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General Articles

The 'Alma' Story

From Death Row to a Path to Happiness
April 2012



As an Animal Trainer & Behaviourist, I work with Chiens d’ici et d’ailleurs providing my services as an animal behaviour consultant. Chiens d’ici et d’ailleurs do amazing work to help pets in desperate need within France and Lebanon and it is a pleasure to be of assistance to an organisation that does such good work!

The organisation called me one day about Alma, a gorgeous cross Beauceron as you can see from the photos above.

Alma was in the dog pound and as no microchip or tattoo was found so that she could be identified and her owner located, she was due to be euthanized in eight days (this is the usual time allowed in France to locate a missing dog’s owner before the dog in question is put down), at which point I was asked to go along and assess Alma to see if we could help her as it was thought that she was potentially aggressive and unadoptable.

At the dog pound, Alma had been growling as staff entered her enclosure to change bowls etc and the staff had been unable to touch her. Another association located next to the dog pound very kindly showed me Alma and provided me with some more information about what they had observed of Alma.

When I saw Alma I could see how scared she was. Going into the enclosure she growled but I knew she was very scared, imagine if you were in that position, wouldn’t you be? I didn’t want to push Alma into a more uncomfortable position by encroaching further into the enclosure as due to the design of the enclosure, Alma was in a position where she was feeling threatened. I then informed everyone of this and the man running the pound was able to bring her out to me. I remember looking at how Alma was looking up at this man for confidence and reassurance, a man who took her from the street and would ultimately lead her to her demise. As I looked at all the dogs that were in this situation, it made my heart sink. I explained to the association next to the pound, that the nature of the enclosure itself meant that it was difficult to assess Alma. To get a true picture of a dog’s character and personality when it has just been left in an enclosure, was not the ideal way to assess a dog. The enclosure design itself made it difficult for a safe assessment; there was a cubby hole/small box at the back of the enclosure that she took shelter in that meant that she felt threatened whenever anyone entered her enclosure. When the man running the pound brought her out, I started to provide her treats and spoke to her reassuringly. Very quickly I was able to stroke her and she was just adorable!

I started to introduce the clicker, a small device used in animal training to shape behaviour. Using a noise sensitive clicker which I held behind my back on the lowest setting, I started to pair the clicker with a treat and some praise. This allowed me to start introducing the clicker slowly and this approach enabled me to determine if Alma was confident with sound. Once I could introduce the clicker, it would give me a good start to communicating with Alma. I just started clicking, then treating and praising in a sequential order and very soon I could see she had no issue with sound. Once she started to feel more comfortable with me, I started to stroke her, click, then treat and praise. The clicker is used to train behaviour as a dog comes to associate the sound of the clicker with reinforcement (e.g. praise/treat), therefore knowing they have done the correct thing or displayed the correct behaviour, of course I was just introducing the clicker at this time but it was a beginning to this process but I could see that Alma was quickly catching onto the meaning of the clicker. (See Clicker Training Article)

In the first few moments I met Alma, she was shaking and was just very very frightened, she wasn’t aggressive or unadoptable, just as any feeling, sentient animal was feeling nervous and unsure about what was happening, I would go as far to say she sensed where she was, death row!

Very quickly Alma was becoming comfortable and seemed to be coming ‘out of her shell’. She started to relax with me and was enjoying this click and treat game!!

Just taking that bit of time with her and understanding she started to show everyone what I lovely dog she was.

Right away I said I would send my assessment to Chiens d’ici et d’ailleurs the organisation I work with and we would make arrangements to collect Alma and the association working next to the dog pound very kindly negotiated with the dog pound to keep her until I was able to collect her.

Following this we arranged for somewhere for Alma to stay where she could be cared for where they would treat her ethically (using only kind approaches as well as any collars etc I would specifically supply (as I do not use or recommend the use of any choke collars, prong collars or other such collars or any aversive stimuli which unfortunately is something that I see a great deal employed). In cases where I place rescue dogs with temporary foster homes/kennels etc, I always strictly assess them and make sure they have ethical and kind handling and management of the dogs in their care. I found a lovely lady running a charity that looks after old infirmed dogs as well as abandoned dogs and she has taken great care of Alma, I cannot thank her enough for her help. Francine is a truly dedicated lady that cares for dogs and has been so kind and caring towards Alma. I explained to Francine what had happened to Alma and she was very happy to care for her for as long as it would take for us to find her a new loving home.

The day I took Alma to Francine’s was a truly emotional day and I was so happy to see her out of the dog pound. I stayed with her for a while until she was comfortable, put a Dog Appeasing Pheromone Collar (DAP Collar) on her to aid her adjustment to her new environment. I also gave Francine a DAP Plug In for Alma’s room. I started to introduce Francine to the clicker and started Francine with some clicking and treating so she could start to get to know Alma and visa a versa. I called Francine later that night to see how Alma was getting on and she was settling in well. To see Alma in this new home safe and secure brought a tear to my eye!

Alma started off being in her own room and then over the days she was incorporated into the main living space with the other dogs and I visited Alma every other day to take her out, train her and get to know her so I could provide recommendations on what home would be best for her.

Shortly after Alma arrived at Francine’s I took her to the vet and she was all checked over, she had some overgrown toenails that were pretty much curled all the way over so we clipped these, we weighted her and she had a vaccination. The vet estimated she was between 7-8 years old.

I continued to monitor Alma working with her each week, training her to do new and exciting behaviours, training her to heel, taking her out to restaurants, generally socialising her, walking and exercising her, as well as working to develop her confidence, whilst also working to improve her overall welfare and happiness.

This time spent with Alma enabled me to assess her in more detail, get to know her and provide information regarding what type of home would best suit her. It also enabled me to lay the foundations that would help her on her journey and enable her adoptive family to communicate and bond with her. It would provide the new family a way of moving forward with Alma and creating a fantastic future for her as part of their family.

I have been so privileged to have worked with Alma and being given the opportunity to help her. She has truly won my heart and I love her to bits!

Please if you feel you can offer a loving home to Alma, please contact me for more information.

Well the moral of the story? Alma is so wonderful; to think that she was on the brink of being euthanized, such a beautiful and affectionate dog that simply wants some love and security. There are many many more dogs in this situation and that is the sadness, there are lots of dogs in desperate need of loving homes so …

Please, please, please if you feel you can offer a loving home to a pet in desperate need, contact Tania Burrows at Chiens d’Ici et Ailleurs on the following email address. You can also find the website below to find out more information:

Please also feel free to contact me on:

There are also some items to keep in mind in terms of protecting your pet. Remember if your pet does become lost and is taken to the pound, your dog could be euthanized in France within 8 days so do look at the IMPORTANT TIPS below:

Important Tips:

Be sure to check your dog’s microchip periodically. Sometimes microchips can migrate or malfunction so it is a good idea to check your dog’s microchip is working well by taking a simple visit to see your vet.

The contact details that the microchip is registered to must be current so do make sure your contact information corresponding to your dog’s microchip is up to date.

Tattooing is not something I support on ethical grounds but if your dog is already tattooed, please verify the contact details pertaining to that tattoo are correct.

Please remember if you have a cat to also make sure your microchip is properly registered. If you have just offered a home to a kitten head down to your vets to have the microchip administered and registered according to the vets recommendations.

If you have just offered a home to a rescue dog or cat, please be sure to re-register your pet’s microchip in your name with the correct address details on. In France you can sign the microchip paperwork with the new owner details and sign your name, this can then be sent off to the SCC with the relevant fee and your dog’s/cat’s microchip will be re-registered to your name/address. Again you can consult your vet regarding this.

If you have just moved to France as a resident, your vet can provide you with a microchip form so your dog’s/cat’s microchip can be registered in France to your new French address. Your vet will sign the paper and this again can be sent off to the SCC with the relevant fee and your dog’s/cat’s microchip will be re-registered to your name/address in France.

If you have a puppy/kitten or new dog/cat visit your vet and arrange to have your new best friend microchipped. This is very easy and in the UK your local dog training school may run a microchipping day or alternatively do speak to your vet. When running classes in the UK, I worked with the local dog warden and I ran microchipping days with the dog warden as we both worked together to promote responsible dog ownership. The warden would visit my class and owners wishing to have their dog microchipped could do so at a reduced rate.

For more information regarding the microchip process, please seek the advice of your veterinary professional, local dog warden and information can also be found on the website for the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Check with your local governmental body in your country of residence re local dog legislation/pet ownership legislation so you are aware of the local dog laws.

In the UK you can contact DEFRA (The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs) but also your vet and county council, in particular your local dog warden based at your local county council.  In France your local vet should be able to advise you of the local dog laws etc.

It is UK law (with a few exceptions) under the ‘Control of Dogs Order, 1992’ to have your dog wearing a tag. You can purchase ID Tags from all good pet stores. The tag should provide your address and contact details but NOT your dog’s name. For any person who is attempting to steal your dog, providing them your dog’s name could provide the person in question additional assistance in attempting to take your dog. The tag attaches to your dog’s collar with all your contact details inscribed onto it. Identifying your dog/cat with an ID Tag is very important.

If you are travelling with your pet, it is sometimes helpful to have a tag made just for your trip with the address of where you will be staying with the relevant telephone numbers that you can be reached on.

NOTE: Be sure to remember how much your dog/cat means to you and take precautions to make sure your dog/cat is well identified so that if you lose your dog/cat, you can be reunited with them if they are found by an individual, association, charity or the dog warden. Remember the dog pound in France may euthanize your dog within 8 days if they cannot locate a dog’s owner.

Having a pet is a privilege, not a necessity, care for your pets and ensure that they will never be in Alma’s situation!

Monday, 7 May 2012    Section: General Articles    Author: Victoria Morris
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