Since starting Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue and teaching and testifying nationally on canine behavior, I have worked with a lot of dogs that are the sad result of court proceedings. Usually these cases result because the dog was allowed to run loose all the time and got into trouble, sometimes even having been involved in a bite incident. Sometimes, after the courts become involved, the dog is surrendered by their owners in order to lessen penalties or simply because the owner realizes they are not in a position to care for the animal properly. On one such occasion the local shelter, where I volunteered, became the custodian of two wayward dogs, Joker and Brodie, whose owner had allowed them to run loose one to many times.
Joker was a young pit bull that didn’t realize his body had outgrown his still puppyish brain. Brodie, a beautiful male Rottweiler, had thankfully outgrown his puppy ways and soon became a favorite of the staff because of his gentle demeanor. Joker, on the other hand, was a bit much for some people.
Like many pit bulls, Joker had a high predatory drive, meaning that if an object was moving then it had to be chased and grabbed. It didn’t matter if the object was a leaf or a snow flake, Joker was all about the game of pursuit and capture. I found this out the hard way one day while playing fetch with Joker and Brodie in one of the larger exercise yards. Everything was going well enough at first. I would throw the ball and the two dogs would race after it, bantering back and forth as to who would get to it first and bring it back to me. At one point they brought the ball back and dropped it, but when I reached down to grab it Joker had moved off to my side to get a better view. Foolishly, I swung my hand down beside my hip to allow a good swing for an overhanded throw. Joker, being rather fixated on the ball, didn’t realize that the ball was only to be chased after it had been thrown. As my hand came up to make the throw, I was shocked to find a fifty-pound pit bull attached to it. My initial surprise must have been evident when I told Joker to “drop it!”, as he let go and fell to the ground. I looked at my hand to make sure that all fingers were present and that I wasn’t bleeding. From that point on I made sure to hold the ball high and avoid winding up for my throws.
All of the staff enjoyed both dogs but one staff member, Melissa, was especially fond of Brodie. He was her “handsome man” and their bond was strong. Now, the staff all used slip rope leashes for handling the dogs. These leashes were plastic ropes with closed loops at each end. When you run one end through the other, you have a large adjustable loop that you can slip around the neck of a dog to move it back and forth from the indoor kennels to the outdoor ones. The problem the staff dealt with was where to keep the leashes while they worked; many kept them looped around their shoulders or stuffed in back pockets. Melissa, though, always wore the one she used around her neck.
One day Melissa went into Joker and Brodie’s pen to throw the ball for them. As always, she had the leash around her neck, the loop making it like a necktie, with the free end hanging down her front. After a couple of throws, this dangling end of the leash became a distraction, so she turned it around so that the loose end was hanging down her back. She threw the ball one more time and Brodie sped after it toward the far side of the pen. Joker, unbeknownst to Melissa, had become mesmerized by the movement of the leash that dangled down her back. With the last throw, Joker leapt up and grabbed the loose end, immediately tightening the noose around Melissa’s neck, choking her. She struggled to loosen the loop as Joker playfully pulled on it harder, thinking all of it was a wonderful game of tug. Melissa was starting to become faint when out of the corner of her eye she saw a black and tan blur streak by, and she heard the thud of colliding dogs accompanied by the deep growls of Brodie. Amazingly, he had sensed that Melissa was in danger and, though having been friends with Joker since he was a puppy, he had attacked Joker, forcing him to release the leash.
Melissa stood up and clung to the chain link fence while gasping for breath. Brodie held Joker at bay in the corner of the pen until Melissa removed the leash from her neck and told Brodie that it was okay. Thankfully, Joker was not hurt by Brodie’s assault and was actually rather confused by the whole event. It was, after all, just a game of tug, wasn’t it? To this day Melissa still refers to Brodie as “her hero”.
Joker and Brodie were eventually adopted but not into the same home; however, both went to responsible and loving families. Brodie ended up in a home with three children, and like many Rottweilers he became their guardian and, more than likely, their hero as well.
My first novel, Stranger’s Dance, used this real life example as inspiration for some of the gallant behaviors of the dog, Stranger, in the story. If you want to read more about him, check it out on Amazon by clicking here.