UPDATE: A week after this story aired, Elsie found a forever home. More details here.
What happens to former fighting dogs? Can they be retrained and safely placed into homes? We wondered that too. Sean Lewis reports on the journey of two dogs that found their way to Chicago.
“Good job!” Today, they seem happy. “Good girl!” Elsie, the outgoing… “Come here handsome. The camera’s really throwing you huh?” And Bosco, he’s the shy guy. Both of them pitbull mixes, who’ve traveled a long road, with the hope of redemption and a new life.
Their story begins in the hills of Tennessee among the 65 dogs found by emergency crews responding to a brush fire. All of them, chained up in the woods, a suspected dog fighting ring there. It was Thanksgiving 2012. “They called us in the middle of the night,” says Scotlund Haisley, founder of Animal Rescue Corps. “We were on the ground the very next day.” Animal Rescue Corps was called in because the scope of what was there simply overwhelmed other animal rescue groups. “These animals were in horrible shape. They had succumbed to death”, says Haisley, who led the rescue effort. “They had no life left in them until we showed up, and what an amazing moment that was.” “See what we got here for ya.” Of all the dogs, two of them came to Chicago, “What a different personality, he just curled up in a ball…” and found their way to the Chicago shelter named Found. “Part of the reason we took these two dogs is we knew they would be a big lift, “ says Found Chicago trainer Jeff Jenkins. “We knew if we didn’t step in, they might not have made it.” And even when they arrived on a cold night in January, trainer Jeff Jenkins knew, “I’m Jeff, nice to meet you, welcome to Chicago, ” … he just knew this was going to take a lot of work. “Pretty wild, pretty wild, pretty crazy.” Not just because Elsie was a handful, “He’d clearly been through the wringer” says Jeff, but because Bosco seemed just the opposite, very afraid. “Come on, come on. Hey, there we go, we’re walking, we’re doing it. I know, the first few steps are the hardest. Come on. “
In March, we met again, where we sat in on a training session with FOUND trainers and Bosco. “Just go real slow with him,” says Jeff. That’s a guy! Come on, boy.” Bosco’s steps came easier. “Oh there we go… that’s a guy! Ohhhhhh! Good job! You nailed it!” And for Elsie, now much more calm, “Try to get them to soak up the world that they’re in, ” the hard work was paying off. “Sit! Good…(kiss) very nice.” The hope of one day fitting into a real home was growing, even as Jeff says the signs of their previous life were still evident. “I mean these dogs didn’t know anything. They didn’t know traffic and people and sounds and tiled floors and sidewalks, completely foreign to them. So you can see the difference in their personalities, pretty dramatic huh?
It’s now September, nine months since Elsie and Bosco first saw the big city. “It’s been a long journey,,” says Jeff, “a lot of miles, a lot of work, a lot of love, a lot of people involve.” And two dogs at the center of it all, redemption within reach. Bosco as always, just a few steps behind. “He’s one of the most difficult dogs I’ve had just in terms of trying to get him out of his shell, not because he was aggressive it was quite the opposite. He was so introverted. There were a few times I thought jeez I don’t know.” Elsie, Jeff tells us, can go home now. “Elsie she is completely ready.” If only there was a home ready to go. “It’s tough coming in every day and seeing Elsie when I know she could be the light of someone’s life.”
And just a few days after our last talk, a call, the light came on for a family, redemption, but only for one. “Hi Bosco!“ Bosco’s going home. “Ya, if I were a bettin’ man, I’d be broke right now.” The unlikely choice for sure, but perfect. “My heart went out to him definitely for sure,” says Maria Canto who, along with Brian Rzepnicki made room in their home for Bosco. He’s a perfect fit for this North side family and their two other dogs. “I know that I can bring out Bosco and make him you know a happy dog.” “Having three is not much different than having two,” says Brian. “So I think it will help him come out of his shell more having a dog another couple dogs around that he can feel comfortable with.”
From the back woods of Tennessee and a dog fighting ring, to redemption in the big city, a long road only half traveled so far. But it gives hope for the other half of our tale, Elsie. “The challenge in the work we do is there are so many dogs that need homes,” says Found’s Jeff Jenkins as he teaches Elsie how to roll over. “Ya we did it, did you see that?!?”
You can reach Jeff Jenkins, the people of FOUND, and Animal Rescue Corps, by clicking these links.
Producer Pam Grimes, and photojournalists Mike D’Angelo, Steve Scheuer, and Joe Lynn, contributed to this report.