In September 2022, the ASPCA was on the ground in Pahrump, Nevada, providing much-needed assistance with the care of nearly 300 Caucasian Shepherd-type dogs rescued from alleged cruelty. As a large part of our response, our teams assisted in managing an emergency shelter where the dogs, including puppies and pregnant dogs, received forensic exams, medical care and behavioral support as needed.
Some of the dogs were found emaciated, suffering from infected wounds and abscesses, missing limbs, matted coats, advanced dental disease and ear infections. Many were also extremely fearful, and none knew how to walk on a leash.
From September 1, until November 15, 256 responders worked more than 17,000 hours on the case.
Once the dogs were healthy enough to relocate, we organized a historic transport to move many of them to the ASPCA Cruelty Recovery Center (CRC), where they could receive continued care, treatment and enrichment from our experts to better prepare them to find loving families.
Because the dogs were so large—some approximately three feet tall and weighing over 100 pounds—they were too big for standard-sized dog crates and could not fit in a smaller cargo plane. So, we got creative and utilized dog crate risers to modify the largest available flight-approved dog crates. The use of these larger crates combined with the number and size of these giant dogs also required the use of a chartered 747 cargo plane—to our knowledge, the first flight of this type in animal welfare.
Once settled at the CRC, some of the dogs from this group continued to display signs of extreme fear and struggled with handling and interacting with staff. These dogs were transferred to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center (BRC), a facility dedicated to rehabilitating severely fearful dogs, where we hoped they would make progress and learn to better trust humans. Of those transported was Hagrid.
The Gentle Giant
Having likely never been treated with the kindness he deserved, Hagrid was hesitant to interact with any of the Behavior Specialists when he arrived at the BRC.
“He would approach us to eat from our hand and the floor but would move away frequently to put distance between us,” explains Lisa Marvin, Behavior Rehabilitation Specialist at the BRC and Hagrid’s caseworker. “He was fearful of the leash and nervous of hands reaching toward his collar, so we weren’t able to walk or handle him at the beginning. Hagrid was also reactive to other dogs walking past his kennel.”
While there are a few ways to help dogs like Hagrid through their fears, Lisa found that Hagrid was very food motivated, so she used treats to help quickly change his emotional response to the Behavior Specialists’ presence, their hands and the leash.
“It took about three weeks for Hagrid to get comfortable with the leash and ready to walk,” Lisa tells us. “Right after this he started allowing the Behavior Specialists to handle him around his chest, neck and shoulders.”
Due to his reactivity to other dogs, Hagrid worked alone so he could build a strong relationship with his human friends. Eventually, Lisa and her team began exposing him to other dogs from a long distance during his walks. After building up some confidence, Hagrid was able to interact with other dogs on leash and soon enough, progressed to being in a yard, off-leash with calm dogs.
On average, it can take about 16 weeks for a dog to work through the program at the BRC, but Hagrid graduated in just under 13 weeks. By graduation, Hagrid was a staff and volunteer favorite.
“He was so easy to walk and enjoyed handling,” Lisa remembers. “He was referred to as ‘a big teddy bear.’ We all loved having him in office time with us where we could interact with him in a very relaxed, normal atmosphere which strengthened our relationships with Hagrid even more and helped prepare him for his next journey. He became a confident dog who was ready to find his new family and his first home.”
A Spellbinding Connection
Rick A. wasn’t looking for a dog when fate put Hagrid in his path. In fact, he was mourning the loss of his beloved dog, Coalina. Heartbroken and grieving, he wasn’t sure he would ever adopt a dog again.
“Three days after we lost Coalina, I was scrolling through Facebook and the one and only ad I have ever seen before or since for the ASPCA popped up in my feed,” Rick recalls. “It was Hagrid, and I clicked the link. I read his story, and something told me that it was Coal’s way of letting me know that she wanted me to see that this big floof needed me and I needed him.”
Though still not entirely convinced he was ready to adopt a dog, Rick and his fiancée Maggie talked it over and decided they would fill out an adoption application on the ASPCA website.
“I thought, ‘If it’s meant to be, they will contact me.’ And they did! So, we arranged a meet-and-greet with Hagrid and my fiancée’s dog, Lucy,” says Rick.
When Rick, Maggie and Lucy met Hagrid, it was clear it was a match made in heaven.
“Rick was smitten with Hagrid the moment he met him, and he knew right away Hagrid was the dog for him,” Lisa tells us. “Rick was aware there would be some challenges that lie ahead since Hagrid had never lived in a home environment before, but he was ready and willing to be patient and provide everything Hagrid needed to settle into his new home comfortably.”
Hagrid’s Next Chapter
As expected, when Hagrid first arrived at his new home, he was standoffish and jumpy.
“It took some adjusting for all of us,” says Rick. “Rearranging of furniture, frequent trips out to the bathroom and LOTS of treat rewards. He developed separation anxiety that we are still working through, but he’s doing much better.”
Due to his separation anxiety, Rick and Maggie have had to limit their time away from home, but week by week they’re able to stay out longer.
After five months in his home, Hagrid’s personality has blossomed.
“Each day it seems a new petal emerges,” explains Rick. “He loves things that smell good like flowers and lotion. When he finds a smell he likes, he just drops his whole body on it and rolls around. He also gets the zoomies and runs through the house at full speed—if you’ve never seen a 120 lb. dog with the zoomies, it’s hilarious.”
In addition to his silly antics, Hagrid no longer flinches or pulls away when people go to pet him or give him “loving” as Rick and Maggie like to say.
“He rolls over and exposes his belly or he puts his head on us and lets us rub his head,” says Rick.
And like many with large dogs will understand, Hagrid is the definition of a gentle giant, never realizing how big he really is.
A Storybook Ending
For many of our Behavior Specialists at the BRC, getting reports of happy pups in their new homes and seeing their incredible growth is what keeps them going.
“It’s very rewarding to know all of our work with Hagrid made him a companion dog and got him to the point of adoption,” says Lisa. “It makes our work very fulfilling and gives us that drive to continue it for the next dog. There is a video of Hagrid getting the zoomies inside his new home, which is behavior we never saw here at the BRC. This brings us more joy than anyone can imagine!”
But Lisa and the staff at the BRC aren’t the only ones filled with joy. Rick and Maggie couldn’t be happier with their decision to take that leap and adopt Hagrid.
“Hagrid has filled a spot in our hearts that was left empty with the passing of our beloved Coalina,” says Rick. “We love him very much and he loves us. He reminded us that dogs don’t get to spend our lives with us, but we get to spend their lives with them. Short or long, it’s all in for us.”
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