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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rescued pets getting a second chance

Animals adjust nearly a year after Katrina

By Heather LaRoi
Post-Crescent staff writer

Harry, a standard poodle-mix, has seen a lot in what's guessed to be his two years of life.

Rescued from flood-ravaged New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where he was either separated from or abandoned by his family, he was eventually picked up by volunteers with Best Friends Animal Society and ended up at their home base in Kanab, Utah, with hundreds of other animal refugees.

Alas, somewhere along the way, poor Harry, no doubt traumatized by the hell that pretty much destroyed the world as he knew it in August, had picked up a few bad habits. Things like aggression around food and aggression toward anybody trying to pet him, things that pretty much made him undesirable as an adoptable pet.

Enter Joanne Hjella of Larsen.

Hjella, a dog trainer and behaviorist for about 30 years, took up Harry's cause. Looking at the skinny, scruffy, lovelorn Harry, she saw a dog not to be written off, but a dog to be saved.

"So many dogs are being euthanized for absolutely the wrong reason when they can be rehabilitated. And people are not giving them a chance," Hjella said. "I just want people to know these dogs can be rehabilitated.

"These dogs are not born screwed up. They're born very stable and balanced, but it's the people who mess them up. They make matters worse, too, and they don't realize it because they try to communicate with (their dogs) like they're people. They use human psychology when they're not humans, they're dogs."

Hjella, who runs Canine Academy, and husband John have five other dogs, but Harry's her first foster dog. They eventually hope to find a permanent home for him.

"Harry's a special case, a special guy," she said. "We've only had him a couple weeks, but he's already doing a lot better. We can actually pet him when he's eating now and he doesn't growl as much. He's doing real well."

Harry is regaining some of his bounce — literally. When visitors enter the backyard, Harry repeatedly leaps high into the air in greeting, a trait that has earned him the nickname "Boing-Boing."

"He was a pistol, let me tell you, when we first got him," Kjella said. "I put him on the grooming table because he had hair hanging in his face. They had shaved him because he was all matted, but you couldn't see his face or his eyes and of course I can't train him unless I can see what he's thinking. I reached for him to brush the hair on his face and he about tore my face off. He missed, but he was like a vicious junkyard dog.

"Nobody could pet him on the head. He would just reach out and bite. I think, really, it stems from fear. And the food aggression you can almost understand. He was probably roaming the streets of New Orleans for quite a while, trying to find food. It must have been so scary."

Hjella figures she has another couple months of work with Harry before he's ready to be placed in a new home, but she's confident he'll get there.

"I couldn't touch him before but now I can hug him and pet him. He's really an extremely sweet dog."

Hjella, too, wishes Harry could talk.

"It'd be so much easier to train him," she said, with a laugh. "And you could reason with him like a person or a child. I tell him all the time, I say, 'Harry, you don't have to worry about where your food's coming from. You're always going to have food. Nobody's ever going to hurt you again, right, Harry?'"

Harry's long tail, with its lion-like tuft at the end, wags.

Heather LaRoi can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 238, or at hlaroi@postcrescent.com.


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