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Torro's Next Steps

Wed, 5 Sep 2018
Torro's Next Steps

Torro’s Next Steps

Torro was rescued by a Good Samaritan from Canmore who was vacationing in Mexico. He was in rough shape, close to death in a ditch along the road. He was taken to a local veterinarian who diagnosed him as having a severely broken right back leg. His rescuer agreed to pay the Mexican veterinarian to insert a pin and keep him for about a month until it healed.

The plan was to adopt Torro to a friend living in the Bow Valley, but the plan broke down right after Torro landed in Calgary. The potential adopter could not take him.

Torro was surrendered to the Bow Valley SPCA on February 10, 2018. We took him to the veterinarian for his intake exam and we found that his back leg had healed poorly and the muscles were severely atrophied., He also had a communicable form of mange, the dog’s version of Lyme’s Disease causing severe anemia, numerous broken teeth, and a type of cancer that was nearly 100% curable with chemo-therapy.

If you want to see more about Torro’s back-story click here.

Five months later, Torro is healthy, has gained weight, and regained about 80% of the muscle mass in his back leg. In early August we started on his behaviour plan!

We develop behaviour plans for all of the dogs in our care. A plan is created to help each individual dog learn the skills to be a great family member. In Torro’s case this presented us with some unusual challenges:

  1. When he first arrived, he was considerably malnourished and guarded his food bowl by growling at anyone who came near.
  2. He had to get regular blood tests to determine if his anemia was improving–meaning he had receive intravenous needles several times a week. He quickly became afraid of this procedure and had to be physically restrained and muzzled while the vet tech found a vein and withdrew a blood sample.
  3. The chemo-therapy treatment required Torro to have a normal red blood cell count, meaning that a blood sample had to be taken the day before the chemo-therapy.
  4. Torro became fearful when riding in any vehicle because it predicted going to the vet where he had to get blood tests and treatments via needles. This meant giving him an oral sedative before traveling.
  5. The cancer treatments were done in Calgary, meaning a weekly 90 minute car ride each way for 8 weeks.

Ultimately, Torro learned that the vet techs were going to hurt him and he growled when they came into the room. Although he was reacting to trauma in a normal way, a growling 30 KG dog is a bit scary. This meant he earned a negative reputation for his fearful reactions.

So, in addition to the usual things we work on in a behavioural plan – such as loose leash walking, not jumping, and “sit” and “down” on command – we knew we needed to work on food guarding, changing his associations of the veterinary clinic, and comfortably riding in a car.

We have begun teaching Torro to “love his muzzle”. We bought a new, soft silicone muzzle designed to be comfortable and have been using positive associations with food to change his emotional response to seeing it. The idea is that the muzzle is associated with good stuff, and he likes to wear it. Torro willingly puts his nose in the muzzle and wags his tail as he awaits his reward, already showing a positive emotional response to something which once terrified him.

Once he is 100% comfortable wearing his muzzle, we will take him to new and interesting places – such the river trail or downtown.. The idea is to convince him that riding in a car is a good thing because he gets to go to new and fun places. The muzzle will also predict fun and exciting things, furthering his positive association with wearing it. We have never seen him act aggressively in any kind of situation other than a veterinary clinic, but we don’t want to take a chance that something from his past experience might trigger him.

Next step will be to take him to a new veterinary clinic wearing the muzzle he loves and just let him look around and get treats from the staff. Eventually he will go into the exam rooms and again get treats. Depending on his stress levels associated with the clinic, we may opt to sedate him when he has to go to the vet for checkups. This is becoming standard practice for dogs that are fearful of vets because it reduces anxiety and trauma associated with visiting scary places.

During all of this, we will be working on the usual behaviors mentioned above. Torro is already an ace at loose leash walking and “sit” and “down” commands. We are certain that with a little love and understanding, Torro will become the perfect companion to a very lucky human.