Turtle and Winnie are sisters. At the ranch they were known as Teenie and Weenie, which worked okay, until they were separated. Turtle got her nick name because she would climb under half of a plastic snap together dog house and carry it around on her back. Turtle left the ranch before the big rescue. As conditions at the ranch became worse, her run mates became aggressive about food and wouldn’t let her eat. There was concern that she might not survive, so I brought her out to Safe Haven. She stayed there a few weeks before I brought her home.
The first day she arrived at my house, she came in from the run through the dog door and crawled into the bath tub. She slept there for several hours. After that, she moved outside and stayed in the run. My other dogs went to visit her, but she really wanted nothing to do with them. And so, Turtle had a pretty lonely existence for several months. When I went out to see her, she would pace and circle or run into her house and hide.
Turtle in the bathtub
Then in May 2008, I got a call about sister Winnie. Winnie had been through the big roundup and spent time at Camp Reno. She was eventually released to a shelter, but wasn’t doing well. Like many of the Gabbs dogs, Winnie couldn’t cope with the shelter environment. Shelter workers would often find her burrowed under her blankets and bed in the corner of her kennel. An animal behavior expert was consulted who recommended she be put to sleep to “put her out of her misery”. Connie Nolan of Wylie Animal Rescue Foundation arranged for Winnie to be released to me.
So after many months of separation, the sisters were reunited. From a training standpoint, it may not have been the best case scenario. They had each other to rely on again. But for their emotional wellbeing it worked out. They had each other to rely on again. Winnie came out of her blue funk and was delighted that she hadn’t been put out of her misery. So I had two pretty much feral dogs living in my dog run and not much clue what to do about it. If you look on the internet for advice, most of the articles begin with “start with a puppy under four months of age”. Well that ship had sailed.
Within a few months, more shelter rejects began coming back to Nevada: Polly, Oscar, Dinky and Harold. Robin Wenham was kind enough to bring them to us. He also offered up tons of advice on helping Turtle and Winnie. I went out into the dog run and read to them, napped with them, sat and groomed and played with my dogs in their presence. It took time, but Turtle and Winnie became more comfortable in my presence rather than pacing or hiding. They would take an occasional treat, but not often.
Then came the next big experiment, turn Turtle and Winnie loose in the backyard (maybe an acre) and see if they would hook up with the other dogs like Nelda (Gabbs dog) had. That didn’t work so well. First they tunneled under the fence and went on their “walk about” around the neighborhood. They would come back though, and I was able to block their tunnel once they were inside the yard. But I’m sure the neighbors thought I had lost my mind when they saw me sitting on the haystack with binoculars.
Turtle and Winnie never really hooked up with the other dogs, but formed their own little “pack”. There were some turf wars. My dogs Twist and Nelda were able to cross into their territory and tried to teach “play”. It was fun to see Nelda out there with her butt in the air and Turtle and Winnie dancing around her. Turtle and Winnie also learned to come up for “treat time”. With all that space to avoid me in, they were now very happy to come up and get chicken jerky strips.
As winter set in, I worried about their sleeping arrangements. They had their plastic, snap together dog houses, but that didn’t seem warm enough. So I bought them a cedar doggie duplex and put in a dog house heater. At first they wouldn’t go near it. Then they would go close enough to pull out the blankets where I had put the chicken jerky strips. They never slept in it . For the coldest time, they dug a burrow, maybe six feet deep and two feet in diameter . Old habits die hard. But they did it perfect. The opening faced away from the prevailing wind and it stayed dry during rain, snow and thaw . Teach that to a purebred!
Winter turned into spring and Turtle and Winnie found their voices. ( A weird thing about Gabbs dogs, they are silent for so long, and then they start barking---the voice of the Turtle was heard in the land). I would take my other dogs out for their walk and Turtle and Winnie would bark. I bribed them with rib bones. That worked for a while. Then not so much.
I came home one morning to find a message on my answering machine about the “f-ing dogs barking at five o’clock in the morning on a Sunday morning” and “I know you have five dogs over there” (eight, but who’s counting) “and if you don’t do something about it I will”. This was the same morning my dogs had decided to chase a skunk and had drug me down a gravel road in hot pursuit. No direct hits, but even if you are in the general vicinity, the odor clings. I had just gotten out of the shower when there was a knock at the door. So there I am in my robe, oozing blood from the road rash on my leg, reeking of skunk face to face with a deputy who sheepishly said “Your neighbor complained about your dogs barking.” “Oh?” All eight of them were blessedly silent. White car with lights on top = hide. “That’s what he said, ma’m.”
I spent the next week trying to trap Turtle and Winnie in the live trap, up every few hours to check the trap. Winnie finally decided roast pork was too good to resist. Turtle followed a few night later. Safely back in the run. Where do we go from here?
I had previously focused on trying to get leashes on them. Turtle would gnash on the leash and glare at me. Winnie just became immobile. A lump of doggie on the floor. I had tried drag leads, but they would be gone the next day and Turtle would poop leash for a week. (Catching the dogs at Gabbs was not easy. Many, like Turtle had to be lassoed. Turtle gnashed at the plastic coated cable until her mouth bled. She made noises I have never heard come from any dog. She bit both Linda (Dama’s niece) and I).
Turtle and Winnie, back in the run began to pace and circle again. One day the border collies had enough of it and herded Turtle into a corner and made her lay down. So began the summer of love. With Turtle quiet in her corner, I began moving in to pet and massage her. A little T –touch and she soon began to actually relax. Winnie would run in the house through the dog door. I had a six by six kennel in the living room set up by then and could lock her in once she was inside. She also learned to enjoy her rubs.
The one goal I had for the winter was that they would sleep inside. Winnie was easy, she would run inside when I went out. I gave her a crate inside the kennel and she would run into it. Turtle would run to her corner, near the dog door. I would bring a crate out, she would eventually go in , then I would drag it inside. Little by little she learned to seek out the crate and finally would run through the dog door to find it. Eventually, the crates were taken apart so they weren’t hiding, but exposed to the inside world.
With Gabbs dogs, sometimes it’s baby steps. I haven’t pushed them this winter. But now when I come in from doing evening horse chores, they usually come inside and hop into their beds. I don’t have to go out and herd them. I used to have to keep the kennel shut. They wouldn’t eat until I had gone to bed, so I had to keep my other dogs away from their food. Now they eat in my presence. Turtle takes treats by hand during morning treat time. Winnie still wants them laid in front of her, but will then eat them. Instead of huddling down in their beds, they lay at night, with their chins on the edges of the bed and watch me.
They have white on their muzzles. I call them foster dogs. At this pace, they will probably grow old and die here. That’s okay. I consider the Gabbs dogs the gift of a lifetime. These dogs, many of whom had no socialization as puppies, were salvageable, weird, but salvageable. Seeing them safe and managing, learning and thriving is in your face to conventional thought on what these dogs would have been capable of. And I love in your face stuff! Whooo Hooo, Gabbs Dogs!
Turtle and Winnie INDOORS
Lots of Love Turtle and Winnie