So, when the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) recommended that 21 pit bull-type dogs from an alleged fighting ring in Tilbury, Ont., be put down, he and the Dog Tales team refused to accept it. They immediately filed an application with the court to stop the euthanasia and even offered to take the dogs’ care on themselves or cover the cost of moving the dogs to another training facility outside the province.
“Every dog–even [those with] fighting backgrounds–deserves a second chance to be rehabilitated and live a normal life,” says Rob.
And when their application was denied in 2017, they continued their fight to #Savethe21 with a social media campaign. Its goal? To raise awareness about the dogs’ situation and, hopefully, generate enough public pressure that the courts would reconsider their fate. The grass-roots initiative was a massive success and even captured the attention of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Richard Branson, Don Cherry and Adrian Grenier, who all spoke out in support of the animals. As a result, the dogs got their second chance but they weren’t completely out of the woods just yet: Jim Crosby, a canine aggression expert, would reassess the 21 dogs and the threat they posed to the public and make a recommendation.
Jim begins with Forest, who was born into the group following their 2015 rescue. “Forest, fortunately, has never been exposed to the dog-fighting environment,” says Jim. But “there’s always an element of concern, because these are living, breathing creatures that can make decisions and, sometimes, they make bad decisions.”
He is primarily looking for human-focused aggression or any indication of fear-driven behaviours during these assessments, which are being held at a secret location to ensure impartiality, and Forest passes all of Jim’s tests with flying colours. But Rob’s not getting his hopes up yet; both he and Jim know that Forest isn’t necessarily representative of the other dogs. “He has not been taught to be afraid of people and he’s not been taught to be afraid of anything,” says Crosby. “We’ll see how the rest of them go. He’s had the advantage of not being treated badly as a pup.”
After an intensive two-week evaluation, Jim is ready with his recommendation: Of the 21 dogs, he only saw evidence of human-focused aggression in two. “Those two guys are gonna hurt somebody, and it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when…”
While the Dog Tales team knew there was a high likelihood that not all would be saved, Rob and Clare, Dog Tales’ social media director, are still visibly shaken by the news. Especially as the reality sets in that there’s no guarantee that the court will go along with Jim’s assessment. “It’s devastating to think that these dogs may not be able to get that second chance,” an emotional Clare says. “It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that probably not all of them will be saved.”
In the end, the court accepts the joint submission from OSPCA and Dog Tales to relocate 18 of the dogs (one had passed away in captivity) to Florida to receive specialized treatment at Dogs Playing for Life. Its founder, Aimee Sadler, is a top dog behaviourist, who has worked with Dog Tales on some of its more challenging cases in the past, and if anyone can help turn these dogs’ lives around, it’s Aimee and her team.
“These dogs can be rehabilitated, and it doesn’t matter what breed they are,” says Rob. “I’ve said I’m going to follow through since Day 1 and I’m never gonna stop following through.”
Because every dog deserves a chance. Every single dog.