Whatever the dog had been through, it must have been bad. Two and a half weeks ago, animal control officers found the dog tied up in a patch of woods near Dalton, Georgia. Someone had fastened a thick leather belt around his neck, and attached it to a heavy logging chain that was tied to a tree.
He was skinny, dirty and terrified.
“Clearly this dog had a very rough past,” Courtney Bellew, director of Special Needs Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation (SNARR), told The Dodo. “I don’t think we’ll ever know what he actually went through, but the way he was found is a good indication that he had a pretty horrible life up until he was rescued.”
The officers delivered the dog — now named Stewart — to Whitfield County Animal Shelter, but no one was able to get close to him.
“He didn’t want to be bothered, didn’t want to be touched,” Bellew said. “He would growl, and then he would just go hide in the corner, and turn his face against the wall. He was totally terrified and shut down.”
In fact, the shelter workers couldn’t even remove the leather belt from Stewart’s neck.
“He would get so stressed anytime anyone would go near him, so they said, ‘You know what? Let’s just let him chill out and decompress,’” Bellew said. “So for the first few days, nobody even tried to get near him. They didn’t try to push him at all.”
Rebecca Rood, a volunteer at Whitfield County Animal Shelter, knew that Stewart was going to have a hard time finding a home because of his fear issues.
“It was like he didn’t want to be seen, [as] if by burying himself in the wall maybe we would go away,” Rood told The Dodo. “It was truly heartbreaking to see.”
But Rood was determined to help Stewart, so she snapped a few photos of him and posted them on Facebook. The photos made their way to Bellew’s newsfeed.
“I saw that one picture of his face against the wall, and I said, ‘I’ll take him,’” Bellew said.
Bellew pulled Stewart from the shelter and transferred him to a local veterinary clinic. When the vet put Stewart under anesthesia to neuter him and run some tests, the vet was finally able to remove the belt from around his neck. When Stewart woke up without the belt, he seemed like a different dog.
“It was as if that belt around his neck was the burden of his past,” Bellew said. “The minute they removed it and he woke up from anesthesia, it was like he opened up. He was playing and wagging his tail.”
Stewart is still staying at the vet clinic while Bellew finds him an appropriate foster home — but he’s making great progress there.
“He really took to one of the handlers,” Bellew said. “It just seems that he really needs to be shown love.”
Stewart’s even started to play. “Seeing him play with a toy has been the most amazing thing for me,” Bellew said. “He went from putting his head against the wall of a concrete corner because he just wanted to crawl away from the world … to playing with toys and giving his paw and wagging his tail. He’s made amazing improvements.”
Rood hasn’t seen Stewart since he left the shelter, but Bellew’s been giving her updates on Stewart. “I cried when she sent me the recent videos,” Rood said. “The progress is amazing.”
But Stewart still has a long way to go, and Bellew knows that he’ll need a special person to eventually adopt him.
“I think that he’s going to need a very patient adopter, and I don’t think he can just go into any home,” Bellew said. “I think he needs somebody with some training experience with fearful dogs. I would love him to go to a quiet, adult-only home, and preferably without other dogs.”
But once he is in a home — the right home — Bellew believes that Stewart will blossom even more.