BARKS from the Guild May 2019

Page 22

training

From Zero to Hero

Ariel Baber relates the tale of Halligan, the dog who was one step away from euthanasia

after being Tasered for allegedly aggressive behavior, and how she trained him to

become a lifesaving medical alert dog as well as a trick dog champion

A

“From zero to hero in no time flat. Zero to hero just like that.” - Menken & Zippel, 1997

lot of people may get annoyed when a dog wakes them up, particularly if they are woken up by him pawing at their chest and licking their face. To be honest, I’m no different. I had no idea that night why Halligan (whose registered name is Zero to Hero) was insisting I get up when he normally sleeps as long as I do. Nevertheless, I begrudgingly got up and began our normal routine of feeding him first, then checking my blood sugar and eating breakfast. It wasn’t until Halligan was refusing to eat or stop pawing at me that I realized something was wrong. I checked my blood sugar. The glucometer read 54. Dialing a nearby friend (I was home alone) and pouring some orange juice, I knew that Halligan had just saved my life. In August 2014, I was definitely not ready to take on a dog. Nor did I have the time or money to properly care for a dog, but the phone call I received was enough to change my mind. I was told that the dog, appropriately named Halligan, I had met at the firehouse where I had previously volunteered had “become aggressive.” In fact, there was already a team of us in place who were trying to rehome Halligan, but, in the meantime, a couple was fostering him – except now they wanted him gone, immediately. I asked if anything had provoked the aggressive behavior. Finally, they told me that he had chased their cat, so they had shocked him with a Taser. I was told to go and get him immediately or they would have him euthanized right away. I instantly made emergency plans to move Halligan to my parents’ house because the grandmother I was living with at the time would not allow him to stay with us. A friend helped me move his kennel to my parents’ yard and I convinced my parents to give me a couple months to find him a home. When I collected Halligan, he displayed no signs whatsoever of aggressive behavior, only stress. He was underweight and could not keep food or water down. I had had no idea he was so sick before I picked him up. My first priority after moving him was to get him to the vet where he tested positive for Lyme disease and heartworm. Thankfully, the vet was hopeful he would survive treatment as long as we started right away. Six long months later with me going to my parents’ house every day to take care of him, he was a healthy dog again and I was also

I didn’t know that night why Halligan was insisting I get up when he normally sleeps as long as I do. I begrudgingly got up and began our normal routine of feeding him first, then checking my blood sugar and eating breakfast. It wasn’t until he was refusing to eat or stop pawing at me that I realized something was wrong. I checked my blood sugar. The glucometer read 54. Dialing a nearby friend (I was home alone) and pouring some orange juice, I knew that Halligan had just saved my life. 22

BARKS from the Guild/May 2019

© Ariel Baber

Halligan interrupted his owner’s panic attacks and woke her up from her nightmares without any training whatsoever, and was subsequently trained to be her medical alert dog

teaching him basic manners and cues. My parents still felt he needed a different home, but after seeing him go through his treatments and pull through, I wasn’t so sure.

Panic Attacks

I ended up in hospital in early 2015, after which my counselor made the observation that Halligan was actually helping with my PTSD. He had been interrupting my panic attacks and refusing to let me cover my face (a sign I was hyperventilating) while also waking me up from nightmares. While I did not teach these behaviors, I heavily reinforced him for doing them. Meanwhile, I had been taking him out to pet stores almost every week to help him feel comfortable around unfamiliar men. This took months of counterconditioning and desensitization and I had


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