2012-09-19 / Columnists

Pets pets pets

Prelude to the 2012 Bully Breed Brigade: “Goliath” (a.k.a. “Sigmund,” now “Siggi”) is the last dog you’d expect to see sitting at a table in a Starbucks or enjoying himself at the beach. Ten months ago, this amputee Pit Bull was about as aggressive as a shelter dog, or any dog, could be. Deemed extremely dangerous, Goliath was on the euthanasia list. That was before Roman Gottfried, founder of Holistic Pet Services in Greenwich, CT, met him behind the scenes during last year’s Bully Breed Brigade.

In June 2011, Goliath had been hit by a car or intentionally injured by someone, and then tied to the door of a vet’s office. The leg was set but the casting didn’t take and gangrene set in. Amputating his leg was the only way to save his life. Months passed before he healed enough to be released to Hempstead Shelter as a stray. And as Roman would say, by that time, “the deepest emotional issues had arisen. He had become so aggressive that there was no chance of adopting him out in that state.” Goliath displayed extreme food, toy and dog aggression. He lunged at humans, although his infirmity and long confinement weakened his leg muscles.

Roman and Siggi (formerly “Goliath”) at the beach. Roman and Siggi (formerly “Goliath”) at the beach. And as I would say, “It is impossible to save every shelter dog, but it remains especially heartbreaking when faced with the decision to “pull the plug” on a dog for temperament reasons when there has already been a huge investment of passion and money.” Trust me; determining if an unsafe dog lives or dies is the worst judgment call a rescue person ever has to make. Public safety must always be top priority for a dangerous dog is a danger to himself also.

Roman Gottfried was coming to the first Bully Breed Brigade last November to do training demos with difficult dogs. Roman has that rare talent of being able to read a dog’s mental state and restore balance to the human/animal bond, a sixth sense that is complemented by his astute observation of behavior and interaction. Wendy Cariello, off-site adoption event coordinator at Hempstead Shelter, had reached out to Roman on Goliath’s behalf. Roman was Goliath’s only hope.

If a meeting showed promise, Roman had arranged with Cindy Iacopella, shelter director, that Goliath become Holistic Pet Services’ first “pilot” rehab project in conjunction with Hempstead Shelter. His goal was to show that even the worst aggressive cases can be turned into loving pets. Escorted by an animal control officer, Roman, wearing a bite suit, walked past the “Danger” signs to greet Goliath. “I was curious about him,” remarked Roman, and despite an aggressive first encounter, “I looked at him and said, I’d like to see who you really are.” So, he and his wife Loukia adopted Goliath and drove him back to Connecticut to begin the process of delving into the dog’s soul.

Roman was born in Greece, raised in Austria and lived in Saudi Arabia before settling in Greenwich in 2007. As a child, he spent a lot of time with his father’s Salukis, and later served in an Alpine K9 regiment. He approaches dogs with a worldly perspective and an intriguing integration of spiritual and philosophical teachings, including the ancient sages’ views of human personality development extrapolated to a canine lifespan.

Roman never blames the dog but instead looks for the causes of behavior, often working backward in time to help in his search. His work focuses on handling the dog a natural way with calm, yet balancing energy. He believes a healthy diet enables a sound dog to rise from the wreckage, and that chemicals can have a negative influence on certain dogs like Goliath. Those of us who work with dogs must be educated to identify the triggers of a behavior so we can treat them, and pass this knowledge on to potential adopters so the dog isn’t surrendered or abandoned again.

According to Roman, dogs perceive the world differently from us. They see less color, less resolution, yet have sharpened input from other senses. Where we may focus on one thing; dogs take in the whole vista. Our visual framework is square where theirs may be a cluster of triangles. Introduce a hat on a man in view; the cluster changes. That is one reason why the man wearing a hat may elicit fear in a dog.

It took three weeks before a breakthrough. Still in the fear stage, Goliath’s tail was between his legs, growling while Roman stood a safe distance as he ate pumpkin and lean beef. Then his tail wagged, and Roman knew he was responding. Roman says you must be able to read emotional indicators. An agitated dog sends out a signal similar to an electrical discharge to warn he is about to react, giving you (or another dog) 1.5 seconds to reply, comply or correct; otherwise the dog will attack.

The metamorphosis of Goliath into Siggi was gradual. Now he plays with Roman’s other dogs including a Presa Canario, Mastiff and Cane Corso. He is very intelligent and his best obedience student. Siggi became the dog that helped Roman read through other dogs. He is comfortable at home with his people and in social settings like Starbucks but not within a crowd. Siggi has You Tube videos and Facebook photos along with his profile on Roman’s website.

Why so much attention for one incorrigible dog? What are Roman’s ramifications for thousands of other Pits languishing in shelters, or for all dogs? Roman renamed Goliath after Sigmund Freud to remind him to stimulate “Siggi’s” brain and focus on their relationship.

To emphasize, Roman states: “Sigmund is a great benefit to the canine community. With his help, I was able to understand a completely new approach to animal rehabilitation that is based on relationship, emotional connection, respect, brain stimulation and exercise, precision, boundaries and limitations - this inspired my Holistic rehab method.”

This weekend, you have two opportunities to see Roman Gottfried’s minor miracles in action. Roman and Loukia will be at our Yappy Hour benefit at Mulcahy’s in Wantagh from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be a sevenminute video depicting Siggi’s transformation, as well as entertainment by a comedian and a band, appetizer buffet, dessert, coffee, beer/wine/soda; raffles, for $35 in advance (see the PayPal on the www.lasthopeanimalrescue.org homepage) or $40 at the door. On Saturday at our 2nd annual Bully Breed Brigade outside Hempstead Town Shelter on Beltagh Ave. in Wantagh from 11 to 5 p.m., Roman will be doing training demos with rescue dogs. For more details about the Bully Breed Brigade, see last week’s “Pets” in the Archives at the Beacon online.

Note: Tia Torres from Pit Bulls & Parolees on Animal Planet is scheduled to be at both events too.

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