by Denise Ryan/Special to the Langley Advance
Chili, the two-year old Bernese mountain dog looking up at Chris Ness, was emaciated.
She had been shorn of her matted hair and weighed only 66 pounds. Her teeth were broken and ground down from gnawing desperately on the box she had been imprisoned in. Chili, one of 66 dogs rescued from a Langley puppy mill last February, had been starved, kept in a dark barn, her body used to pump out litters of puppies.
Ness, a Surrey lawyer and volunteer dog walker with the B.C. SPCA, had been entrusted to take her on a walk.
When the fearful dog looked at Ness, the bond was instant. “I knew right away,” said Ness.
The “Langley 66” was one of the largest and most shocking rescues ever made in the Lower Mainland, according to Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer at the SPCA. The dogs — a mix of popular breeds, including Bernese mountain dogs, Wheaton terriers, poodles and Portuguese water dogs — were found stacked in in filthy cages, sick, starving, their fur matted with feces.
On that first walk with Chili, Ness realized that she had probably never been walked. Every step she took was tentative. She simply did not know what she was expected to do, said Ness, and she was so weak that every few steps she had to stop and rest.
Ness offered to adopt Chili — but with a full-time job, he had no idea how he would manage. “I wasn’t the ideal candidate,” he said.
Ness talked to his boss, who promised to let him bring the dog into the office occasionally, but several other employees were deathly afraid of dogs. It couldn’t be a regular thing. So Ness’s sister, who had met Chili, stepped up and offered to care for her while Ness was at work.
Ness’s landlord didn’t allow pets, so he had to move. The only suitable dog-friendly rental he could find was in Richmond. Ness snapped the new apartment up. Soon Chili was ready to go home — and Ness renamed her Emily. “I wanted her to have a fresh start.”
His boss offered to let Ness work from home a couple of days a week while Emily was getting settled.
On the first trip to her new home, Emily was terrified of nearly everything. She wouldn’t go through a doorway or into a room without Ness coaxing her. Every noise made her jump. Whenever Ness moved, Emily moved too.
But their connection deepened. If Ness was calm, Emily was calm. If Ness was interested in something, Emily showed interest.
Emily quickly learned to sit. Anxious to please Ness, she started sitting all the time. “I’d be trying to walk her and she’d sit down every 10 seconds, and look at me, ‘Is this right, Dad? Am I doing good?”
Slowly Emily gained weight, another 21 pounds. She grew stronger and more confident. Ness had to teach her how to play.
“She had no idea what to do with a ball,” said Ness. “She’d never played with one before.”
On a first visit to the dog beach, Emily simply watched other dogs frolicking along the water’s edge. So Ness decided to frolic and run. She copied him and soon, he said, “the beach became her favourite place.”
Ness took her to the office and his dog-shy co-workers overcame their fear of dogs as she overcame her fear of humans.
“This was a dog that needed a lot of affection, and I gave it to her,” said Ness.
A neighbour, noticing Emily’s growing confidence and calm demeanour, suggested Ness try her out with St. John’s Ambulance therapy dog program. So Ness took her to try out. St. John’s staff put Emily and eight other dogs through their paces, testing them on their reactions to loud noises, to strangers, to crowds. Emily passed with flying colours and is moving on to her second level of training as a comfort dog.
“She has to do 10 successful visits to an old-folks home,” said Ness. “Our ultimate goal is to become part of the program and do visits to B.C. Children’s Hospital. You have to be a really good dog for that,” said Ness. “If she can do it, I feel like it’s almost a duty.”
Ness has no doubt that Emily will succeed. He chokes up for a moment as he reflects on the past year.
“She’s a really good dog. I just love her so much.”
– Denise Ryan is a reporter with the Vancouver Sun.
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