When LaChrystal Ricke saw a Facebook photo of the dog sleeping outside on a filthy armchair, she knew she had to go pick him up. Straight away.
“He was out in a parking lot in this kind of not-so-nice part of town,” Ricke, founder and director of Reggie’s Friends, a rescue group in Houston, Texas, told The Dodo. “Somebody had posted that they’d gone to the gas station and there was this skinny dog. I wanted to pick him up because it wasn’t a safe place.”
It was dark by the time Ricke arrived at the gas station, but when she looked for the dog, now named Aniken, she couldn’t find him. So she turned to Facebook for help.
“I put up on the thread, ‘Hey guys, can you come out here? I can’t find him. I’m going to leave him be for the night because I’m sure he found his safe spot,’” Ricke said.
The next morning, two volunteers went back to the same spot.
“They started knocking on doors, asking people if they’d seen him,” Ricke said. “But nobody’s seen him, nobody’s seen him. And then this little healthy female [street dog] popped up — we named her Tessa. She’s trying to get their attention, and leading them back to this little shack in the back where people have dumped all sorts of garbage — there’s car parts, there’s food garbage.”
Then they found Aniken. “He was laying on that seat that you see in all the photos,” Ricke said.
Ricke drove back to the gas station to get Aniken, as well as Tessa. At this point, Ricke thought that Aniken was just a very skinny, malnourished street dog, so she was surprised to learn that the situation was much worse.
“We get home and he starts coming out of the crate, and we start seeing these massive infected wounds,” Ricke said. “And they’re oozing — they’re still infected. My husband and I were like, ‘OK, we need to get him straight to the emergency vet.’
But Aniken had more problems than infected wounds — his body was covered in huge ticks, and chronic malnourishment had put a strain on his organs. The vet team at BluePearl Emergency Pet Hospital was also very concerned about something else.
“The vet said, ‘This is really bad. This is one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. We’re really sure that he was a bait dog,’” Ricke said.
A bait dog is an animal who is used as a practice target for fighting dogs in training — people will encourage fighting dogs to attack the bait dog, while making it impossible for the bait dog to fight back.
Ricke wasn’t initially convinced.
“I didn’t think he was [a bait dog],” she said. “That’s a term I really try not to throw around, because I think a lot of people really overuse that when they get an abused dog. And I was like, ‘Oh, you know, he’s got the scratches on his face. He’s a street dog.’ Then they opened his mouth and they showed me — literally all his teeth have been pulled out. His canines have been filed down, and it’s all systematic of him not being able to fight back.”
Ricke realized that there were other signs that Aniken had been a bait dog.
“All of these wounds that were oozing, they were oozing because somebody had sewn them up by hand,” she said. “Then you take into account all the scars on his face, and you start putting it all together, and there’s no other answer — this was his life. He was a bait dog. The intent was for him not to live basically, which is horrifying.”
Aniken had to stay at the emergency vet for several days, so one of the nurses decided to do something nice for him — she got him a stuffed elephant.
“Everyone at BluePearl loved this dog and everyone was very invested in his well-being,” Ricke said. “And one of the critical care nurses decided that he needed his first lovie, so when she went out to lunch on Sunday, she got it and brought it back to him. I think at first he probably didn’t really know what it was. But he started to warm up to it and love it.”
“I’m willing to wager that it was probably the first one he ever had in his life,” Ricke added. “He definitely took some comfort in it, and it was an incredibly amazing gesture for her to bring that for him.”
Once Aniken was stable, he was transferred to a primary vet for additional care. Then he went to a foster home, where he’ll stay until he’s fully recovered.
“He’s very reserved,” Ricke said. “It’s going to take some time for him to come out of his shell and understand that there are people who love him and care for him, and that we’re not going to hurt him. And to know that there’s always going to be food and sweaters and stuffies and blankets.”
“This level of abuse is all-encompassing — it’s mental, physical and emotional, and it’s going to take some time for him to pull out of these things,” Ricke added. “But we feel very lucky that we were put into his path that we were able to do this for him.”
Aniken is already showing signs of improvement, especially now that he’s in a foster home, Ricke explained.
“He’s gaining weight slowly and loving life in his foster home,” Ricke said. “He lives with two other dogs and loves it. He also loves sitting on the couch with his foster dad.”