(Adopted/Available for Adoption) I know a puppy. He is about 10 months old and 50 pounds. He shows his enthusiasm for me by galloping across the yard and hurling himself at my head. This makes me laugh every time. Of course, I loved Raphael the moment I first saw him, but his particular method of showing his appreciation for me makes me love him even more.
I first met Raphael on August 20th. 4 puppies had been reported to animal control as having been dumped, apparently, in the forest near a mountain bike trail on Rattlesnake Mountain. Catching four dogs at once is not easy. It’s something I had never tried before. Animal Control contacted me because my nonprofit, Useless Bay Sanctuary, has helped them catch difficult dogs in the past. We have the techniques, equipment, and patience to help stray dogs when other organizations are less well suited to the task. Tino and I drove up to Rattlesnake Mountain and met Shannon, an employee of the Department of Natural Resources, the agency responsible for that forest. She had been watching them all day and trying to get the cyclists to dismount from their bikes and walk past the dogs in order to avoid instigating a chase. The puppies had nipped at several people who biked past, and one person had threatened to shoot them.
I came armed with a package of hotdogs. I tossed a few pieces toward the pack of puppies, and they soon learned I was a source of treats. Before very long, I went and sat down in the middle of the pack. Briefly, a couple of them made mock threats at me, barking in their puppy voices and trying to sound tough. A couple of them made bluff charges at me, not very convincingly. At no point was I afraid of these dogs, who ranged from 45 to 65 pounds. Even if they had truly been agressive, I would have been able to safely defend myself without hurting any of them. I could tell, though, that they were just nervous about their circumstances. They were defending their new territory, the last place they had seen their human. They probably figured their human had only driven away temporarily, and would come back.
I used Calming Signals to tell the dogs I was not a threat to them. I kept my side or my back to them. When one of them, I think it was Donatello, nipped at my pant leg, I didn’t react, knowing that he was just testing. I looked to the side of them, and if I did make eye contact, then I would look away, letting them see my face, relaxed, not threatening, not worried. Virtually everyone passing by was giving them a hard stare because it is unusual to see four puppies loose in the wilderness and also to try to gauge if they were a threat. People ought to know that staring at a dog can make him defensive, creating a threat where there doesn’t need to be one. Using my posture and orientation and facial expressions, I communicated with the dogs in their language, to let them know I understood their situation, and that I was not there to challenge them or try to grab at them. I just sat down in the middle of them and let them mill around me, taking treats as they wished. Within a very short time, they considered me to be part of their pack. They would go charging after the cyclists and then return to sit by me.
When I first arrived, they all looked nearly the same to me, obviously siblings. They moved around so much it was really kind of hard to keep track of which was which. I wanted to name them in order to keep track of who was doing what, and learn more about their individual personalities. The use of Calming Signals is as much about observation and learning a dog’s behavior as it is signaling to them. Because they were young, and brothers, and there were four of them, I thought of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had actually forgotten the characters’ names and had to google it. I named them from lightest to darkest. Donatello had mostly blonde color on his face with black accents. Leonardo had more black and less cream. Michelangelo had a dark brindle face. Raphael had a black muzzle and a dark face. I soon learned that Donatello was the leader. He was the first to come up to me, the first to eat from my hand, and the first to let me pet him. Raphael was the last to let me pet him, but once Raphael felt he could trust me, he really became attached to me, much more than the others.
How do you catch four unsocialized, rambunctious puppies? I couldn’t simply put leashes on them all. They wouldn’t sit still for that. UBS has a kennel trap, ten feet long, five feet wide, and six feet tall. I could lead them into the kennel trap and someone could shut the door behind me, using a rope. However, the kennel trap was in use in Gig Harbor, 75 miles away. It was going to be dark soon, and I had to return home to take care of my 5 dogs. I didn’t think we could catch them on that first day. One volunteer stayed late to watch over them and keep them safe, and another volunteer agreed to come early.
When I returned on the 21st, they remembered me and accepted me into their safe zone. Other volunteers were able to sit down with us, and the puppies would come up and take treats from them. The volunteers either knew calming signals or I coached them on how to do it, but the ninja turtles didn’t seem to warm up to anyone quite the way they trusted me. Shannon, LaVonne, Brenda, Judy, and Janelle all spent time with them, and they were all kind and gentle, feeding them treats. Maybe the turtles just sensed how relaxed I was with them. I was not at all worried they would hurt me. I could tell they didn’t want to, but even if they did intend to harm me, I could easily hold them off. I really felt at home with them, just sitting in the dirt in the woods, hanging out. I felt like one of them. Besides just enjoying their company, I was building a bond with them so they would have confidence to work with me when we finally decided on a way to capture them. As I sat in the dirt with them, with Raphael flopping over me, I tried to think of various scenarios where we could catch four dogs at once.
I didn’t really think it would work, but I tried bringing Tino out as a magnet dog. Maybe if they all warmed up to him, they would follow him into a vehicle. Tino is a good sport, but he is very wordy, barking in excitement in many situations. As I walked Tino around, he barked steadily, and the ninja turtles swarmed around him, barking, and nipping at the back of his legs. They only got Tino’s thick fur in their mouths and were never really a threat to him. It wasn’t calming them down, though, and I didn’t see them forging a bond very quickly. I put Tino back in the car to nap and I went and sat with the dogs again. I thought that if we had some sort of trailer, like a bike trailer, low to the ground in back, I could lead them in and then someone could close the door after us. There had been a trailer at the trailhead, which would have been perfect, but it was loaded up and driven away before we could ask them. I called around to a few people and organizations to find a horse trailer, and I finally found one that could be brought the next day.
I went home in the middle of the day, to walk dogs, and while I was gone, someone accidentally drove their car off the road just across from the forest road gate where the puppies were staying. By the time I returned, a tow truck was there, getting the car out. The tow truck driver was very interested in the dogs, and he came over to talk to me. As I sat on the ground, petting the dogs, not looking at them, he crouched nearby, looking right at them and extending his hand. They avoided him and stayed near me. I tried to explain about calming signals, but it didn’t seem like I was getting through. I told him our plan to bring a horse trailer so I could lead the turtles in and someone could close the door. It turned out that he had a horse trailer nearby and he could bring it sooner than the one we had lined up. I sat and waited with the dogs for a few hours until the trailer arrived. It was fun to get to know their personalities. Donatello was the first to do anything. He was most tolerant of people. Leonardo would follow him around, usually, and back him up. If Donatello said it was okay to take treats from me, then Leonardo would follow suit. Michelangelo was more aloof, tending to keep his distance, watching. Raphael was the most cautious and reactive, uncertain about what to do. That is, Raphael was uncertain until he decided I was okay. Once we bonded, he was very attached to me. As I sat in the dirt, waiting for the horse trailer, Raphael draped himself across my legs and I petted him all over his head and neck and body. As each stranger passed by, Raphael would bark at them as he sprawled across me, saying, “This human is mine! Mine!”
It had been an exciting couple of days for the puppies, being left in the wilderness with a pile of dog food, on a gravel road where people on bikes passed by sporadically. After I had sat with them for a couple of hours in the afternoon, they retreated to their den, the ferns behind the yellow metal gate. They all sat and watched me, and then they fell asleep. I had been waiting for this moment, for them to trust me enough to fall asleep. In my experience, if a dog is new to you, or if you meet him as a stray in the woods or on the street, if you can hang out with him long enough for him to fall asleep, and then he wakes up to you just as you were, it is a major step in building trust. I remembered years ago, catching Sky in the cemetery, building trust with her. She fell asleep on the lawn beside me, and I didn’t move as she napped for about half an hour. When she woke up and I was still there, and I hadn’t tried to do anything like put a leash on her while she slept, she trusted me even more, knowing I would watch over her as she slept. That I wouldn’t betray her trust. After the turtles slept, when they woke up to see me just as I was, they were quicker to come and sit with me. They all milled around me. I was one of them.
When the horse trailer arrived, they barked of course. Once it was detached and opened, and the driver had moved away, the brave turtles cautiously investigated the rusty trailer full of horse smells. There was still horse poop on the floor, which they found very exciting. Donatello was the first to grab a dried clump and carry it away. He mouthed it and rolled it in the dirt, and finally decided that horse poop wasn’t the best thing to eat, for now. Leonardo was actually the first one to step all four feet into the trailer. Raphael was the last to go in. They all explored the trailer and then came out. I talked to the tow truck driver, and we decided he would close the door after I got them all in. I filled a collapsible bowl with water, and led them into the trailer. All four dogs were trying to fit their snouts in the bowl at the same time, and they were oblivious to anything except trying to get some water before it was all gone. The driver could see through the high window that I had all four in, and he came up the side and closed the door. However, it was a large, thick, heavy door that closed rather slowly. Before it closed all the way, one of the dogs darted out. Just as it closed, two of the dogs had their noses right against the crack, pushing. The momentum of the heavy door caused it to bounce back after hitting the frame, and the two pushing dogs squeezed out through the narrow gap. The driver pushed the door closed tight, and latched it. I was in the trailer with Michelangelo. He let me pet him and he calmed down. The horse trailer plan would have worked if I had taken a few moments to stop and think it through. I should have lured them deeper into the trailer. I should have had a better silent signaling system for the driver, to tell him exactly when to close the door. I should have planned that the door would bounce.
I put a makeshift leash on Michelangelo, and we went back out to be with the others. Michelangelo looked like I hurt his feelings and betrayed his trust. Although he was leashed, he was very tense. I ended up just taking the leash off because it was undoing the trust we had built. Catching one of them was never the goal. We had to catch all four. I spent the rest of the day hanging out with them, rebuilding trust. Michelangelo seemed to have lost some of his confidence with me, but the others were fine. We set wildlife cameras to keep watch over them overnight. They settled into their den, seemingly uninterested in going anywhere. Volunteers kept watch late and arrived early to keep them safe.
When we all got back to the dogs on the 22nd, we sat with them and discussed ways to get them into a kennel trap. We looked online at the possibilities. Judy agreed to go buy a large kennel and transport it there in her husband’s pickup truck. The dogs didn’t seem to pay much attention to us as we set it up. They ran in and out of the bushes. As we were preparing the kennel, a woman drove by in her white truck. She had her dog hanging out the window, and all of the dogs ran after the truck for a while. We didn’t think much about her until she popped out of the woods behind us, a short time later, with two of her dogs. She had a large dog, a Saint Bernard as I recall, and a small fluffy dog. We asked her to stay back because we were in the process of trapping the dogs, and we were almost ready with the kennel. She said all kinds of unintelligible and contradictory things, but she finally said that she had heard about the dogs on social media and she had come to take as many as she could. She was just going to grab whatever dog she could and leave with him. I’m quite certain she wouldn’t have succeeded any catching any of them. It clearly wasn’t her goal to help all four dogs. She just wanted a free dog or two. She was yelling incoherently, and she let her small dog off leash on purpose, to run up to the dogs. Her little dog ran right into the pack of four puppies, and I was very concerned they were going to attack the little dog. Fortunately, they only barked. The woman would not leave until we called the police.
During the commotion, two of the dogs randomly ran into the kennel, and Janelle closed them in. We were planning to lead all four in, but catching two seemed like a good start. Once the crazy lady was gone and the two in the trap settled down, we worked on the other two. It was Leonardo and Raphael that had wandered into the kennel trap. Donatello and Michelangelo retreated to their den in the ferns behind the yellow metal bars. We used standard 48 inch traps to contain Leonardo and Raphael within the big kennel. Because I wasn’t the one that trapped their brothers, and because they trusted me, Donatello and Michelangelo let me sit down with them. I was able to put a leash on Donatello pretty easily. When I led him to the kennel, he resisted. I just pulled him in, and they closed us in together. I sat in the kennel with the three dogs while the other volunteers went and got a carrier to put Donatello in. They lifted the carrier over the top of the kennel to me, and I secured Donatello, so all three of the trapped dogs were in smaller containers. Then we opened up the kennel to see if Michelangelo would go in, to be with his brothers. He just kept circling nervously.
I had the idea to use Tino again, not as a lure, but to get all of the puppies barking and reacting to him. I walked Tino up the far side, opposite the opening. Michelangelo came to be with his brothers, to bark in support beside them as they scolded 120-pound Tino. Michelangelo went right into the big kennel and never even noticed when it was closed behind him. Once trapped, he calmed right down and let me pet him again. I sat with my turtle friends as we waited for a fourth carrier to arrive. Once all four dogs were contained in separate carriers, we carried them to vehicles and transported them to the shelter.
I went to visit them at the shelter, after they had been there two days. Volunteers brought them out to a play yard, and I sat with my back against a wall. They all came to visit me, and Raphael galloped and hurled himself at my head. He kept knocking my glasses off. None of the dogs seemed to hold it against me that I had captured them. They ran around the yard and barked at dogs being walked outside the fence. No owner came to claim them after their required 72 hour holding period, and the shelter agreed to release them to Useless Bay Sanctuary, where they could be in foster homes.
Naturally, I wanted to adopt Raphael. I wanted to adopt all four of them. I always want to adopt pretty much every dog I see, but five dogs is already quite a few. I often serve as the adoption coordinator for UBS, and I screen applications to find the best homes for dogs in our care. As I tried to imagine ways I could integrate Raphael into our pack, I kept thinking how I would evaluate myself from the standpoint of adoption coordinator. Would I be able to provide a stable and safe environment for Raphael and my other five dogs? Possibly, but it would be a huge amount of work. I don’t have a fenced yard. Sky and Viktor are not well socialized, and none of my five dogs would really accept a new member into the pack very easily. Raphael would need extra work overcoming his own anxieties, after suddenly being removed from the only home he had ever known for the first 8 months of his life, presumably. It would be possible for us to pull it off, but not an ideal situation. Leonardo went to a foster in Blaine, and they soon realized they wanted to keep him permanently. Donatello and Michelangelo went to another foster home. Raphael went to stay with Janelle, who had helped with his capture. After a couple of weeks, Raphael went to stay with Brenda while Janelle was out of town for the weekend. He worked out okay at Brenda’s place, and she fell in love with him. It has worked out that I have been able to visit Raphael once or twice a week, and he has always been glad to see me.
On my visits to Raphael, we have tried to set up a scenario where Brenda walks him around until Raphael catches my scent, and then he comes and finds me in my hiding place in the bushes. He immediately caught onto this game without ever having to be told, and he loves to find me. He is a natural search dog. He comes to training sessions for the other search dogs, and several times he has been the target dog that the other dogs find. He likes cats and gets along with them, and finds them interesting. It is my hope that Raphael will become a cat detection dog, and I will be able to work with him for many years into the future. He has a lot of anxiety about being out in public on city sidewalks, but he seems to be improving. My hope is that, as he matures, he will become more socialized. If he can avoid panicking, I think he will be a great search dog. Mu, who has found at least 350 lost cats, was pretty crazy as a puppy, and hard to live with. Learning a job and working as a cat detection dog made Mu much more manageable than he had been. I think Raphael is destined for a great career as my working partner. If it turns out that he can’t get over his anxieties, and won’t be a good search dog, I know I will still come visit him as often as I can. At a minimum, we will be able to go on hikes together, in the forests and in the mountains. I plan to keep Raphael in my life as much as possible.
Michelangelo and Donatello are still available for adoption. They are great dogs, and will be wonderful companions in the right homes, where people can work with them to become socialized.
Without Useless Bay Sanctuary, these four dogs, these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably would have come to harm. I know of no other organization or agency that could have handled them the way we did. It’s likely that inexperienced people would have tried to capture them, and they would have been scattered into the woods, possibly never captured. UBS volunteers invested over 200 man-hours capturing them. We are experienced in using Calming Signals, which, inexplicably, animal control officers and rescue volunteers seem to be slow in adopting. We have the equipment, training, and experience to handle difficult situations, like catching four unsocialized, rambunctious puppies in the wilderness. It’s like UBS was created just for Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. I am grateful that these turtles accepted me into their pack and let me help them. I am especially grateful to have a puppy friend who likes me so much that he takes a flying leap into my face. Everyone should have someone that loves them with such abandon.
Here is a 20 minute video of the process of catching the turtles.