behold, I found exactly what I needed, and they let me pay for it over the phone so Panda’s owner just had to go pick it up.
On Friday, the airline sent me an email with the proposed flight schedule, and it looked like all we had to do was wait for Saturday morning to arrive. I was cautiously optimistic, waiting for the crate supply kit to arrive by the end of the day on Friday. That supply kit had the required stickers, food and water cups, and metal screws and wing nuts to hold the crate together. These things were required by the airline, and I knew that without them, Panda would never leave the ground! By late afternoon, the kit arrived, and I finally felt as if I could breathe for the first time in two weeks!
On Friday night, something just nagged at me to call the airline one last time, just to make sure that everything was in place for Panda’s flight. Am I ever glad that I did!! Somewhere along the way, Panda’s reservation had stalled, and the airline had not completed the final stage of getting things set up. His reservation had not actually been completed! Panic hit me in a huge wave, and fortunately, I had a very kind, very patient ticket agent on the other end of the phone who quickly calmed me by telling me that he could easily complete the reservation for me and that all would be well for the morning. It took forty-five minutes to an hour to complete, but I got an airbill number, and that was the golden ticket that I needed to get Panda on board.
Saturday morning arrived, and I left home at 5:20 am to be able to arrive at the airport by 7:00 am. Hopped up on coffee, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of hope and excitement for Panda to begin a new life with someone who understood who he was and what he would need to rehabilitate him into a great puppy who could get a perfect home someday.
We started the check in process at the ticket window, and things seemed to be progressing without a hitch! Panda would bark a bit aggressively if any other passengers got too close to him, but fortunately it was very quiet and few people were around. The paperwork was long and boring, but finally, Panda was given last hugs, and placed into his crate for his big adventure. The staff carried him into their back room, where he would begin the boarding process.
We all smiled, and were just breathing a sigh of relief, when we heard Panda barking, and we knew that he was getting the last word!! One of the staff members came back to us and told us that she didn’t think that they could take him because he was being very aggressive and she didn’t think the airline handlers would be safe. I assured her that he was very scared, and that anyone with sense would keep their fingers out of the crate! With the nice ridge around the outside of the crate, he could be easily handled safely. His flight was only five hours, so he didn’t need to be taken out of his crate until he arrived at his new home. Grudgingly, she agreed, and we dodged one final bullet in getting Panda on his way.
After arriving at the sanctuary, Panda had the normal settling in jitters that I fully expected to see. In less than twenty four hours, Panda was settling in nicely at Brett’s sanctuary. He has been meeting some of the seventeen dogs who live there, and he is playing with them. He’s stopped trying to nip at Brett every time Brett engages him, and he is relaxed and much more calm. This puppy now has hope and a future.
What an absolutely incredible experience this has been for me! The past two weeks have brought me emotions that were so high and so low that I can’t describe! When I have thought back on this experience over the past twelve hours, I couldn’t help but think of what an Easter miracle this has been. So many things had to fall into place at the right time for it to all come together as planned. And at the very heart of all of it, is sacrifice.
The family is sad that they couldn’t give their puppy the life he needed, and they are sad that Panda couldn’t be the dog that they had dreamed of when they brought him home. They trusted me, and made a sacrifice to let him go, trusting complete strangers to give their little guy a better life.
So many others have made sacrifices to give something of value to a family and puppy that they didn’t know, and will probably never meet. There were so many people who came together to help me with things I just didn’t know how to do, or really, where to even start! Some sacrificed time, for others it was their expertise, and others sacrificed financially, but all of us came together to help one family and one dog have a better life.
When things in the world seem so very crazy and upside down, experiences like this renew my hope in life. Just as the landscape around me is starting to green up and bloom and leaf out, somewhere in Iowa, there is a little puppy who has no idea what any of those sacrifices mean. He’s just reaping the excitment of his new life, oblivious to the work behind the scenes that came together to make that happen for him.
Good has indeed come from a potentially dangerous situation. The family’s anger and fear has been replaced with peace. The panic I felt for much of two weeks has been replaced with calm. Joy reigns supreme over the entire experience, and hope in life has been fully restored. Anything and everything feels possible once again!
And all I can say is, have a great life Panda! God has special plans for you, and I can’t wait to watch you soar on new wings!