MEREDITH — Though it’s usually cats that are ascribed nine lives, a German shepherd that was at the New Hampshire Humane Society until Monday evening seems to have learned that trick. Sicario, who as recently as 11 days ago was scheduled for euthanasia, was released to a dog training academy that promises to make Sicario suitable for adoption.
If that adoption takes place, it will be the ninth time that ownership of the two-year-old dog has been transferred. He was first adopted, as a puppy, by a couple that found themselves unable to keep a dog, so they relinquished him to an operation in New Hampton that presented itself as a safe haven for such animals. It turned out to be an illegal kennel that was raided by police in August of this year, and Sicario, along with many other animals, was taken to the New Hampshire Humane Society. He was adopted out twice and each time quickly returned to the shelter, the organization said, for behavioral and aggression issues. The second time he was returned was for a report that he had bitten a person at a dog day care, and, after reportedly showing aggression toward an employee at the Humane Society, the organization decided that the 95-pound dog was too dangerous for adoption.
That didn’t sit well with Laura Robitaille, who, upon hearing of the decision, quit her job on Dec. 4 as an animal care provider and mounted a protest. Her demonstration, staged outside of the shelter on Meredith Center Road, and a robust social media campaign, attracted the attention of Humane Society supporters Starr Lawton and Hali Dearborn. By the end of the week, Sicario’s euthanasia appointment was called off while interim executive director Steve Schaffer explored offers from groups and individuals who responded to the social media campaign.
One of those was the Etiquette Academy for Dogs. Eddie Bonilla and Jay Haley, owners of the Kingston-based dog school, picked Sicario up from the shelter on Monday.
The Humane Society released an official statement from Schaffer on Tuesday morning:
“An anonymous donor has stepped forward and developed a credible plan for working towards the potential rehabilitation of Sicario, the 95-pound German shephard who came to the New Hampshire Humane Society with numerous other dogs in August after a police raid on what was deemed an illegal shelter. Sicario was released on Monday, December 17th from the Humane Society to an organization that specializes in behavioral training and aggression and has experience and a successful track record with this breed. If the rehabilitation is successful, this organization will handle the adoption process.
“We fully trust and rely on our in-house experts and their work have resulted in so many positive placements and success stories. There are inherent challenges to the work we do and people are passionate about it. We sincerely hope that this story ultimately has a happy ending.”
Etiquette Academy did not immediately respond to a call for comment, but a video posted to their Facebook page late on Monday evening showed Sicario, ears perked and tail wagging, walking around a room while being held on a close leash by Haley, who frequently hand-feeds him treats from his vest pocket.
In a previous interview, Haley said that he and Bonilla specialize in the most aggressive cases. “We target and work with dogs that are ones that fall through the cracks of every other trainer, because they don’t want to work with the hard ones. We actually target the aggressive dogs,” Haley said. “We’ve taken in dogs that literally try to attack us when they come in, then they come to trust and love us because of that bond. This dog isn’t even close to on that level.”
Though Robitaille is still looking for her next job, she said she’s glad that she took a stand for Sicario. She spent hours working with Sicario when he was at the shelter, and she felt he could make a beloved pet, given the proper training.
“I’m extremely excited that Sicario is finally out of the shelter. He finally has the chance to find the right home and a good life, because that’s just what he deserves because he’s such a fun-loving, goofy dog,” Robitaille said.
“I think that I made the right decision," she added. "I think that Sicario, if he knew what I did, he would be happy. I’m thankful for Starr’s support. I’m grateful for Etiquette Academy for working with Sicario.”
A ‘no-kill’ shelter
New Hampshire Humane Society describes itself as a “no-kill” animal shelter. However, as the Sicario case illustrates, the animal welfare agency does, on rare occasions, euthanize animals. Although about 98 percent of the animals who enter the shelter will leave to enter an adopted home, Schaffer said that, of the 644 dogs that the shelter accepted in 2017, 13 were euthanized.
“This differs from shelters that will put animals down if they have not been claimed or adopted after a certain amount of time,” Schaffer said.
He said the organization’s policy regarding euthanasia is as follows: “All dogs and cats will be assessed for behavior, temperament, medical issues, and potential adoptability after the seven-day waiting period. Trained staff will present findings to senior management — that may determine extreme infirmity, medical conditions beyond the reasonable scope of the NHHS to alleviate, incurable end of life disease, positive FELV-FIV test status, or severe behavioral issues that presents clear and present danger to staff and the public, then euthanasia will be performed.”
Before an animal is euthanized, three staff members must sign off on the decision, which is done with input from the staff veterinarian and a behaviorist.