Bosco looks intimidating, but he doesn’t act like it. Although he is a big dog, he is sweet, shy, careful, and always thoughtful and alert. Given Bosco’s heartbreaking history, it would be understandable if he acted as fierce as he looks. But thanks to many loving rescuers who saw beyond his gruff exterior, Bosco has blossomed into a sweet, curious and loving dog. On a wintry day in January, Broadway Barks traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, to meet Bosco and his adopted mom, Cheri Guilbault. It was worth the trip to see them both in person, to watch them interact, and to hear Cheri tell us all about how Bosco had changed in the months since she brought him home. Meeting Bosco was especially gratifying because Bosco is a Broadway Barks dog, and despite a rough start, he is now happy and thriving. As Cheri graciously welcomed us into her home, she told us Bosco’s inspiring story.
Six years ago, Bosco was picked up off the streets of the Bronx as a stray and taken to New York City’s Animal Care and Control (ACC). When no one came to claim Bosco he was placed on the euthanasia list; Bosco’s time was up. Then, either by a stroke of luck or the hand of destiny, Bosco was rescued just in time. Broadway Barks co-founder Bernadette Peters was visiting ACC with her assistant Patty Saccente, as they often do on their days off, looking to save as many animals as possible. Bernadette and Patty happened upon the young and gentle pit bull mix and knew they had to save him. They took Bosco to BARC—the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC) shelter in Brooklyn, New York—where they knew he would get the love and attention he needed. (Stay tuned for more about BARC and the amazing work it does to save NYC’s animals!)
Bosco was adopted, but unfortunately his home was not the loving refuge his caregivers had hoped he would find. Bosco’s new family quickly lost interest in him, so Bosco was relegated to the basement, where he was secluded and ignored. Bosco was not socialized and he did not go outside much, if at all. He grew up alone and afraid in solitary confinement. Bosco suffered this way for a few years until his adopters finally realized they were not able to care for him properly. In accordance with the adoption agreement they had signed, they returned him to the BARC shelter, but the damage had been done. BARC welcomed Bosco back, and the staff and volunteers nursed him back to health physically and emotionally for the next several years. They worked diligently to socialize Bosco and re-introduce him to the world. They used a “thundershirt” and other methods to allay his fear and anxiety. Bosco’s caregivers walked him and played with him, petted him and made sure he received food, water, toys, treats, and the best veterinary care. But everyone at BARC knew that what Bosco really needed was a loving home. Fortunately for Bosco, he was about to cross paths with Bernadette Peters and Patty Saccente again.
In July 2012, Bosco was chosen by the BARC shelter to participate in the 14th annual Broadway Barks adoption event, which was produced by Patty Saccente and co-hosted by Bernadette Peters. Being a shy and scared dog, Bosco was not thrilled about socializing with strangers in the noisy, crowded Shubert Alley, but he did well when he was presented on stage by Broadway star Michael Cumpsty. He even had his picture taken with co-host Mary Tyler Moore. Although many in the crowd appeared interested in Bosco, no qualified applications were received. And even though Bosco seemed relieved to return to the BARC shelter, away from the noises of the city streets, the staff and volunteers at BARC were determined to find Bosco the permanent home he deserved. Little did they know that Bosco’s future adopter was right under their noses.
BARC had a special volunteer at Broadway Barks 14, a woman named Cheri Guilbault. Cheri is a self-professed “fan girl” of Bernadette Peters and has long admired the star’s dedication to helping homeless animals. After recently losing a deeply loved and cherished pet, Cheri read a newspaper article in which Bernadette discussed the recent passing of her own beloved dog, Kramer. Cheri was touched by the story and, with her own emotional wound still fresh, felt the need to reach out. Cheri visited Bernadette’s Facebook page and the Broadway Barks website, where she found information about the BARC shelter. She contacted them to see if she could volunteer for BARC during the annual Broadway Barks adoption event. BARC welcomed the help, so Cheri made the trek from Allentown, Pennsylvania to the Big Apple to volunteer. Before the main adoption event, Cheri attended an autograph session with Bernadette, and they discussed heartbreak over losing their beloved pets. Cheri told Bernadette that she was ready to consider another pet and she was thinking of adopting a pit bull. Patty exclaimed, “Bosco!” and Bernadette’s face lit up. After such an excited reaction, Cheri knew that there must be something special about this dog, and she had to meet him.
When Cheri first met Bosco at the Broadway Barks adoption event, he was frightened and shy. She spent several hours with him during the event keeping him calm and relaxed. Back at BARC, Bosco clung to the back wall of his kennel and would not come out to greet her. Cheri eventually was able to take Bosco on a walk, but he hated the noisy street so they did not get very far. Cheri returned home without Bosco, but she could not stop thinking about the gentle, shy dog. She had met other dogs at the BARC shelter that day who seemed like they would be wonderful pets. But there was just something about Bosco; she felt a connection with him. She knew the other dogs would get adopted easily because they were young, energetic, and outgoing. Bosco was older and needed someone with patience to help him overcome his fears, and she kept thinking that someone might be her. A few days later, Cheri returned to BARC and spent more time with Bosco. She knew in her heart that Bosco belonged at home with her. Cheri was nervous that BARC would not let her adopt Bosco because she lived several hours away. But after seeing Cheri with Bosco and talking to her veterinarian and several references, the BARC staff knew Cheri and Bosco were a perfect fit. Cheri took Bosco home and continued the work that BARC had started in trying to show Bosco that the world does not have to be a scary place.
By all appearances Bosco is an intimidating adult dog, but mentally and socially he is like a frightened puppy, learning about the world around him. As Cheri said, “When I brought him home he was a shaky boulder. He would sit in the corner and press himself against the wall.” Cheri knew that Bosco would need more than the basics of food, water, and shelter. He needed love, attention, and training to help him regain the confidence and trust that the neglect early in his life had stolen from him. So Cheri searched for a trainer who could teach her how to help and understand Bosco. After extensive research, Cheri hired Robyn Achey-Zarnas, co-founder and co-owner of Tall Tails Training and Boarding. As Cheri explains, “Robyn was the only one who wanted to meet Bosco in his environment. She explained that like someone getting out after a long jail term, Bosco was institutionalized, and he would need time and trust to change.” Robyn specializes in training rescue dogs and dogs with aggression and behavioral problems. She uses a positive, proactive approach to teach obedience skills and foster a close bond between the dog and the human. Robyn works to help dog owners “shed the ‘drama’ of the past, and empower them to go forward as their dog’s ‘heroes’ and champions.” As one who has rescue dogs herself, Robyn especially hopes to help people who adopt rescued animals to “rescue them the rest of the way,” through proper training and socialization.
Robyn bases her training style on each individual animal’s needs. Sometimes she trains the dog, and sometimes she teaches the human to the train the dog, which is what Robyn did to help Cheri with Bosco. As Robyn says, dogs are “part a genetic feature and part a personality…genetics, environmental factors, and [the dog’s] experience base are all going to create that dog.” Dogs that are not trained or socialized fall back on their instincts and will either fight, freeze, or flee. In the face of fear, they do not think; they just react. The seclusion and isolation that Bosco endured caused him to want to flee, but now, as Robyn says, “his personality is so amazingly sweet, he listens to the training more than he listens to his instincts.” Robyn taught Cheri the proper techniques for handling and communicating with Bosco so he would use his training to handle a new or fearful situation instead of reacting only by instinct.
Neglect deprived Bosco of the socialization and affection that most dogs, as companion animals, need. As a result of this treatment, Bosco is uncomfortable with affection, even though he desperately craves it. As Cheri has worked with him and earned Bosco’s trust, she has been able to increase the amount of affection she shows him. Cheri says, “Bosco is so starved for affection, and he is always coming up to me and asking for it; then when I give it to him he dips his head and turns away because it’s too much for him. But the second I stop he’s back wanting more, so he’s learning how to accept affection.” In the beginning, Bosco was frightened of being petted and would turn away or curl up out of fear. It was as though he craved love and attention for so long that he is afraid to feel it now lest it be taken away. Cheri is slowly but surely assuring Bosco that her love is here to stay.
Saved twice by Bernadette Peters, Patty Saccente, and BARC, Bosco has now been saved a third time by Cheri Guilbault. He is slowly beginning to see the good things in the world. As Robyn says, Bosco’s future is really bright, “the human is empowering the dog…Cheri is literally creating a new Bosco story.” Through training, Bosco is learning to relax and take his cues from Cheri. This allows him to have new, positive experiences, which give him confidence and a brighter outlook on his environment. Bosco is still unsure about new things, but he is beginning to approach unfamiliar objects and people with a gentle curiosity rather than fear. Now, he loves to go on walks, and he has taken an interest in toys, but mostly he loves to sit on the couch with Cheri. He is also developing a sense of humor, which Cheri comically details on Bosco-ful, the blog she writes about Bosco’s antics as he works to rebuild his confidence and trust.
On our visit with Cheri and Bosco, we all sat on the floor to put Bosco at ease. He sat regally and stayed dutifully next to Cheri the entire time, while she petted him lightly on the head, put her arm around him, and rubbed his shoulder. By the time our visit drew to a close, Bosco had grown more comfortable with our presence and seemed a little more relaxed. He sniffed the photographer’s camera and even let us pet him and rub his belly. Cheri, distracted by our questions, stopped rubbing Bosco’s shoulder for a moment. At first Bosco just looked at her, and then when she did not make eye contact with him, he gently took his paw and placed it on her shoulder. It seemed like he was saying, “Don’t stop, I love it when you pet me.” It was a lovely and tender moment that illustrates the powerful bond between a rescued dog and his caring rescuer. Welcome home, Bosco.
By Charlene Sloan
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