Dog helps kids testify against abusers
With scars wrapping his white muzzle, the 5-year-old Siberian husky is a picture of true resilience. Not only has he overcome his emotional scars, but he now spends his days helping others like himself — children who’ve suffered physical and sexual abuse.
“Patriot’s work with abuse victims stems from his understanding and empathy with other victims,” Kevin Marlin, who adopted Patriot when he was rescued by the Orange County SPCA (OCSPCA) in California, told The Dodo. “He seems to have a way of understanding their pain and helps them to see that there is life and love after abuse. Many of the victims can easily identify with him and recognize his scars as having been from abuse.”
Patriot was rescued in 2012 at 4 months old with significant injuries to his muzzle and mouth, said Marlin, who is also program director for the Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) and PAWS Assist the Needs of the District Attorney (PANDA) therapy programs for the OCSPCA. A local veterinary hospital found that the husky’s injuries were caused by metal wire that had been wrapped around his muzzle so tightly that it embedded and lacerated his muzzle and jowls.
“He was underweight and scrawny and appeared to be malnourished,” Marlin said.
Patriot was treated for infections and underwent surgeries to repair the damaged areas around his muzzle.
“Emotionally, he seemed understandably withdrawn and reclusive, but not at all aggressive,” Marlin recalled. “If you didn’t know he had been abused, one might think he was just shy and antisocial. He just didn’t seem to enjoy the company of humans.”
Understandably, Patriot’s recovery was a process.
“The one thing that rescue has taught me is that part of the process for any rescued dog is to help them unpack the ‘baggage of the unknown,’” Marlin said. “Each dog takes with him or her a bag packed full of memories and history — some good and some bad. In Patriot’s case, his baggage included someone who wanted to dominate and overpower him, in a cruel effort to make him miserable or even kill him.”
Patriot was at first very uncomfortable with his muzzle being handled — which made it difficult to examine him as he healed from the injuries.
“One of the things I used to do was to put peanut butter on my fingers and let him nibble and lick it from my hands,” Marlin said. “This helped him to trust me and to also teach him that I was not going to hurt him.”
He refused to wear a collar until he was a little over a year old.
“He would constantly work to remove them and chew them up regardless of what kind or [how] loose I put them on,” Marlin said. “I don’t think he liked the feeling of having something around his neck. He would even get the other dogs in our pack to remove them for him if he couldn’t.”
To this day, Patriot doesn’t like yelling or the sound of raised voices.
“He will quickly leave the room to hide if that happens, so I try to keep my conversations around him low and calm,” Marlin said.
But somehow, with time and love, the wounds healed — both inside and out. Not only did they heal, but there came a point when Patriot seemed to want to help others.
“My original intentions were not at all keeping him to become a therapy dog,” Marlin said. “I had set the bar with him at making him social enough to adapt to a family lifestyle and have some trust with people.”
Marlin’s older male Alaskan malamute, Odie, had recently retired from pet therapy, “and I think passed along the desire to help people down to Patriot.”
“I never pushed him to it, he wanted to,” Marlin said. “He was one of the easier dogs I’ve ever trained for the program and surprisingly passed the evaluation at 1 year of age — something not many dogs in the program have done. Usually at that age they don’t have the focus or ambition, but he seemed to want to get started right off.”
Patriot became a therapy dog in 2015. Through the OCSPCA’s therapy programs, he works with both children and adults in a variety of settings, including retirement homes, hospice care, brain trauma units, children’s special needs classes, domestic violence shelters and children’s foster and group homes. Through PANDA, he supports children of abuse when they talk about what happened to them as part of court proceedings.
“He worked his way [over to] her, until he finally nudged her with his nose,” Marlin said. “The young girl wrapped her arms around him as the tears rolled down her face, and the two made a connection on a spiritual level. At the end of the meeting, she had left the room, only to return a few moments later, where she came back to Patriot and hugged him again, having a hard time leaving him behind.”
Marlin said that Patriot has surprised many people — himself included — with his amazing transformation from the timid, traumatized dog of not so long ago.
“He proudly wears his ‘racing stripes’ as a reminder of his story of survival and forgiving nature,” Marlin said. “I think we’ve much to learn from dogs and their unconditional love. Still, it is hard to believe that he would come as far as he has.”
And Patriot now also enjoys life like all dogs should — maybe even a little more.
“He does like to spend his mornings sleeping in, but then it’s off to work where he gets to come to the office with me most days,” Marlin said. “He has his own couch there, and plenty of toys. His days are not entirely lounging around on the couch though — he loves to play with his pack mates and is regularly out with me on therapy visits.”
Oh, and he sure does love to swim.