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East County Monday, Dec. 28, 2015 4 years ago

Top Story — August: East County rescue receives former fight dog

Catch up on the hottest news items of the of the year with the Observer’s Digital Year in Review.
by: Jessica Salmond Staff Writer

Courage’s name was rightly chosen.

The 1.5-year-old mixed breed dog was found last Wednesday by two high school students in the parking lot of Walmart on State Road 70. His face and body were covered with infected bite marks, and beneath the fresh wounds were scars from previous injuries. The teens turned the dog into Nate's Honor Animal Rescue.

The staff at the rescue named him Courage. His canine teeth have been filed down, which the most telling sign for staff that the animal has been used for dog fighting. The signs of his physical abuse all point to Courage’s previous life as a bait dog. Bait dogs are usually submissive and less aggressive, and used to train the fighting dogs to attack another dog. The bait dogs are usually incapacitated so they cannot harm the fighting animal—i.e. Courage’s filed-down teeth.

“Emaciated isn’t even the right word—he was concave. You could see every bone in his body,” said Karen Slomba, associate director at the rescue.

Normally, Nate’s doesn’t take in strays, as it usually focuses on rescues from shelters. However, the dog was in such poor condition, they had to take it in, she said.

Because of the location at which Courage was found, Slomba believes he is an indicator of dog fighting occurring in Manatee County. She said Nate’s alerted authorities to the potential problem.

David Bristow, public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said the Sheriff’s Office has not received any tips of dog fighting. Under state law, dog fighting is a third-degree felony.

Joel Richmond, a supervising officer with Manatee County Animal Services, said that the county shelter has received dogs with similar signs—nothing recently, but usually an animal will come in every month or two with obvious signs of dog fighting.

“Dog fighting is so underground, it’s hard to pin down specifics—you never know when and where and how,” Richmond said. “It exists, to think otherwise is foolish. Absolutely, it does happen here.”

Most of the dogs the county has received are able to be rehabilitated, both physically and emotionally.

“Most of them have a sweet disposition, which is even more sad,” he said.

Courage fits the description—Slomba said when Nate’s received the dog, he was shut-down, and did not interact. However, now he’s starting to wag his tail and gets excited to see the volunteers. He loves treats, and has started playing with toys.

“It’s like he’s learning how to play with toys for the first time,” she said.

Courage will ultimately be available for adoption but will require at least one, if not two, months of rehab to gain weight and trust in people.

In the meantime, Nate’s is searching for a suitable foster home to house Courage and help him recover.

“He’s learning to trust people—it’s amazing to watch him,” Slomba said.

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