Rescue Watchdogs(TM)

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The Stories

Name withheld on request


Please post my story ANONYMOUSLY on your  website--I know now that Burt and Tracy can't actually take our pup away legally, but they're scary people who have my name, address and  phone number. So here's my story, sorry if it's too long:

We feel so lucky that our story isn't anywhere near as bad as the  heartbreaking stories I've read here and on other sites, but there  are similarities that make these other stories completely credible  to me, even though they're written by people I've never met.

It begins with a lengthy application process.  Burt Ward emailed me  to let me know that Gentle Giants Rescue had approved us, that we  were among 5% of potential adopters that they did approve, and that  we must follow very specific instructions in order to come out and  choose our dog. These instructions included:

  • Everyone who will be living with the dog for more than 6 months out  of the year, including other animals, must be present for the  adoption process.
  • We must bring $400 in cash, and the rest of the  adoption fee could  be paid with a credit card.
  • We must bring tags bearing information dictated by them (our  address, phone number, the words "needs medication").
  • Upon arrival, we must stay in our car until someone came out to get  us and bring us in.
  • Once we take the dog home, she must stay on the Gentle Giants diet,  and they also ask that we consult them about any major medical  decisions. (This part came with several stories about how they saved  previous adopters from shelling out $$ for unnecessary operations  that money-hungry veterinarians had insisted were necessary)

All of this seemed strange, but we were first-time adopters and we  found the micromanaging to be comforting--here were some experts who  were going to hold our hands through the learning process of being  responsible for an animal! We followed their instructions to the  word and made the 1 1/2 hour trip to their facility in Norco on a  July afternoon. Another group of people were also there to adopt,  and the five of us were led into the gated area beyond the driveway,  where we were seated on dirty plastic benches next to a large open  dirt patch with sparse dead grass. There were flies everywhere.  The  unkempt outdoor environment didn't raise any red flags for me,  because I figured anywhere that this many dogs are running around  couldn't possibly have a well-manicured lawn.  There was a group of  3-5 dogs in a fenced-in area adjacent to the house, in full sun.   One of the men from the other group asked Burt a leading question  about these dogs, something to the effect of, are they supposed to  be outside in this kind of heat? It had to have been teetering  around 100 degrees. Burt told us that these dogs were a rare  Egyptian breed that went for thousands of dollars. Suffice it to say  I feel really dumb for being so trusting, but remember, we had  walked into what we thought was a beneficent situation with  charitable people.

We were all introduced to  Tracy, their daughter, and their dogs.  Tracy seemed outright crazy to all five of us from minute one, which we all interpreted as an aggressive sense of protection over the  dogs, or maybe she spends too much time with dogs, not enough time  with people--whatever. Their own pet dogs seemed to be in pretty  good shape. One Great Dane, Fireworks, especially encouraged us,  because he seemed very young and unhindered by aging, despite the  fact that Burt said he was 12 and a half years old. Burt attributed  the dog's health to the fact that he has been eating Gentle Giants  dog food his whole life, which, he said, is why they insist adopters  use this food. He and Tracy both talked about how they are able to  make high-quality food, higher-quality than any out there, because  they aren't trying to profit from it like other dog food producers.  Burt kept repeating over and over, "We actually lose money on every  bag." They both said several times that the food was responsible for  practically doubling the lives of thousands of dogs, helping them  avoid torsion and hip dysplasia.

We told them that we wanted a young female Great Dane, we were  flexible on aesthetics but could not take in a dog with any sort of  problem--we felt unprepared financially and unqualified to resolve  health or behavioral problems. We were assured--both via email and  once we arrived--that there were many dogs that fit the description  we were looking for. The other group said they had the same  experience. They assured us that this is why it often takes so long  for people to choose (the website says people are often there for up  7 or 8 hours). The REAL reason it takes so long is because the dogs  are brought out one by one, and the selection is not as advertised.  Also, between showing us dogs, Burt and Tracy left us alone for  about 30 minutes at a time. We were told that we could not go into  the part of the house where the dogs were all kept, because many of  them had just arrived or were potentially dangerous because they  hadn't been through the Wards' "training" program yet. They had a  lovely story about how large breed dogs kept at a shelter were  invariably euthanized because they can look frightening when they  are scared and growling from a too-small cage, and thus,  no one  ever adopts them. We were made to understand that after being  evaluated, trained, etc. the dogs were allowed out of their crates  often to roam freely about. This is how they supposedly all get  accustomed to  using a doggie door.

The dogs were brought out one by one--here's where it became  apparent that they lied about the number of dogs that fit our needs.  They only had three young female Danes, if you're willing to count a  3 1/2 year old Dane as young, considering the expected lifespan is  7-10 years.  When we and the other group expressed surprise over  this, Tracy kept shifting blame to us--if we were willing to open up  our requirements, they would have more dogs to show us. She kept  pushing us to look at a blind male puppy, even though we had told  her many times, both before and during this process, that we didn't  feel it was responsible to take a handicapped animal we felt we  couldn't properly care for. Of the 6 or 8 dogs I saw that day, the  following problems were present:

  • One looked like she had just had a litter, her nipples (teats?  what's the right word here?) were very stretched and droopy. They  hung. Tracy brushed off this suggestion, saying that the dog just  looked that way, she had never had a litter.
  • One dog had been brought into the rescue because she had bitten a  child, but Tracy insisted that this child was a 6-foot tall preteen  who came into the home while the dog's family had been sleeping, so  she attacked him as an intruder even though she had already been  introduced to him.
  • One Mastiff, according to Tracy, "had a cold" and she became angry  when the woman from the other group, who was very slight, tried to  walk her around the yard a little to see if she felt like she could  control the dog on walks.
  • One Mastiff had some scrapes on her hindquarters, patches an inch  wide where the skin was scraped off. The flies were all over her  wounds and ears. When this was pointed out, Tracy hastened to take  her back inside, saying that the fly problem in Norco, a town full  of livestock and horses, can't be helped and that's why she tries to  keep this particular dog inside as much as possible.

The girl we ended up adopting was the only one who didn't have any  complicated story--the moral of all these stories, btw, is that if  these people had done what Burt and Tracy told them to do, they  never would have had a problem. Let's call my dog X. X's story is  that she was brought to Gentle Giants by a vet, whose sister had  been X's owner. X's owner was going through some dramatic medical  problems that forced her to leave X alone erratically because of  lengthy impromptu hospital stays. We were assured that X loves  people, dogs, animals, children, cats...pretty much everyone. We  happily adopted her, shelling out $400 in cash and $390 by credit  card. X, plus several bags of GG food, the collar and leash  ultimately cost us close to $1100.  She was extremely underweight.  They told us she weighed 90 lbs., but she had already gained a few  pounds when the vet said she weighed 79 lbs. several months later.  They told us she was a Great Dane who would continue to grow taller  and wider--this was total BS, X is clearly a mix and she hasn't  grown an inch. We love her and are not concerned about breed purity  or anything, but we essentially shelled out major $$ for what we had  been assured was a pure Great Dane who just happened to be a little  small because she wasn't done growing. The fact that her features  only looked somewhat like a Dane, according to Tracy, is because my  boyfriend and I haven't seen enough Danes to know the varied  appearances they can have.

The other group left without adopting. They agreed with us that the  only dog who seemed like a viable option was the one we had chosen.   Tracy seemed unable to accept that this other group didn't feel they  had seen the kind of variety they had expected, and truly all of the  Mastiffs looked kind of sad and had suspect background stories. She  got a little angry with him and continued to make disparaging  remarks about them after they left. This fell right into our  assumption that maybe she just loved these dogs so much she couldn't  understand how any of them could be seen as unadoptable. Our entire  time there was full of anecdotes that alternated between large breed  dogs suffering at the hands of reckless adopters who go against  Burt and Tracy's advice, and anecdotes about how much the Wards and  GG are respected, how much of their own $$ goes into their work, how  GG is essentially a  beacon of hope in a sea of people who don't  understand how to treat and raise large breed dogs.

We watched Tracy microchip her. Tracy said the microchip was  registered with Gentle Giants, that we would not be able to take  their name off her microchip, but we were able to add our own if we  called Avid. She encouraged us to leave just GG on her microchip,  because they're so well-known and respected all over the country  that X would make it there safely and expediently before we could  track her down. After I became suspicious of GG, I called to have  her microchip registered with my name and found that Avid had no  record of her chip # at all.

X turned out to be so fearful of people that she cowered and ran  away from everyone except me and my boyfriend. No one else could get  within ten feet of her without her cowering, pacing or hiding behind  one of us. She consistently had extremely soft and even runny  stools.  I called Tracy after a week or two about the stool problem,  seeking advice, and her response was defensive and practically  hostile. She insisted there was nothing wrong with my dog, she was  just nervous over her new environment, and generally made me feel  like a first-time mother calling the pediatrician every time her  child sneezed. It continued and we took X to a local vet, who found  that X had giardia and hookworm. We had been taking X to a local dog  park, and there's no way to know if she got the parasites there or  at GG.  I called Tracy again to talk to her about these problems,  and her response on my voicemail was openly hostile and defensive.   At this point I decided I was never calling her again. Even after X  was treated she continued to have problems until our vet convinced  us to change her diet--a conclusion we had already come to, but we  were terrified that Tracy would realize we hadn't placed a food  order and try to take X away on the grounds that we had broken our  contract.

X continues to behave like a dog who has been abused. We are  shelling out more $$ (this, plus vet bills and what we paid out to  GG, now comes close to $2,000) to hire a trainer to help us  socialize her because as we suspected, we are not up to the task of  retraining a maladjusted dog on our own. She cowers if one of us  holds an object in the air. She is particularly terrified of men. We  can't take her anywhere except the dog park, and we can't have  people over because she growls, barks, or cowers if anyone comes  near her. My boyfriend was using a fly swatter once, not even  looking at X while he swatted at a fly in the apartment, and she  started shaking and backed into me where I was sitting on the floor,  pushing herself into my lap and whining. I called to him to put it  down and it was another half hour before she could even be cajoled  into approaching this man who had never raised a hand to her. And  even then, she cowered over to him low to the ground and remained  wary for several hours. She jumps or paces fearfully if one of us:  shakes out a towel before folding it, gestures with the mail or a  newspaper in hand, holds a hand as if preparing for an overhand  throw, etc. I read in several testimonies that people have witnessed  Tracy hitting dogs in the face with a paper towel roll or her open  hand. Again, I want to reiterate that I feel so lucky we don't have  the worst story, and my heart truly goes out to those who have a  worse experience to share. I was filled with anguish as I read these  personal testimonies that echo each other, realizing that the  physical abuse, disgusting environment, and near-constant diarrhea  were most likely part of X's experience with GG as well.

Everything in this testimony is true and correct to the best of my knowledge. -- Name withheld at the request of the author

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