Woman Visits Mountain Every Day To Convince Huge Dogs To Let Her Rescue Them
“They couldn't be touched. They couldn't be leashed. They were just terrified.”
In 2020, Veronica Shea was out hiking with her dog in the Angeles National Forest in California, when she spotted something strange moving ahead of them.
“We whip around the curve, and I look over and there was this huge black thing,” Shea told The Dodo. “He went up the side of a cliff.”
Shea followed the furry animal and came face to face with three malnourished dogs alone in the wilderness. Realizing the dogs had been abandoned, she knew she had to help them. Every day for several weeks, Shea trudged up the mountain to feed the dogs and work on gaining their trust.
Slowly, the dogs got used to her and even began eating out of her hand. But Shea had no idea how to get them off the mountain. If she trapped one dog, would the others flee? She knew she couldn’t do it alone.
When she asked for help, a whole team of rescuers stepped forward. Together, they carried equipment up the mountain and put together a makeshift cage. The rescuers carefully lured the dogs inside and carried them down the mountain.
The three dogs —mastiffs named Princess George, Grace and Steve, who are believed to be siblings — were safe now. But they still had a long journey ahead.
The rescuers approached Cheri Wulff Lucas, a well known dog behaviorist and trainer in California, to see if she could help the nervous dogs learn to trust again.
“They weren't adoptable the way they came,” Lucas told The Dodo. “They couldn't be touched. They couldn't be leashed. They were just terrified.”
Princess George, Grace and Steve responded well to Lucas’ training. Still, they continued to have a “very strong startle reflex,” said Lucas. This made it difficult to find them the perfect home.
“It was going to take a very special home for them to go into because they're not the kind of dogs that are going to go to the dog park,” Lucas said. “Even walking them on city streets would be a lot for them. And if they do spook, they weigh 125 pounds, so [they would be] very hard to contain.”
But Lucas knew the dogs were safe on her own property.
“I'm out in the middle of nowhere,” Lucas said. “There's no traffic around here. You can't even see another home from here. So if they did get out, they would just come back here to me.”
While Lucas never planned on keeping the dogs herself, that’s exactly what she ended up doing. This turned out to be the best decision for everyone. Princess George, Grace, and Steve continued to live in a safe and supportive environment. And Lucas discovered that the dogs could help her with her work as a trainer.
“If I get dogs that needs socialization — to be more familiar and less reactive with other dogs — I use my pack to help rehabilitate them,” Lucas said. “And all three of them are highly social with dogs. They know how to smell properly, how to not overpower the dog that needs the socialization. They're just flawless. And that's not something I taught them — they came that way.”
The threesome were particularly helpful when Lucas started working with another dog named Andi, who was rescued from a hoarding case.
“She had lived in a pen for seven years without human touch or being leashed or anything and she was terrified,” Lucas said. “They just came in and really made her feel comfortable. It was really sweet to see. They brought her around in a way that I never could as a human.”
Lucas ended up adopting Andi as well, bringing her personal pack of dogs to 12.
Princess George, Grace and Steve have been living with Lucas now for over three years, and they’re completely different dogs now.
“They're incredibly playful,” Lucas said. “If you came to my house and did not know their backstory, you would think they were like any other dog.”
Lucas describes George as a “couch potato” who loves hanging around the house and socializing with the other dogs. Steve is the one who likes to play endless games of “chase” out in the yard. Grace remains a bit timid, but she shares a very close relationship with Steve.
“They’re pets — they’re really pets now,” she said. “They’re not cases for me anymore.”