While her daughter took a tennis lesson, jogger Vicky Kaseorg of Charlotte, N.C., put her wait time to good use with a run around the neighborhood.
A lifelong animal lover, Vicky forced herself to look away when she spotted a skinny mud-covered dog lying in a parking lot. Surely some kind-hearted person would help, she thought. Vicky and her husband, Arvo, owned one dog, and with two children in college and one at home, there was not a lot of extra money to take on another pet. But when Vicky and her daughter Asherel drove home and saw that the dog had not moved, she knew she had to help.
“She had obviously been a mother dog and was covered with mud and ticks and had swollen, dripping teats. No pups anywhere, and it was a blistering hot day,” she said. “She was too hurt to run from me, but she was very wary. I spent a half hour slowly approaching her with water and food and eventually we coaxed her into our van. “
They drove the dog to a veterinarian, and staff said they would contact animal control. “They assured us she would be euthanized as she was in such bad shape,” Vicky said. Vicky spent a sleepless night thinking about the red dog and her plight. “First thing in the morning I called animal control to discover they had not euthanized her nor even picked her up from the vet. I went back to the vet and retrieved her.”
Stopping the imminent euthanization was just the start of a journey to rehabilitate a dog that had been left for dead. In three and a half years, Honeybun has been transformed from street dog to agility award winner, and Vicky has turned into an author.
The book, I’m Listening with a Broken Ear, tells the story of the this family who resolved to make life work with a fear-aggressive dog. The title refers to Honeybun being broken mentally by her neglected past, as well as physically. She has a broken ear, probably injured in a street fight, which flops in contrast to her other prick ear.
For the first few weeks, Honeybun fit well into their household and got along with the family’s terrier-mix, Lucky. But as Honeybun’s health was restored and she became used to her home, problems erupted. She began to show signs of aggression—never to the Kaseorg family—but to dogs and other people. She attacked Lucky on several occasions.
“There were many times during that first very hard year of working with Honeybun that I wanted to give up,” Vicky said. “Fear-aggression is one of the hardest things to heal in a dog, and many believe it cannot be healed, just managed. Many people urged me to euthanize her.”
Honeybun was a very loving dog to the family and obviously intelligent. The family wanted to save her, but didn't know how to handle her behavior. Then a local rescue organization that specialized in tough cases contacted the Kaseorgs and offered to help.
Hollow Creek Farm Equine and Canine Rescue coached the family on dealing with Honeybun and recommended agility training as an outlet to help heal her fear aggression. “We learned exercise and exhaustion are both important in working with aggressive dogs,” Vicky said.
This was a great solution as Asherel had watched agility trials on television and always wanted to try it. But laid-back Lucky had no interest in jumping or running.
Asherel began training Honeybun, using homemade objects for equipment. “Piles of sticks became jumps, overturned chairs became a-frames, baseball field bleachers became dog walks, sticks in the ground became weaves, and planks on tree stumps became teeters,” Vicky said. “Honeybun took to the fun immediately.”
The Charlotte Dog Training Club agreed to work with Honeybun and allowed her to enter its training program. “Asherel became their youngest member, working her dog more faithfully than most adults,” Vicky said. “We worked our way up to agility classes, first starting with on-leash rally classes.”
As Honeybun conquered each agility obstacle, her attitude improved, and her fear and stress levels decreased. “As she healed in body and spirit, and her rehab reached a point that we could trust her off leash, we found USDAA trials nearby to enter her in,” Vicky said. “As soon as AKC allowed mixed-breeds in agility, we began to show in AKC trials. It was clear that the agility training was very beneficial in our rehab program.”
Today, 16-year-old Asherel and 7-year-old Honeybun are a successful team through AKC Canine Partners.
“It's fun, and Honeybun loves it and I love it,” Asherel said. “I like the connection it gives me with my dog.”
Honeybun is also known as the best-dressed dog on the North Carolina agility scene as Asherel loves dressing her in a variety of outfits that Honeybun often models at trials. “A favorite is her black leather jacket,” Vicky said.
“During that first hard year, I wrote often to friends and families about the experience as I have always loved to write, and it is a way I deal with and process my struggle,” Vicky said. “Many people urged me to publish the experience, not only because they felt I wrote well and that it was inspiring, but also that it might ultimately save animals that most people didn't think could be saved.”
Honeybun is now out winning agility ribbons with Kaseorg’s teenage daughter as her handler.
I’m Listening with a Broken Ear is available in paperback and hardback.