Monday, September 8, 2014

The Transformation of Vincent Van Gogh

We have previously written about Benny's ever-evolving story and Tess's amazing beginning-of-life story, and now we will write about Vincent Van Gogh’s transformation back to dog-hood.

I first heard about VVG when the BRAT coordinator, Linda Webb-Hilliard, emailed Terrie to find out if we could help with a Basenji in need. Linda told us he was in distress at the foster-to-adopt home he had been placed in four months prior. She sent me information about VVG and how he came to be in rescue.

VVG in October 2013

VVG had lived with a single male from about two months old until he was eight years old. The man got into a relationship with a woman who had a couple of young children and several cats. After a trial period the man relinquished VVG to BRAT for re-homing, saying he didn't get along in the new family dynamic.

Linda brought VVG into her home to evaluate and vet him fully before placing him for foster or adoption. After she was sure VVG was ready to go, Linda settled on a young man who had just lost his female Basenji of many years. She personally did the home visit and interview and felt he was a good placement for fostering-to-adopt VVG. So VVG was off to his new home, which had a similar family dynamic to his former life.

A couple of months later Linda was contacted by VVG's new foster family who said he was not working out. His foster parent indicated VVG was acting out and had started biting people, especially the children. He also said VVG would not listen to him and stay out of the kitchen, like his former Basenji would do. VVG's foster parent explained to Linda that not long after VVG came to live with him they went to Tennessee for a family get together. VVG's foster parent went out with some of the other adults and left VVG with several adults and children whom VVG did not know. Evidently the children picked on VVG enough that he snapped at them. VVG's foster parent was informed of this and that they had "disciplined" him. VVG's foster parent then said VVG was biting and snapping more and more as time went on and would not listen to him.

This is when Linda contacted Terrie about us possibly helping. We, of course, agreed to help and I made contact with VVG's foster parent to arrange for me to pick up VVG and bring him home with me. Finally, October 6th 2013, I drove from Indy to Lexington to pick up VVG. When I arrived, I walked into the house and the first thing VVG did was sniff my fingers then snap at them. Nothing overly aggressive, just a hit and run type of attitude. I finally got VVG into the car and headed out, and the first thing I noticed was that he was very stressed and agitated.

After a very interesting three hour drive, we arrived at VVG's new temporary home. We came into the house and VVG immediately began exploring. The pack was outside in the back yard while VVG checked out his new surroundings. At this point I brought Benny into the house to begin the introductions. The usual sniff-fest took place, then something very un-Benny like happened. Benny let out a snarl and took VVG to the ground. Benny stood over him and let VVG know what was expected of him. Benny then walked away and let VVG up. After VVG got up, Benny came over and play bowed and tried to get VVG to play, which was not going to happen anytime soon. Then, one by one, Willow, Tess, and Mr. Bear came into the house and introduced themselves to VVG. Nothing as dramatic as meeting Benny, but pretty intense just the same.

Terrie and I then set about the business of getting to know VVG and learning what we could about his trauma, sometimes the hard way. The first evidence came very quickly when we were putting the pack outside and VVG was hesitant by the door. I put my hand on the back of his head and VVG turned and bit it without warning. I put a lead on his collar and was able to take him outside. When we brought him back in we were able to examine his head area and discovered that it was badly swollen on the left side and was tender. We introduced him to a crate and he was resistant to going in and struggled to stay out. We worked with him to make him comfortable in the crate and to teach him it was his safe zone anytime.

I took him to the vet to get his head checked out, as well as a strange looking discoloration on his belly and loins. It turned out out the discoloration was a severe staph infection most likely caused by spending a great deal of time in a damp environment. His head was tender and swollen, but fortunately his eyes and ears appeared normal, so the likelihood of permanent damage was slight.

About a week after I was bitten, Terrie was putting him outside and reached down to grasp his collar and VVG turned and bit her on the forearm. We were learning the triggers that caused him to defend himself, two of which were reaching for the head or the collar. I am of the belief that he was held by his collar and beaten about the head and shoulders. To this day VVG occasionally reacts when I put my hand on his head in certain situations, but the reaction is pulling back with a warning huff.

There were many incidents of nipping the hand and attempting to bite and pulling back early on, which became fewer and farther between with Terrie and I, however VVG would not allow anyone else near him until early December, when a couple of dog savvy people came to visit. VVG took his time to check out the visitors and within an hour he was sitting in their laps. At the end of December our son came to visit for the holidays. VVG was very aloof initially, but he eventually warmed up to my son and spent much time in his lap.

We watched all of this interaction very closely to prevent any incidents, but despite that, another incident happened. A friend reached across a baby gate that separated VVG from the room and he bit her hand without warning. It was a puncture wound with no tearing and fortunately healed quickly. We were trying to figure out what the trigger was that caused this behavior, and we eventually realized that our friend had extended a closed hand to VVG, and its resemblance to a fist caused the reaction. The realization came about two months later when, not paying attention, I was asking VVG to go out and inadvertently pointed a fist toward him and he bit me. This was also a puncture wound with no tearing, which indicated a warning bite. I looked at him and said "Dumbass, you still need to go out,” and he went to the back door where Terrie let him out. That was in the beginning of March and we have not had any more biting incidents since then.

This was the turning point in VVGs transformation. VVG had been exposed to my six year old grandson on a regular basis during this time, with no interaction allowed. At one point, VVG pushed over the baby gate and checked Caleb out. Once he was done, VVG came over to me and laid down. From this point forward there was no more separation and VVG has shown no aggression toward him at all. VVG has been introduced to more and more people, with no incidents of aggression. The key for VVG is to let him initiate the contact and allow him to check the person out.

Along with all of the behavioral changes, we finally got VVG’s thyroid issues stabilized with medication. We attended the BRAT convention in Syracuse, NY in June 2014, and VVG was a big hit, getting some much needed exposure to other people and Basenjis with no incidents reported. VVG made some new friends, two legged and four legged alike.

In discussions with Linda, we decided it was time to begin the process of finding the right home for VVG to live and prosper in. It would have to be a special home where the prospective family understood a potential biter, and would be patient with VVG to help him completely heal. There were a couple of people familiar with VVG who expressed interest in adopting him, but whose current situations did not allow for this to happen. Linda received several promising inquiries into adopting VVG, however there were a few remaining concerns which ultimately led to the final path of VVG’s life.

VVG in September 2014

With those concerns about VVG’s welfare and mental state from having to make another major change in his life after the last ten months of stabilizing his environment, and concerns about how the prospective family would react to VVG if he attempted to bite or bully his new family, ultimately, the decision was made for VVG to remain with us. So, on August the 7th 2014, the Sigler pack grew by one member when the adoption of VVG was official.

~Dean and Terrie Sigler, and the Sigler Pack:
Willow, Benny, Tess, Mr. Bear, and our newest member VVG
(Edited by Ellen Campbell)

1 comment:

  1. I love this! And I love reading VVG's story on Facebook. So happy you rescued and then brought him into your home as a full member of the family! He reminds me of a fella I adopted via BRAT in 2002. A total love but an impulse biter and snapper from the first five years in a home with too many kids and too many dogs. Took some time, but eventually he came to love and trust us and the bites went away. What a lucky boy VVG is to find you and your pack! I'll keep watching via Facebook!