Evaluation Phase at the Hospital as written by Dr. May
By some small miracle, the dog was heartworm negative. I do not believe Fran has ever brought me an older adult dog from that area that has not been positive. Thank goodness for the thick beautiful Husky coat, and surely the finger of God as well there. She had a lot of hookworms, and was exhibiting the bloody loose stool to prove it now that she was well and truly stressed out after her capture. She was also basically refusing to eat, though she would still take the treats I had identified as her favorite with her meds in them.
She spent the next couple of days just watching everything and everyone, but she continued to improve physically each day. Everyone was instructed to simply leave the dog alone and not try to force any interaction, though they were welcome to place different food treats in her bowl periodically throughout the day, mainly so that she could have some pleasant minor interaction from her chosen distance and see that no one planned to force anything else on her for now. All too often people try and force themselves into these unsocialized dogs’ faces and tragedy ensues, so our response has always been to give them a few days and let them make the first moves toward us. Generally works like a charm, and prevents a great many dog bites from dogs that really would rather not bite if they were given a choice.
Our issues at this point were that she could not be kept at the clinic for very long. We do not have the space for one, and it is not an appropriate amount of space for this dog for an extended time either. She got along well with the dogs on either side of her, but mostly kept to the back of her run when any human approached her area.
The immediate objectives were to try and get her where she could be handled well enough that I could manage to anesthetize her again soon…she had been in heat only a week before, so she needed to be spayed as soon as I felt her bone infection from the darting episode was under control. Also I needed to decide what we were going to do with that broken lower canine. Lower canines can be devilish to remove, and in fact, the root is so large and sturdy that you can break the dog’s jaw trying to remove them. My concern was that the tooth had obviously already had some sort of fracture that was old in addition to the newer portion. An old fractured tooth often gets further cemented into the jaw bone after the injury and the body’s response to try and repair, and so making them even more difficult to extract properly. I called Dr. Sunny Ruth, a local board certified veterinary dentist to consult, and she very graciously agreed to come over and remove the dog’s canine when we had her out for her spay. Now we had a plan in place for all her health needs at least.
The next objective for this dog was that we needed to be able to transport her to her next place of residence, preferably without having to sedate her again. These two upcoming issues meant we had to try and see if we could work her into allowing contact perhaps a little quicker than would be ideal ordinarily. She at this point would not really tolerate being touched, and was reluctant to do more than flatten herself at the back of the run if anyone came even remotely near. This was truly a basically feral dog. Not just an idle stray from someone’s backyard. She was not socialized to touch in the slightest, and in fact most of her habituation had obviously been of the wrong kind making her very wary of being approached, most especially in a confined area where she could not easily get away.
One of the young women that works as an animal caretaker, Dee, was able to start forging a small bond with her. She had taken the time to sit quietly in the front of the cage and see if she could encourage her to eat trying some different canned foods. She was successful, and the Husky seemed to accept her pretty well. She was still suspicious of any of the men, and of course I was given an extremely suspicious eye any time I came around. I limited my contact to just appearing with the awesome medicated treats from time to time. We were able to get her dewormed and she continued to improve each day regarding her shoulder. Within 3 days, she started sitting and laying at the front of the cage so she could watch everything and I do mean everything that went on during the day. No doubt plotting every possible escape route to test should she ever get the chance.
Fran came up in the evenings after work so that the Husky could still have contact with someone that she knew and trusted. She also came up for the initial meeting with Nelson Hodges. He evaluated her and found her to be a workable dog, but obviously it would require a significant expenditure of time and effort. We had our work cut out for us. Among his initial assessments were that she was very skilled at relaying all the body language necessary to indicate she did not want to be touched, and that she used that as control point at times. Meaning basically that she was happy enough to display as if she was about to bite, but he felt very unlikely that she would follow through with her threat. Very effective set of tools for using on all of us at the vet clinic, since we are well trained by experience and hyper alert to the signals, even the subtle ones.
Mr. Hodges outlined a basic plan we could follow to start habituating her to being handled and working toward being able to leash her calmly. He worked with me specifically on a basic plan of action that I could likely accomplish within a week to allow for safely anesthetizing the dog with minimal distress on her part. Fran and I spent the next few days that we had off very slowly working with the dog and getting adjusted to a leash and having a leash slipped over her head, as well as getting her adjusted to me being close to her and touching her as well.
In the end, Dee and Fran were reliably able to get the leash slipped over her head. The leash we made ourselves so it could not be easily snapped in two, but was an easy slip leash that did not hang up. We had to be prepared to be able to get it easily off of a dog that may have decided no one was going to touch her again any time soon. And it needed to be sturdy enough to potentially hold a thrashing 80 pound dog. Once again, ingenuity and duct tape were our friends.
The day of the planned surgery rolled around slowly. Fran came in and got the leash on the dog. Then we passed the leash through the run fencing to Sal who stood in the run to the left of the Husky but did not put any more pressure on the leash than necessary. He held it as loosely as he could and still be prepared to pull tight to control her head if she decided to bite. Fran stayed in the run with her but withdrew to the front for the actual needle stick moment. I came into the run on the dog’s right hand side. She laid down at the very back of the run, facing Sal, with her rump conveniently up against the rear run gate. I simply reached around and injected the small amount of medication needed into her muscle. She gave me a look and stood up, but I just turned around and left without saying a word or making a big deal of it in any way. .
So in short order she was sound asleep, and we had accomplished it without upsetting her or getting anyone injured in the slightest.
We immediately called Dr. Ruth, the veterinary dentist, and told her we had a green light on the dog’s anesthesia, and once she was completely asleep we moved her into surgery. We prepped her for the spay and the dental procedure, and by the time we were done, Dr. Ruth had arrived. She made quick work of extracting that massive canine, and additionally found that the dog had broken remnants of lower incisors on the same side. She removed them all and sewed up the gum. The husky was going to have a pain free mouth now, and Dr. Ruth did it all in 30 minutes. It would have taken me at least 2 hours and a great deal of cursing. Her skill and patience were very impressive.
We spayed her, vaccinated her, microchipped her, and fitted her with a martingale collar. The martingale collar would hopefully allow for an easier time of working toward walking her on a leash without having to move a leash over her head each and every time (which was time consuming on a non-trusting dog that does not wish to be touched). Now at this point, we still could not walk her, or even move her from her run to clean it. She also had refused to defecate in the run so far, with the only bowel movement she had produced being a large one that she gifted us with when we had her anesthetized for the surgery. We needed to be able to get this dog in and out of the run soon.
Over the week, Dee continued to work with her a lot with the result being that she could be reliably leashed and moved from the run long enough to clean it, and then she would willingly go back in. Mr Hodges came later in the week and he worked with the Husky and Fran on venturing away from the run on a leash.
Building on his concepts, Fran and I worked with her the entire weekend following and were able to get her to begin walking around the kennel and exploring it while leashed without any bucking, jumping or any of the infamous ‘alligator death rolls’.
She would balk now and then and give a solid pull, but she would quickly settle and we would move on. The next week we got her out of the run several times a day and allowed her to move mostly where she wished while leashed. She waited every day for her outside time to produce a bowel movement. Between the hookworm infestation and the stress she kept a slightly loose bloody stool, so we began medication to clear up that inflammation.
The next weekend we worked on walking her out of the kennel into the main building. Being brought into an entirely new area meant she was understandably cautious, and so we went very slowly and again let her choose where she wanted to explore mostly. Every time working on urging her to follow us when we asked. She caught on really quickly.
Within about 2 days she could be reliably walked into any room we asked her to go into in the building without balking. We continued the practice with this during the week when the clinic was open (but when clients were not in) so that she could have the added exposure to walking calmly past new and different people in the employees.
From there the progression was rather quick, however, the dog’s level of boredom and dissatisfaction with being so closely confined was getting worse and worse. Her attempts to break out of the run grew obviously more bold every evening. At one point she managed to snap a solid ¼ inch stainless plate in two with her mouth. Now it was time to work toward moving her into the next hurdle which would be loading into a car.
The first part of that was venturing outside with her, and getting her to walk reliably out doors with us. She did admirably well with that also. We prepared for the worst, expecting her to make a more concerted effort to escape the leash and our hold of her while out doors. So we rigged up an army utility belt with a carabiner that we could tie off one leash to, and used a second leash as the hand leash. Mr. Hodges had recommended the belt after pointing out that if she did truly make a break for it, then the belt would offer a firmer more centered hold of her if necessary.
Outside turned out to be a new and more frightening place when leashed, so we took it slow and easy. She could not stand for anyone to walk behind her, but would cooperate well enough if anyone accompanying was beside her or in front of her. She would balk slightly at going back inside, but she did not put a lot of effort into the refusal and would come along with us shortly.
We walked her outside for short walks twice daily over the next week.
Mr Hodges arranged to come one evening in the week to work with her regarding getting in a car. Now the pressure was on. Where would we be taking her when she left from the clinic? We had two good offers, but this dog was really going to require a great deal of time commitment from anyone that took her on, or we would end up with a frightened ill socialized animal that would never be a good candidate for a new home. Fran certainly has the patience for it, and was willing, but we already knew her backyard was not at all escape proof. Could we get it Husky proof? Those dogs are known escape artists, and this one especially so. Every time she walked into a new room, you could see her literally look at everything in it, every wall, every door, every light plate, every corner high and low, always establishing the quickest way out initially. Ultimately we decided to try and see if we could escape proof the yard and let Fran continue working with the dog.
Nelson came out one evening and within a two hour time frame, he had the dog walking readily alongside him and even had her load into two different cars, Fran and his own. So we could transport her without anesthetizing her, we just needed to have an escape proof place to keep her. For the next two weeks we kept working with her walking with different people and meeting different people while at the clinic. And trying to keep that brilliant thinking mind occupied.
Tasha was just fascinating to watch and work with. I have always had a fondness for really cognitive dogs, Australian Shepherds tend to be my favorite. It was ever so evident while working with her that the reason this dog had lived so long and so successfully on her own was because she was such an extremely intelligent, thinking animal. My favorite recollection was one weekend Fran could not come up and I needed to go and take her for her walk outside myself. She was reluctant still to let me have a free hand touching her, and unfortunately I had some mild time constraints to my afternoon. It became quickly apparent that she was not going to let me touch her collar anytime soon. I decided that I would approach the entire situation differently and see if I could move it along by banking on her ability to work out a situation to her advantage.
I made one last effort to touch her collar. She warned me against that. I stood up and walked out of the run, and closed the door. I then promptly went to the run next to her and leashed a big happy lab, and walked him right past the front of her cage and outside with me to have a walk. He was thrilled. She watched me every step of the way out and back in with him. Now I had established that I (like me employees she saw every day) could walk a dog outside too. I walked back in with her and sat down, and reached for her collar once more. She warned me away, but not quite as solidly. I stood up left her in the run again and promptly went and got another dog and walked them past her and outside the runs. When I came back in and settled the other dog, I then went back to her run and sat down once more. This time when I reached for her collar, she accepted it perfectly, and I clipped the leash on her and she and I went for along walk outside just fine.
Very interesting dog. Every day almost with her was a learning experience. I have known a number of people over time that likely do not have the thinking ability that this one dog has at her disposal