Badger Casil, aka Mr. Stinki, Pony, Onie, and several other nicknames, is a rescue dog. We’ve had him since 2001 and he was about two years old when we got him, so he is officially a “senior dog”. He shows few signs of slowing down. He is an off-breed standard Jack Russell Terrier – he is about half an inch too tall, and entirely too rangy for the general overall breed.
That is Badger wrestling with his current object of love – or playing “Kill the Monkey!” See, he has his tags, his shots, and you can’t see from the picture, but he is microchipped. If he is ever lost (highly unlikely as he is my constant companion and kept secure at all times), any veterinarian or shelter can instantly see who he is, and who his owners are (i.e. – me and Meredith).
The provenance of rescue dogs is often complex, but I was able to get a lot of information about Badger, because he came from the BARC Animal Rescue in Redlands, a very well-organized, well-operated group. BARC stands for “Benevolent Animal Rescue Committee” and it’s a national organization that has local chapters. There is also another BARC in San Bernardino County – they are all over. As animal advocates become ever-more sophisticated and organized, and education continues, some of the values of animal rescues are sure to become better-adopted throughout America.
Badger’s story could be the perfect rescue dog story. In fact, there are a series of children’s books (cough cough) – okay, I’ve written two Rescue Dog stories. And when I say “perfect,” let’s just say that the day Badger ran out of our front door and harried the poor man riding his bicycle around the cul-de-sac where we lived until he became so rattled that his bike went out of control and he tumbled over the handlebars into our neighbor’s ivy – well, that day wasn’t complete until, after I ran over and restrained Badger, only to look at the poor guy’s dirt-smudged face and recognize my daughter’s Vice Principal. Yes, that was a special day, indeed. Another special day was the one where, responding to non-pet person Mike’s concern about Badger being in the house, I purchased a steel spiral yard stake that said it would accommodate dogs of up to 100 pounds.
I tied Badger to this monstrous yard stake that I couldn’t even begin to budge, after “screwing it” into the back yard and attaching the strongest possible cable. I then went off to teach. Upon returning home at 1 p.m., our neighbor Matt came over and informed me that approximately half an hour after I’d left, Badger had pulled up the stake and jumped the 7 foot fence between my yard and his, and – though he’d easily made the leap himself, the giant yard stake he’d apparently pulled up like Wart pulling the sword out of the stone, hadn’t made it over to the other side. Matt found Badger hanging from the fence slowly asphyxiating, rescued him, and returned him to our garage. Stinking Dirt Dog was cringing in the garage, knowing he was in big trouble. But all I cared about was that he was okay, and that thank heavens, Matt had been off work that day and was home to save him.
One day, sitting on the couch grading, I saw a flash of movement in the kitchen. Badger was lying at my feet, and he was up instantly. He leaped into the kitchen and within a second or two, had something fat, brown and furry in his mouth. Two shakes and it was done, and he trotted back into my lovely, clean living room and deposited fat Mr. Ratty at my feet – utterly dead. Yes, a rat had gotten into the house, and yes, he was running back and forth in the kitchen and had grown so bold, he was traveling around in broad daylight. All it took was a quarter-inch gap in the door from the garage to the family room for that devil to squeeze into the house. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Ratty had taken up residence behind the dishwasher, and had gnawed through the plastic hoses after he got tired of stealing Badger’s food and random tiny toys and coins and secreting them behind the dishwasher housing (another quarter-inch gap).
Getting Mr. Ratty was pure instinct, and it’s exactly what Badger and similar terriers were bred for. Getting Badger to stop harrying school Vice Principals, chasing small children and terrorizing them, barking aggressively at dogs five times his size, and getting him to stop pulling me on his leash because “he was the boss” took another two or three years, and $1,500 worth of training.
This is a long, discursive way of saying – everything I know about rescue pets, I learned the hard way, by making the mistakes just about everyone except an experienced pet breeder, trainer or rescue volunteer would.
Don’t get me wrong – I believe in rescuing animals. I am not so attached to any breed of dog or cat that I would choose to purchase a pedigreed animal from a reputable breeder. If and when I am able to care for a cat or dog in addition to Badger (we rescued two Chihuahuas – and the unwanted Chihuahua problem in California is absolutely overwhelming), I will always rescue a neutered or spayed pet from a shelter or rescue organization.
The Humane Society is the most reputable organization documenting the problem of unwanted pets in the United States. The statistics are sobering. Every year, an estimated 6-8 million unwanted pets enter one of the 4,000 to 6,000 animal shelters in the United States. Once there, the animals have a 50-50 chance of being adopted. This statistic is much higher today than it was in previous decades. The 50% who are not adopted, are eventually euthanized. While nearly all shelters practice humane euthanasia policies (only euthanizing animals who are gravely ill, or who for other reasons – i.e. dangerous temperament – cannot be adopted), and there are a growing number of “no kill” shelters, many animals are still “put down” because they are simply the wrong type of animal, or wrong “age” – i.e. – a “senior” pet like Badger.
The fact that progress has already been made shows that progress in this regard can continue. The attitude of the Michael Vicks and Glyn Johnsons of the world is no longer overlooked, disregarded or even praised. These violent men have, in Vick’s case, already been prosecuted for their brutality toward animals, and despite his lawsuit against Karley’s family, it looks like former firefighter Glyn Johnson will also be prosecuted for fatally beating 6-month old German Shepherd mix Karley to death in “trying to return her” to his neighbor’s home. I’m really glad that my neighbor Matt was a kind, decent man who rescued Badger when he jumped the fence that day, not someone like Glyn Johnson. Matt said Badger was initially afraid of him, and as an untrained rescue dog – he might have tried to snap at the man who was trying to help him.
Point being – rescuing an animal isn’t as easy as it sounds. A “rescue dog” (or cat) has special needs and considerations that a puppy straight from a reputable breeder, who has been pre-socialized and is ready to go straight to a human home, will not have. In my case, Badger was highly aggressive and overprotective of “his space” and “his people”. He had no training of any type, and was only partially housebroken. Every single behavior problem a dog could have — Badger’s had them, consecutively. We’d overcome one problem (harrying Vice Principals on bicycles) only to encounter the next problem (unrequieted escapism and fence-jumping). Badger is also much smarter than many other dogs – he has an almost “human” level of intelligence and is very much like the classic Jack Russell terrier featured in My Dog Skip. He shares the great qualities of his breed: he is totally loyal, totally loving and will follow “mama” anywhere and everywhere.
Before I adopted Badger, I was familiar with the basic characteristics of Jack Russell terriers. I knew he needed a big yard, plenty of space and opportunity to run and exercise, and I knew he’d be extremely active and require plenty of attention in general. I also knew that my daughter was old enough and mature enough at age 8 that Badger wouldn’t want to chase after her. Jack Russells were bred to harry, corner, and bring down small, quick-moving prey – like Mr. Ratty. The quick movements and small size of young children means that these dogs are never a good choice for households with small children. And, true enough, Badger was just fine with Meredith and the other friends in her age group from school and the neighborhood. The five-year old girl from down the street who’d scream and run when Badger approached, thus inviting chasing and harrying? Not so much.
Badger is a lifelong pet, companion and member of the family. I also call him “the baby” and he is “the baby”. Mr. Hammy, in contrast, is a very nice little hamster, but he isn’t Badger. All that training did pay off. Badger is never going to chase any small child again, he will not bite a human, and he is well under control when around other dogs. Would he chase the Vice Principal? Well — I’m not going to give him that chance. After seeing a beautifully-trained, enormous Rottweiler (150 lbs? My size or larger), I decided I wanted to train Badger some more, so we’ve been working on “shake hands” and roll over.
The Humane Society has an excellent resource for people to review before they take the step of adopting a pet into their home. One of the most key factors is time. If you do not have a lot of time, the Humane Society says that cats may be a better choice than dogs, because they do not require as much social time as dogs do – they are perfectly happy left to their own devices and do not act out. Dogs do have a lot in common with human toddlers and preschoolers. They will fuss, sulk, steal “cookies” and all the other behaviors we know of that a human child will do in order to get attention. Dog feelings are right there at the surface, and they’ll show you exactly what they need and want — if you take the time to understand them and spend time with them. This is not to say that cats do not have feelings too — they do. They are simply more independent in their personalities than most dogs. The Human Society even has some testing tips for seeing what a dog’s temperament is in the shelter environment. Keep in mind your whole family’s nature and needs, as well as other pets, when you make the decision to adopt.
Which brings me to Badger’s provenance. As I said, I knew some things when I took him home that first day (when he made himself instantly at home – the first thing he did was patrol and check out every room in the house, then he played with each of his toys in order as I opened them, then he ate his food and drank his water, and then he went immediately to his “throne” on the couch and reclined there – a position that he has maintained ever since that day eight years ago when he came home with us). Oh – and yes, part of his training was that he didn’t “own” all of the household furniture. He sits on his “throne” now because he is allowed with limitations.
Badger came not from a reputable breeder, but from a puppy mill. His aggression derived from his frightening, brutal early days. He hadn’t been socialized as good breeders do. He had been ignored. He wasn’t the runt of the litter, he was probably the largest puppy, and he was rapidly growing beyond the size where he’d be an attractive Jack Russell puppy easy to sell. Then his tail had been docked. As his aggression grew, I believe he was neutered early to stop it. It just redirected it – he’s as aggressive and dominating a guy as ever. Un-neutered, I am sure Badger, unsupervised, would have fathered hundreds of puppies by now. But that wasn’t to be. Mr. Badger’s temperament that makes me love him so much, made the puppy mill people dump him on an uncaring owner, who, unable to handle a wild, out-of-control Jack with near-human intelligence, dumped him at the animal shelter in Hemet, CA. Badger remained there for about 3 months and was within one day of being euthanized when he was taken by the animal rescue. He remained with them for three months, when an older lady who lived in a trailer took him home. After three days, Badger having shredded every soft item in her trailer, she brought him back to the animal rescue, where he remained another three months, until I took him home.
So, it is truly a wonder that the worst Badger did were these incidents described above – and bit Meredith’s nose in an altercation over a huge stack of beef rib bones. To socialize Badger and make him the great dog he is today, in our case, did cost $1,500 worth of training and countless hours spent lovingly teaching him what he could, and could not do. Is that something every adoptive pet owner is prepared to do? Well, there are easier projects to take on than unsocialized, abused, high-IQ, totally stubborn Jack Russell terriers.
This is what it really is. These animals are living creatures with minds of their own, with feelings, and they can have behavior problems that are both breed-specific and inborn (chasing small children) and products of their environment. And with rescue dogs, there is no real way to know what that environment has been. Some food for thought – and part of the overall process that we need to consider as we move toward being truly humane toward the pets and other animals with whom we share our world.