The person who saved Sadie’s life just a few short months ago probably wouldn’t recognize the dog if they passed her on the street today. Found wandering in a Houston, Texas, bayou back in February and brought to BARC Animal Shelter, the 2 year old looked more like a bag of bones than a Basenji–Bull Terrier mix. When the folks from Animal Justice League spotted Sadie’s picture online, they were quick to pull her from the shelter and get some food in her belly.
“I think everybody was pretty shocked that she didn’t have any major health issues except for obviously being extremely underweight, and she did have a slight case of mange,” explains Jennifer Graves, president of Animal Justice League.
Graves says that aside from good quality food and a course of antibiotics, what Sadie really needed was love. Placed in foster care immediately, Sadie began to fill out her frame.
“I don’t think any of us have ever seen a dog gain weight as quickly as Sadie did,” Graves tells Dogster. “It was pretty incredible to see her just pack on the pounds.”
Within weeks after being pulled from BARC, Sadie was already looking like a different dog. She was doing much better physically, but behaviorally, she had a long way to go.
“She’s not aggressive by any means at all, she’s just impulsive. She’s never had anybody — an owner or otherwise — or even other dogs to learn social rules from,” says Graves, who recognized that Sadie’s first foster home wasn’t equipped to deal with her special issues.
“With a dog who looks like Sadie did and has been through what Sadie’s been through, all you want to do is coddle them and never tell them no,” Graves explains. “But an impulsive dog like Sadie will take advantage.”
Wanting to address Sadie’s impulsivity before placing the dog in a new foster home, Graves reached out to Matt Bryant, also known as The Texas Dogfather.
“She was very willing to love people, but slow to trust them,” Bryant explains. He put Sadie in a full-immersion training program, using behaviorally sound model dogs to set behavioral examples for the rescue pup.
“She needed to learn to control her impulses in favor of following her owner, and all of that is very different than her survival skills on the street,” he says.
Bryant built a rapport and trust with Sadie, and then worked on obedience with the goal of having the dog maintain her self-control even in the face of distractions. It was clear that Sadie’s biggest challenge was trusting people, but Bryant knew that if he could get her to trust in her handler, Sadie would have a whole new toolkit for life.
“She doesn’t have to know how to work through every situation that comes at her, she just has to trust the person that’s guiding her and be willing to follow them,” Bryant explains.
When the time came for Sadie to leave Bryant’s side and head back into foster care, the prospective foster parents came out to Bryant’s place for an introduction and later a demonstration of Sadie’s social skills. The slow and steady process allowed Sadie’s new caregivers to learn from Bryant, and also helped Sadie understand that these new people were stepping into the handler role.
“How she perceives the person holding that leash has everything to do with the behavior that makes sense to her at that time,” Bryant explains, adding that a dog’s current life and current level of parenting is much more important than any trauma they may have suffered in the past.
“What was a fearful, overactive, unconfident, abused or neglected dog can grow a whole new set of behaviors and shed all of that trauma.”
Sadie has been growing her new behaviors in her new foster home for over a month now, but she’s still looking for her forever family. Graves says she’s looking for an adopter who is prepared continue training, and will be constant to avoid any behavioral regression.
“She needs an adopter who can always provide that structure for her,” says Graves, who is very proud of the progress Sadie made with the Texas Dogfather. According to Graves, the dog who didn’t know how to trust people is now ready, willing and able to build bonds with humans.
“She really is a very, very sweet dog.”