Amelia – Case Study

amelia1.jpgAmelia is a Sharpei that came to Pets Alive about 7 months ago.  She came from the south and had been a stray living in a junk yard.  She gave birth to a litter of puppies and all of them, except for one, were killed by workers at the junk yard, or by a roaming pack of stray dogs.  Amelia was determined to protect her last puppy with her life if necessary.  When a kind neighbor saw the dog, half starved to death (because she would not leave her pup to forage for food) and fiercely aggressive at anyone who came near, she took pity and called the local shelter.  This shelter sent out an ACO and they darted Amelia in order to sedate her and capture her.

The shelter was a high kill shelter though and dogs like Amelia stand zero chance of survival, as 95% of all the animals that walk through their doors are euthanized.  Pets Alive took tremendous pity on Amelia and all she had been through and we decided to take her here.

She and her puppy were transported with 25 other dogs from this shelter to our sanctuary.   Upon arriving we noted that her remaining pup was extremely ill and were forced to take him from her to provide him with medical treatment.  When he recovered enough we put him in a run directly across from her so that she could see that he was well.  Her pup was quickly adopted and Amelia decided that humans were definitely not to ever be trusted.

She was here for months and our staff and volunteers worked all the time trying to befriend her, get them to trust her and be able to be loved and one day placed in a home, but Amelia had lost her ability or desire to trust anyone.  The problem was compounded by the fact that she had tested positive for heartworm and so needed some intense medical treatment. So we had to take this mistrusting dog and now subject her to medical procedures that were both uncomfortable and made her feel very ill,  and forced her to be handled intensely.

Amelia did recover completely but her determination not to have anything to do with us was exacerbated.  We could go in and sit with her but she would walk away to the farthest point of her run.  We could not leash her or walk her.  She would accept treats and we consulted with Best Friends trainer, Pat Whitacre.  He advised us to start hand feeding her only by hand.

So that is what we did.

amelia4.jpgEvery day a staffer would feed her out of our hands to help her to learn that with humans came food and good things.  But while she would accept  the food and eat it gently she would not allow us to touch her – at all. We could not pet her or leash her.  She started becoming increasingly aggressive at the fence and threatening to attack other dogs and people walking by.  We were at wits end.  We called multiple times to talk to Pat and he gave us many suggestions.  We tried them all but either they were not right for her, or we did things incorrectly because we continued to make no progress with Amelia.

We were all really sad for her.  Here was an absolutely beautiful dog that had gone through such terror and horror in her short life that she may be stuck at Pets Alive and become one of our “lifers”.  None of us wanted that.  We had two local trainers come and try to work with her, we had an animal communicator work with her and we had specific staff and volunteers assigned to her….but no progress. She was resolutely unwilling to trust us.

We asked Pat, if we could afford to fly him here and put him up, would he be willing to come and see for himself, and help us?  Pat asked Michelle, DogTown manager and she immediately agreed that he should come and help us.  Then it went higher to Patty H. to see if she could authorize Pat to come for at least a week to help us.  Patty had to weigh all of the issues at Best Friends and parting with one of their best trainers for that long was not easy…but she made it happen.  She okayed Pat to come.

OK, so we offered to fly Pat out here and put him up…but ummmmm….what now?  We didn’t have the money for a fancy hotel  – but we had just made the rooms in the back of the brick house a mini-apartment.  Would he be willing to stay there?  Yup!  Pat said no problem, he’d slept in a lot worse!  Great (well…maybe not great for HIM!).  Now the airfare.  No money for that, but we DO HAVE SUPPORTERS!  Months ago we had asked for someone to help us with getting an artist out here and many people stepped up to offer their Frequent Flier Miles.  We never got that to work out but we remembered the people who had volunteered!  I contacted Anita M. who was absolutely AMAZING!!  She got in touch with Pat and the two of them worked out flight plans, arrival times, and before you knew it, Matt and I were on our way to the airport to pick him up. We told him we’d be there with bells on (we were so excited!) and he said he would be wearing….well….of course his trademark coat and floppy hat (which Swampy tried to eat while Pat was here).

Pat started out immediately, even though we got here after dark.  He went to greet all his favorite dogs whom he remembered from when he had been here in the past (our long timers!) Meeshka and his favorite, Cam.  (In fact, Cam spent the night with Pat the whole time he was here  – Cam is a GREAT dog.  SOMEONE should consider adopting him!!). Janet was still here, and Carmine too, and I hear the three of them played with dogs and started ground work and didn’t get to bed until after 11PM.

Pat was up early the next morning and working with Amelia.  He taught her that to eat, she would need to tap one of his hands and then he would release kibble to her in the other hand.  Within a really short time she picked this up and would bop his hand with her mouth to get him to release her kibble.  This was HER coming to US to touch US, rather than us chasing her around trying to pet her!


What a wonder! It all went so quickly after that!
Within two days, Amelia was walking up the driveway on a leash.
She was taking rides in the car and was sitting in Pat’s “apartment” on the couch and the bed, and soon, Juan, Marcos, Chris and Carmine could also sit next to her and stroke her and she didn’t show any aggression or turn away.

We then found out she loved to go for car rides and she loved to play with toys!
Amelia would gather up all the toys in the outside exercise pen an she would put them all together on one side (maybe like puppies?)

She turned out to be the sweetest dog.
She just needed someone to trust, and to show her that we could be trusted and no one was ever going to hurt her again.
She wags her tail now when she sees you walking toward her run with a leash and she happily takes walks – in fact LOVES to go for a walk.  She also stopped aggressing at other dogs and now we can walk dogs right by her run without any sign of anxiety from her.

She is truly a sweet dog. We knew it was in there somewhere. We just had to find a way to get it out!


Thank you so much to Pat for making that happen.
It makes me weep to know that one day Amelia will be able to be in a home and being loved on, and coming to people for affection, instead of living her life here, in solitude as a “lifer”.

Thank you Pat, you are truly a Dog Magician….but you make it look so easy.  We have gained such a deeper understanding of dogs, learning about what THEY want (instead of what WE want) and learning to find that trigger that will help us get them over their fears and mistrust. Thanks so much for giving us the knowledge and the time to make a difference with Amelia and indeed with future dogs to come our way. Thanks also to Michelle and Patty and everyone at Best Friends who continue to support smaller sanctuaries around the nation and help us help the dogs in our care.  You guys are all amazing.

Amelia is still being worked with, but she is close to being ready to go into a home.  If you are willing to take the time to get to know her, please consider meeting her and welcoming her into your home. It has been my experience that once a dog gives you their trust and love, they never go back on it.

UPDATE ***  UPDATE *****  UPDATE *****

Amelia was adopted this week! (Jan 2009)
Please see the updates posted here:

Filed in Case Studies, Updates by kerry on Dec 03, 2008.  There are 13 Comments

13 Responses to “Amelia – Case Study”

  1. Angela Says:

    Ah, Kerry and Matt…the good you do, you’re so special (not “short-bus special”, but you know what I mean ;)…now, Kerry…quit writing stuff that makes me cry!!!!! Lots of hugs and kisses to Amelia….

  2. Erin Says:

    woohoo!! :)

  3. cathy p Says:

    awesome job Pat… it was great seeing you again.

  4. Angela Says:

    yeah…I realized that I had forgotten to mention Pat above…sounds like he did a truly amazing job with Amelia….:)

  5. Frank Y Says:

    I’m so happy for Amelia. I remember sitting in her pen and trying so hard to convince her I was her friend. She loved getting treats of all types from me but would never let me get close enough to pet her even though she would stand withing inches of me and almost ask for the treats.I can’t wait to see her, pet her and take her for a long walk.
    Thanks to Pat and the wounderful people at Best Friends.

  6. Pets Alive Blog » Kerry’s update: December 15th, 2008 Says:

    […] there, have you read our blog about Amelia? She is finally ready for a home. We’re so happy for her and she is doing really well. It […]

  7. Sprice Drury Says:

    what a wonderful story! what a cute dog!

  8. Susan M Says:

    I would really love to meet her. She deserves a good home!

  9. kerry Says:

    Just an update – Amelia was adopted this week!
    Please see the updates posted here:

  10. Pets Alive Blog » ASPCA New York: Using your donations to murder animals Says:

    […] We were thinking of dogs like Amelia. Remember Amelia? Everyone else gave up on her. We didn’t. And now she’s in her forever home. Here’s the story if you want to read it again: […]

  11. Canine Crusader Says:

    My friend sent me this link. She followed my posts on Petfinder about trapping a fearful stray dog that I had fed on the streets for 6 months. Amelia’s story is encouraging. I contacted rescues also, including Best Friends, and was turned down by everyone. All calling her feral and didn’t “hold out much hope for a dog like Darlin’.” My stray was/is also fearful. I could relate to Amelia’s fear issues and not wanting contact with humans. Mine trembled in fear, would defecate when touched, cowered, hid, wouldn’t eat in my presence, let alone take high value foods. She was never socialized to people or dogs. Heartworm positive as well, but because of her fear I decided to have her treated at home. Like you not wanting others to handle her. She has bonded with me, but we are now 8 months into her rehabilitation. Still working on her adjusting and accepting my family, but I feel sure that will happen as well. We didn’t need anymore dogs because we already had four, but I couldn’t walk away from her. I have a lot to read here, so glad to finally run into a story of a dog like my Darlin’ because nothing I read before came close.

  12. Is ASPCA New York Using Your Donations To Murder Animals? Pets Alive Thinks So. | The Dog Files Says:

    […] We were thinking of dogs like Amelia. Remember Amelia? Everyone else gave up on her. We didn’t. And now she’s in her forever home. Here’s the story if you want to read it again: […]

  13. Pets Alive Blog » Goodbye my friend….R.I.P. Patrick Whitacre Says:

    […] I remember when he flew out here to help us work with a really shy dog named Amelia.  If you haven’t read that story and how much Pat changed her life, and taught us, you can read it here. […]

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