From hopeless to home - a dog transforms after rescue

What difference does a change of location mean for animals at a shelter? For some dogs and cats, it’s the difference between life and death. Turtle the dog was hours from euthanasia at the Animal Welfare League when his second chance walked in the door. His story illustrates what can happen when rescues step up for the “hopeless” cases and a petrified dog transforms after rescue.

Turtle is a Mastiff – a big proud breed – who had been surrendered by his family. Many animals are frightened when left behind, but for Turtle, this was so much more. Felines and Canines, Inc. was at AWL a few weeks ago looking for animals to rescue. When they were almost done with their mission, they spotted Turtle.

“We went back to his cage and he was literally frozen like a statue and shaking so hard that his teeth were chattering,” says Kelly Thompson, development director of the organization. She was at the facility with Abby Smith, the group’s executive director. “We sat down and I could tell from looking at him that he didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body.”

Turtle was so petrified when he was lead from his kennel, he hid.

Turtle was so petrified when he was lead from his kennel, he hid.

Turtle was petrified and it took Thompson and Smith 25 minutes to coax him out of his cage and to the main room of the Animal Welfare League. When they got there he stuck his head behind a plant, urinated and just hid. AWL was going to euthanize him that afternoon because Turtle was withering away and it was becoming cruel to leave such a petrified animal in the shelter. Time was running out for his second chance.

“We decided that we needed to give him a chance by getting him out of AWL and into a more quite environment,” adds Thompson. “We didn’t know what would happen and how long it would take us to make a difference. We weren’t sure about his temperament or what the future would hold, but you can’t come back from euthanasia. He deserved a shot.”

Until last year, rescuing Turtle would probably not have been an option. Until then, Felines, Inc. had been one of Chicago’s three long-time no-kill cat organizations. Since 1977, they had been rescuing Chicago’s cats and giving them a second chance at a new home. When the group raised money for a major overhaul at their Rogers Park location, they added an area for dog suites. They started rescuing dogs early last year while the remodel was underway. Just like with many of the cats they'd saved, they began to see it happen over and over - a dog transforms after rescue with love and care from their team.

They decided to give Turtle a home in the office with a mattress and quilt while they assessed the situation. He was afraid to move but was responsive to a gentle touch. He also liked other animals. The friendly, social dogs at the shelter started to spend time with him to guide him back into a dog’s world. They bought him chicken to eat and in 48 hours Turtle started to blossom.

Turtle wouldn't climb in the car unless he could see his friend George from the kennel.

Turtle wouldn't climb in the car unless he could see his friend George from the kennel.

Turtle had not had an easy life prior to being dumped at AWL. He was malnourished and apparently had been kept in a cage or kennel that was far too small for a mastiff. Thompson said they started to focus on what made him happy – dogs, cats, children – and let him spend his days that way. A foster stepped up that had a young son and Turtle settled in right away and a different dog emerged.

“We publicized his story and put him up on Petfinder and four families had interest in him,” says Thompson. “All of them were people we knew that had adopted from us before – good homes for a dog still getting his bearings. He was adopted this past weekend by a couple that has two of our cats that have been looking for a big, cat-friendly dog to add to the family.”

“The speed that this happened was just mind-boggling. When we took him in two weeks ago we thought it would be months to coax him out of his shell and had no idea how long it would take to find the right family for Turtle,” she added. “Stories like this continue to inspire me each day because we had zero expectations. It’s just ironic how he came around and all the cards fell into place for this one dog.”

Once he settled into the shelter, a new dog emerged.

Once he settled into the shelter, a new dog emerged.

Felines & Canines is home to about 200 cats. When the group first started talking about moving out of their long-time facility for a much-needed gut-rehab and expansion, Thompson and Smith decided to change their mission to add dogs. One of the things that the group prides itself in is getting to know the personalities of all their cats and matching cats with the right adopters. When they decided to expand, they didn’t want the cat numbers to be overwhelming and decided to use the extra space to rescue dogs as well.

“We really started to look at the dogs that needed our help after we adopted our own dog Knuckles,” says Thompson. “He’s about 4 or 5 and very shy around men and his time was about up. He’s the kind of dog often overlooked at the open access shelters because of their fear and age. His time was almost up and we rescued him – he’s brought so much life to our lives.”

Thanks to the roomier kennel space in their new facility, they now have a place that is brighter and quieter than a normal shelter. They also are giving dogs a chance to get their bearings while volunteers work with them, getting them ready for adoption. In a short period of time, they've looked at the dogs that have been overlooked and given them a chance. They've watched how a dog transforms after rescue.

“Abby and I have the same mentality when it comes to pulling animals,” says Thompson. “We want to fill a gap for the dogs that really need a second chance. Some of the dogs that fall into that category are older, have treatable illnesses or may be a breed or color that is discriminated against – dogs that are passed over by other groups. We want to give them the chance to blossom in our care and get that chance to find a good home.”

Turtle has now been adopted into his forever family.

Turtle has now been adopted into his forever family.

The group moved into temporary digs last year during the remodel and adopted out a record 500 animals. Since moving back into their long-time location, something interesting has happened – they are finding out that many in the neighborhood never knew that a shelter was in their midst.

“We are more visible and have signage,” adds Thompson. “People will stop by to adopt or volunteer and welcome us to the neighborhood. It’s like we’re a brand new shelter but we’ve been around over 35 years. It’s almost like we’re starting from scratch and it’s fun seeing what is transpiring.”

Felines & Canines is open from 12:30 to 6 p.m. everyday. Learn more about the new facility in this article. Check out pets available for adoption, volunteer opportunities and more online an follow their activities on Facebook.

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