Life Lessons, resources, and random bits for rescue dogs, cats, and their peeps

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Specials: Adopting An Aggressive Dog

The Specials is a blog series focusing on special needs pet adoption. Senior pets, those with chronic medical issues, behavioral or temperament concerns as well as overlooked or misunderstood breeds like Pit Bulls and black cats. If not, for the courage and compassion of their adopters, many of these animals might have been euthanized in shelters or died alone and hungry on the streets.  Please check out past special needs adoption posts here.

special needs dog adoption, adopting and rehabilitating an aggressive dog

Some dogs, like some people, feel things more deeply. Whether by nurture or nature or a mixed-up blend of both, they are more anxious, sensitive, and intense. Miles is one of these dogs.

Suellen, Wes, and their daughter Edie adopted Miles from Anti-Cruelty Society as a companion for their boxer-pitbull rescue, Lucy. Miles was five months old and had just spent a month in isolation recovering from kennel cough. When they adopted Lucy, it was love at first sight and they knew instantly that she was the one. But with Miles they were less certain. Passing by his kennel several times, it was Edie who finally said, "what about this dog?" 

special needs dog adoption adopting and rehabilitating an aggressive dog

Miles had already been adopted and returned three times before they brought him home. Suellen believes he was born with issues that were made worse by mistreatment in his early months. From the start, he was dominant, aggressive, emotionally volatile with severe anxiety and object possession issues. They quickly realized that they were ill-equipped to deal with the depth of his emotional baggage and behavioral challenges without professional help.

They started by calling Anti-Cruelty's behavior hotline and participating in the organization's basic training class, but neither provided enough support. They then enlisted the help of a professional trainer who taught them to recognize his anxiety triggers and avoid situations and circumstances that might set them off. Because of his severe object possession, they learned to trade up rather than trying to take things away (and risk getting bitten). Forgiveness, patience, positive reinforcement, and tons of unconditional love carried them through these difficult early years. After doing something particularly bad, Miles had a way of looking up soulfully as if to ask, "do you still love me?" And lucky for him, they still did.

special needs dog adoption, adopting and rehabilitating an aggressive dog

Edie often took the brunt of his anxiety. She suffered multiple bites; he peed on and destroyed her stuff and even ate her homework (for real). But all along, she continued to believe they could love the bad out of him. Suellen describes the tumultuous early years as one of the defining moments of her relationship with her daughter. Edie was determined to save him and Suellen questioned the message it would send her if they simply gave up and returned Miles to the shelter where he would face certain euthanasia. Although they had not intended to adopt a special needs dog, they did, and now had a responsibility to make things work.

Miles and Lucy. Photo used with permission of Miles and family.
Like Edie, Lucy, their original dog, was patient, tolerant and forgiving. While Miles spent his early days in his crate when Wes, Suellen, and Edie were not at home, Lucy kept him company by sleeping right next to it. Years later when she was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease, Miles returned her loyalty and friendship in abundance. Her illness helped him turn an emotional corner and during their final years together, he was attentive, loving, and remained close by her side.

Suellen says Miles provided her with strength during the darkest days of Lucy's illness and comfort during and after the heartbreak of her passing. He remained by Suellen's side, checking on her constantly - even when she was in the shower, he would scratch at the door to make sure she was OK. In his own way repaying the kindness, compassion, and understanding that his family shared with him during his early struggles.

Miles, Suellen, Edie, Wes and Lucy on a final visit to the park. Photo used with permission.
Had Suellen, Wes, and Edie not adopted Miles, his chance of survival would have been slim. This family is a shining example of compassion and kindness in action and life choices. Wishing them much luck and peace in the days ahead. 

Pets, like children, are for life. Please do not adopt an animal if you are unable or unwilling to provide a lifetime of loving and compassionate care. If you are ready for adoption, please consider adopting or fostering a special needs dog because second chances are amazing whether you are on the giving or receiving side. If you enjoyed this post, please check out my posts on adopting a puppy mill survivor and adopting a paralyzed cat.

Saving one animal won't change the world, but for that one animal the world will change forever.


  1. Sketching with DogsAugust 22, 2016 at 8:53 AM

    That was so kind of them to give a dog with such severe problems a chance at a happy life.
    Dip was quite a terror - just because she enjoyed biting people, I'm pretty sure, but it's a lot easier to deal with a tiny chihuahua than a bigger dog.
    Lynne x

  2. Hari OM
    Another heartbreak turned to heartfelt... blessings to all. YAM xx

  3. What a beautiful story, this one made me cry. What a loving and patient family to take a dog like Miles in and work with him. It's not easy to bring a dog like Miles into the family. Lucy must have been such a special dog to accept Miles the way she did. I love the photo of the two of them lying together.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  4. What a beautiful story.

    This however is one of my pet peeve with rescues. This poor dog was returned several times and they did nothing to try to make him more adoptable by getting him help. They just kept adopting him out to the next family waiting to see if disaster happened and he'd get put down.

    I have so much respect for this family that they had the time, patience, and strength to work through the dog's issues. However, aggression isn't something everyone can handle. It can trigger anxiety, stress, and problems in families that often have long reaching consequences.

    No aggressive dog should leave a shelter without a referral for a trainer who specializes in handling these behaviors. Traditional obedience classes as stated aren't enough.

  5. That is such a great story. Good for those people to have so much patience with Miles. They deserve lots of thanks for saving Miles.

  6. Miles found a perfect family.....and Lucy a loving companion. A very happy ending that could have easily been different. We just never know what a pet goes thru in early years but TLC is a cure all
    Hugs Madi and mom

  7. Such a beautiful story of love and patience conquering all. We join you in wishing Suellen, Wes, Edie and Miles luck and peace abundant.

  8. wow - we wish them the best and then some. bravo for making the commitment and sticking to it when so many other could not or did not

  9. The Menagerie MomAugust 22, 2016 at 12:25 PM

    I am so happy for Miles! He found his way into the most perfect home for him. Edie sounds like such an inspiring young lady. It takes someone special, especially at a young age, to recognize the importance of never giving up in even the most difficult circumstances. And Lucy sounds like she was the perfect canine companion for Miles, and he for her.

    Growing up, my family had a dog who was aggressive to pretty much anyone and everyone but the immediate people he knew. I remember how we tried all sorts of socialization and training, but he simply did not like other people or animals. That all being said, to those of us that he considered his family, he was just about the most attentive, protective, loyal dog I've ever known. My parents often joke that he was just about the most perfect babysitter they could have ever found for my sister and me. He guarded over us like we were gold. We had him for 12 years, until he passed from liver disease.

    Thank you for sharing Miles's story with us! Aggressive dogs are very special needs cases in their own way, and I'm so happy that Miles found a family that was willing and able to tend to him and his special needs.

  10. Oh what a touching story. Suelllen, Wes and Edie are true heroes for sticking by Miles through all those difficult days, and it seems their efforts were rewarded.
    Best wishes to Miles and all his loving family, and others taking on similar challenges with such love and care.

  11. What a beautiful story of love and patience. Miles is a lucky dog. Purrs

  12. Molly and MackieAugust 22, 2016 at 4:15 PM

    What a wonderful story and we are so happy for Miles. Love the last picture. What a beautiful family portrait!

  13. da tabbies o trout towneAugust 22, 2016 at 4:39 PM

    miles.....we R glad ya final lee finded yur for everz ~~~~~~ high paws two yur famillee N manee manee ♥♥♥♥♥ ... two lucy...

  14. Foley Monster, Pocket and River SongAugust 22, 2016 at 7:30 PM

    Bless these people. So many people would have returned him. Sending them all our love

  15. What a valuable life lesson Suellen and her husband taught Edie. Miles was fortunate to find such a compassionate forever family :)

    the critters in the cottage xo

  16. Paws up to this family for taking a chance on Miles. We know it wasn't easy training him and dealing with his issues, but in the long run, it paid off. Another great The Specials story!

  17. This is an AMAZING family that is full of understanding being able to see that diamond in the rough! Miles you and your family are so lucky!

  18. Groovy GoldendoodlesAugust 22, 2016 at 10:09 PM

    This story makes me remember that everything that has a breath deserves to be loved. Wonderfully written.

  19. What a wonderful story. My mom too believes an adopted pet is for life and she has dealt with a lot of nasty cat issues. Adopting an aggressive dog is a huge challenge, but with work and perseverance, behavior can often be modified.

  20. Very inspiring.

  21. Momma Kat and Her Bear CatAugust 23, 2016 at 11:14 AM

    An incredible story of the power of love and commitment!

  22. Sweet William The ScotAugust 23, 2016 at 12:02 PM

    It is amazing and wonderful that there are people who can deal with aggressive dogs. We can deal patiently with the physical issues of a handicapped dog but after being bitten badly by a dog my father rescued when I was a child for no reason (the dog just saw me in the room and lunged and started biting deep) aggression is something we cannot handle. Now if it is two dogs fighting we have broken up fights and that does not bother us.
    Bless this family for being able to cope and deal with the problems.
    Thanks for being a friend
    Sweet William The Scot

  23. Three Chatty CatsAugust 23, 2016 at 12:16 PM

    It's wonderful when people are able to work with dogs who need a little bit extra time and patience. That picture in the park brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful family.

  24. I admire this family so much. I know I would not be able to provide the safety, security and consistency a challenged dog like this might need. It warms my heart to think that there are families out there that can--and do--provide these dogs with the environment they need.

    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

  25. Speaking from my own experience, having an aggressive dog is the road less traveled and one of the most difficult. It takes an iron clad commitment and I'm so glad this family had that for Miles. It always touches my heart when an aggressive dog is loved into it's full being.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  26. We enjoyed the story of Miles life so much. He has a wonderful heart. stella rose

  27. A beautiful story indeed...there is a special place in heaven for those who rescue...especially the specials!


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