Dog Tales lobbied tirelessly to free the dogs who would come to be known as the 'Ontario 21'. (Photo: Dog Tales Rescue And Sanctuary)
It didn't seem like much of a "rescue" when police found 31 sickly dogs tied to metal stakes scattered throughout an Ontario property. It was more like a seizure — the dogs were criminal evidence taken during a 2015 raid on a suspected fighting operation.
They were also deemed pit bulls, a type long banned in this Canadian province. And as such, they were immediately ushered to an undisclosed location while a court determined their fate.
It turned out to be a long wait.
In court, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) pressed for all of them to be put down. The dogs had known only violence. They couldn't be redeemed.
Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, on the other hand, asked the court to release the dogs to their care, where they could be rehabilitated and eventually find their way to real families.
But it turned out one of the dogs in custody already had family on her mind. She had arrived at the facilities pregnant. And just like that, the Ontario 21 became the Ontario 29.
The law, of course, doesn't stop to swoon over puppies. The new arrivals would also be subject to the court's final ruling. In the meantime, they grew up in that secret shelter.
Until July 2017, when, two years after slamming shut, the kennel door opened.
A judge ruled that the dogs — save for one deemed too dangerous and two others who died in custody — could be released for rehabilitation.
Next stop: New lives
Celebrities from Richard Branson to Paris Hilton called attention to the dogs' plight. Iconic Canadian hockey broadcaster Don Cherry (pictured above) even met with the dogs when they were released. (Photo: Pit Sisters)
"We're very grateful to have the opportunity to save these lives," Dog Tales co-founder Robert Scheinberg told the Toronto Star at the time. "There's a long road ahead for these dogs. We're going to closely follow all of them."
One of those roads led to Jacksonville, Florida, where a rescue group called Pit Sisters, took in 14 of the Ontario dogs, several of them from that surprise litter.
"They only knew a shelter life," Jen Deane, founder of Pit Sisters, tells MNN.
In early assessments, one of those former pound puppies — a dog named Dallas — turned heads.
"The more we worked with him, the more we thought he should be a police dog," Deane says.
Someone connected Deane with the Throwaway Dogs Project, a Philadelphia organization that specializes in dogs often seen as beyond redemption — finding them jobs as police dogs.
Of course, Dallas had nothing to atone for. He was born into tragedy, his bloodline steeped in sorrow.
But, for all those dogs found on that Ontario property on that miserable day in 2015, Dallas sure had something to prove.
'He's constantly on the go'
When Throwaway Dogs founder Carol Skaziak, along with a team of behaviorists, arrived in Jacksonville, they spent four rigorous days testing Dallas.
"The first thing I saw in Dallas was a very lovable dog that enjoyed being around humans," Skaziak tells MNN. "Then what I saw was a dog that had extreme play drive."
"Believe it or not, I feel that if we were on top of the Empire State Building, and we threw the ball over the edge, he would go after the ball."
That kind of relentless drive may not be the most coveted quality in a family pet, but for police dogs, it's crucial.
"I said to myself, 'This dog, even though he's kind-natured, doesn't really fit into a family atmosphere. He has ball drive. He's constantly on the go," Skaziak says.
Indeed, in test after test, Dallas strived to hit that ball ever farther.
"With every day that passed, I was becoming more and more in love with this dog," Skaziak recalls. "I thought, ‘This is probably going to work out for us. This is a homerun.'"
But there was one crucial strike against Dallas: He was deathly afraid of cars — so much so that he couldn't bring himself to get inside one.
On their way back to Pennsylvania, the trainers told Deane if Dallas could get over that fear, they would try to land him a job as a K9.
Days later, Deane — a trainer with a gift for bringing out the best in dogs — sent Throwaway Dogs a video of Dallas jumping in and out of cars with unflinching enthusiasm.
Dallas was officially in the program.
Not long after that, Deane got a text message: A police department in Virginia had offered Dallas a job.
And all of a sudden, the dog who nearly never left that secret shelter in Ontario — a dog who was born a victim — would spend the rest of his life standing up for them.
In September, K9 Dallas officially reported for duty.