King Theo: A Dog Fighting Ring Survivor
To understand the genius of King Theo, you need to know his back story. When I first met Theo, he wasn’t Theo. He was evidence. He was a number. #947.
At the time, I was on deployment with the ASPCA Field Investigation and Response (FIR) team. It was the second largest dog-fighting ring bust in U.S. history. The investigation, confiscation and subsequent arrests had crossed several state lines and I was super-stoked about being able to do my small part to help over three hundred pit bulls and one why-is-he-here? black sheep of a black lab.
On deployment, you are guaranteed to see things that you did not expect to see, no matter how prepared you are, and you’ll certainly see some things that you never wanted to see. If you’re a seasoned shelter worker, you aren’t particularly shocked- that particular response was lost long ago- but you are frequently in awe.
The trauma these animals have experienced can present as medical, behavioral, or sometimes both. You can’t work these cases and not be affected by what these animals have experienced. At the end of a long, sweaty but soul-feeding day, you are frequently left to negotiate your own range of complex and conflicting emotions along with psychological, and occasionally physiological, responses.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story of deployment. On deployment, you get to do some amazing things. You get to help some of the neediest animals you’ll ever meet. You get to meet and bond with a bunch of animal people wired wrong in the exact same way that you are; that is to say, you get to meet your tribe.
But the best part of deployment is developing relationships with some pretty awesome, inspiring animals that defy expectations and soar closer to the sun than most people think is possible. It’s incredible to see the adaptability of animals, their powerful spirit and their unfathomable ability to forgive and to trust human touch and kindness, sometimes for the very first time in their life.
King Theo is one of the lucky dogs. He is one of the special dogs. He is one of the #367 survivor dogs.
Several action-packed years after he was rescued by the ASPCA, and a few years after he was adopted (or “hired staff”, as Theo would say) by animal trainer Trish McMillan Loehr, Theo consented to an interview.
Last week, I described him as “an hysterically wise and astute student of human behavior.” That, to me, is the whole of Theo and it is his gift to us, his thank you for seeing him and for undoing his chain. He has a Facebook page, Pibbling With Theodore, where he chronicles the absurdity of his life among us.
So Theo, how are you today?
I’m a bit itchy because it’s spring and I’m allergic to all plant life, but I’m always ready to pibble with my friends. In fact, I’m gnawing randomly on my siblings, Lili the Sato and Duncan the Doberman, as we speak.
You often say that you were not adopted, but rather you hired staff. Can you explain what you mean? What is the difference?
Normal dogs may be adopted, but pit bulls hire staff. Here’s how it happened for me.
I was living in a barrel in a forest with lots of other dogs. I had a thick collar around my neck and I was dragging a heavy chain. It was the only life I knew, so I made the best of things and tried to play with the dogs I couldn’t reach. I scratched my fleas, chewed sticks and dug holes. Sometimes they fed us. Sometimes they took out normal-looking dogs and brought them back bleeding and in bad shape. I was too young at the time for this to happen to me.
Then a really busy day happened, Lots of people in gray shirts with orange lettering came and they took us off our chains. We traveled in a truck to a really big room, where there were hundreds of other dogs in cages and the weather couldn’t get to us. It was loud sometimes, but we always had a lot of food, clean water, beds to sleep on. And people were super nice to us – we got love and attention and clicker training and I finally got to play with other dogs!
The behavior staff discovered that dog play was a special skill of mine. Because I could convince almost any dog to play with me: shy dogs, cranky dogs, rough dogs, gentle dogs, they gave me the title of “helper dog” and said that I saved some dog friends’ lives by teaching them to play! I told you that I’m pretty awesome.
When did you decide you needed to hire staff and how did you come to that decision?
There was this one behavior lady who was working at the shelter around the time my old owner decided he didn’t need us back after all. I hear he is in a people shelter now called “prison” and that I will be an old dog when he is allowed to get out.
Once I knew I would be needing staff, I interviewed The Behavior Lady for the open position. I asked about better tasting food, if I could continue getting tasty treats for doing easy tricks, the sleeping arrangements for dogs, if she was already staff to other dogs, and I tried to get a general idea if she was sensitive enough to truly understand me and do my bidding.
Could I have dog friends to play with? And lots of walkies and belly rubs? She seemed pretty smart – I sensed she understood what I was saying so I told Trish I would take her on, on a trial basis.
What is life like now that you have staff?
My new life in North Carolina has turned out to be so much better than I ever expected. I share a home with two dogs and a cat who poops dog candy and a horse who also poops dog candy but lives in a place called a “stable”. I get to sleep in a people bed, under the covers between my staff, with my head on my own pillow!
Mom has a training business, Loehr Animal Behavior, which means I often have new dog friends to help her train. I’m not supposed to teach them any of my bad habits, like ringing the service bell constantly or arwoofing at the cat.
I have learned that forests go on far beyond my old chain, and that once you’re unchained you can hike and hike and hike and keep smelling new things. I have learned that dogs come in shapes other than pit bull, and that they’re still a lot of fun even if they don’t always know how to wrestle properly. I have taken obedience, tricks and therapy dog classes, I’ve gone shopping in stores, frequented restaurants and coffee shops, and I’ve been on lots and lots of car rides. I make sure everyone I meet acknowledges and pets me, and mom says I’m a genius because I learn new things so fast!
What are some of your favorite activities?
Pibbling, going hiking, learning stuff for cookies, finding and mashing recycling, and hugs.
Just between you and me, tell me one thing about your staff that drives you crazy.
After a year, Trish and Barry are pretty well trained. They pet me when I ask, feed me when I demand it, take me lots of places, and let me sleep on top of them or under the covers.
But they are kind of clueless about somethings and there are some important needs that go unmet. For instance, whenever I am inside, I usually need to go back outside. And when I am outside, I often notice that I forgot something inside and need to come back in to get it. Sometimes the other dogs steal my stuff and the staff doesn’t notice. And sometimes I just need a hug and they are busy sitting on the sofa or at the table. Fortunately, they have put in a service bell so I can more easily get these needs met.
If I’m allowed to tell another thing that drives me crazy, it’s baths. Why can’t I just smell like a dog?
I know you spend most of your time with The Lady, but what is your relationship with the Sailor like?
The Lady is pretty awesome. She trains me, does most of the feeding, and gives a good belly scratch, but she is also the one who gives me baths, grinds my nails down with a machine she calls Dremel and I call “the devil” and she also regularly removes fun things from my mouth, like shoes and recycling and phones.
The Sailor is at sea half the time, so when he comes home it’s always a big party. I know he misses me a lot! We get real pots and pans to lick, not just microwave food containers, I get about ten times as many hugs, and he is awesome, just awesome at tug of war. Way better than Duncan!
Again, between just you and me, which one is more fun?
I think I already answered this!
Please tell me about your Facebook page. Why did you start it and have you considered starting a blog?
It was pretty clear that I was the star of Mom’s Facebook page as soon as I arrived, and after a few months, she had so many requests to start my own page that she took the plunge and did it. Now I have more friends than both my staff put together! Haha! Again, I’m awesome!
We call my page Pibbling With Theodore and it celebrates the fun side of being a dog – I’m always trying to figure out why humans do what they do, and how far I can push my limits. We chose the word “pibbling” to describe all of the fun and playful and ridiculous things I do. I even have my own hashtag, #pibbling, though lots of other dogs use it too and I love that because I’m the original. My staff says I’m the funniest dog they’ve ever met. You probably will too.
I don’t know what a blog is. Does it taste good?
Do you keep in touch with some of your #367 friends? What is your relationship like? Are you the mascot?
I don’t know what a mascot is, but if it’s the most fun and most handsome of the dogs, I’m pretty sure I’m in the running. I have only met two of my #367 friends since I’ve been in my new home. Ruby lives in Urbana, Illinois – I don’t like to kiss and tell, but we had a couple of dates.
The Mighty Finn just visited me last week, and I showed him how to hike in the forest and cross streams and he tried to teach me how to dig holes. These dogs both have amazing lives now! You should interview them too!
Now that you’re on Facebook, you must have come across other Facebook pages or websites that you enjoy. Can you share a few of those?
There are so many, I can’t possibly list them all! I’ve already mentioned Ruby and Finn, but mom and I also follow Bully Project, the #367family Facebook page, the ASPCA, your awesome blog and Facebook page, Beyond Breed, The Unexpected Pit Bull, Stubby Dog, Dog Spies, Patricia McConnell and Dog Star Daily.
I know that Kindi the Kitteh was initially uninterested in your love, company and affection. Has she come around yet?
Kindi is a tough nut to crack! She has only been with us a couple of months, and she had never lived with dogs before, so staff says I need to give her time. Kindi has been getting sassy lately, sleeping on the bed, walking over us dogs when we’re covered with our nighttime blanket, and she stabbed me in the eye with her claw when I dared to sniff her tail last week. I’m okay but it hurt!
I arwoof and play bow and do all of the things that make dogs want to play with me, but the staff says that my tricks won’t work with cats, and that I need to cool my jets, whatever that means. I will convince her to love me one day, I am determined! Everyone loves Theodore!
Theo, if you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
I don’t know, every time I find a good tree and start sniffing it to find out what kind it is, Duncan pees on my head!
One last question before you go, what is the one thing you really want your fans to know about you that they may not know.
One thing that people keep saying to my mom when they notice what a sweet and friendly dog I am is, “It’s all how you raise them!” I love the life I have now, but thinking of fight bust dogs or rescued dogs as damaged goods is just ridiculous. And untrue! We can be just as awesome as dogs who have every advantage in the world. Pit bulls may be some of the most abused dogs in the world, but I like to think we are also some of the most forgiving.
Any final words of wisdom for your fans, Theo?
Pibble on, friends!