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Nashville Paw Free Magazine February/March 2012 : Page 22

The Story Of Max

It was an image that stirred a city to its feet in outrage: a frightened tan-and-white pitbull crouched among a patch of dirt and rock, each vertebrae along his spine standing out against his bleak surroundings. The photo was posted to Facebook on January 7, 2012 by Rebecca Helwig, the Nashville representative for the national organization Dogs Deserve Better (DDB).

When Max’s grim condition was reported by a new neighbor, Helwig stepped up to offer her help. Armed with a camera and accompanied by Joey Krabacher of Music City Pit Brigade (MCPB), she arrived at the scene. While her first step is typically talking to the guardian about the dangers of dog chaining, no one was home. She began shooting photos from the street as Krabacher and the neighbor made their away across the property to get a better look at Max’s condition.

Moments later, Helwig says, a car pulled into the driveway and a man got out and fired shots at them from a handgun. “We were scared for our lives,” she says. “We took off as fast as we could and called 911.”

When police arrived, Helwig says the alleged shooter claimed he was “checking on things” for his brother, who owned the home and dog but had been in jail for a year. Helwig says, “The guy claimed that the dog was old and sick and that he was just Going to let him die naturally, but it was obvious that this was a younger dog who was suffering from extreme neglect.”

However, according to Helwig, nothing was done about the situation. “The police officer told me he’d had dogs all his life and that this one was just old… that it was his time to die,” she says. “He didn’t attempt to help the dog despite the fact that the law was being broken. He didn’t even file a report on open gunshots in a residential neighborhood. When you call the police to uphold the law and you get blown off, it’s frustrating.”

According to Kris Mumford, spokesperson for Metro Nashville Police, police are now investigating the incident and how it was handled. “We are definitely looking at the initial response,” she reports. “We’re looking into this all the way up to the commander at the East Precinct. It is an open investigation at this point.”

Over the next twenty-four hours, Helwig and Krabacher’s wife, Jenna, worked frantically to communicate with East Precinct police, animal control officers and other key individuals to ensure that something was indeed done for Max.

“The next day, two sergeants went to the house, called Metro Animal Control and had them take possession of Max,” says Mumford. From there, custody was signed over to DDB.

Max was immediately taken to Dr. Catrina Herd at Animal House Veterinary Clinic, where he was assessed and treated. “As we thought, he is only about four years old but emaciated,” says Helwig. “He also had fly strike on his ears, wounds on his feet and intestinal whipworms and hookworms.” She adds that Max was also diagnosed with stage-four heartworm disease. “Dr. Herd is concerned about him going into heart failure, so we’ll begin treatment as soon as he has had a couple of weeks to become stable.”

Max is now living in a loving foster home where he will undergo the care and rehabilitation he needs before he’ll be placed up for adoption. “He’s very sweet and friendly,” says Helwig, “but he still needs to learn that he can trust humans. He just has to learn how to be a family dog.”

One thing is certain: for perhaps the first time ever, Max is finally no longer alone. In fact, he’s surrounded not only by a loving human family, but also by canine siblings who are eagerly showing him how great “pack life” can be.

Helping other dogs like Max

Despite a flood of comments on Facebook calling her a hero, Helwig is adamant that people look at the bigger picture. “I don’t want the spotlight to be on us saving Max. I am so thrilled that we were able to save him, but Max is just one dog… one of hundreds that experience the physical, emotional and mental abuse of living day after day alone on a chain all across Nashville. If his story gets people fired up, that’s great— but then I want people to focus on how we can help all the dogs just like him who are still suffering in silence and need us to do something about it.”

While current laws provide some limitations on tethering (for example, tethers must be at least 15 feet in length and adequate housing, food and water must be provided at all times), Helwig stresses that anti-tethering laws are needed in order to protect dogs from the abuse and neglect that all too often comes with chaining. “So many others cities have banned chaining,” she says. “We need to step up and remove this form of animal keeping altogether. A dog doesn't belong on a belongs with its family."

That’s why she says the community needs to demand stronger and more humane laws by making our voices heard. “Find out who your local council members are,” she says. “Call them up and politely and professionally let them know that you are a constituent and that you want legislation that ends dog tethering. Provide evidence on the dangers of dog chaining, such as that one out of four fatal dog attacks come from chained dogs. If we ban chaining, it will not only be more humane for dogs, but it will also create a safer community for our citizens.”

Max was assessed by Dr. Catrina Herd of Animal House Veterinary Clinic, where he was found to be emaciated and suffering from stage four heartworm disease, intestinal parasites and other problems.

Now in loving foster care, Max is putting on weight, being treated for heartworm disease and is learning to love life with his human and canine family members. Once he has been rehabilitated, he will be put up for adoption.

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