This is a story about dog abuse that has a happy ending. Those are the kind of stories I like to write about; there's already too much suffering in the world. This is a story with a positive outcome and with a message. Please read on...
Niko when I found him with ribs showing
Three Dogs Crossing a Busy Intersection
I first spotted Niko limping across a busy roadway during mid morning traffic. The older Akita was quite thin and ragged but he was trying his best to keep up with two other dogs with whom he was traveling. One was a younger female Akita; the other was a male, a Golden Retreiver/Lab mix.
While I was on my way to a meeting that morning, I couldn't ignore two full blooded Akitas. I had raised two to old age already and am enamoured of this loyal and protective large breed of dog. So I pulled my compact car over, turned around, and pulled up next to the side of the road where all three were now sniffing the fragrant grass.
The older Akita immediately stepped forward to check me out, making full eye contact with me in a curious but non-aggressive way. He was awesome to behold with beautiful markings on his tan and gray body. He was also quite large and very long, almost like a wolf, with huge paws and a large head, but with very soulful eyes.
The Rescue Begins
I encouraged the male to come forward, patting him on his head and when I opened my car door, he quickly got in. He was followed by the female Akita and soon after, by the skittish Golden who was the last to climb aboard into my car. I drove the short distance home then unloaded the three into my front yard where I quickly began to fill three food bowls. All three looked to be hungry but the male Akita, in particular, seemed very neglected with a filthy coat and green infection dripping from his eyes.
What I didn't realize at that time was that the female dog was in heat and the two males were unneutered. Shortly thereafter, the Golden attacked the older male from behind, pouncing on his back and grabbing him by the throat. As the two began to viciously fight, I grabbed a rake and tried to separate them - to no avail. Finally, I grabbed the collar on the Golden and yanked him away from the Akita. But he swung his head around and sunk his teeth into my wrist causing blood to come spurting out.
A Few Stiches and I'm Good as New
I wrapped my wrist and applied pressure while also trying to separate the two males. It took some doing but I eventually was able to get the Golden on the outside of my fence, while keeping the two Akitas together. I later went to the hospital where I received two or three stiches in my wrist; the Golden was picked up by Animal Control after I was told I had to have him quarantined because the owner was unknown.
For the next few days, I posted "Found Dog" ads on local area websites and waited to see if anyone in my area recognized them. When nothing valid came in, I contacted an Akita Rescue group which told me they would place a "Hold" on the dogs and if the owner did not pick them up, they would find homes for them.
The City Takes Over
With that assurance, I brought the two Akitas to the local City animal shelter and had them logged in. I also gave my name and number just in case the dogs did not get picked up by the Akita Rescue. The day I brought them in was a Monday. I was told they would be released that Friday.
But on Thursday evening, I received a call from the Akita Rescue telling me that the dogs had been released to their owner. Neither she nor I expected that to happen as the dogs did not look like they were cared for. When I called the shelter, they confirmed that they had released the dogs to their owner but would not give me any further information.
I, however, don't give up easily. I found someone at the Shelter who I had previously spoken with about another dog and was able to get her cooperation. She told me she would call the owner and tell him that the person who found his dogs had some concerns about them. After making that call, she told me that the owner said I could call him.
Making Money off Studding His Dog
I called the Latino man (we'll call him Gomez) and introduced myself as the person who rescued his dogs. He seemed happy to speak with me and told me that his family had been very worried about them. He said they had "run off" from where he was staying. He wasn't clear about who owned the dogs or how they got loose.
While he expressed that he cared about his dogs, I got the feeling that this man was not feeding them on a regular basis. He spoke about being out of work and having no money. And when I mentioned that his male dog was sick, he didn't seem concerned about it.
Wanting to help the dogs and ensure that they were getting fed, I offered to bring him some food if he would let me know where he was living. He claimed he didn't know the address but said he would call me back with it later. This began a cat and mouse game that went on for the next couple of weeks.
Lies and More Lies
During that time, I learned that he was not really the owner of the male Akita and that the dog actually lived somewhere else. He was using him as a stud dog for his female and said his father owned the male dog. After much "back and forth" I was able to get an address and a few days later I met him at his father's property where I found the dog in a filthy, smelly outdoor kennel at the edge of their yard. When the dog saw me, he began thrashing around, smashing his head against the chickwire fence of the kennel which caused his nose to bleed.
Gomez let Niko out of the kennel so I could see him and I could immediately see that he was very unhealthy. His fur was so dirty that my hand was black from patting him. He was swarming with fleas and had ripped some of the fur off of his back. The infection I had previously noticed was now full blown. He was sneezing every minute or two and there was green mucus coming from his nose and eyes. When I left the property that day, I swore I would help this dog. It broke my heart to leave but I wasn't going to give up.
Akita Rescue Offers Help
The woman at the rescue asked me many questions about the dog including how he looked and how he was being treated. After several conversations, she offered to pay a visit to the property with me if I would arrange to have Gomez meet me again. I called Gomez and he agreed to meet me so that I could deliver more dog food. However, when we got to the property, he was not there. During the hour or so I waited, he neither showed up or called me. Fortunately, his brother was there (his father was also but did not speak any english) and he let Niko out of the kennel so we could visit with him.
The woman from the rescue stayed for about 20 minutes. During that time, she tried to explain to the brother (and in broken Spanish to the mother and father) that the dog was sick and needed care. Everyone smiled and nodded their heads but we weren't sure they really understood.
I stayed for an hour as I knew the dog would be put back in the kennel immediately when I left. The brother confided to me that he didn't like the dog; that it was his late brother's dog and they had kept it out of respect to his brother's memory. He said that the father loved the dog and was the one who fed it. But from what I could see, the bowl was very small and Gomez had told me they only fed their dogs once a day. From the looks of it, he was not getting enough food for even a medium size dog and he was an extra large dog.
Offer of Medical Help
After sitting with the brother and the dog for an hour, I knew I had to do something right away. I offered to take the dog off their hands but the brother said that was impossible - that this dog was like one of the family. So I left, but later that night, I called Gomez and told him that I had observed that his dog was very sick. He told me that he never took his dogs to the vet because he didn't have any money. So I offered to pick up his dog, take him to my vet, and pay the bill. Gomez said that would be okay with him.
The following day, I returned with a collar and a leash (the dog had no collar on). I told the brother and the father what I was there to do and told them I had Gomez's permission to take him to my vet. I then loaded him in my car and the following day, I brought him to my vet.
Malnutrition Was the Diagnosis
Because of the dog's state with all his ribs showing, I thought he might had worms. But when I brought his stool to be tested, my vet confirmed that he was suffering from severe malnutrition. He weighed 91 lbs. and you could place a finger between the ribs, they were so depressed. He also had an upper respiratory infection and was infested with fleas.
With that diagnosis, I brought him back to my home, then made an appointment to get him a flea bath and groomed. That day, I began giving him the two weeks worth of medicine that the vet precribed for his illness. Meanwhile, I made a bed for him in my yard to keep him sequested from my other two dog. But it was windy out there and I was worried about him being cold, so I moved him to the back of my car where I had a large space to carry cargo. He seemed pretty comfortable there with his two comforters in his own little bed, parking in my garage.
Not long after the vet visit - maybe two days later - I heard from Gomez. He wanted to know when I was bringing his dog back. I told him what the diagnosis was and assured him that he was getting all the care he needed. I told him I would call him in a few days when he was better.
A few days later, I got a call from a woman who said she was the owner of the dog. She said that she had been married to Gomez's late brother and they had purchased the dog together. When her husband died (six years previously), she had moved out of the family's home but left the dog behind. She said she was now remarried with five kids and too busy to visit the dog, but that her family had said they were taking care of him. She had heard he was sick and was concerned about how he was doing.
This time, I believed someone cared. We talked for a while and during that time, I told her that I was willing to take care of him but that he was in a very poor state of health and suffering from malnutrition. I told her about the filthy outdoor enclosure where her family had been keeping him. I also told her how I found him in traffic and that he could have been hit by a car on that road. Finally, I mentioned that I had taken him to my vet to help Gomez but that now I was more concerned about the dog's well being than I was about her brother in law. She listened, then told me she would discuss this matter with her family and call me back.
The Daughter Relinquishes the Dog
The following day, a young woman who identified herself as the woman's daughter, told me that she had decided that the dog would be better off with me than with their family. She asked me if I would "take the dog." She said Niko was actually "her" dog but they lived in an apartment complex and couldn't keep the dog there, so her grandfather had said he would care for the dog. Now that she (and her mother) were aware that there were problems with his care, they had decided it was best to remove the dog from that situation and wanted to know if I would keep him.
I told the young woman that I would keep him if she and her mother signed a Transfer of Ownership to me. I sensed there might be issues with this family over ownership and I knew I needed that document to avoid further problems with Gomez.
A few days later, the girl's mother and I met in the parking lot of a local Dennys where she signed the papers. We didn't talk for very long -just 10 minutes - but in that time we arrived at an understanding that confirmed what I had known all along - that this animal had been very neglected. While she didn't show much emotion, I could tell that she was sad about what had happened to her dog. She told me that Gomez had suggested she ask me for $500.00 for the dog. I laughed and told her that the vet bills were higher than that.
She did ask me for one favor, which was whether I would let her 10-year old daughter visit him sometime. I told I would be happy to meet them at a local park whenever they wanted to see him. That was back in November and as of now, March 2011, I have yet to hear from them.
I did send her a text message though on Thanksgiving Day 2010 (a week after I adopted Niko) thanking her and wishing her a happy holiday. I also sent her some photos of him around Christmastime. I did not receive any reply or acknowledgement.
Niko's Life Today
I don't know whether she looked at them or not and it's probably not important. What is important is that I have a 105 lb. healthy and fluffy Akita lying at my feet right now sleeping. He gets two good meals a day plus snacks and chew toys. He adores my female Lab mix and she is in love with him and he really enjoys riding around in the car with me when I have errands to do.
A few weeks ago he got to play in the snow for the first time when I brought him up to the Angeles National Forest after the snow storm. He really enjoyed himself and got quite a bit of attention for his size and because he's so charismatic. Another family who were there with their kids asked if they could pose with him!
So if you ever see a stray in the road, don't just drive by and hope that it doesn't get hit by the next car. Pull over and help it if you can. That animal will love you unconditionally and your life may become more fulfilled, as mine most definately has.
Niko as he is now - healthy and loved!