A Race Against Time
Unsure of how much time they had, the humane society’s team of rescuers rushed to ascend Donner Summit in the northern Sierra Nevada. Once they finally reached the injured pit bull, they realized she was scared and in need of immediate medical attention.
A Long Road Ahead
The pup had been terribly abused and left to die alone in the mountains. Luckily, the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe got to her just in time. They had no clue how long she’d been left in the cold, but it was clear that she wouldn’t have lasted much longer. Even though she was off the mountain, her road to recovery was going to be long and challenging. There was no telling if she would ever be a regular dog again.
Exceeding All Expectations
As she began to show improvement with her recovery, the rescued dog began to open up and show some personality. Her rescuers knew they had to find her the perfect loving home. They ended up getting that when Brittany Dowda and Matt Risse showed up at the shelter looking for a new family member. The journey was not simple, but the once-abused dog exceeded expectations and shocked everyone when she achieved what many considered to be impossible for a dog in her circumstances.
The Community’s Consistent Problem
It all started on a cold winter morning on Donner Summit. While walking, a hiker noticed a pit bull along the side of the trail in bad shape. The good Samaritan called the Town of Truckee Animal Services to report the stray dog. “It’s not abnormal at all for animals to be abandoned in our community, we bring in strays that are unclaimed into this facility on a very consistent basis,” said Stephanie Nistler, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe.
An Extreme Case
Even though workers at the humane society have gotten used to answering calls about abandoned and abused pets in the area on a regular basis, this one was different. “Her condition is something we don’t see all the time … it was certainly on the extreme side,” said Nistler. Her injuries reflected an extremely abusive history. It was clear that she had been neglected by a cruel owner. It was truly a miracle that the humane society got to her when they did.
In addition to suffering from exposure to the harsh winter climate for an unknown amount of time and being extremely underweight, the pup had a severe head wound. “She was in really rough shape. She was emaciated and had a head wound that was consistent with some kind of trauma,” Nistler explained. “So she came in here and we immediately started her on a road to recovery, provided treatments, and started giving the TLC she needed so that she could become well.”
An Angel From Above
While the veterinarians were treating the pit bull, they were surprised to find that she was incredibly calm and relaxed. This is pretty rare to see in rescued dogs, especially those who come from previous owners who were abusive or neglectful. Because of her trusting nature, the team chose to name the dog Angel. Angel’s peaceful demeanor gave the team hope that they would maybe be able to put her up for adoption one day and find her a forever home.
Not Ready For Adoption
Brittany Dowda and her fiance Matt Risse already had a male pit bull-American Bulldog mix and were looking to bring another dog into the family. “We walked past her cage, and she had like a cone on her head and had a red tag on her window that said, ‘Not ready for adoption,'” explained Dowda. “And so we weren’t quite sure. Does she have aggression issues? Is she OK? What’s wrong with her, why isn’t she ready for adoption?”
Determined To Make A Difference
Many people are tentative to bring rescue dogs with unknown histories into their homes, especially if they have young children. While the dog may seem calm and docile, many prospective dog owners refuse to adopt out of fear that the dog will one day snap and do something unpredictable. For Brittany Dowda and Matt Risse, this was not a deterrent. They were determined to make a huge difference in the life of a shelter dog. They just needed to find the perfect match.
Meant To Be
Dowda and her fiance consulted the center about the sign and it turned out that it was simply a mistake. Angel had recently been cleared for adoption but the center simply forgot to take down the sign. “We asked the adoption specialist there and she gave us her story. It was truly meant to be for us,” Dowda said. “When we walked into the little kennel she was in, she literally melted in my fiancé’s arms and he’s like, ‘This is her, this is it.'”
A Shocking Discovery
Brittany and Matt fully understood that adopting a rescue dog from the shelter probably meant dealing with a long list of both behavioral and medical complications. Even though Angel was provided with basic medical care by the team that rescued her, Brittany and Matt were advised to bring their new pup to the vet for a more thorough assessment of her medical status. The couple knew that Angel had a rough backstory, but what they found out from the veterinarian would leave everyone in disbelief.
Angel’s Dark History
Dowda admitted that Angel didn’t look so good when they first met. Her previous owner had cropped the pit bull’s ears, a technique used mostly in dog fighting where the ears are trimmed to make the dog less vulnerable to specific injuries. Additionally, Angel’s head wound was still healing, and she still needed to put on a significant amount of weight before she could be considered healthy. For a reason that had yet to be discovered, Angel also suffered from impaired vision and hearing.
Angel Becomes Leana
Brittany and Matt noticed that Angel was always tilting her head off to the right, prompting her new owners to give her a new name. “We thought she was going to be like that forever, which is why we called her Leana,” Dowda said. After taking their new pup to the vet, Brittany and Matt learned that this head tilt was a side effect of a severe ear infection that had gone untreated. They would soon discover a much darker secret about Leana’s past.
The Truth Behind The Trauma
As it turned out, the mysterious wound on Leana’s head had a dark backstory. It was actually from a gunshot. Bullet fragments were even found still lodged in the poor pitbull’s skull. Veterinarians believed that this was the reason behind Leana’s impaired hearing and sight. Even though the abandoned pup still had a long road to a full recovery, her new parents weren’t going anywhere. They were willing to do anything and everything necessary to nurse her back to health.
Starting From Scratch
Although nobody could quite grasp what kind of trauma Leana had been through before being rescued, Brittany and Matt assumed the worst. Leana was now given a second chance at a happy life, but she needed to learn everything from scratch. “We brought her home and just tried working with her, because she really didn’t know how to be a dog,” said Brittany. “She didn’t know how to live in a house, she didn’t know how to play with anything.”
Making A New Friend
While Brittany and Matt certainly did everything they could to get Leana adjusted to a normal life, there was only so much they could really teach her. Luckily, their other dog was there to fill in the gaps and serve as a mentor for Leana. “He’s really helped in training her and showing her the ropes,” Brittany said. Leana was able to use Dowda’s first dog as a tool to learn how to socialize with other dogs and better understand unfamiliar situations.
Raised To Serve A Purpose
It was obvious and infuriating to Leana’s new family that the pit bull was raised in the underground dog-fighting circuit. “She was clearly bred to look this way. She came from somebody who knew what they were doing, so to speak, when they were breeding because she has all of the characteristics that somebody who wants a true pit bull would look for,” Brittany said. Leana’s story has truly been inspirational, proving that it’s never too late for a fresh start.
Learning To Socialize
It may have taken some time, but it actually wasn’t so hard for Leana to overcome her dark past in dog fighting and learn how to socialize with other dogs. “She was always on edge around other dogs because she thought they were going to attack her or something. Once we started socializing her and putting her around other dogs, that went out the window. Now I can take her anywhere around other dogs, and she doesn’t do anything,” explained Brittany.
A Fresh Start
Now that she has recovered from her traumatic injuries, Leana’s remarkable story is only just beginning. “We know she wasn’t treated well, and we know someone tried to end her life,” said Stephnie Nistler. “Those are the facts, those are the things we know. She did have a terrible life leading up to us, there’s no question about that, so it’s wonderful that she has such a great life now.” Leana would soon surprise everyone with her next impressive accomplishment.
A Way To Give Back
Although Leana was rescued from a horrible life in dog fighting, her new family could see that she would never deliberately hurt anyone. Because of her kind nature, Brittany and Matt thought about ways she could give back. “My fiancé has a little nephew, who has special needs, and they brought him over,” Brittany said. “She was so drawn to him and really just stayed by his side the whole time and catered to him. That’s when we realized, maybe she could be a therapy dog.”
Giving What Humans Cannot
Therapy dogs can be used in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, special needs classrooms, elementary schools, colleges, hospices, and disaster areas. Therapy dogs offer a certain level of comfort and unconditional love that humans often fall short of. They are typically used for relieving stress and providing companionship. It’s crucial to understand that not just any dog can become a therapy dog. Therapy dogs need to undergo a long and difficult certification course before they can be legally recognized as therapy dogs.
Brittany and Matt called up the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe and enrolled Leana in a training course that would allow her to serve as a certified therapy dog. “They were amazing, they walked us through every step,” said Brittany. “They saw huge potential in her and helped us with getting her training, and then she was given the… Canine Good Citizen test, which she passed. From there we went to schools and hospitals, and now we do presentations sharing awareness of rescuing.”
She Passed With Flying Colors
Leana’s training was very challenging. Even though she had already learned how to behave like an average dog, that wouldn’t be enough. In order to become certified to work with children and sick people in schools and hospitals, Leana needed to develop a high level of patience, obedience, and understanding far beyond the average dog’s. Brittany and Matt were skeptical at first, especially considering Leana’s history of abuse and mistreatment. But Leana proved everyone wrong and passed with flying colors!
These days, Leana spends her time working as a therapy dog for the humane society’s Read Up For Fun (RUFF) program, in which children who struggle with reading work with canine partners, who patiently listen as the children overcome reading challenges. “Every Tuesday she does reading therapy at a local elementary school,” Brittany said. “For kids who have a harder time reading, she does one-on-one with them, and they sit and read to her. It’s less intimidating than reading to people.”
In recent years, pit bulls and rescue dogs have developed somewhat of a bad reputation for violence as a result of various isolated incidents. Some states and countries have even followed through with banning certain dog breeds. Brittany and Matt are hopeful that Leana can serve as an example to prove that, with the right owners, pit bulls and rescue dogs can offer the same love and care as any other dog. They believe that Leana’s story can inspire others to adopt rescue dogs.
The Ultimate Transformation
Leana is the perfect example of a rescue dog who exceeded everyone’s expectations. Even though they may have a rough past, that doesn’t mean rescue dogs are permanently damaged. Many rescue dogs are capable of giving back. “Just because your dog is a rescue dog doesn’t mean it’s subpar. You can utilize these dogs to give back to the community and that’s what we want to do. We gave her a chance, and now she’s giving back to the community that saved her,” said Brittany.
Finding A New Purpose
“All of these dogs have back stories, but a lot of these dogs want to give back. They want a job,” said Brittany. However, it’s important to understand that not every rescue dog will make a suitable therapy dog. Before considering if your rescue pup can become a service dog, be sure you fully understand their behavioral tendencies. “There’s going to be a lot of rescue dogs that aren’t meant to be a therapy dog, but there’s a lot that are as well.”
It Takes A Village
For the workers at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, nothing feels better than knowing one of their rescue dogs was able to find a forever home as well as an outlet to give back to the community. “We’re just so lucky that she was able to be saved, and that’s thanks to Truckee Animal Services, Placer County Animal Services, the Humane Society, and of course her new adopters, who gave her a chance. It takes a village sometimes,” said Nistler.
A Second Chance
Leana’s story was indeed a dream come true for everyone involved. Workers at the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe want the world to know about Leana so that more people will consider adopting rescue dogs. “There’s hardly anything that makes our hearts swell more than seeing a dog who didn’t have a great start to life make it to our shelter, we turn their life around, they get adopted by these wonderful people, and then they spend the rest of their life giving back,” explained Nistler.
At the end of the day, Leana was just one story. There are still countless dogs out there in desperate need of forever homes. Stephanie Nistler has expressed how grateful she is that the Truckee-Tahoe community has taken so many steps to improve their pet rescue and adoption programs. “We have a prolific program in our community,” said Nistler. “We offer a lot of really cool programs for therapy dogs, and many of the dogs in the program are directly adopted from our shelter.”