This is the story of Halo
Date: September 9, 2020
Halo was one of the worst cases the rescue he came from had ever seen. Matted, neglected, badly abused, and after a tumor removal, he found himself in the loving hands of his foster mom. The problem was he was biting people – multiple people.
He was biting his foster mom, he was biting her roommates, he was biting people that came to the house, and he even charged outside and bit someone that had walked by the house.
What further complicated matters was that his foster mom had rooms she would rent out every couple of months, meaning there wasn’t a lot of long-term consistency with the environment for Halo.
I was brought in to “fix” what seemed like, frankly, an unfixable situation. At one point, humane euthanasia was on the table, because it seemed like he could never find a suitable home despite the best efforts of his amazing foster mom.
When it was time to meet Halo, I definitely felt the uncertainty of the situation, from a safety standpoint, because of the multiple bite history. Any trainer that says they don’t ever have a hint of trepidation in situations like this is either lying, or a robot.
We met outside, with his foster mom bringing him out on-leash. I had them stop a little ways from me, and I did what I always do with fear-aggressive dogs: I started tossing treats. Halo started eating them and became instantly interested in who this dude was that was tossing deliciousness. We went inside and sat down. In these situations, whether I’m meeting the dog outside or inside, my goal is to sit down as quickly as possible, as that is going to be the least-threatening position for the dog.
Once seated, I could tell Halo wanted to come closer for more treats, so I allowed his foster mom to drop the leash and he came over, taking treats out of my hand, and even sat if I asked for it. He seemed, overall, comfortable with me. By no means was I going to try to give him a hug, but the introduction went really well. By the end of the time I was there, he was actually soliciting petting – even putting his head in my lap at one point – so I gave him some gentle pets and we were becoming fast friends.
A quick word about the “fixing” part for a second. You will see trainers boast that they will “fix” or “cure” your dog. That is just a flat-out lie, especially for dogs that come from a background of abuse. You cannot fix an abused, neglected dog, the same way you can’t fix an abused human. What you can do is rehabilitate that being, by setting them up for success, having a plan or script to follow, and knowing that for the rest of their life, that management may need to be in place and there could be limitations to the outcomes for the dog. The goal should never be “fixing,” but rather, making their and your lives as stress-free as possible.
So, we had that very discussion about Halo. I explained that Halo could always have the ability to bite someone if we don’t follow a script on how we introduce people. And if someone thinks just because they are a “dog person,” they can win him over by showing how great a person they are, that’s just not how it works. There is a scientific way to go about this, and as long as we used desensitization and counter-conditioning, we could expand Halo’s trust circle, enabling some type of normalcy.
We created protocols for everyone that lived in the house. We created protocols for guests. We created prevention/management protocols for when we couldn’t control the environment.
Even with all that in place, there were still the inevitable mistakes made, as the learning curve was sharp for both Halo and the humans in his life.
9 months went by and Halo didn’t find a home.
One year went by and Halo didn’t find a home.
Two years went by and still no permanent home for Halo.
We even produced a video to get him adopted that rivaled those Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials. No dice.
All the while, his foster mom – an absolute gem of a human being – continued to work with Halo as best as she could – both inside and outside the house. I cannot properly describe the dedication this one person had to this dog who had little hope of being adopted, to be honest. As hard and trying as he could be, she would not give up on him when 99.99% of most caring dog lovers would have.
With the support of the rescue, he would have a tumor removed (that sadly, resurfaces every 18 months or so), a bout with pancreatitis and a slipped disc on top of everything else, which certainly contributed to his behavior challenges. Angels all around.
Don’t get me wrong, there was some interest in adopting Halo. A woman even came in from Arizona to adopt him and sadly, left without him.
Through the bleakest of bleak times and the highest of highs, there continued to be one constant in his life – his foster mom. She finally made the choice to keep Halo for good.
Outside of the medical challenges Halo still faces, he is a vital part of a family now – his now-forever mom, her fiancé (to whom he was introduced beautifully, becoming inseparable) and his two canine siblings.
Once again, Halo is not cured of his fear aggression. The chance that he could bite is still very real. But, he is expertly managed and has successfully had many, many amazing interactions, including being boarded at times with two loving people his mom playfully references as Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Once an abused throwaway, this amazing dog has been built back up to living a wonderful life with even more wonderful humans.
I am over the moon that I was a small part of that journey.