Updated: March 25, 2011 at 12:00 am
Josie has had many labels placed on her:
Stray. Dog-aggressive. People-aggressive. Dangerous. Untrainable. Unadoptable.
And the worst of all — Dead Dog Walking — when she was just hours away from being euthanized at the local shelter.
But now, 31/2 years later, Josie has received a new label: Canine Good Citizen. The American Kennel Club certificate, not all that easy to come by, means Josie has passed a 10-step test that evaluated her good manners at home and in the community.
The story of how Josie was transformed from a feared, aggressive dog to a model of canine politeness is a story of how trust can overcome fear. It’s a story of how some bad dogs are just misunderstood and untrained. And it’s a story of patience. Lots and lots of patience, extended by her owner, Heike Munday.
“Heike was the only hope for Josie,” said Kristin Dearden, volunteer coordinator at Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, who was there when Josie’s fate appeared to be sealed.
Saved in the nick of time
The Gazette last reported on Josie on April 25, 2008, in an article titled “Saving Josie.” She had showed up in a west-side neighborhood on a snowy day. She ran from gestures of friendship — growling, raising her hackles and hiding under junk in a vacant yard.
Munday, a pet groomer who lives in the neighborhood, spent hours sitting quietly on a concrete slab in the alley, trying to gain Josie’s trust and offering food. “She was so elusive it broke my heart,” Munday said at the time.
Josie began following Munday on her daily walks with her own three shelter dogs. Eventually, Humane Society animal-control officers captured the dog. Munday was relieved because she feared the dog might have been run over on busy Colorado Avenue.
But things did not go well at the shelter. Josie hid in the back of the cage, growled and tried to bite as the clock ran out on the five-day wait period for an owner to show up.
Even socialized strays can act up in a shelter. But Josie failed the all-important temperament test called the Safety Assessment for Evaluating Re-homing, or SAFER. She was also considered too dangerous for the Twice Loved Canine program, where expert volunteers spend up to a month training dogs with potential for adoption.
When a dog fails the SAFER evaluation because of aggression, the shelter does not offer it for adoption.
But Munday, who had been visiting Josie, asked to take her home just hours before the dog was to be put down.
“After all that time in the alley hanging with Josie, fearing for her, I wasn’t going to let that be the end of it,” she said. “I knew it was possible because she had started trusting me.”
Shelter officials say they would never put such a dog in the hands of just anyone.
Canine aggression can be extremely serious, so if someone wants to take on training, they must have experience, said Humane Society spokeswoman Erin Carroll.
Munday was a Humane Society regular, from her occasional volunteer grooming and adoption of difficult rescues, including a semiferal Hurricane Katrina stray.
She signed a waiver, releasing the shelter of any responsibility, and agreed to protect the community while she rehabilitated the dog, including keeping her leashed or in the house.
Munday hadn’t been in the market for a dog. She was training Theodore, an 8-year-old mill dog with health issues that she had adopted. Theodore became Josie’s first friend.
“They helped each other. He was not a threat, so it made Josie feel confident,” Munday said.
Josie grew to trust the rest of her new family, including two other dogs, and three cats. But she did not like to be petted. “At first I did everything without hands,” Munday said. “I’d call her over and not grab for her. I’d rub or push against her with my knees, like dogs do.”
It was Munday’s husband, Tracy, who had a major breakthrough, roughhousing on the floor with Josie.
No walk in the dog park
Still, it took months to establish a solid relationship with Josie. On the leash she would bark at people and dogs, and would try to bolt.
“The physical aspect of this is where I could get frustrated, 58 pounds of muscle pulling on the leash,” Munday said. “I had down periods. Not that I wouldn’t be able to do it, but thinking, ‘This is really hard.’ You have to keep your motivation and vision up when you are down in the trenches.”
She consulted with several trainers and read books to better understand the psyche of fear-aggressive dogs.
On their training walks, Munday and Josie would encounter homeless people in America the Beautiful Park.
“They were her first outside contact,” she said. “They weren’t afraid of her; they were used to pit bulls. And when everybody heard her story, they automatically bonded with the story and sympathized. They always gave her cookies. Josie and I owe the homeless community a big thank-you for that acceptance.”
Munday also took the dog to the skateboard park, to pet stores, Prospect Lake, downtown. That first summer, Josie spent a lot of time under a bench in Acacia Park, too wary to come out and greet high school kids who at noon hour fussed over Munday’s other dog, Nina. Last year, Josie did not sit under the bench. She waited expectantly for dog treats.
At first, it was a struggle to get Josie into the building for obedience classes. Once there, she was skittish and barked. “That’s typical of fearful dogs. It’s ‘I’m tough. Don’t try anything,’” Munday said.
Eventually, she began to wait excitedly at the door when it was time to go to class, which included agility drills. “She loves the tunnels and cookies, and it has given her lots of confidence,” Munday said.
On the day of the Canine Good Citizen test, Josie pranced around the training ring, black coat shining, eyes glued on Munday.
As part of the test, Josie accepted pats from a friendly stranger, sat politely, and stayed in place even when her owner disappeared from sight for several minutes. She heeled on a loose lead calmly through a crowd, sat patiently for grooming, came when called, and showed only casual interest in other dogs. When a folding chair purposely was dropped and a person with a walker jerkily approached — all part of the test — Josie showed interest, but didn’t bark or panic.
After the test, friends hugged Munday and praised Josie. Later, at home, Josie was rewarded with her favorite: crunchy Baa-Baa-Q lamb treats.
‘It takes a special person’
“Josie is awesome. She’s happy and socialized and likes people,” said Georgeanne Steffens, a part-time instructor at Canine Solutions, who has tested not only Josie, but many other dogs for the Canine Good Citizenship certificate.
“It takes a special person who can rescue a dog in the first place. But not everyone can deal with the issues Josie had and get her to where she is. Munday was intent on saving Josie and had the dedication and patience to do it.”
Munday explained it this way: “You get from a dog 100 percent of what you put in. How you get there is different with every dog.” There is always room for improvement, so there will be more training, maybe even agility meets. “If I become a better trainer, she will become an even better dog,” Munday said.
Josie’s pal Theodore died, but there is a new guy at home — a part-retriever puppy named Hannes, also from a shelter, whom Munday is training. Hannes, unlike Josie, has from the start believed everyone is his best friend.
Josie’s days are filled with walks, classes, cheese treats, napping with the cats, romping with Hannes. It is a life different from the one either Josie or Munday lived when she arrived at the shelter.
“Josie was being rehabilitated,” she said, “but I was the one being trained. It has been a growth process for both of us.”