Flint, a handsome Akita/Husky mix, is safe in LifeLine Animal Project's Dog House shelter today. He receives regular meals, medical care, four walks a day and plenty of affection from the Dog House staff.
What he's missing is significant, however. He's missing some of his toes and part of one foot.
A few short months ago, Flint was an abandoned dog in McDonough, surviving by his wits and roaming free with another dog thought to be a sibling. The two were presumed abandoned by their owner and showed no aggression towards humans, in fact, they did all they could to avoid contact with people. However, they were spotted on a regular basis by locals who could see they were under-nourished and obviously in need of help.
The two dogs managed to skillfully avoid capture by animal control and by rescuers who set cruelty-free cage traps to try to catch them.
The need to safely capture the two increased dramatically when the starving dogs discovered that they could survive by eating free-roaming chickens owned by people in the area.
When the dog duo showed an interest in fowl being raised by an agriculture class at a local high school, a humane trap was set in the schoolyard and chained to a football field fence but for another month it failed to catch either dog.
That's when one teacher, reportedly with the permission of the school's principal, took matters into his own hands and put out a steel hunting trap, also known as a leg-hold trap.
Such traps are made up of two steel jaws, one or two springs and trigger device in the middle. When an animal steps in the trap, it slams shut with great force on the animal's leg.
Using leg hold traps for hunting is legal in some states, illegal in others and controversial almost across the board, with many arguing they are painfully cruel and dangerous to people and domestic pets. Others defend them as a practical way to catch game and "pest" animals.
Flint stepped in the trap.
It didn't stop him, however. Even though the whole contraption was chained to a fence, the terrified dog managed to pull the entire thing free and stumbled away with the trap still firmly snapped on his foot.
Local animal rescuers were shocked and furious with the teacher involved and desperate to catch the now-injured animal.
Shelter rescuers and officers from animal control, one trained to use a tranquilizer gun, laboriously made their way through extraordinarily slow official channels at the high school to try to save the dog. After three weeks they were finally granted permission and access to the grounds to search for Flint. A group of six adults from the school and the shelter found him and he was darted in the shoulder with a tranquilizer by one of the officers.
Flint, however, still had some flight in him. Although drugged and surrounded, he still managed to escape from his would-be captors through some tall grass. But he left something behind -- the trap with his toes still in it.
A local chicken owner finally purchased her own humane trap, carefully set it up and caught Flint without incident and without hurting him any further. She turned him over to the Henry County Animal Control.
Flint's brother was already there by the time Flint finally showed up at the shelter, also caught by a cruelty-free trap. The brothers allowed people to pet them and although they were scared, both dogs displayed sweet and patient, but cautious, temperaments.
Flint and his brother waited on doggy death row, for someone to adopt or claim them.
No one did.
Flint's brother was finally euthanized, an action that broke the heart of Betsy Blynn Merchant, who works as a caretaker at the Henry County Humane Society and is the lead volunteer rescue coordinator for Henry County Animal Control. She turned her full attention to saving Flint.
"Flint's story affected us all, to know he was roaming around confused and injured for weeks dragging this inhumane torture device on his foot was unconscionable," Blynn Merchant says. "The staff at animal control did all they could to catch Flint but he was smart and elusive. The day he was caught was like Christmas and we then started on a mission to find a qualified rescue to give this boy a second chance at a real life."
LifeLine Animal Project in DeKalb County turned out to be that rescue. They promptly transferred Flint to their no-kill shelter in Avondale Estates.
Once at LifeLine they discovered some buckshot in his hindquarters and staff veterinarians removed it and set about making sure his foot healed completely.
Flint is doing very well, has been neutered, and given all his shots.
Akitas and Husky dogs are known for their strength and smarts, tenacity, and an independence that only rivals their loyalty and attachment to the people they love. Being a mixture of the two breeds, Flint displays the best traits of both. Yet his experience with being first abandoned and then injured has left him wary. The staff at LifeLine worked with the frightened dog, respectfully and patiently, for months in order to win his trust.
"He's accustomed to people now and enjoys playing with younger dogs," reports Dan Oman, a member of LifeLine's Dog House staff who helps care for Flint.
"Flint is not overtly affectionate, but now he will sneak up on me and give me a kiss," Oman says.