Mickey's rehabilitation finds him a home for life

Posted by Nerilie Watson on 17 April 2010 | 9 Comments


My first meeting with Mickey was one of those chance encounters that end up having a huge impact on you.  Being an animal lover all my life I became a volunteer at the refuge several years ago.  When my work commitments changed and I no longer had the time to regularly help I saw a request on the website for a temporary carer for a dog recovering from an operation.  Seeing this as a way I could still help I fostered several dogs while they recovered from surgery.  During one of my visits to see if the latest dog I had looked after had found a home one of the staff asked me if I had heard about another dog they had who desperately needed care.  This was my first meeting with Mickey a beautiful black and cream Kelpie X Staffy.  He had been abandoned at the home and had required major surgery to fix a badly broken rear leg.  A metal pin had been inserted in the knee joint to hold the leg together and it had been necessary to confine him to a small cage to allow successful healing.  Although he had now recovered physically his unknown previous life had left him with severe behavioral problems. 

Mickey loves a cuddle

Approaching Mickey the first time he was a little nervous but quite friendly so I agreed to talk with the trainers to see if my home situation would be suitable for him.  This is when it became apparent that it was not going to be quite as simple as with the previous foster dogs. I was informed that Mickey had no idea of proper social skills with humans.  He was extremely distrustful and scared of strangers, especially men and coped in the only way he knew how by being aggressive towards them when they approached. He had no skills with other dogs and went into an excited frenzy when he saw them.  On hearing this I realized my home with my husband, two male teenagers and a very excitable kelpie dog was a long way from being ideal and the trainers agreed.  The wonderful staff had been working hard with Mickey but he still had a very long way to go.  For Mickey to have any chance of a full recovery he desperately needed to be in a home environment away from the stresses of refuge life. 


Best friends - Mickey & Cody

Due to the urgency and difficulty of finding Mickey a suitable environment it was agreed to trial an introduction with Mickey and all the family including our dog at the refuge.  If this was positive we could take him home.  The meeting with Cody our dog was quite successful.  The hackles were raised (Mickey’s standard reaction to anything new) as he worked himself into an overexcited frenzy but soon settled enough to allow the dogs to be let off their leads for a play.  Although being way too exuberant he was never aggressive and as they were ideally matched in size Cody soon told him when he was too over the top.  Provided he continued to heed Cody’s warning signs and learn from her it looked positive.  His introduction to the males in the family was not as positive.  He was extremely insecure and would only interact very nervously when being offered food by them.  Any sudden movement saw him growling at them. Hopefully this problem would be overcome with time and plenty of positive reinforcement.   Although we were armed with techniques to deal with Mickey’s behaviour  and I already had a fair bit of experience handling dogs as his arrival day approached I admit to feeling a bit worried as to whether we would cope.  The last thing I wanted to do was make things worse for Mickey.  He had been through so much already.

Shortly after, the refuge brought Mickey to our home.  After the usual raised hackles from the tip of his tail to the top of his head we were to see a lot of this in the coming months) he spent the afternoon racing around madly with our dog.  I had no knowledge of Mickey’s previous life but it appeared everything inside and outside the house was completely foreign to him.  Everything worried him.  He ran into glass and even flyscreen doors, bumped into furniture and tore to the fence growling whenever he heard people talking next door.  Later that day my husband and kids arrived home to be greeted by an extremely aroused snarling dog. After being offered the usual food treats by them he calmed down but still continued to growl everytime they came into the room or moved unexpectedly.  They spent the next few weeks always carrying bags of treats.  Within a few weeks, with lots of rewards and gentle encouragement he was pretty happy with everybody and most things around the home. Anything unexpected or catching him unawares would still see the hackles and growling but on a much diminished scale.  Cody soon taught him all things doggy both good and naughty. Any socks left lying around were soon stretched beyond recognition in a great tug of war game between them. The garden hose when turned on suffered a similar fate. Mickey decided that even though he was approx 12 months old he hadn’t had a proper puppyhood and proceeded to chew up anything he could get hold of.  He remodeled the wooden legs on the chairs, ate my yoga mat, pulled two collars off Cody while they were playing ripping them to shreds and stole a bag of lollies off my son’s desk proceeding to vomit slimy chocolate all through the house.

Mickey & Cody toying around

With Mickey now reasonably settled it was time to introduce him to visitors.  My daughter who visited nearly every week had proven no problem for Mickey.  He was always happy to see her but any other stranger still had Mickey reverting to raised hackles and very intimidating growling.  After being allowed to approach them in a non threatening situation with plenty of treats available he would gradually after a few visits remember them and after only some excited growling,  would greet them happily at the door.  He always had and still does have more of a problem with men.  His one exception was surprisingly my Mum.  As a dog lover and owner all her life I thought Mickey would easily accept meeting her.  While she was sitting down all was fine but her walking was another matter.  My Mum had suffered a stroke many years ago and was very unsteady on her feet.  She tended to shuffle with a limp and would use her hands to support herself on nearby objects.  This was just not the norm to Mickey and he would follow her closely growling and keeping a close eye on her hands.  It just showed how little it took to make Mickey feel insecure.

It was now time to take him outside the house and yard.  After getting him used to the lead our first attempt to get him into the car saw him cowering on the driveway behind the car.  Even Cody sitting happily in the car didn’t tempt him. A walk was out of the question.  Even sitting on the front lawn with people walking past on the other side of the road some 10 metres away was enough to send him into a growling frenzy.  If they had a dog with them his behaviour went right off the richter scale.  The advice of giving him treats continuously to calm him had no impact as he was so worked up he just spat them out. I continued to persist spending a small amount of time out the front every day and rewarding every bit of controlled behaviour and gradually he could sit quietly as people walked by.  Dogs still caused great excitement but with the help of some understanding neighbours Mickey was introduced successfully to their dogs.  Persistence, gentle encouragement, rewarding correct behaviour and introducing new things slowly with little baby steps was starting to see a positive change in Mickey.

It is now March 2010 eighteen months since Mickey arrived as a ‘short’ term foster.  Obviously he has found a home for life.  I realized early on once he settled in that I could never subject him to the trauma of being uprooted and having to adjust all over again.  Underneath all the insecurity and intimidating behaviour was a very frightened dog who just craved love and security. 

Mickey's second Christmas

Today, Mickey is unrecognizable as the dog I first met.  He still displays intimidating behaviour to strangers but has no problems with people he meets regularly. The raised hackles so prevalent early on rarely make an appearance now. When out on a lead he can still become overexcited on seeing dogs but is still improving all the time.

He now loves the car, racing Cody excitedly out the door to get in first.  Visits to my parents are another highlight for him.  He is completely at ease there now and takes no notice of my mum walking around.  He likes to sit with his head resting on her lap looking all adoring and hoping for a treat.  He knows she’s a soft touch. His first Christmas day, which was shortly after he arrived was spent in the bedroom as we had a small group of people around and at that stage it was just too much for him to cope with.  In comparison, the next Christmas (as seen in the photo) saw him happily mixing with everybody and trying to sit on their laps at the table.

Mickey & Cody toying around

Cody and Mickey are inseparable playing endless games of tug a war, chasing each other around the race tracks they’ve made through the garden and Mickey’s all time favourite fetching balls from the swimming pool.  As with most new things, Mickey although happy to paddle in his wading pool, was rather unsure of the swimming pool.  He would watch uncertainly desperate to join in as Cody leapt happily into the pool after balls.  Even lifting him in to stand on the shallow step was a bit an ordeal for him but eventually he progressed to swimming and eventually leaping in with a great grin on his face.  We have now nicknamed him ‘the otter’ and he would spend all day in there if he could.  Just the mention of the word pool or changing into bathers sends both dogs into an excited frenzy and racing for the pool gate.

The absolute highlight however for Mickey and Cody is a trip to the beach.  Mickey’s excitement is so great his staffy talking side comes to the fore and he ‘sings’(a polite way of putting it) at the top of his voice all the way there in the car.  Thank heavens we only live a few minutes drive from the beach.  Provided there are not too many people Mickey can play happily off his lead with Cody and his ball. He greets other dogs quietly and generally ignores the people.  After our first trip to the beach I did not think that scenario would ever be possible. Mickey was at his uncontrollable worst, in a complete frenzy on passing any person or dog but I continued bringing him down regularly till he got used to all the dogs.  Allowing him to approach other dogs only when he was quiet and rewarding him when he acted appropriately with them proved very successful and he improved in leaps and bounds.

To many people, Mickey would have initially been seen as too big a problem to be worth saving.  He required an expensive operation, long rehabilitation and then huge amounts of time and training to address his behaviour before he could be considered for adoption.  Housing dogs like this at the refuge is also difficult as they cannot cope with the kennel environment but the wonderful dedicated staff and volunteers at the refuge believe every dog deserves the chance to live a fulfilled and happy life no matter how hard the task.  Without their dedication and effort dogs like Mickey would be written off and we would not have had the wonderful opportunity to help him achieve happiness.

Despite his terrible start to life he has learnt to trust again and gives us so much love and devotion.  He is such a fun loving character, extremely loyal and the biggest smooch I’ve ever come across.  If he’s not romping with Cody he’s looking for a lap to curl up on trying to get in as many kisses as he can while he’s there.

Our family, Cody and especially Mickey are forever grateful to everyone at the Dogs Refuge Home for rescuing him.

Lyndell and Family

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  • Hi Lyndell - what an inspiration you are! The result of your dedication and kindness is truly remarkable, and a reminder to me that it is all worth the effort, even if the road is long.. AND a great writer to boot!!

    Posted by Sally (drh vollie), 20/06/2010 3:29pm (8 years ago)

  • i wondered what happened to little mickey... you have done a wonderful thing in giving him a second chance and a wonderful home. i hope mickey and his mate cody enjoy a long life together!!! awesome job!!! maddy (drh staff member)

    Posted by maddy, 04/06/2010 12:41pm (8 years ago)

  • what an amazing storie an thanks for caring...you are truly a wonderful kind people.

    Posted by angela, 30/05/2010 1:22pm (8 years ago)

  • What a fantastic story. The world is a better place thanks to people like you :-)

    Posted by Paul Swanson, 12/05/2010 8:50pm (8 years ago)

  • That is a really heartwarming story, and also really educational as most people would think that such a dog could never make a good pet. Well done!

    Posted by Halina, 29/04/2010 5:54pm (8 years ago)

  • Thank you Lyndell, Cody and Family for taking Mickey into your lives. I remember him as a scared little pup badly mistreated. I am so pleased to see him happy in your photos.
    Thank you for saving a Refuge dog.
    Please give him a hug for me.
    Em from the Ref

    Posted by Emma, 23/04/2010 8:52pm (9 years ago)

  • What a fantastic story...God bless you and your family for your love and persistence. Looks like it's paid off for all of you and what a happy, happy dog!

    Posted by Sharron, 21/04/2010 2:58pm (9 years ago)

  • Your story made me cry - what a beautiful person you are, honestly you are amazing, if there were only more loving people to reach out and give one of these beautiful animals another chance. There are so many waiting.

    Posted by Leah McConkey, 21/04/2010 10:28am (9 years ago)

  • I am in complete awe as to the dedication and kindness your family has given to Mickey and it just goes to show what and a second chance can achieve! All dogs deserve this opportunity as they dont ask to be born or abandoned! Your story has made my day!

    Posted by Trish, 20/04/2010 10:22am (9 years ago)

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