Six months of quarantine can do a lot to a person. For anyone who loves dogs, you probably know it was pretty hard to get a foster pup in 2020. Luckily for me and my partner, we were able to get a cute, 2-year old pitty named Captain Kidd in September. I say lucky now, but it was more of a roller coaster of happy, stressed, delighted, and then finally, lucky.
When we first picked up Captain Kidd from the PSPCA, he was a bit jumpy and leashy, but he had the cutest smile on his face. He also had a pretty bad limp on his front right leg. That limp turned out to be the least of his health problems. His previous owner was a horrible human being. Captain Kidd had necrotic wounds on his leg and neck which required multiple debridement surgeries and cycles of antibiotics to get him healthy enough to be fostered. He was one of three dogs recently rescued by the Humane Law Enforcement of PA at this specific location. The other dogs were just as unhealthy and poorly treated as Cap was – one, Lady, had ringworm and unfortunately couldn’t get fostered yet.
At the shelter, we also learned that Cap was likely chained up with a metal choker collar for most, if not all of his life. When he naturally tried to pull away from the chain it got tighter and tighter, lodging a deep wound around his neck. The pictures from his actual rescue are extremely raw and graphic. Here is a link, but please take note they are not for the faint of heart.
Captain’s wound on his front leg was so deep you could see his tendon, and he had multiple scars around his entire body. He actually had two different limps, one from this cut which weakened his front leg, and his hind leg had laxity that the shelter vet thought was likely attributed to a ligament tear (his rear leg laxity also had a cute side effect, Cap couldn’t run the way other dogs could, so he would leap in giant bounds whenever he wanted to run fast. It was cute and sad and beautiful at the same time). The shelter knew the best way to get him healthy was in a home that could give him more attention and open his experience beyond either being chained outside or crated inside the shelter.
Cap’s prior treatment by his horrible owner had obvious effects on his personality. When he first came to the house, he was legitimately terrified of stairs, up or down. Whenever my partner or I would play with him and go to the 2nd level or basement, he would peak at us from the corner and then run away. He also wouldn’t eat out of the bowl. He would take a mouthful of dry food out of the bowl, spit it on the floor, and then eat each pellet one by one. I surmised he ate this way because his previous owner likely dumped a bunch of food at him outside and this is how he grew up eating.
When we first adopted Cap he was malnourished, in poor condition and had persistent diarrhea for the first month, luckily that stopped and he was able to gain 15 pounds and finally got to a healthy weight. His emaciated body was easily noticeable by strangers. His rib cage protruded, and combined with his scars and limp, I could sense many people were dubious of my own character as a dog owner. Most of the time this subsided when I explained he was a rescue.
Many dog shelters have a strict policy not to allow foster dogs off leash when at dog parks. This is both to protect the dog and the shelter as well. However, this does create difficult challenges on how to appropriately socialize a dog who has been chained up his entire life, especially a pit bull. From my observations, it looked like the prior owner was trying to train him in a manner to be combative, probably to be a fighting dog, which possibly explained his deep wound on the front leg and various scars throughout his body.
My attempts to socialize cap evolved over the weeks. At first, every morning before work I would take him to the neighborhood park, which had both a dog park and an adjacent play area for kids that shared the same fence. Our walks were at 7am before any children were awake, so I would take him to the play area, close the gate and let him run around the play area without other dogs or any other people. His first encounter with other dogs was unfortunately with the fence between them, sniffing and jumping at each other with the other dogs in the actual dog park. I had to explain on a daily basis that Cap was a foster pup, and that I wanted to expose him to other dogs but also be prudent about his interactions and the shelter’s rules.
Cap’s demeanor around other dogs was good. He loved to play, and like most pit bulls, he liked playful wrestling and chasing. However, his lack of a proper puppyhood had some effects. Cap would never play on his back like other dogs would. He did not seem ready to be in a vulnerable position. After a month or so, I would come downstairs from the bedroom and he would be sleeping on the couch, even though we made a dog bed for him, back turned with his paws out and I would rub his belly. It was a privilege that only I got but no one else. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but if I could, it was like a royalty of love that you could only earn by gradual trust.
Eventually, other dog owners saw my predicament and were willing to let Cap play with their dog, but we limited it to one on one. Some of those dog owners were the nicest, most approachable people I have ever met. I’m not sure how we could have got Cap to progress without them. Shout out to John (owner) and Rudy (awesome dog), they were by far the biggest help getting Cap comfortable.
Tess and I have cared for dogs for before we started fostering Cap; he was the 3rd dog we have fostered in the last couple years. Pre-pandemic, we had fostered two Australian shepherds through a separate organization in 2019.
Taking care of any creature, especially a dog that was physically and mentally fragile, and seeing them successfully progress within your care is emotionally powerful. For me, it engendered a super-potent emotional bond between myself and Cap. My partner travels for work, sometimes weeks at a time, so I easily had the most interaction with him, and I grew to love Cap dearly.
Do not get me wrong, there were many times when Cap drove me insane. He was not fully potty trained, had poor eating habits, would vomit daily and had unpredictable diarrhea. All of this combined and our carpets were quickly destroyed.
In general, I would describe myself as more rational than emotional. I usually identify with facts and try not to let emotions interrupt decision making, but taking care of Cap, even compared to the other dogs we fostered, had a profound effect on me. I did not want to be his foster owner anymore. I wanted to be his true owner, his best friend and most importantly, I wanted my home to be his forever.
When I discussed this with Tess, she was nervous and had concerns. Our original intention was to temporarily foster, not permanently own. Between her travel, my work likely reverting back to an office building, and part time B-school, it just didn’t seem plausible. But Tess knows me well, and she saw how enamored and in love I was with Cap. She agreed to, at the very least, try and make it work. I was instantly fueled with excitement. A huge decision like this needs full commitment and agreement by both parties, it cannot be partial.
After a few more weeks of fostering Tess explained that she was allergic to Cap. I was instantly devastated. We did not know this beforehand because she would leave for a few days at a time, so it was difficult identifying the true cause of her skin rashes, itchy throats and teary eyes. I sadly hoped it was COVID-19, but that was denied after both of us tested negative twice, I was instantly devastated again. Yet we tried our best to keep him. Every night Tess dosed herself with Benadryl to ease the allergies. I was showering every night before bed and had specific clothes for upstairs and downstairs to minimize any dog hair in the bedroom. I did laundry every day to keep our clothes free of dog hair, and brushed Cap every day to minimize shedding. But the allergies persisted, and actually got worse. Once Tess departed for work the allergic reaction subsided and we both knew the truth. Keeping Cap was not an option. Once again, I was devastated.
Once Cap was neutered, he was ready to be officially adopted by a new family. Over the three months that we had him, his limp had materially decreased and he developed a more confident strut on our daily walks. It was amazing how much those daily walks had improved my own mental health. I was legitimately joyful to see this pup grow and make new friends. Best of all, Cap found a way to conquer his fear of stairs – Tess would go down a few steps with a treat in hand, and I would walk behind him until he grabbed the treat. After a couple tries, we cycled the process with another treat and soon enough he was traversing the stairs without issue.
The first family interested in Cap became his forever home. They were a delightful, cute couple located outside Philadelphia in Manayunk. Upon meeting Cap, they instantly knew he was the perfect choice. We did the handoff a week later in the children’s play area next to the dog park where we spent every morning. It was a fitting place to say goodbye. Yes, I whimpered and cried but managed to hold it together until after his new family left. I still remember him peeking from the back car window and staring as they drove away. But don’t worry my friends, we still keep in touch with the new owners, and they were kind enough to allow us to visit him from time to time.
What Cap taught me
It almost feels like an injustice to try to quantify the things I learned from Cap. Literally every time a friend or stranger met him, saw his scars, heard his story- the response was the same- “but why? How? He is so friendly and loving, I would never have expected he was mistreated so badly!?
I suppose some things can be more easily learned through interaction with other animals than from humans to humans alone. Cap just simply chooses to love, regardless of how he was treated. It was a stark lesson for me. I’ve always been one who adopted the ideology of “an eye for an eye”. But caring for Cap changed that for me. I remember one of our many visits back to the shelter to refill his antibiotics or checkups before and after neutering, and he noticed the shelter volunteer who was one of the first people he met after being rescued. He immediately went to her and nestled next to her, embracing her hug. Even though his first, and probably longest experience with a human was his worst, he loved us anyway. I cry even writing this, but know he has a fantastic forever home with (him and her) and that I will see him again one day.
If you would like to donate or volunteer to the SPCPA and help other dogs like Cap, please click here. The Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania SPCA is matching your donation dollar for dollar up to $135,000 as part of a Challenge Match Grant. Every single dollar you donate, up to $135,000, will be doubled between now and December 31, 2020.