Impounded dogs get new leash on life

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Piglet was only 3 months old when she three other female dogs were impounded as part of a cruelty and neglect case in Chicago. | Josh Feeney/Safe Humane Chicago

Piglet was only 3 months old when she and three other female dogs were impounded as part of a cruelty and neglect case in Chicago. For the next five months, she was in a shelter while her case was fought in court.

Crucial developmental months, when socializing behaviors and recurring fears are learned, were spent in a kennel with limited outside activity at Chicago Animal Care and Control. Five years ago, Piglet would have had a 2 percent chance of leaving Animal Care alive, according to Cynthia Cynthia Bathurst, president and executive director of Safe Humane Chicago.

Back then, evidence dogs, as they were labeled because they were evidence against bad owners, would average 256 days at Animal Care while their case played out in court. So much time in a cage created behavioral issues, making it hard to find homes for them.

In 2010, Safe Humane Chicago, in collaboration with Best Friends Animal Society and Chicago Animal Care and Control, started the Court Case Dog Program focused on behavioral support for dogs that have “done the time but not the crime.”

The program also is involved in helping the city gain custody of the animals, so spending 256 days in Animal Care is a thing of the past.

Today, the average stay for a dog is one month, and now 70 percent of dogs leave the Animal Care facility alive, according to Bathurst.

“Animal Care and Control always sheltered these court case dogs,” she said. “But there was never a program that focused on getting dogs relinquished of ownership, trained and into a new home.”

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Owner Mary Rutherford walks Piglet and Tig (left), a certified therapy dog. | Josh Feeney, Safe Humane Chicago

Piglet’s case dragged on because the owner wanted her four pit bulls back. In December 2014, the city won custody of Piglet. In less than a month, she found a new home in Denver, Colorado, but not before accidentally being placed on a flight to New York City.

“She was supposed to arrive here around 1 p.m. and didn’t get here until about 8 p.m.,” owner Mary Bruner Rutherford said. “We were all very worried, but she handled it like she’s handled most things in her life — totally unfazed.”

Piglet’s case is one of many. The Court Case Dog Program has helped 770 dogs.

“We partner with other rescues to help them get dogs into homes, and provide behavioral support for life,” Bathurst said. She hopes it can become a national program.

“A Ruff Road Home: The Court Case Dogs of Chicago,” published by Safe Humane Chicago, is a collection of 14 stories documenting court case dogs and their owners’ journey to finding each other. The book’s launch party will be Nov. 22 at Chicago Party Animals, 1133 W. Fulton Market.

After Thanksgiving, Safe Humane Chicago will release its annual calendar, with this year’s focus on the Court Case Dog Program.

“The dogs in the 2016 calendar were chosen to show a range of situations from which they were rescued, and the photographs show a range of settings in which the dogs and their people are thriving,” Bathurst said.

Piglet’s story is one of those. Rutherford has two other dogs: Lars, a Dalmatian, is an agility champion, and Tig, a male pit bull, is a certified therapy dog. Piglet just started tracking lessons, a canine sport that showcases a dog’s ability to recognize and follow a scent.

“I have a lot of empathy for her for what she’s been through,” Rutherford said. “I have a lot of gratitude for Safe Humane for advocating for her and acknowledgment in the tremendous amount of effort that not only went into saving her life, but getting her out to Colorado.”

“I loved her instantly, from the first time I met her at the airport,” she said.

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