At seven months old, feral pit bull Tyrone was taken to South Utah Valley Animal Shelter where the staff loved and worked with him every day. Rescue Rovers soon found him a foster home with Launi Leclaire, but Tyrone’s feral nature made him a challenging addition to her home. Tyrone ran away in three days, despite frigid winter temperatures.
Even after he had been missing for a month, Tyrone’s foster mom was determined to find him. Leclaire teamed up with Stephanie Smith, a volunteer with Rescue Rovers, posting and handing out flyers around town. There were several sightings, and one reported Tyrone limping with an injured front leg.
Finally, a local hairdresser noticed a charming stray frequenting the doghouse in her backyard, staying warm at night by sleeping next to her dog. By word of mouth, a patron realized the stray must be Tyrone, the dog from the ‘Missing’ flyers she’d noticed around town. They contacted Leclaire, who in turn called Smith with the great news.
Since Tyrone was a flight risk, Smith recruited an expert at trapping feral dogs, Lisa Beaudry. Over the years, Beaudry has helped trap countless dogs for Rescue Rovers and many other rescue groups. Beaudry and another Rescue Rovers foster volunteer, Melissa Baker, set up a feeding routine and a lion trap, hoping to attract Tyrone.
Each day, Beaudry and Baker spent hours monitoring the trap and even installed a motion sensor camera which took photos any time something approached. Tyrone was frightened of everything and everyone and it took a week before he went near the lion trap to eat the food inside.
One night at 1 a.m., Beaudry called Smith with news: Tyrone was in the cage! With the assistance of her son, Jason Miller, Baker and Leclaire, Beaudry managed to lift Tyrone—complete with lion cage—into her car. Tyrone had severe frostbite and his front leg and paw looked like they had been injured for some time, but his injuries were not life threatening. They brought him to Smith to coax him out of the cage and into a safe, secure location.
For three hours Beaudry, Baker and Smith sat on the ground, building Tyrone’s trust through a pressure and release method, which communicates to dogs the same way dogs communicate with one another. Smith said, “He watched every movement I made. Every breath, every thought, or each time I hesitated.” Smith approached Tyrone quietly and avoided staring at him directly in the eyes. “I had to be very careful with all unspoken thoughts, movements, expressions. That’s how dogs read humans.” Smith knew she had to start training immediately, otherwise Tyrone’s anxiety would only grow. The key was to make Tyrone feel safe.
When Tyrone eventually left the cage, he huddled close to Smith and nuzzled his head on her leg. “I knew right then, he needed me,” said Smith. “I knew with my training background, I could help him.” Leclaire agreed, Smith should be the one to foster and train Tyrone. “That’s when the journey for Tyrone and I started,” said Smith.
Tyrone spent his first night on a pet cot inside a large indoor kennel run at Smith’s home. She covered him in a down blanket and Smith recalled, “he literally didn’t move from under the blanket for eight hours. He loved it!”
Regardless of her fully fenced, secure yard, Smith worried Tyrone would run off if he didn’t wear a lead. She spent an hour coaxing Tyrone with the pressure and release method, put him on a slip lead, and guided him out of the kennel.
It took weeks before Tyrone walked freely out of his big kennel run, which had become his safe place. Several times each day, Smith worked with him to exit the kennel and walk the backyard, altering between a long line and a slip lead and strengthening Tyrone’s trust. They worked for hours until Tyrone adjusted to walking on a leash. Since he had never been socialized around humans, Tyrone was still flighty and nervous.
“In order for a dog to be truly happy and balanced, our job as humans is to show them options other than fight, flight and avoid,” said Smith. “We need to teach them how to accept and be comfortable in situations where their former responses were flight or avoidance. Can you imagine living in a world where your first response was either fight or flight?”
Smith added, “In all my years of experience, I had never seen such a feral dog.” But after training with Smith, Tyrone no longer felt the need to run. It took Smith’s patience and kind demeanor for Tyrone to know he was finally safe, and could trust humans.
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