Marty paints an imposing picture: He only weighs 40 pounds, but the solid musculature and broad features hint at his Pit Bull heritage. These days, Marty is anything but imposing. He naps with my toddler daughter, tolerates the playfulness of newborn foster kittens and loves nothing in the world more than a good belly rub. But Marty wasn’t always the picture of Zen that he is today. Like so many dogs in the world, Marty is a survivor of horrific abuse and neglect.
I first met this remarkable dog when he was a one-month-old puppy. A couple I was about to start rooming with adopted him from a friend who had neglected to have her two adult dogs neutered. The very first time I met Marty, he was locked outdoors in a cat kennel because he’d been given dewormer medication and his new owners didn’t want him pooping inside the house. His heartbreaking cries echoed through the apartment complex all night. He was scared, cold, and alone. This solitary instance of bad judgement was a foreshadowing of the horrific treatment he would endure in the first year of his life.
Being roommates with his owners, I was privy to his care routine. He was never taken outside to do his business, but also punished with beatings for having accidents indoors. He was fed only a fourth of his daily caloric needs because they wanted him to “stay tiny” forever. He never saw a vet, even when their other dog bit his eye and the wound became infected — an injury that left him with permanent vision loss in that eye.
With the neglect came outright abuse: I witnessed one instance where he got underfoot and was thrown down a flight of stairs as retribution. He was regularly slammed against walls and kicked in his ribs. They shot at him with pellet guns because they thought his fearful reaction was funny. They fostered aggression against passersby and other animals to encourage him to “be a good guard dog.” And he complied — no doubt out of fear for his own life and as an outlet for his pent-up frustration.
I only lived with Marty and his family for a month, and when I left I seriously considered taking him with me. But I didn’t have any legal recourse and the wheels of animal welfare law enforcement turn much too slowly. I could only wait for my chance to rescue Marty from his hellish environment. And it wasn’t long before I got my opportunity. Marty’s owners were moving and didn’t want to take him with them. He was “too big” and too “mean” for their new apartment complex. I jumped at the chance to take him into my home with the goal of rehabilitating him, getting him some vet care, and finding him a home where he would be loved and cared for the way he deserved.
It wasn’t that easy. By the time I got Marty, he’d grown from an angry puppy into an aggressive adult. He was so underweight you could count each one of his ribs from across the room. The vet I took him to see advised I put him down — he was too mean to rehabilitate. The trainer I consulted concurred — he was beyond saving. I’m ashamed to admit that I was afraid to keep Marty in my own home at first; he bit me a number of times in that first week. I was afraid to leave him alone long enough to get a few hours of sleep, fearful that he’d attack my other dog, Sprocket, and the cats in our home. But I didn’t give up and kept working with him a little bit more every day. His weight improved, his eye healed, and his behavior slowly became less reactionary and fearful.
I took up the task of training him myself using a combination of methods traditionally used for horses and techniques borrowed from the Behavior Adjustment Technique (BAT) method of training. Every day he made a little more progress. I got him to stop lunging at strangers and to stop fighting my other dog, Sprocket, for food. When he could walk on a leash without losing his mind, I started socializing him with other people and other dogs.
It took a solid year of work before Marty was calm and content enough to take the Canine Good Citizenship Test. He passed with flying colors. The professionals I’d consulted told me he was beyond redemption. Together, we proved them wrong, and passing that test gave me tangible proof of that. And the goal of rehabilitating and rehoming Marty? It went right out the window when I realized how attached he’d gotten to my husband (and vice versa, although my husband will tell you otherwise!).
Marty still has some lingering issues. I’m not sure they’ll ever be resolved. He’s still wary around strangers and he still doesn’t like anyone new entering his home. But he no longer attacks strangers and he calms down within five minutes of someone he doesn’t know coming into the house. Considering all he’s had to work through and how far he has come, I’ll take those personality quirks with gratitude. He’s living proof that you can be beaten but not broken.
About Caitlin Seida: Owned by three cats and two dogs, she never met an animal she didn’t like. A Jill-of-All-Trades, she splits her workday as a writer, humane society advocate and on-call vet tech. What little free time she has goes into pinup modeling, advocating for self-acceptance, knitting and trying to maintain her haunted house (really!).
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