Max’s Plight by Lynn-Alexandria McKendrick
It is a difficult decision to rehome your dog, especially if the reason is your own health deteriorating. Pets can prove to be the best medicine however when that animal needs a more active life, it can be better for the animal to be rehomed.
This is the situation Heather Hopper and her family found themselves in when it came to their gorgeous shepherd/mastiff cross called Max.
Heather rescued Max when he was just 6 weeks old in Spain and raised this little bundle of pup into a handsome and happy dog. As it would tragically turn out, the person who owned Max’s Mother had her and the remaining pups euthanased leaving Max as the only survivor.
Due to her deteriorating health, Heather and her husband found themselves making a swift move back to the UK from Spain and brought Max with them. He enjoyed his walks on the beach and in the woods where he made many friends in other dogs.
An incident in March of this year saw Max attacked on the beach by 3 greyhounds, thankfully Max didn’t have any injuries however he was after the incident, wary and took a little longer to get to know dogs he had not met before. Heather and her husband decided it would be better for Max to find a home with a younger family who could handle a large breed.
After numerous phone calls, Max was invited for a pre-assessment by Blue Cross in Thirsk. Heather took him along and they were met by Emma Pannell the rehoming centre manager and were taken to a building on the premises where they were joined by the behaviourist. Max was played with by the women who were throwing squeaky toys and generally getting to know him. Max was more than happy to play and brought over the toys for them, responded to their calls for him and was the perfect guest.
The second part of the assessment involved Emma Pannell taking Max on a leash outside while another handler brought out a decoy puppet that looked like a young german shepherd, this would be to see how Max might respond to another dog being brought into the vicinity. Max was released and bounded over to the decoy dog, he sniffed it, bounced about and then turned away and played with a toy.
Once the assessment was over, the women told Heather that they would be able to take Max and find him a good, suitable home.
Max was taken by the Blue Cross on the 22nd of November. Heather signed a contract which was not explained to her in any detail, as it turned out, Heather found a suitable home for Max with support from a rescue who specialised in dealing with dogs of Max’s breed and size however the Blue Cross stated that the contract Heather had signed meant the dog now belonged to them. Heather had no idea this would be the case, the contract she signed was not explained to her in any sense when she was handed it. Over the next two weeks, Heather received updates from the centre that Max was doing great, they discussed words that Heather would use when Max was on leash to slow his pace and commands that he was used to. The third week, Heather would receive a call describing a completely different dog.
According to the Blue Cross, Max had become severely aggressive, he was urinating himself, growling and trying to claw under the kennel and fence to get out. Against the advice of Heather, they had brought another dog into the paddock with Max instead of a gradual introduction as they had been advised by his owner and when Max growled at the other dog, he was labelled aggressive. They said that Max was making staff nervous and he would be put to sleep either Monday or Tuesday.
Heather’s health became worse as she worried about the welfare and life of the dog she had rescued as a young pup and got in touch with Wheldon Law who specialise in cases concerning dog law etc.
Wheldon Law requested that the Blue Cross allow an independent behaviourist to come onto their premises and conduct an assessment on Max to see exactly what was going on with him. This was refused by the Blue Cross Thirsk Centre who refused to put calls from Wheldon through to the centre manager. Eventually, Wheldon were told not to contact the Thirsk centre at all and instead route their calls to Blue Cross’s head office. Other rescues offered to take Max and take full responsibility for them and this was also denied by the Blue Cross. It seemed that Max’s fate had already been sealed by the Blue Cross and nothing was going to change their mind. All contact to Heather from Blue Cross was cut and despite her pleading to be allowed to be with Max in his final minutes, this was denied.
Max was put to sleep and his owner who had raised him, loved him and who he trusted was prevented from being with him the last moments of his life.
It’s not rocket science to those of us who have worked with dogs for any amount of time that they will act differently in a kennel environment and may become stressed and sometimes aggressive. Kennel guarding is something many vets, kennel workers and handlers are used and usually when the dog is removed from the kennel, their behaviour is back to normal.
Max had no history of aggression, he had been through a traumatic experience with the attack by the greyhounds and it’s understandable that where other dogs were concerned, he had to have a gradual introduction instead of just suddenly bringing another dog into the area with him. Look on any rescue page and you will see a dog that cannot be homed with other dogs because they don’t get on, it’s not something you sentence a dog to death for.
Why, after two weeks of glowing reports did Max suddenly change? Did the behaviourists dealing with him even question why this had happened? Did they go through their encounters with Max and determine what may have caused this sudden change in behaviour? Was Max’s aggression so bad and so far that the only outcome for him was death?
In my opinion? There are a lot of questions about this case that need to asked. The history and behaviour of this dog before he went to Blue Cross raises a lot of questions as to what happened in those three weeks he was in kennels.
If Blue Cross are so dedicated to helping all the animals that come through their doors, why did they not allow an independent assessor to come into the centre and assess Max? The reply on their twitter page was:
However as I pointed out to them myself, Max did not have to be released for the assessment to take place. It could easily have taken place within their centre and perhaps Max may still be alive.
The word ‘Liable’ is being thrown around quite a lot. The rescues who offered to take Max had assured the Blue Cross that they would no longer be responsible for Max, just as Heather had signed a contract to sign Max over to the Blue Cross, they could have signed him over a to a rescue better equipped and knowledgeable to deal with a dog of Max’s size and breed. Fife Dog Rescue and Harc Hope Animal Rescue both offered this dog a place. He could have gone to a foster home rather than remain in a kennel environment.
There is also the question of the statement released by the Blue Cross concerning Max’s death:
Max was signed over to the Blue Cross because of his owners’ ill health and they thought he would have a better quality of life with a younger family who could take him out for long walks. It was not because of behaviour problems. The only mention of Max previous behaviour was his wary behaviour around new dogs following the greyhound attack.
As a charity who have their twitter cover photo labelled ‘I Will Survive!’ the Blue Cross will have to answer the questions posed to them about Max’s situation. Max did not survive and considering the popularity this story is raising on social media, it is not going to be forgotten.
Heather and her family deserve to know the full story about what happened to their beautiful dog. It is obvious from their posts that they adored Max and ultimately only wanted the best for him.
There is a gofundme page where you can donate to help Heather and her family cover their legal costs: