In 2010, Jennifer arrived in Yakima to adopt a dog from Rising Phoenix Mastiff Rescue.
She wanted to adopt a large dog because she read that “large dogs (were) being put down without option of adoption due to the economic downturn and recession.”
Through Petfinder she found several large dogs on the Rising Phoenix Mastiff Rescue (RPMR) website. After arriving at RPMR she chose a Neopolitan Mastiff named Dudley.
Dudley had no behavior problems or health issues when she adopted him, but he died of cancer within a year.
Although Rising Phoenix Mastiff Rescue has adopted out dozens of sick dogs, Jennifer doesn’t believe that Dudley had cancer because her vet gave him a clean bill of health the day after she brought him home.
After Dudley died she wanted to get a another large dog, so she went back to RPMR to adopt one.
RPMR told her they didn’t have any large dogs, so she tested a couple of their other dogs with her dog, but she didn’t like either one of them.
That’s when her dog started barking at a dog in the distance in a pen by itself, so Jennifer asked she could meet it. Here’s how she described the meeting to me:
“He was tall, thin, and almost sickly looking. My dog thought he was the greatest thing in the world. She danced and pranced in his presence. I immediately thought a “perfect match”. They didn’t say much about him, other than he was an abused dog and the owners threw him away.
They also said he didn’t care for young men and that he had a tendency to nip at the owners bathrobe tie. I didn’t think that what they said was unusual, my old dog didn’t care much for young men either. She barked at them a lot. Now the nipping at a bathrobe belt.. I did think that was odd, but I let it go.
I gave the money, signed the paper, and loaded him up in the cab of the pick up truck. One person who appeared to work there said, “You have a crate in your truck. That dog should ride in the crate. My friend who had gone with me, says that when the dog was brought out for me to see, the staff people stood back. I was busy watching my dogs’ reaction to the stranger dog, to make sure he was a good match for her and didn’t notice everything my friend did.”
She named the dog Ciccino.
On the way home, Ciccino first showed signs of behavior problems at a drive-thru Starbucks. Jennifer told me that as they drove up to the window to order coffee, Ciccino “went ballistic” and rocked the truck back and forth as his tried to get to the barista.
After they got home Ciccino explored the yard and house with Jennifer’s other dog with no problems.
His behavior changed as soon as Jennifer turned out the lights and got ready for bed. He could not relax and paced from room to room until foam accumulated around his mouth.
Jennifer stayed up with him all night to keep him calm.
Jennifer said her first five days with Ciccino were “filled with chaos and concern.” She also noted that she had “never observed behavior in a dog quite like he exhibited.”
Here is what Jennifer said Ciccino did during his first five days at her house:
- He would go from looking very relaxed to flying into a rage at a moment’s notice
- He attacked and dented the dishwasher and vacuum.
- Unusual sounds like the garbage trick sent him into “a state of frenzy.”
- He bit her son’s hand when he walked in the front door the first time they met.
- When he woke up “he would lunge, ready to attack.”
- He wouldn’t let Jennifer back in the house when she took out the garage.
- He wouldn’t allow Jennifer to touch him.
After her first five days with Ciccino, Jennifer realized that she “was in no way qualified to deal with a dog of his deposition.”
But despite all this disturbing behavior, Ciccino stayed attached to Jennifers’s side “like Velcro” and followed her wherever she went. He clearly wanted companionship and attention, but he was too frightened and hesitant to get it.
This makes sense as Mastiffs often bond closely with one person. Ciccino must have struggled to reconcile his fears to his desire to bond with Jennifer.
So, after Ciccino had been with her for 5 days, Jennifer called RPRM and told the person who answered the phone that she had to return Ciccino. But whomever answered the phone said they would only take him back if Jennifer paid double the amount she paid to adopt him, which was about $450. And they wanted additional money to retrain him.
Yes, you read that correctly. This terrible, money-grubbing rescue group wanted to charge this woman over $1000 to return a dangerous dog that never should have been up for adoption.
Reputable rescues I know will ALWAYS take back one of their dogs at no cost if an adoption doesn’t work out.
Of course, no reputable rescue would have adopted out a dangerous dog with severe behavior problems either.
Here’s how Jennifer reacted to what she called a “scam”: “My jaw hit the floor. I couldn’t believe it. I was literally stuck with a dangerous dog unless I paid a great deal of money to return him.”
Fortunately for Ciccino, Jennifer is a dog lover with a huge heart and she refused to send the dog back to the RPRM hellhole or have him euthanized.
Instead, she paid a trainer to work with him for several months. I asked him how dangerous he thought Ciccino was when he first started working with him.
Here’s how he described Ciccino’s behavior problems to me:
“He was exhibiting aggressive behavior that was mostly fear based. He was also showing signs of being protective over what he believed was his territory (the home & car). Ciccino exhibited all the various behaviors that come along with this type of aggression. He would give off low guttural warning growls and had bitten in the past but never attacked. Bites were relatively minor even though he could have done as much damage as he wanted given his size.”
After several months and thousands of dollars of training, Jennifer said Ciccino was “a changed dog.”
Working with a trainer allowed him to be much more “calm and relaxed.” He also learned to enjoy “going out and being part of the world.”
But despite Cicino’s progress, Jennifer reiterated that she must “remain vigilant” at all times with him.
She keeps him muzzled around kids and avoids strangers when they are out. Sudden movements can still startle him as well.
Due to Jennifer’s hard work and dedication, Ciccino hasn’t bitten anyone since she had the trainer work with him. He’s even best friend’s with Jennifer’s son who he bit during his first few days with her.
“Keep in mind, I did not have enough experience with dogs to understand any of his signals or actions that he exhibited to communicate what he was feeling or how to treat it. The constant growling was unnerving. The pacing and panting was difficult to watch. The shaking and trembling would eat at your heart. You never knew if he was going to attack or wet himself and cower in the corner.
He exhibited a wide range of behaviors that you didn’t know how fix, comfort or treat. Was he more dangerous than a loaded pistol that you should hide from, or was he a sad pathetic mess that you put your arms around and love. I bounced back and forth with my own emotions.
I felt so sad for what the dog was going thru, to total complete fear that he was going to harm me. The more he shifted behavior, the more I did too. At one point, I think we feed off each others insecurities. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were scaring each other. Not only, was I consumed with the dog and myself, but the worry of; is he going to hurt a family member? What if he gets out of the house, or yard? Is he going to go after a neighbor, a kid or some one walking down the street?
I never want to be one of those people who was irresponsible with a dog the could seriously injury someone. The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. Who do you turn to. Where do you find help. Who has the answers? How do you fix it? The icing on the cake.. I, according to the rescue, was the one to blame for the dogs behavior. Ciccino isn’t a regular dog, and he didn’t come with instructions. I had to wing it until I could get help and hope everything worked out.”
Jennifer’s description of her initial days with Ciccino shows what often happens when someone adopts a dog from a dishonest rescue group.
Ciccino should have NEVER been adopted out due to his aggression and fear problems.
A competent, honest rescue that took in a dog with a bite history would have hired a qualified trainer or behavioralist conduct an extensive evaluation to determine if he could be adopted.
But to dog flippers, the only thing that matters is taking in dogs and adopting them out as quickly as possible while spending as little as possible on them. That means no behavior evaluations, no training, and no home visits.
Adopting a dog from an unscrupulous rescue like RPMR is like playing Russian Roulette. You might get a healthy, obedient dog that’s perfect for your and your family. However, like Jennifer, you could also get a dog with numerous health and temperament problems that you are can’t handle.
In a previous post I wrote about dozens of people who adopted dogs from RPMR that either had serious health problems, behavioral problems, or a combination of both.
These people end up paying thousands of dollars to provide training and medical care that should have been covered by the “rescue” group where they got it.
Jennifer’s story is just another example of how Rising Phoenix Mastiff Rescue is a fraudulent, irresponsible dog rescue group.
It with only one goal: making as much money as possible.
To them, dogs are nothing more than products they use to achieve this goal.
(Note: I changed the name of the woman who adopted Ciccino to protect her privacy.)