When Mama arrived at North Shore Animal League America off a rescue transport from South Carolina in March she seemed like a young dog who would simply need some time to adjust to the big changes that were occurring in her life – but this lab mix, no older than 2 years of age, wasn’t your typical rescue dog and her brutal past wouldn’t be as easily forgotten.

Upon her initial examination inside our Alex Lewyt Veterinary Medical Center, our medical team made a disturbing discovery. An x-ray showed dozens, if not hundreds, of birdshot pellets buried in her flesh, scattered throughout her entire body, limbs, and even in her head. This poor dog, whose pain could be seen deep in her big brown eyes, was shot at numerous times and hit with the small pellets designed for hunting birds. Being the victim of such a cruel and inhumane act, it’s no wonder Mama was so skittish and fearful when she first arrived.

“She’s been with us now for about three months. To say she’s come a long way since she came in that day wouldn’t be doing her justice. She was terrified, and rightfully so when you learn about her story,” said Animal League America Medical Support Liaison Chris Miller, who has developed a strong bond with Mama. “She would sit way back in her cage and stare in fear. Now, her personality is shining through and she’s the sweetest, most loving and welcoming dog you could meet. She still has a strong fear of the outdoors, but other than that she’s the perfect dog.”

It’s believed Mama’s fear of the outdoors stems from being outside when she was repeatedly shot, so it’s understandable that environment would be extremely traumatic for her. There’s no question this black-coated beauty, who is also being treated for heartworm, has a long road to recovery ahead if she will ever be able to take in all of the sights and smells of the great outdoors, but what’s interesting is that she doesn’t show any signs of stress or fear when she’s indoors. She’s very content lounging in her cage with her plush blankets and enjoying the comfort of knowing she’s safe, but that’s not the life we envision for this loveable Mutt-i-gree.

“When she’s in here with us she’s a big mush who just wants love. Look at her wagging her tail, rolling over on her back so you can rub her belly. She’s a ham,” said Chris as she rolled up a large comforter blanket and placed it on the floor so mama could lie down and play with one of her stuffed toys. “She definitely has no issues bonding with people. She just needs a special person who will take the time to work with her and slowly allow her to overcome her fears. It’s going to take some time, but I’m hopeful it’ll happen for her.”

Earlier this summer, Bobbie Bhambree joined Animal League America as Director of Pet Behavior. With more than 16 years as a professional dog trainer and behavior counselor, Bobbie acknowledged that Mama had made great strides since arriving in March, thanks to our staff’s patient hard work. But sadly, she also saw that Mama was stuck, unable to move beyond the dread of her past.

“Indoors,” says Bobbie, “Mama was friendly and generally engaged. But outside, even if she was with her ‘special person,’ she’d shut down and freeze…or she’d struggle to flee, especially if something startled her.”

Bobbie quickly realized that loving Mama and giving her a safe space weren’t going to be enough. This traumatized dog needed medicinal support to address her fears. According to Bobbie, every time Mama went outside, she was trapped in the flight stage of the fight-or-flight response, a state that makes learning impossible. Along with the medication, the team also wanted to move Mama into a quiet home ASAP. “And that’s when we got really lucky,” says Bobbie. “The ideal couple, Paula and Rick Phillips, decided to foster-to-adopt Mama. After just 30 minutes in their home, Mama was visibly more relaxed,” says Bobbie.

The first thing the Phillips did was change Mama’s name to Riley, which means “valiant” in Gaelic. A smart dog, Riley learned her new name quickly. Besides being intelligent, Riley is also very tactile and responds well to petting and massage — and Paula, who is also very tactile, loves massaging Riley.

To ease Riley’s transition, our team charted a plan that involved Paula’s sitting with Riley on the Phillips’ quiet terrace so Riley could be outside but still close to her safe home. The plan began with five-minute sessions. Bobbie hopes that eventually Riley will enjoy spending more time on the terrace…and then outside the front door…and someday at the end of a leash. Now that the Phillips have adopted her, we know that Riley will have loving people to help her along the way.

As for the Phillips, Riley has stolen their hearts and won their respect. “My husband and I are in love with Riley!” says Paula. “She’s doing really well and seems truly happy. She’s sweet, affectionate, and adorably funny. It’s so wonderful to see her playfulness emerge. Our hope for Riley is that with our love and support, the pain of her past trauma disappears.” We, too, hope that Riley will find a safe path to the great outdoors in the company of this kind and sensitive couple who, with the help of our team, took a chance on a valiant dog.“She may always have some Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” says Bobbie, “especially in reaction to loud or sudden noises. But Riley is a resilient dog, her heartworm treatment was successful, and we’re hopeful.”

By |2019-07-11T09:27:56-04:00June 17th, 2016|