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Felix Adamo/ The Californian

Columnist Sherry Davis.

Last week's column was a tribute to a special dog, two very special people and that roller coaster of emotions we all ride as dog lovers.

But Xeoe was special not only for being a beloved dog, but also because she was a rescue who survived almost insurmountable odds.

And this gentle giant's life might have taken a completely different and tragic course had it not been for the determination of her new owners who chose not to focus on the neglect and mistreatment that had shaped her youth, but rather on the dog they knew was inside.

While many people who rescue unsocialized dogs often wrongly jump to the conclusion that because a dog is afraid of people it must have been physically abused, in Xeoe's case it was no assumption, it was a reality.

She spent the first two years of her life in a backyard where the daily necessities of life -- fresh water, food and shade on 100-degree days -- were not a given, and at least one beating handed out to the young Saint Bernard for puppy indiscretions was witnessed by neighbors.

The dog's fortune continued to go from bad to worse until she was taken from the only home she'd ever known and abandoned on the street.

But as fate would have it, and because of the quick thinking of a neighbor, she soon ended up in the hands of Jerry and Judy Tonnelli.

And the dog that had never known kindness in her short life had a real home and a second chance.

Happily ever after? Not quite. Because of her complete lack of training and isolation as a backyard dog, Xeoe, as they called her, soon began to display an extremely aggressive nature with anyone other than her new owners.

And because she already weighed in at more than 100 pounds, she had the heft to back up her threats.

No stranger to rescue, Judy knew that Xeoe would need more than love to learn to trust people, and she was not going to allow any sympathy she had for the months of mistreatment the poor dog had suffered become an excuse for her unacceptable behavior. She was ready, willing and able to give this dog a forever home, but Xeoe was going to have to leave the past behind and move forward. She immediately contacted me and said, "I have a new dog who needs help."

My first impression of the snarling and lunging Saint Bernard with the shoelace strings of slime trailing from her jaws was that she was surely a living and breathing descendant of Stephen King's "Cujo" who had every intention of murdering me in the driveway. I took a deep breath, considered I was getting too old for this job and we began the training of Xeoe.

I set up a program that Judy and Jerry followed diligently, and as the months went on Xeoe became responsive to voice commands, was crate trained, housebroken and well-behaved around the cats. Once the foundation was in place, we began to take her out in public, teaching her to focus on Judy in the face of her fears, and steadily built her confidence.

Now because Xeoe was temperamentally sound to begin with, once she was given rules and boundaries for her behavior and treated with a balance of firmness and kindness, a wonderful dog began to emerge. Over the years that followed she became a beloved and trusted member of her family and community, overcame much of the fearfulness she had of strangers and repaid the kindness shown her as a mentor to the shy and skittish puppy Jerry and Judy found abandoned in a watermelon patch and named Mellon. (A multi-titled obedience dog!)

The moral of this dog story?

Rescue is a wonderful way to give a dog with a poor start a second chance. That is, if the rescuer is emotionally willing to see the dog not as a victim of its past, but living in the moment and ready to move forward.


Thanks to the many people who wrote in appreciation of last Saturday's column and shared their personal stories of pet loss.

-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.