Some dogs stories tug at our heartstrings in ways we can't fully describe. After hearing about Thelma and Louise, we're guessing you'll feel the same way.
By now you know that we work with Saving Great Animals to help dogs who are having a hard time getting adopted, find their forever homes. This month comes the remarkable story of Thelma and Louise, two dogs that pretty much everyone had given up on living a 'normal' happy life. Except SGA.
The girls were found in a field in Wapato, WA - with 11 puppies between them. The Yakima rescue organization who found them were able to trap the puppies, and then eventually Thelma and Louise over the course of several days. The puppies were all adopted out in Yakima, but they couldn't handle the two girls. Why? When found, they were completely feral, and near catatonic.
The Yakima rescue transferred them to Tacoma Humane Society, where they stayed for a couple weeks. Again, the girls remained frozen in place, and no one could handle them. They were kept in separate kennels, would not interact with anyone and spent their days collapsed on the concrete floor.
Which is when a friend contacted Jacintha Sayed with SGA.
"It was clear that if no one intervened, these girls would not ever become adoptable and would likely be euthanized," she said.
Thelma and Louise were transferred yet again to the Wagly Campus in Bellevue, as they were in no condition to be able to be placed in a foster home. When we say that they were catatonic, that literally means they were frozen in place, not acknowledging anyone's presence - not eating, not going to the bathroom. They'd sit and face the wall, unmoving. The photos are heart-wrenching.
"Thelma would occasionally glance at me, but would tremble in fear at the sight of any person," said Sayed. "Louise would not even glance. She had her head pressed up against the wall all the time, making herself as small and invisible as possible."
In fact, any touching was a source of instant stress and fear for both dogs, and would lead to shaking, panting and trembling. Louise was so fearful that she wouldn't go to the bathroom, so after five days SGA had to anesthetize and catheterize her to empty out her bladder.
The rehabilitation process would be slow and arduous, but SGA got straight to work with a slow, patient and planned approach. The first step? Getting them used to the presence of people - something we take for granted with our dogs.
"We set up a roster for volunteers to visit three times a day, seven days a week," said Sayed. "The volunteers were instructed not to touch or to even look at the dogs. They would just sit in their enclosure and read to them, sing to them, or quietly hang out."
The point was the get Thelma and Louise to learned that humans were not to be feared. No one will really know what happened to them out in the wild by themselves, but based on their behavior - Sayed thinks their trauma stems from living as feral dogs, and then whatever interactions they did have with people were not positive or kind. That, on top with having their pups suddenly taken from them was a recipe for disaster.
After several days of just sitting in their enclosures, the volunteers started offering treats each time they visited so the girls would make positive associations with humans. And these weren't any treat - there were GREAT treats, like chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.
After about a month, the girls were happily eating treats right from the volunteer's hands - a HUGE step. But work was far from done.
"At that point we needed to start work on getting them to tolerate a collar and leash," said Sayed.
Once again, going to their amazing roster of volunteers, they began practicing. First it was just showing them a collar and leash, and then giving them treats. Just the site of a leash had Louise trembling at first. Once that fear was conquered, they'd touch them with the leash - then finally put it on them, and play with it without putting pressure on the leash.
"After a few weeks, the girls would allow us to put a collar and leash on them, but they were still very afraid to walk or move on the leash," said Sayed. "Thelma would panic at the tiniest pressure of the leash on her neck. I practiced with both girls in a larger room, and would entice them to follow me around, with the leashes dragging behind them."
Not long after Sayed was able to pick up the leash and take a few steps here and there.
"We practiced walking every day up and down the hallways at Wagly," she said. "Finally on June 8th, the girls took their first steps outside on a leash. At that point they had not seen the sun for three months since their capture. Now, both girls confidently wear a harness and are excited to go for walks with me!"
Since that first walk over a month ago, Sayed has been taking them out every day, venturing a little further each time. Louise originally wanted to bolt back into the building the moment she went outside, but is now happy to hang out in the grass for a while. In fact, the relationship they have especially with Sayed - their #1 fan, coach, and savior - is truly something special.
"They greet me with wiggles and wags when I arrive and give me kisses," she said. Remember, these dogs wouldn't even make eye contact with people several months ago.
This is huge, incredible progress - and while many things likes stairs, cars and certain noises are still scary for them, SGA is continuing to work on exposing them to the outside world.
"Both Thelma and Louise have really blossomed and are showing their sweet and funny personalities each day," said Sayed. Thelma is more outgoing and playful and she loves scratches and belly rubs. Louise is more calm and reserved, though loves giving kisses and getting attention.
Here's where you come in, wonderful readers.
If you're still reading, that probably means these girls' story has touched your heart. If you know of anyone who would be willing to adopt or even just foster these girls, share this post with them!
"We're hoping they find a home together, they are very bonded," said Sayed. "They cry for each other when they are separated. They do fight occasionally, which is not surprising since they are cooped up in a small space together all day long."
Sayed is sure that if they were in a home with a yard and more space, they would do so much better and would be able to blow off steam and would prevent these scuffles from happening. If absolutely necessary, SGA would consider separating them - but only if they were able to live with anther dog to keep them company.
The perfect forever home would need to be willing and able to help the girls learn how to be "normal" pets - a new experiences for them.
"They will likely need some help with potty training and general house manners," said Sayed. "They will need to get used to new people, other than myself and some of our volunteers who they have bonded with. Whomever fosters or adopts them will need to continue to help them learn about the world. Things like taking walks are still at times scary for them when they encounter something new."
A quiet setting outside the city, with a secured fenced yard might just do the trick. No cats please, and kids over 12 are best.
While SGA and Sayed have taken incredible care of these girls, it's time for them to leave boarding now, as they're beginning to show signs of kennel stress.
"They have a way to go clearly, as they have yet to be integrated into a real home," she said. "This is their next challenge."
But like every other challenge they've faced - we have a feeling they'll conquer this as well.