In March 2016, a vigilant member of the public made a complaint to Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council expressing a concern about the welfare of two German Shepherd Dogs. The dogs were owned by Jennifer Wilson of Churchill Park in Portadown and what Animal Welfare found was nothing short of horrific.
Upon investigation of the complaint, two dogs were discovered; one an adult female who was incredibly emaciated, and the other a German Shepherd pup. The pup was so underweight and in such bad health, he was barely able to keep himself on his feet.
The dogs were both removed from the property and in March the next year (2017), Jennifer Wilson pleaded guilty at Craigavon Magistrates Court to causing unnecessary suffering and failing to ensure the needs of the dogs in her care. She received a lifetime ban on keeping animals, was fined £350 and ordered to pay costs of £969 to the council.
The adult female, who was in an overall better condition than the male was re-homed via the council. However, there was uncertainty if the male pup was physically well enough to survive. One vet believed that euthanasia would have been the kindest option for him at the time. However, one council member in specific, Robin; objected, believing that Shadow at least deserved a chance at life and personally took charge over his care.
Shadow was named for this person, as information that was passed to us stated that Shadow would never let Robin out of his sight and would follow him everywhere.
Shadow came to us in April of the same year. Thanks to Robin and the councils initial care, he had already started to put on weight and was beginning to understand what it was to have regular meals, regular human contact and consistent access to water. When he arrived with us, our first priority was to continue getting his physical health up to where it should be. A lot of behavioural issues can simply come from a dog feeling unwell and ultimately, vulnerable. Once they start to feel physically better, the dogs true character usually begins to show.
Unfortunately, but in a way, luckily, Shadow was kept with another dog before he came to us and he appeared to enjoy the company of his own kind. With dogs like Shadow, other, balanced, dogs are one of the most, if not the most, valuable asset in aiding their recovery. The fact that he was also so young was in his favour as he was at a stage in his life where certain behaviours had not become solidified in his mind.
Shadow very quickly learned to play with other dogs at the rescue and through them he started to learn what it really meant to be a dog. He had regular meals and his pace of eating slowed. He had ample opportunities to socialise with humans and his own kind and he learned what it was to have consistent exercise.
Shadow did not come to us with issues that required extreme behaviour modification therapy. All he needed was time to recover from his experiences and to be shown that his whole life was not going to be the nightmare that it was before. This is achieved in a very simple manner and all that is consistency. Once Shadow realised he had a dependable food source, consistent rules and boundaries and reliable physical and mental care, he started to heal.
One of the saddest thing about Shadow that even with all he had been through, he still wanted human attention and would regularly solicit it. He was a typical puppy and any human acknowledgement of his presence was met with excitement, lots of tail wags and lots of kisses.
Shadow was soon adopted and went to live with Sam, Jamie and another one of our dogs, a female called Storm. Sadly, the psychological damage that was done to Shadow at a very important stage of his life will stay with him forever. Even now, he is incredibly reliant upon the other dog in his household. As she is a more confident dog, he looks to her for reassurance and needs her in every given situation and he becomes very distressed when they are separated.
This is actually a common occurrence in dogs that have come through similar experiences. The lingering uncertainty of the past still remains and it is not something that we humans can ever fully heal. All we can do in cases like this is give the dog time and understand that even with all the good will in the world, any kind of recovery may take years.
Shadow was not the first, nor will he be the last dog that comes to us after a life of cruelty and neglect. In a way, he was lucky that he was rescued so young as he now gets to spend the majority of his life feeling loved and getting everything that he needs.
If you are ever concerned about the welfare of a dog in your environment, please, always make contact with the relevant authorities. In some cases, like this, it may save a dog’s life.