For a first date, Zeus and Katie were really hitting it off.
Young, blonde Katie pranced around playfully while handsome, buffed Zeus followed her every move with fascination.
The interaction between the Chihuahua and the pit bull terrier put a big smile on the face of Castaic Animal Care Center volunteer Hsiawen Hull.
“We’re trying to get Zeus on an ASPCA transport,” he said. “We knew he was good with big dogs, but he had to be okay with small dogs, too.”
Zeus had already been on an earlier date with Mia, another pit bull terrier, which went swimmingly.
Because of their positive behavior together and with Katie, both were approved to head up to Oregon for placement at a rescue that had a demand for well-behaved large breed dogs.
Ironically, both Zeus, a stray, and Mia, an owner surrender, were listed as dog aggressive upon first arriving at Castaic Animal Care Center.
That’s where Hull comes in. “The staff usually calls me and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got this dog…,’” he said.
Hull will spend up to 20 minutes during an initial evaluation. “The dog will usually tell me what I need to know right away,” he said.
Zeus, for example, had an athleticism that was common for an energetic, young pit bull terrier.
“It’s more of a
play drive than a prey drive,” Hull said. “Zeus just doesn’t understand his body weight or how he impresses other dogs.”
Mia, on the other hand, was more intuitive.
“She listens well and is very intelligent. Mia’s a border collie shaped like a pit bull terrier,” Hull said with a laugh.
introduced Mia and Zeus together with the help of other volunteers. He then worked with Katie to make sure she would successfully interact with large dogs.
“I’ve spent 6 to 8 hours working with a dog before I put them into this situation,” he said.
The process is still fascinating to Hull, even after 14 years of volunteering at the center. An information technology manager by profession, Hull started working with dog behavior after a volunteer asked him to help with a shy dog.
“I’ve worked with everything from Chihuahuas to 100-pound Rottweilers,” he said. “For me, it’s a puzzle. They don’t speak English or have human traits, they can’t tell me how I can help.”
Such is the case with a nameless female Dachshund mix that came into the center that day. Clearly uncomfortable from a possible case of mange and large mammary tumors, the dog scratched, cowered, and then growled when Hull entered her kennel.
“She’s stressed by being here. I’m not going to push her,” Hull said to volunteer Clare Storey, who stood outside the dog’s kennel. “We’ll get her to trust us and let her know we’re here to help.”
Storey recalled an Australian Shepherd named Stu that Hull helped five years ago. The dog came in marked as extremely aggressive and the staff had to use a catch pole to get him into the kennel.
“It took Hsiawen 40 minutes to get Stu to go 100 yards. He did it by cajoling, not by being scary or pushing Stu,” Storey said.
“We just worked on trust,” Hull explained. “He needed to trust me first and like me second.”
Once Stu trusted him, Hull was able to tie the dog to his hip and do his volunteer work around the center.
Over time, Stu grew more confident and friendly. A few weeks later, he was adopted by a Malibu resident who owned a horse ranch.
“He’s living a fantastic life,” Storey said.
That’s the ultimate hope for any of the dogs Hull works with, according to Karen Stepp, manager at Castaic Animal Care Center.
“Hsiawen has a way of reading a dog’s body language and comes up with the best plan to work with them,” Stepp said. “It really helps get these dogs adopted into the right home.”