Local couple questioning pet adoption process from Valley organization

After a violent episode between two dogs, local pet owners are searching for answers from GALs.

After a violent episode between two dogs, local pet owners are searching for answers from the organization from which they adopted their most recent dog.

Mark and Dayna Pickup spent half an hour trying to break up a fight between their female Akita/Rottweiler cross Sitka, and their new adopted female Bullmastiff Winnie (who they renamed Chevy) on their property in the Blaeberry in February. Fortunately their third male dog, Rev, stayed away from the confrontation.

The fight resulted in significant injuries to both dogs, as well as injuries to the owners, the most serious of which was the loss of Dayna’s fingertip.

“It was a scary fight, and it just started out of nowhere,” said Dayna.

The couple had adopted Winnie a month earlier from Global Animal Lovers (GALs), based out of Invermere. They were referred to the organization by an acquaintance, and had heard numerous good stories from others who had adopted through them.

“We were wanting another dog, and I’ve always liked Bullmastiffs, so we knew we wanted Winnie,” said Dayna. Winnie has also recently undergone hip surgery, a similar surgery to the one Sitka had gone through while in the Pickups’ care.

Winnie had just been returned by her previous fosters, who are also GALs volunteers.

“We were told that Winnie was a good dog, got along well with other dogs and kids, she was just too much work for the fosters.”

Dayna says the adoption process was very quick, a matter of days, and they met the previous fosters in Radium to pick up Winnie. There was no contact between Winnie and the Pickups’ other two dogs prior to the adoption going through.

“In hindsight there were other questions we should have asked. The guy (who met them in Radium for the pickup) was really worried about another dog that was 50 feet away. That should have been a red flag,” said Mark.

The first month with Winnie in her new home was somewhat calm, with only a few altercations between her and Sitka that Dayna described as “dominance fights.”

“Those are normal, we expected a few of those,” said Dayna, who has been around dogs and animals her whole life.

There was, however, one instance where Mark says Winnie snapped at the hand of one of his young violin students during a regular lesson at the home. The incident did not result in any injury.

The major altercation, which took place on Feb. 20, started when Winnie, unprovoked, leapt at Sitka, who was looking off in another direction.

“Mark said she just went right for her neck,” said Dayna, who was chopping wood inside a shed when it began.

The couple spent 30 minutes trying to break it up, but had to take a break halfway through to rest and take a look at their own injuries.

“When I went back out there I thought, ‘I might have to shoot this dog.’ But I gave it one last shot and I was able to separate them,” said Mark.

Both dogs were utterly exhausted, and clearly injured, but appeared to be stable. So they decided to wait until the morning to see a veterinarian. It was at that point Dayna realized the extent of her own injury.

“I said, ‘I think I lost a finger.’ That was definitely the scariest fight I’ve ever seen,” she said. They went to the hospital, and the doctors were able to stitch up her index finger close to the base of the nail.

The next day the GALs’ volunteer, who was the same one the Pickups dealt with during the adoption, picked up Winnie, and Mark signed the surrender papers.

“Mark told them what happened, and that was when he (the GALs volunteer) decided to tell us that Winnie should always be on a leash when around other dogs,” said Dayna.

“That’s something they definitely should have told us before. And when we said, ‘What if this had happened in a park?’ They said this dog shouldn’t be at a park.”

It was at that time that the Pickups started thinking that GALs had not been honest with them about Winnie’s behaviour.

“They didn’t tell us everything,” said Dayna. Following the incident, they received an email from GALs immediately after the weekend saying they were aware of what happened. But Dayna says she kept trying to contact them in the following weeks, and never got a response.

“All I wanted was an admission that there was misinformation, and that they were taking steps to make sure it didn’t happen again,” she said.

After weeks of hearing nothing, Dayna posted her story on Facebook, and within five hours received a cease and desist letter telling her to take it down.

GALs has been in contact with the Golden Star, and says that all necessary information was provided to the Pickups, and that the lack of communication following the incident was based on advice from a lawyer.

“The couple who adopted Winnie were provided with detailed descriptions of what Winnie was like and her medical and behavioural history while she was in GALs’ care. She had been in two separate foster homes during that time and the adopters were given detailed information about her behaviour and the living situation in each home (for example, the main foster home does have a dog and cat, while the other has cats),” said the organization via email. “They were given ample opportunity to ask any questions about her, both in a lengthy phone conversation with Mark and then in person while Dayna finalized the adoption… We had only received positive updates on how well it was going through Facebook posts and text through one of our core volunteers.”

Winnie had gone through an extensive behaviour assessment in June 2014 when she had first come into GALs’ possession. Gary Dace, who has 20 years of experience as a dog handler, and certifications in canine psychology and behaviour, says that Winnie was a good dog who showed no signs of aggression.

“They (GALs) wanted me to check and see if she was aggressive, because she is a big dog… The only time she reacted was when I started slowly scratching her tail, which I believe was in relation to her hip problem and the pain. She gently placed my arm in her mouth and moved it out of the way, no biting,” he said. “I actually walked her with my dogs. My dogs are both male, and they’re both neutered. It was just a test to see how she reacts with dogs. My dog is not aggressive, but very young and playful and in your face. He really wanted to play with her, and she was pretty good, no aggression whatsoever.”

The assessment was conducted prior to Winnie’s surgery, which was paid for by GALs. But Dace said that the pain she was in could cause her to react if say a child or other dog was aggravating the injured area.

He couldn’t say what the cause of the fight may have been, and only speculated that perhaps she may have acted out due to the pain.

The Pickups, however, maintain that there had been signs of aggression in Winnie’s past, particularly with the previous fosters (who had Winnie after Dace’s assessment, and after her surgery).

“I think that the people in GALs have their hearts in the right place, they’re trying to do a great thing and take care of these animals,” said Mark. “But mistakes were made in this case, and the consequences could have been so much worse. We’re not coming at them with pitchforks, trying to take them down. We want to see steps taken to make them a better organization.

“If they make the necessary changes, and I see evidence of that, I would definitely go through the organization again, or recommend them to a friend. But as it stands now, I cannot vouch for them.”