Athena, the 4-year-old dog that captured the hearts of many after being found outside the Bobbi and the Strays Animal Shelter in Freeport last July, has made a remarkable recovery since her rescue.
When Athena was discovered, she was in a critical condition, suffering from severe malnutrition and multiple open wounds. She had been left in a crate outside the shelter, where em-ployees found her and named her after the Greek goddess Athena.
Her previous owner had intended to use her for dog fighting due to her being a pit bull-terrier mix, but it was clear that this was not in her nature, and when she failed to meet the owner’s expectations, she was neglected and mistreated. This tragic reality is all too common for dogs used in fighting rings.
“The intention was to use the dog as a fighting dog, but it wasn’t in her nature to be that way,” longtime Bobbi and the Strays volunteer Linda Hongiman said. “So the abuser got upset. When Athena became unhappy being in the crate, she lashed out at him. That’s when the abuser started depriving her of food, exercise and even urinating on herself. The situation was terrible.”
Damian Douglas, the suspect, had reportedly purchased the dog, then known as Skyy, from a breeder in North Carolina. He confined her to a cage on an enclosed porch starting in November, but still regularly walked her, according to the Nassau County district attorney’s office.
However, Douglas allegedly stopped walking the dog in February of last year and even stopped taking her out of the cage altogether, according to the D.A. On July 7, Douglas abandoned Athena in a crate outside the shelter.
Douglas, of West Hempstead, was eventually arrested and charged with abusing and abandoning the dog.
When Athena was found, she required immediate medical attention and was not cleared by veterinarians at Howard Beach until October.
Despite her serious injuries, Athena’s strong immune system meant that she didn’t require surgery. With the help of dedicated volunteers, who provided her with love, dressing changes, and plenty of tender care, Athena slowly but surely began to heal.
“I was in the crate with her recently and she’s a real lady now, she really listens and behaves so well,” Hongiman said. “Now she knows what love is.”
After her physical wounds healed, she was paired with a behaviorist who worked with her since November and her progress has been nothing short of remarkable.
Tuncay Adem, of Canine Counsel Dog Training, a distinguished dog trainer with over 30 years of experience in the field, undertook the challenging case of Athena after she was declared free of abuse at the end of October.
The behaviorist has earned a reputation for tackling severe cases of aggression and abuse and has made a significant impact on numerous shelters and rescues across the country.
Originally from England, Adem began his career in dog training in the British military and was selected to join the Special Forces. After serving in the military, he brought his expertise in animal behavior to Long Island, where he now works as a behaviorist, dedicated to improving the lives of these vulnerable animals.
Upon picking her up from the vet after her treatments to stay at his house with him while he put her on the path to recovery, Adem observed that Athena had never lived in a house and was confused about her surroundings. Adem assessed the situation and observed that Athena took a liking to him right away.
“I frequently encounter such situations with dogs because I am quite indifferent while dealing with them,” Adem said. “Sometimes they behave aggressively and try to attack me, while other times they become scared and run away. However, my indifference towards their behavior seems to attract them towards me, and that’s how Athena immediately took a liking to me and behaved really well.”
The trainer dedicated eight to 10 hours a day to working with Athena, teaching her new skills and helping her to relearn basic house manners, such as understanding how to greet people. Athena had a fear of children, which manifested as aggression, with growling and barking. However, after just one day of exposure to the stimuli, Athena began to relax and become more comfortable.
To achieve this, the trainer utilized desensitization training, including work with a spring pole to strengthen her neck muscles. Athena had a strong urge to jump and grab objects, which the training helped to redirect.
In an update on Athena’s progress, Adem has stated that the dog’s training was completed by the beginning of February, with no major issues to address. Despite this, Athena remains in the trainer’s care, as no potential adopters have stepped forward yet. The trainer expressed a reluctance to return Athena to a rescue shelter, citing a desire to avoid wasting the progress made during her training.
The search for Athena’s forever home continues, with hopes that she will find a loving family soon and have a good life.
“Despite what’s happened, Athena is an incredible dog who will really bond with you,” Adem said. “Unfortunately, some people shy away from her due to her background, but once she connects with you, it’s a bond that lasts forever. She’s really a good and well-behaved girl. This is not just another story, this is something that has happened right in your backyard.”