A New Life for Abused Animals
Safe Humane Chicago (SHC) has also turned its attention to rescuing animals who are victims of abuse or neglect. The program begins in the courtroom, where SHC volunteers monitor criminal cases in which animals are involved — dogs, cats or other pets. Some, including Pit Bulls or “bait animals” trapped in the world of dogfighting, have been actively abused; others were simply seized by police when their guardians were arrested on charges involving illegal drugs, weapons or other criminal activity.
Court advocates watch these cases closely, sending letters and petitions to judges and offering a silent presence in court. The goal is to encourage judges to pass maximum sentences on animal abusers. However, as a related benefit, the program alerts SHC to pets who are being held as evidence at the city pound.
In the past, once a court case was adjudicated, “about 2 percent of those dogs made it out alive,” according to SHC founder Cynthia Bathurst. “Now, we have a dog trainer (Triptow) who assesses them and figures out what resources they need.” The dogs are put through extensive temperament and behavioral testing; about 52 percent pass, and are placed in foster care. Eventually, they are adopted.
The other 48 percent, Bathurst said, have severe health issues or uncontrollable aggression, either toward humans or other animals. Bathurst wishes she had the resources to save those animals as well. “We do as much as we can,” she says.
Since it began in January 2010, the program has saved more than 130 dogs from euthanasia and has received support not only from Chicago Animal Care and Control, but also from 15 local animal rescue groups who offer to foster dogs. SHC volunteer Callie Cozzolino vividly remembers taking in her foster dog, Swindle.
“He was found in a hot shed with seven other Pit Bulls — no food, no water,” she says. “I don’t really know much else about him.” Four of the seven dogs passed their temperament testing and made it into the foster program. Cozzolino was quickly taken by Swindle’s affectionate personality, and decided to adopt him. He since has adapted to his new life, and is content and happy, Cozzolino reports.
The process does take time, says SHC volunteer Kathleen Budrean, who is also foster program and adoptions coordinator for Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control, a nonprofit rescue organization.
“Some of the dogs may never have even been in a home; they may have been in a crate in a basement, or locked in a shed,” she says. “Going into a home, [they] may be like, ‘Oh, what do I do now?’ Sometimes, total freedom is not what the dogs need.”
When dogs with this background go into foster and adoptive homes, Triptow often recommends letting the dog live in a smaller room, then “graduating” him to a bigger room. At the same time, people may need to work with the dog on basic housetraining and obedience skills — something abused dogs are rarely taught. As Bathurst notes, “You can’t just take a dog who has been in an abusive situation and assume that two weeks later, you can start going to the dog park. You have to realize what their life has been like, and the habits they’ve developed. We need to put dogs in situations where they can succeed, not fail.”
Chicago animal activists hope that the work they’re doing will take root in communities where animal abuse and neglect are more common. “As animal lovers, we tend to have a lot of anger against people in these communities,” Maxwell says. But not all are criminals, and many benefit from education and support.
“There’s a lot working against these guardians,” she says. “We, as animal service providers, need to step up and fill the gaps.”
New View of Dogs
Chicago resident Anthony Pickett, 45, a former dogfighter, now spends his days counseling young people, particularly boys, about keeping their dogs out of the ring. Pickett is a full-time community outreach worker for Pets for Life.
As a young man, Pickett had been walking his Pit Bull when some young men approached him from behind and challenged him to fight his dog against theirs. Pickett agreed, but his dog came back bloodied and scarred. Pickett took the dog to his mother’s house, where he recovered for a month. At home, his twin 3-year-old daughters were heartbroken.