Life on the mend: Rescued dogs adapt to new homes
Dave Austin was captivated by media reports he saw about yellow Labradors rescued from an Elmwood-area man's kennel, so he and his wife knew exactly what they wanted when word spread that the dogs were being put up for adoption.
The suburban Milwaukee couple figured there'd be a mad rush to adopt the puppies seized from Stuart West's town of El Paso home.
"But the mamas that are 2 and 3 years old — people aren't looking so much to adopt them because of the babies," his wife, Cathie Austin, said.
Kathy Bicek had no such intentions before she ended up with one of West's dogs in her life.
The Chicago-area woman only knew she wanted an adult Labrador to replace one that died earlier this year. So when Bicek's internet search returned a generic listing that stated "9-year-old, came from a breeder," something seemed to click.
"He sounded like a deserving dog," Bicek said this week.
She and the Austins described in interviews how they have spent the past several months opening their hearts and homes to the dogs — and learning to accept the struggles and quirks of animals that survived what authorities said were putrid and, at times, dangerous conditions. West was recently sentenced to jail and probation after being convicted of 62 misdemeanor counts related to the conditions the dogs were housed in and the rotten meat they'd been fed.
Bicek became so curious about her dog Teddy's behaviors that she traveled to Ellsworth to attend West's trial in hopes of learning more about the environment he lived in.
"I only hope he wasn't there his entire life," she said of the now-10-year-old dog.
Her fascination with the case carried over to West's Nov. 30 sentencing hearing, which Bicek also attended.
The Austins tracked the case from afar. They were left disappointed by the sentence, which Kathie Austin called "unbelievable," given the number of convictions and the conditions described by authorities and officials from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which assisted law enforcement with the raid that removed 48 Labradors from West's home.
Much in common
In spite of the age differences, the Austins' dog, dubbed Mrs. Wiley, and Bicek's dog Teddy share similar attributes and struggles.
Bicek and the Austins both attest to their dogs' gentle demeanors.
"She's just a wonderful dog," Cathie Austin said of her 3-year-old dog, while Bicek called Teddy "the most gentle dog there is."
Both dogs play nice with cats in their respective homes and don't make much of a fuss. While Mrs. Wiley is affectionate, Bicek said she's yet to see the same out of Teddy. He's still learning to accept human touch.
She said the first time Teddy wagged his tail in her presence represented a miniature breakthrough in his development.
"Dogs are so forgiving," Bicek said.
In spite of the struggles.
The maladies Mrs. Wiley and Teddy have endured are many. Both dogs had Lyme disease and infections.
"She was mistreated," Cathie Austin said of her dog.
West's criminal case unfurled in graphic detail the cramped quarters the dogs were kept in. Some adult dogs were housed two to a crate. One held three such dogs, while another contained a mother dog and her litter of puppies.
Both the Austins and Bicek described how their dogs have, at different times, experienced unusual habits. Teddy spent the first couple months "in one position all the time" in her house. During that time, Bicek carried Teddy to her backyard, where he would go about his business and come back. She'd then carry him back to his chosen resting area.
Mrs. Wiley sleeps sitting up. The Austins have had many dogs over the years. Mrs. Wiley, named for the phrase taught to the "Andy Griffith Show" character Ernest T. Bass, is the first they've seen demonstrating that behavior.
"I think that's because she was in the kennel with other dogs," Kathie Austin said. "She learned to sleep sitting up."
The Austins said there's a gun club about five miles from their Sussex, Wis., home. They take Mrs. Wiley on walks, but those reach an abrupt end once the dog hears gunshots coming from the range.
"She puts her head down and heads home," Cathie Austin said.
Teddy, seven years Mrs. Wiley's senior, apparently endured more. Bicek said he was first nurtured by the American Humane Society before being fostered by Knapp-based Honey Do Animal Rescue, which was where she adopted him.
Bisek described prominent scars that mark his face, the ground-down teeth in his mouth and the limp in his gait.
That's why she's happy to pamper Teddy every chance she gets.
"He gets his little spa treatments," Bicek said.
Bicek arranges for Teddy to receive routine acupuncture and laser treatments — to go with the ear and paw cleanings she happily administers.
"In general, he's now healthy," she said.
Life is improving for Mrs. Wiley, too. She crashes on the family couch, plays with the Austins' cats and dines on treats.
"We were blessed," Cathie Austin said of the dog. "She turned out to be so much more than we figured."
Bicek also sees herself as fortunate to be Teddy's caretaker and companion.
"He's always going to be loved" and cared for, she said. "I have no expectations for him."
She shrugs off the notion of her special role as an adopter of a dog with special needs.
While it's a commitment, she said it was the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, the ASPCA, the American Humane Society and Honey Do Animal Rescue that are deserving of the accolades.
"Those are the special people, honestly," she said. "I am just the welcome recipient of that."