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Hope for George

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 13, 2023 1:09 AM

A dog that evaded animal control officers for four years has finally been caught, but not before capturing several hearts along the way.

Those who have gotten to know the Akita-shepherd mix "George" are hoping his wild heart can be tamed so he can finally have a stable home of his own.

"A couple years ago, I saw him running down the golf course and I went after him with a leash thinking, 'Uh oh, he ran away from his owner,'" said Joanie Hedge, who lives in the neighborhood. "I heard from animal control that he was more than likely dumped off at the dump off or on Ramsey. He’s been a stray dog for a long, long time."

George has been a familiar furry face around the Coeur d'Alene Public Golf Club for quite some time, sometimes roaming with other stray dogs in the area. Neighbors who live near the golf course have left food and water out for George and his buddies, who had been impossible to capture.

"He was adopted, he escaped," Hedge said. "The family that tried to keep him just couldn't keep going after him."

She said he was adopted a second time by a family in Post Falls but escaped again and made his way back to the golf course.

Hedge said George was known to be a barker, but when she would sit on the grass and talk to him, he would lie down and stop barking.

He never let her get too close. He always moved away, obviously distrustful of people.

About two weeks ago George was finally trapped in a yard and taken to Companions Animal Center in Hayden. One of the neighbors hired a dog trainer to work with George, as his behavior has been questionable when he is contained.

"I know a lot of the people were fearful he was aggressive since he’s been feral for four years," said John Huss, who formerly worked for a private security company on an explosive detection dog team in Iraq protecting the U.S. Embassy.

Huss began working with George about five days ago and said he has seen improvements every day. George is estimated to be about 5 or 6 years old.

"When I put him in one of the dog runs, he was happy as heck, running back and forth with another dog, jumping and barking and having a good time," Huss said. "I think he is so used to having his freedom that being inside a pen with all those other dogs around it just makes him super anxious and super tense, that's why he barks so much."

During their session Friday, George opened up even more, running and jumping next to Huss as they jogged around the pen, happily barking hello to two fluffy huskies in the adjacent dog run.

Huss said he believes George at one time lived on acreage or somewhere his past owners let him do what he wanted, and he just left one day.

"He’s not 100% scared of humans," Huss said. "He goes up to just about everybody I take him near and sniffs them."

Huss said George has experienced good and bad people.

"He's probably had people who've tried to help him, and people who’ve done nothing but yell and throw things at him to get him to go away," he said.

Although it does not euthanize animals when space runs out, Companions Animal Center will put down dogs that are known to bite or deemed vicious by animal control, Executive Director Debbie Jeffrey said.

"All we do is try to help these animals," she said. "If we can't get in there and touch it, give it a shot, get it to the vet room without a catch pole, you have to start questioning that."

George is building trust with Huss and his behavior is making improvements. His biggest issue, Jeffrey said, will be his escape-artist nature.

"I'm actually surprised how well he's done," she said. "If you think about a feral dog, you know, they're very skittish."

Huss said George will need a loving, attentive home.

"I think he’s very adoptable, he's just going to need continuous work and somebody who's going to be patient with him and give him the time he needs to be bonded with that person," Huss said. "I think he could be a really good dog."

One of George's canine compadres, a scrappy brown and white dog known as "Little Guy," is still on the lam in the area of the golf course.

Hedge said she and her neighbors have contacted Companions Animal Center to advocate on their behalf.

"We’d like to find them a home and have their stories heard," Hedge said. "It’s a sad story, but we’d like it to have a happy ending."

Visit companionsanimalcenter.org or call 208-772-4019 to set an appointment to meet George.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

Canine trainer John Huss stands with his legs around George as he works with him Friday at Companions Animal Center.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

George allows dog trainer John Huss to touch his feet Friday at Companions Animal Center. A stray for four years, George has finally been captured and is in need of a loving home with attentive, patient owners.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

George prances alongside John Huss during a training session Friday.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

George, an akita-shepherd mix, makes friends with two huskies Friday at Companions Animal Center. A trainer is working with George to help assimilate into society after being a stray for four years.

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DEVIN WEEKS/Press

An inquisitive George pokes his nose into the camera Friday as he works with trainer John Huss.