13 min read

Dog Was So Scared To Go Outside — Until He Found The Perfect Family

He was saved from a meat farm, so he didn't even know what a backyard was.

For most of his life, Louie didn't know anything about being a "normal" dog. He didn't know how to eat or drink from a bowl, or how to play. He also had no idea how to walk on a leash, let alone go outside to do his "business."

But everything changed when Louie met another dog named Cherry.

Louie was one of 103 dogs rescued from a meat farm in Chungcheongnamo, South Korea. The dogs lived in tiny wire cages filled with their own waste. The only time they left their cages is when they were slaughtered for their meat.

The dog meat farm in Chungcheongnamdo, South Korea | Kim Manchul/HSI

In 2015, a team from Humane Society International (HSI) made an agreement with the dog meat farmer, Mr. Kim. If Mr. Kim quit the dog meat business and relinquished all the dogs to HSI, the group would financially help him become a rice farmer.

One of the many mastiffs at the dog meat farm | Kim Manchul/HSI

Since there's an unfortunate stigma in South Korea surrounding "meat dogs" that makes it difficult to find new owners for them, the HSI team transported Louie and the other dogs to the United States. Then Louie was transferred to the Sacramento SPCA (SSPCA), where he was cared for and eventually put up for adoption.

A HSI team member comforts a rescued mastiff | Kim Manchul/HSI

After everything Louie had been through, it was understandable that he was skittish and poorly socialized. But his fear was so extreme he couldn't even be walked out to the yard - and, as a 40-pound mastiff, he was too heavy for staffers to carry.

"We used a handcart to wheel him out to the grassy yard to allow him to stretch his legs," Sarah Varanini, foster care coordinator for the SSPCA, told The Dodo. "The first few times in the yard, he wasn't quite sure what to do."

Because of his tough past, the SSPCA staff worried about finding him the right home, especially if the potential home had another dog.

"Louie was a bit of a bull in a china shop when it came to other dogs," Varanini said. "His meet-and-greets with other dogs tended to be on the rambunctious side - lots of 'Hi! I'm Louie!" with a big paw to the face and a few humps for good measure. Many dogs didn't respond well to this type of greeting."

Sacramento SPCA

Monica Engebretson had been browsing the SSPCA's adoption page, and she'd come across Louie's picture. "I just liked his face," Engebretson told The Dodo "I emailed my husband his picture and said, 'I want.' He wrote back, 'OK, go see him before I change my mind.'"

When Engebretson learned that Louie had been rescued from a meat farm, she was intrigued, but she worried about Louie getting along with her other dog, Cherry. Cherry was a rescue herself - she'd been found as a flea-ridden stray with a tight collar cutting into her neck, a chewed-off rope hanging from it.

While Cherry's background is unknown, Engebretson knew Cherry was unpredictable around other dogs.

"She's very dominant so if another dog shows any insubordination, she fights," Engebretson said.

There was only one way to find out - get Louie and Cherry to meet. So Engebretson and her daughter, Xela, took Cherry to the shelter, though they initially left her outside in a safe place so they could meet Louie first.

Engebretson and her daughter were shocked to see how skittish and scared Louie was.

Sacramento SPCA

"In ... [Louie's] kennel he could be seen from two sides," Engebretson explained. "Some people had stopped in front of his cage to look at him and he got up and moved to the other side of the cage, as far as he could get from them. We went around to the other side and he let out a whine and moved to the center of his cage, so he could be equally distant from viewers on both sides."

But despite Louie's skittishness, Engebretson and Xela asked to meet him in the adoption room.

Sacramento SPCA

"They had to practically carry him in because he wouldn't walk," Engebretson said. "Once in the room he sat in the far corner with his back to us and would just glance over his shoulder with 'side eye,' then stare at the door that would lead back to his kennel. When we'd go near him to pet him, he'd get up and move away from us."

Based on Louie's behavior, Engebretson concluded the two dogs wouldn't get along. But since Cherry was already there, they decided to try.

Engebretson led Cherry into the lobby, and the SSPCA staff brought Louie in - or at least, tried. "Louie was being gently pushed and half-carried through the lobby like a protester exercising civil disobedience," Engebretson recalled.

Then something magical happened.

Sacramento SPCA

"[Louie] immediately stood up and walked toward her," Engebretson said. "They touched noses and both tails were wagging. He was a completely different dog."

Sacramento SPCA

"When we got to the play yard, I held my breath a bit as I knew that Cherry was very dominant," Engebretson added. "But Louie gave all the right submissive signals, and then they gave reciprocal 'play bows' and the game was on - they romped and played and chased. Louie never challenged Cherry's authority."

Sacramento SPCA

This sealed the deal for Engebretson, and she decided to adopt Louie. "I saw that there was a real dog inside, not just an empty shell and that we could work with him with Cherry's help," she said.

Monica Engebretson

Even though Louie had immediately taken to Cherry, it took him awhile to feel comfortable around people. But with Cherry's help, he warmed up to everyone in the Engebretson family.

Sacramento SPCA

"My daughter is the first person that Louie started showing genuine affection for," Engebretson said. "In the beginning he would accept petting but seemed to just be enduring it and he wouldn't seek out human touch. Cherry is very affectionate, however, so I imagine he was watching her. Cherry is quite attached to my daughter and in the morning would run into her room excited for her to get up. After about two months, Louie started going into her room in the morning and would nudge her with his nose and lick her face."

Monica Engebretson

Cherry helped Louie with other things too. Louie's afraid of the car and going through any kind of doorway or threshold, but if he sees Cherry get in first, he'll follow. Louie's terrified of the vet, but he calms down if Cherry is in the examination room with him. Louie was also unmanageable outside without Cherry's assistance.

Monica Engebretson

"When we let him outside in the backyard, he'd get fearful and he'd run away from us and act like a feral dog," Engebretson said. "To get him back in the house we'd just call Cherry in and stand back and he'd follow her back into the house."

Monica Engebretson

The Engebretson family has had Louie for a year now, and, according to Engebretson, he's a completely different dog. He's lost a lot of his fears, and his quirky personality has come out.

"He's goofy and demanding," Engebretson said. "He thinks he's entitled to a Greenie every morning after breakfast, and also thinks that if he sits he automatically should get a treat."

Monica Engebretson

Louie has Cherry to thank for his transformation. And Cherry has Louie to thank for becoming her best friend.

Monica Engebretson

To help rescue more dogs like Louie, and support the fight against dog meat farms, you can make a donation to HSI here.