Sometimes you just do what you have to do to save a dog’s life, no matter how much time, money, and effort it takes. That’s because every dog deserves a second chance. And fortunately, there are people out there willing to pull out all the stops to help animals in need. Such was the case for Alex, a traumatized Korean Jindo mix who was afforded a second – and a third – chance at life, thanks to a heroic savior and an amazing rescue organization that refused to give up on him.
When Craig Petronella first met Alex, he was a scared, dirty, skinny little puppy confined to a filthy crate and living with his second abusive owner at only eight weeks old. As a U.S. Service member stationed in South Korea, Petronella would regularly pass by little Alex and was moved by the sickly pup’s pathetic situation. When he found out that the owner no longer wanted Alex and was ready to abandon him to the streets, Petronella knew he had to help.
In South Korea, stray dogs often fall prey to greedy dog meat traders, so the pup was pretty much doomed if someone didn’t intervene. After convincing Alex’s owner to let him adopt the frightened little dog, Petronella brought him home to Virginia to start a new life with his family. As experienced dog owners, the Petronellas assumed that with a little love and patience, Alex would soon forget his abusive past and begin to enjoy life as their beloved companion.
But sometimes love isn’t enough when it comes to successfully rehabilitating an abused dog. Due to his early trauma, the young Jindo mix suffered from deep-seated fear issues that began to worsen as he grew. When confronted with anything that frightened him, including fast movements, loud noises, or strange people, Alex would “shut down,” trembling uncontrollably, pressing his eyes tightly shut, and cowering against the ground, paralyzed in fear. If he couldn’t hide, became aggressive.
While the family loved Alex and tried their best to train and work with the dog’s issues, they finally realized the problems were way beyond their scope. With no one willing to adopt the eight-month-old pup, the family feared they would have no other choice but to euthanize him. But not willing to give up on Alex until they had exhausted every last option, the Petronellas reached out to an organization they hoped would be Alex’s saving grace.
Enter Treasured k9s, a nonprofit that specializes in rescuing and rehabilitating Korean Jindo dogs throughout the east coast region. Since its founding in 2008, the rescue has saved, rehabilitated, and rehomed approximately 70 Jindos, many with behavioral challenges that most rescues would shy away from and that would cause many shelters to euthanize the dogs.
As a rare, primitive breed originating from Jindo Island, the Jindo is a magnificent, highly instinctual dog originally bred for hunting and protection. While they are revered as Korea’s national treasure and considered status symbols throughout Korean-American communities, they are not the best dogs for everyone. In fact, indiscriminate and irresponsible breeding combined with inexperienced dog ownership has resulted in more and more Jindos dying in U.S. shelters every year, explains Kristen Edmonds, founder and president of Treasured k9s.
“They’re very aloof, not typically warm to strangers, very dominant, and their instincts are very high, so they’re not your typical happy-go-lucky dog,” says Edmonds. “You really have to be a strong, confident leader with them. They’re very active, so they need a lot of exercise, and they’re a very healthy, long-lived breed, so you could easily end up with one for 18 to 20 years. But you really have to be the right personality for this kind of dog, and if you are, you’ll never have another type of dog because they’re the most intelligent, loyal, intuitive dogs you’ve ever had in your life.”
Due to their naturally protective personalities, Jindos typically don’t do well in shelter environments, becoming highly fear aggressive and thus, unadoptable, says Edmonds.
But Edmonds wasn’t going to let Alex end up in that situation. Figuring he was at a prime age to overcome his issues, she agreed to take him and brought him to New York-based dog behaviorist Jeff Kolbjornsen, who estimated Alex would need a couple of months of training and rehabilitation to help build his confidence and learn to trust people. But once Alex was evaluated, it became obvious that this process was not only going to take more time, but also be more challenging than expected.
“When Alex first arrived at our center, he was extremely fearful of me, had no training skills at all, and had a huge fear of the leash and collar that he was required to wear for training,” says Kolbjornsen. “The degree to which Alex bucked, screamed, and tried to get away by trying to bite was one of the more severe fear-induced demonstrations that I have seen.”
Plus, the trauma of being separated from his family wasn’t helping Alex’s disposition, explains Edmonds.
“A lot of times, that’s the wild card in removing a dog from a situation they know and putting them into something new — you completely upset their entire sense of security,” says Edmonds. “All of a sudden Alex was in a strange place with this strange man — he was very sensitive to men to begin with — and all these new people. It was a whole new world for him.”
As a result, Alex’s rehabilitation took six months of daily socialization and rehabilitation, costing Treasured k9s more than $20,000. But it was worth every penny, Edmonds says, once she saw Alex playing with other dogs, being more at ease with new people, obeying commands, and understanding his role and hierarchy in relationships with humans.
“His obedience skills are spot on, and he listens,” says Edmonds. “The good thing about Alex is he’s very interested in positive reinforcement and reward, which makes it a lot easier to work with him. We’ve come across many Jindos who have absolutely no interest in pleasing you, or in treats or toys, so when you can’t use positive reinforcement, it can be more difficult to work with them.”
With his formal training completed, Alex was placed in his first foster home last February, where he adapted quickly. But when the family’s Jindo began displaying aggression toward Alex, Edmonds moved the young dog to a second foster home, where he has been thriving ever since. Now over a year old, Alex is simply waiting for the perfect home, one capable of providing him with structure, rules, and boundaries.
“He’s really come around a lot faster than we expected because he’s been moved twice now and he hasn’t had any setbacks — it’s all been positive, and it’s actually helped him,” says Edmonds. “He’s happy, sweet, very loving, he’ll get up on the sofa and cuddle, and he loves to play. He’s gorgeous, a little bigger than your typical Jindo at about 50 lbs, and a little longer and taller. We think he’s a Jindo mix because he’s got a softer personality than the typical Jindo — they’re more cat-like in that they like their affection and then they’re done.”
While Alex still reacts fearfully to loud noises, he is no longer fear reactive. Still, whoever adopts the sweet boy will have to understand that working through his fear triggers will probably be a lifelong process, Edmonds advises.
“My goal is to place Alex with an owner who is calm, observant, and firm,” says Edmonds. “Alex requires patience, not dominance. He would excel in a home with another medium to large-sized, active, and confident dog, someone to keep him in check and help him gain confidence by example. Because he’s not full Jindo, he is a little too happy-go-lucky for a purebred Jindo. These dogs have a very strong attitude of ‘we must follow the dog pack rules, don’t be too happy,’ so all the other Jindos he’s been around have been getting mad at him.”
Alex would probably do best in a home with without cats or children, although older, calm, and dog-savvy kids in an experienced home could be a possibility, says Edmonds. In addition, his new family will need to live in the New York Tri-State area, as this will allow Treasured k9s, along with Kolbjornsen, to act as an ongoing support system if needed.
Meanwhile, Alex’s foster mom has been doing a commendable job continuing his training and building his social skills, including challenging him to overcome some smaller fear issues.
“He loves to run and chase,” she says. “If you aren’t paying attention to him, he’ll come over and sit in front of you until you play with him. He can get wound up while playing outside, but once inside he settles down nicely. He does have a ‘personal space bubble’ in that he seems to be fearful of anything that gets too close to him uninvited, which makes sense since he’s still building trust.”
Ultimately, Alex deserves a patient, loving, forever guardian who is willing to help the overgrown pup become the wonderful dog he is destined to be. The once-mistreated Jindo mix is living proof that even the most difficult rehabilitation cases deserve a second (and a third) chance.
“In the right home Alex is only going to continue to thrive and blossom, and once he really settles in he’s going to be a sweet, great, fun dog,” says Edmonds. “He’s just a big, goofy puppy — that little puppy that never got to be.”
If you live in the New York Tri-state area and think Alex might be just the pup for you, please visit the Treasured k9s website and fill out an application.
Treasured k9s is in great need of donations to help with Alex’s remaining $10,000 training bill. If you’d like to help this wonderful organization continue saving and rehabilitating more Jindo and Jindo mix dogs like Alex, please visit its donation page. You can also learn more about them on Facebook.
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