Saving Toby

by Barbara Murray
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Barbara holding TobyI met Toby when he was about three years old. He had been abandoned in a house where someone came by occasionally to give him water and throw him some food. The person had very little interaction with the dog, if any. Eventually, that person got tired of putting all that effort into caring for him and he ended up at the shelter.

We guess his breed to be Shar-Pei, Mastiff mix of some sort. No one really knows. He was muscular; his eyes were squinty and dark. He didn’t like being in the cage. He wasn’t friendly and his chance of adoption was very slim. When anyone approached the cage, he would hunker down, give a low growl and look up at them with those haunting eyes. He was massive, he was strong, and he was scary, but he was a beautiful beast.

Another volunteer and I made it our mission to save this dog. We tried to win him over by bringing special treats -- hot dogs, toys, and blankets -- anything to try to get him to stop the growl and become a dog we could approach. He eventually calmed down with us, but still kept up the fearful behavior with anyone else that would try to calm him.

Space was becoming an issue, and if he were not salvageable, they needed the kennel for other dogs that were. Time became a factor, we only had a couple of weeks to work with him or he was going to be euthanized.

I decided it was time. I was going in the kennel with him, no matter what happened. The first day, I went in the kennel and just stood there and talked to him, not making eye contact at all. He was okay with that. He didn’t lunge at me, but did maintain that low growl letting me know to keep my distance.

The next day I brought pork rinds as a treat. He absolutely loved them. I went into his cage, stood there, and threw the treat to him, and the growling stopped.

I visited him every day, bringing all kinds of different treats to him, letting him know I was indeed his friend and he could trust me.

Time was running out, I only had a few days left. I decided I was going to sit with him in the cage and see if he would approach me for the treats. I will admit I was afraid. When I sat, his head was taller than I was. If he wanted to, he could have killed me before I could exit his enclosure. He didn’t; he came over and sniffed me, first my hair, then my shoes. I didn’t dare move or flinch a muscle. I guess he figured I was not a threat to him. He went back and sat in the corner, but this time, he wasn’t hunkering down or scared. I opened the bag of pork rinds, and invited him to join me. He slowly approached and I handed him one. He gently took it from my hand, went back, and sat.

I wanted to make physical contact with him, but I was afraid. I put a pork rind in the sleeve of my jacket and waited for him to approach. He did, and put his nose up my sleeve and took the treat. I put one on the other side of me where he would have to cross my legs to get to it. He did, no fear, no aggression.

This went on for a few days, and my fear of this huge beast was fading away. When I would approach his kennel, he was glad to see me, he knew I had treats just for him. I kept courting him until I was comfortable enough that I put a pork rind in my mouth and invited him to come get it. We did this several times, and then I called the director over and showed her how much progress he had made. Toby had saved himself, with just a little help from a few of us volunteers.

The director told me I could take him home and work with him if I wanted to. I had other dogs, so I didn’t trust Toby around them, so I put together a kennel outside. It was nice, filled with straw, a doghouse, and a heat lamp so he wouldn’t be cold. It took about four days to prepare for his arrival. He was sedated so we could transport him to my house. Once the sedative took effect, we loaded him onto a stretcher and took him to his new home.

When he woke up, he was a bit confused, but not scared, and I wasn’t scared of him. We had bonded and became good friends. He spent the first night in the outdoor kennel, and has been inside since.

He was slowly introduced to my pack, and then became the leader of the pack.

There are additional pictures of Toby in our gallery.