New Brunswick

'I still have nightmares': Series of bites leads to questions about Hearts of the North dogs

Some in the pet community are wondering what type of canines are being brought into New Brunswick after rescue dogs from the U.S. bit a woman and attacked another dog.

WARNING: This article contains graphic images

Sydney Squires, who lives on the outskirts of Fredericton, was bitten by a dog brought to New Brunswick by the Hearts of the North foster organization. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

As Sydney Squires recounts the story of being attacked by a dog at work, she begins to cry.

"I still have nightmares," she said in her home on the snowy outskirts of Fredericton on Boxing Day.

"I still see the dog coming at me."

Squires was attacked by a Plott Hound boxer mix in her workplace at a Fredericton pet store on Nov. 17.

After being licked, she said, she reached down to pet her co-worker's rescue dog, Cooper, when the dog lunged at her, twice.

"I got out from behind my counter, I put my hand up to my face and I knew I had to go to the hospital," Squires said.

"I had to put my lip back in place."

Squires was rushed to the hospital and required stitches.

Changed her perspective

Sydney Squires says she knew she had to get to the hospital after being bitten by the dog. (Submitted/Jamie Engerdahl)
While the injury is healing, the incident changed her view of foster dogs and animals in general.

"I noticed that when I'm walking down the street, I walk on the other side if I see a dog coming," she said, "where I never ever did [before]."

The dog that attacked Squires was brought into the province by the organization Hearts of the North, which tries to save dogs on death row in the southern United States by finding homes in the Maritimes.

According to volunteers, the organization brings in thousands of dogs to the Maritimes annually.

Many of the dogs come from death row or from kill shelters being closed down.

Dogs are transferred as far as Calais, Me., before being picked up by volunteers and placed in foster homes. Organizers say it typically takes a month to finalize adoptions.

Fosters responsible for dogs

Vanessa Volpe lives in Oromocto, N.B., with her Siberian husky, Mya. While Mya was resting in Volpe's frontyard late last month, a pit bull terrier – brought into the province from Hearts of the North – attacked the husky. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)
Tara Cormier, an administrator of the Hearts of the North Facebook page, said that during this time, the actions of the dog are the legal responsibility of the caregivers, although the ownership of the dog still rests with the organization.

Still, Squires's case is not an isolated incident, leaving some in the pet community wondering what type of dogs are being brought into the province and what's being done to rehabilitate them.

Vanessa Volpe lives in Oromocto with her Siberian Husky, Mya.

While Mya was resting in Volpe's front yard late last month, a pit bull terrier — brought into the province from Hearts of the North — attacked the husky.

"I saw it running across the neighbour's yard," she said.

"It came right at her and attacked her. I tried to use my hands to pull his jaws open."

Believes dog could have died

Some of the wounds Mya suffered after being attacked by a pit bull terrier named Bob, which was brought into the province by Hearts of the North. (Submitted/Jamie Engerdahl)
Volpe said her neighbour had to choke the Hearts of the North dog, Bob, to force it to stop attacking Mya.

She said, if she hadn't received help, Mya might have died.

"The rip was quite big," Volpe said.

"You could almost fit your whole hand in the wound."

In the end, Mya had to undergo surgery. She's still recovering.

"They had to put her under twice because they found a few more wounds on her."

Volpe no longer knows where Bob is, as the organization found a home for him with an organization volunteer.

Squires also said she didn't know where Cooper is, but heard he was renamed and given a new home after the attack.

Hearts of the North is a total volunteer organization, and Volpe believes it doesn't have the time and expertise for the number of dogs it manages.

Human error

Mya is recovering after being attacked by a pit bull terrier in her front yard. (Submitted/ Jamie Engerdahl)
But, Cormier said, dogs with aggression issues don't leave the shelters down south and are euthanized.

"Dogs that come to Canada are considered adoptable," she said in a message over Facebook.

"Unfortunately sometimes when they get here and go into foster/adopter homes, some humans do not decompress them or introduce them properly to other animals, setting the new arrival up for failure and of course the irresponsible human blames the dog."

She said in Cooper's case, he "mouthed," meaning that because he hadn't spent enough time with his mother, he grabs things with his mouth when excited.

Are we diminishing all the work we're trying to move forward with?- Jamie Engerdahl

Organizers say that in both situations, the attacks are the result of human error.

"Both Bob and Cooper were not decompressed. In the first week, they were being socialized in dog parks and pet stores," said Connie Madsen, another volunteer.

Organizers did say that when incidents happen, dogs are removed from the foster home and work with handlers and are assessed.

"It's not fair to all the good dogs on death row to focus on two unfortunate accidents that the dog's handler at the time could have avoided," said organizer Sarah Ducey.

Jamie Engerdahl, a professional dog trainer in Fredericton, has run into Hearts of the North dogs through her work and says that response is typical of the organization. When problems arise, blame is put on the caregivers.

Creating stigma about bully breeds

Jamie Engerdahl, a professional dog trainer in Fredericton, has run into Hearts of the North dogs through her work and says that response is typical of the organization. When problems arise, blame is put on the caregivers. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)
Engerdahl works with "bully breed" dogs and tries to break down the stigma surrounding them. But, she said, organizations like Hearts of the North make that more difficult.

"The majority of the attacks I've learned about have been all about bully breeds being the known biters," she said.

"Are we diminishing all the work we're trying to move forward with?"

Squires, who is recovering well from her face bite, hasn't lost her love for dogs or her belief in rescue work.

Last week, she was able to give a dog a treat, which was a big step.

"I got all excited," she said.

She's all for giving these dogs a second chance, but when they have a history of attacks, like Cooper and Bob did, more needs to be done to rehabilitate them.

"In my heart, I just thank God I wasn't a little child, the same height as that dog," Squires said. "When does it stop? When a dog kills somebody?"


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