The odds of Baloo making it out of the animal shelter were slim to none. (And he may have already chased slim out of town.)
No one at Hernando County Animal Services in Florida could get near the surly dog. His grievances with humanity were notched all over his chafed, mange-ridden body — and in that soul-rending stare.
Shelter staff had to throw food over the fence in the kennel, lest Baloo hurl himself at them like a raging cannonball. He curled up far in the back of his lair. And woe to anyone who tried putting a leash on him.
But even as they were dealing with a recent surge in animals admitted to the shelter, staff members were patient.
"When I talked to the shelter director, she said she thought it was fear based — that he had a hell of a life. Those were her words. And that he just didn't trust people," Jen Deane, founder of Florida-based rescue, Pit Sisters, told MNN.
In his whole life, Baloo probably never knew an ounce of love.
Then Deane showed up at the shelter bearing buckets of it. She had seen a picture of Baloo on Facebook.
'Somebody needs to give you a chance'
"You see his face and you just want to cry," she said. "I took him because I just saw the defeat in him and I thought, gosh, somebody needs to give you a chance."
"Something in me said, 'Take him.' It's a big chance because he's a big boy, but I just felt like he needed a chance and we could provide that controlled environment."
And so Baloo — a dog you might think least likely to get his "freedom ride" — left the shelter last week.
There are all kinds of stories about shelter dogs seemingly worn down by life who suddenly spring to life after getting a fresh coat of compassion. Baloo isn't one of those dogs. And his story doesn't immediately leap toward its happy ending.
It begins, as far as anyone could tell, in a forest. That's where animal control officers found him, likely dumped by the same person who took scissors to his ears.
"He was skin and bones," Deane said. "He had mange so bad all over him that his feet were bright red and swollen and he lost a lot of hair all over his body."
The story probably wouldn't have have been much longer than that — had Deane and shelter staff not seen the hurt hiding behind this dog's baleful stare.
"This is the part a lot of people don't know about, the rehabilitation," said Deane, who has rescued countless dogs through the organization she founded in 2011.
Baloo is staying at a veterinary facility that partners with Pit Sisters. Soon, renowned animal behaviorist Jim Crosby will pay him the first of likely many visits. Until then, Deane has been visiting Baloo every day — if only to let it slowly sink in that not every human is a bad human.
"We've had staff members toss treats over the top of his kennel so every time someone walks by he sees a person, he gets treats," Deane explained. "So he's starting to associate people with good things rather than bad things."
And the same soulful stare that drew Deane to his case is also reaching out across the internet. Deane, who has been posting pictures of Baloo on her Facebook page, has been receiving gifts — many from people she's never met.
They're for Baloo. To help him find his happy place.
And little by little, the angry dog is surrendering to kindness.
"He's been doing better and better each day," Deane explained. "We brought him in with an airline crate and we just left the bottom of it and took the door off of it so he could retreat to it.
"He loves the crate, that's his bed, he feels very safe but he can get out and walk around if wants. He started out in the back of his kennel and now he is standing at the front of his kennel — which is a good sign."
But Baloo showed an even more promising sign that he's coming around yesterday. When Deane stepped inside the run with him, he just froze. And peed.
"He's not trying to charge or growl or lunge. He's scared."
Deane sat with him for a spell under the summer sun. Baloo crept carefully to her outstretched hand, where a treat was waiting.
"He's very gentle taking treats and I was even able to pet him. There's a happy boy in there somewhere, we just have to find him."
And just a couple of days later, Deane excitedly reported a change in Baloo — a glimpse of the dog he would become.
"His tail is wagging. Yes, I got teary eyed when I saw it. He actually licked my face too."
And then, not longer after that, the "happy boy" fully emerged.