When Barb Fazio first met Cheyenne, an English shepherd removed from Linda Kapsa’s Shady Lane Kennels along with close to 200 other dogs last December, the dog spent most of her time standing with her nose pressed tightly into a corner of her stall.
“It took me three months to get her to go outside,” said Fazio, one of the volunteers who helped authorities care for the animals.
The now 2-year-old Cheyenne went home with Fazio in August. Though she still often seeks to hide behind her new caretaker’s legs when others are present, she has come a long way since finding a real home. On a recent walk with Fazio, every now and then her tail would sway from side to side, and she even let strangers pet beneath her chin.
“You’d lift your hand up and it used to be she took off,” Fazio said.
It’s been a year since nearly 300 dogs and other animals were taken from the Ballantine breeder’s property, where they lived in reportedly horrific conditions. Along with the live dogs, authorities removed at least two dozen dead dogs, including puppies.
In July, Kapsa pleaded no contest to a felony charge of aggravated animal cruelty for her treatment of the dogs. Under the plea agreement, Kapsa received a 20-year suspended sentence and was required to give up all but three altered dogs.
Today, the shepherds that were seized have new homes in more than 17 states. Some, like Cheyenne, are still settling into life as domestic family pets after spending as many as eight months in legal limbo living in stalls at MetraPark and the old Moore Lane animal clinic.
“They don’t know about TVs or the fridge opening or the furnace going on in the night,” Fazio said.
An army of volunteers worked with the dogs while they were held as evidence by Yellowstone County. Many of the dogs went home with these handlers, while others were placed with people all over the country, in some cases joining families on farms and ranches where their natural talents for herding could be put to use.
“(Justice) was sent to us because he had that natural drive to work,” said Michael Bates, who raises goats in Missouri. “When the trainers were evaluating him out there he was trying to herd them.”
A pup of two months when he was rescued, Justice had fewer hurdles to overcome than many of the older dogs living on Kapsa’s 10-acre property. He was skittish for a long time, and his affection was not easy to win. But he has flourished as both a companion and working dog.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better dog if we had him built from scratch,” Bates said. “He’s dedicated when he’s out there working, but he’s just as comfortable inside, curling up next to me.”
About one third of the shepherds were placed in homes where they serve as working dogs, said Kathi Tesarz, president of the National English Shepherd Rescue, which the county asked to manage the adoption process. Another 65 were sent to foster families who could give them the extra attention they need to be ready for adoption; about 40 of these are still being fostered.
“It was the dogs that were in the survival mode out there for months, years, that have the worst trauma,” Tesarz said.
One of those dogs, formerly called Max but renamed Barry White, now lives on 26 acres in Pennsylvania with Heather Houlahan, a professional dog trainer and training coordinator for the rescue organization.
“He was the one with a necklace of (feces) and muddied pendants around his ruff that probably weighed as much as he did, and he was terrified,” Houlahan said.
Barry White, most likely 5 or 6 years old, arrived at Houlahan’s in September on the “barking bus,” a school bus NESR outfitted to carry dogs to their new homes across the country.
“When he got here, if I picked up any object larger than a paperback book he skedaddled,” Houlahan said.
Now, Barry White follows her around her small farm and helps keep the livestock in line. He spends at least three hours inside her home every evening, and when the temperatures are low he has been willing to spend the night. Petting, though, continues to frighten him.
“He has not learned that a human touch is a good thing,” Houlahan said. “He will submit to it, but he will not ask for it. And when you reach for him, he will shrink away.”
Houlahan said she will consider Barry White ready for adoption when he can more easily accept being touched.
Another dog Houlahan is fostering, Cole, came with a different set of problems. He was only about 4 weeks old at the time of the seizure, so he did not have the same mistrust for people as the older dogs. Yet, fighting for resources at Kapsa’s kennel and later at Moore Lane, had made him aggressive towards other dogs.
In Pennsylvania, Cole has made so much progress that Houlahan, who is the canine director for the Allegheny Mountain Rescue Group, expects him to one day serve as a search and rescue dog.
“It is my hope to get him placed in a home with an experienced handler who deserves a dog this good,” Houlahan said. “In my opinion, there’s the genetic lottery and he won the Powerball.”
Breaking the dogs of their bad habits and timidity has been challenging, especially for those who are not professional dog trainers. But many have found support through an online group the National English Shepherd Rescue started where those with former Kapsa dogs can share advice.
“It’s been really a key element in making this a success,” Tesarz said. “Many of these dogs had behaviors that people hadn’t worked with before and just the knowledge that you’re not alone can help.”
Still, despite the challenges, those who have adopted the dogs praised their intelligence and their resilience.
“She’s totally exceeded my expectations. Once these dogs got into homes, they just blossomed,” said Rachael Roper, a volunteer who brought home a 2-year-old dog named Shy, who is now called Skye.
“It’s just a time thing,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest thing, just patience and time.”
Contact Kahrin Deines at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1392.