Humphrey, a chow mix, spent the first eight years of his life in conditions that are difficult to imagine. When he was finally saved from almost total neglect, he was physically and emotionally damaged.
But after months of recovery that included small but steady improvements nearly every day, Humphrey is enjoying life in the loving Town of Tonawanda home of Jason and Jennifer Wozniak, which he shares with a lab mix named Buddy and two cats, Baxter and Bella.
In early September, Humphrey and five other neglected dogs were taken into custody by animal control officers from a home in southern Erie County where they had apparently been confined for years.
He was a sad sight. Weighing half what he should have, Humphrey’s fur was so matted that it was painful for him to move. He had skin sores and infections, worms and a bite wound on his face.
Worse, though, was his mental state. Expecting nothing but monotony and pain, Humphrey had given up. He cowered, motionless, curled up, his black eyes staring through people.
At the SPCA Serving Erie County, the dog was evaluated by behavior specialist Miranda K. Workman, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant.
“He was almost completely shut down, just looking through people, not responding,” says Workman. “But when I walked up to the cage, he approached me and took a piece of hot dog from me, which said to me that he was willing to try. ... That was the foot in the door that I needed.”
She also named him Humphrey. “It fits,” she says.
After the SPCA dealt with his immediate medical needs, which including shaving off his matted fur, bathing him and removing some damaged teeth. Humphrey spent two weeks healing in the shelter. “He was getting a little better, but we noticed that he was drinking buckets and buckets of water,” said Workman. So she took him into a foster situation at her office.
At the office, she was able to monitor his drinking, which led to the diagnosis of diabetes incipitus, for which he must have a shot every 12 hours.
At first, Workman says, Humphrey stayed curled up on a soft bed, staring into space. “He wouldn’t even look at anyone,” she says. “He wouldn’t eat with us in the room – he was too afraid to even get up and go to the food with us there.”
After a few days, with Workman working quietly at her desk nearby, Humphrey began to look at her and other people. Then he began to stand up and take a few steps with a person present – to a food or water bowl, or just to sniff. “His bed was home base for him,” Workman says. “He would walk a few steps, then get scared and run back to his bed and lay down.”
As weeks passed, Humphrey explored a little more. Eventually, Workman was able to snap a leash on him and walk him outside. Relieving himself outside while she was present was another milestone.
The day she drove up to the office to see Humphrey looking out the door was huge. Workman, who had tracked his progress on her Facebook page, posted a photo of him looking out the door, and wrote, “We call this look ‘happy.’ ” More than 50 people “liked” that post.
Jennifer Wozniak was among Workman’s friends who had been following Humphrey’s story. She and her husband, Jason, were relatively new dog owners. Three months after they married on New Year’s Eve 2011, Jennifer felt a powerful urge to get a dog. Her sister went on the SPCA’s website, spotted an 8-year-old lab mix named Buddy, and less than an hour after the Wozniaks arrived at the SPCA, Buddy was going home with them.
“It seems like it was impulsive, but I’d been thinking about it for a while and I knew I wanted an older dog,” says Jennifer. “I thought a lot about how our house would be right for this dog.”
It was, with one exception. Buddy was a bit too excited around cats Bella and Baxter, who also came from shelters. So within a few days of Buddy’s arrival, the Wozniaks hired Workman to teach them how to get Buddy to listen to them and act calmly around the cats. With twice-daily short sessions of positive reinforcement training for both Buddy and the cats, his behavior improved dramatically. “We also discovered, in socializing him, that Buddy was really good with other dogs,” says Jennifer Wozniak.
So when she first saw Humphrey – looking almost like a stuffed animal with his black button eyes and nose, one pointed ear up and the other drooping forward – Jennifer Wozniak thought about bringing home this sad, serious dog. “He looked completely disconnected from the world. He seemed like he was just trapped in his own body,” she says.
She broke the news gradually to her husband, showing him photos and finally mentioning her interest in adopting Humphrey. “My first reaction was, ‘Are you sure?’ ” says Jason Wozniak.
She was sure, but the final decision wasn’t up to them. Workman had to agree.
“I had seen their intense dedication to Buddy, and they understood that making all of this work for Humphrey would take some effort,” says Workman. “They didn’t shy away from that effort, they met it head-on. … It’s a home where he’s going to get tons of attention, training and love, everything he never got in his previous life.”
Because Humphrey was so easily overwhelmed, the getting-to-know-you process went slowly. First the Wozniaks visited him at Workman’s office, speaking softly to him and feeding him treats. They left a blanket and cloth they had rubbed on Buddy so Humphrey could get used to their scent. After many more visits, they finally brought Buddy, and the dogs got along well. Then Humphrey visited the Wozniak home, at first for short periods, then overnight.
During the process, all of them noticed that Humphrey had a special interest in Jason Wozniak. “His eyes would follow me,” Jason says.
Finally, on Oct. 26, Humphrey went home with the Wozniaks.
“He learned the routine about a week in, and he started to relax,” says Jennifer Wozniak.
“Every day he would discover a new thing,” says Jason Wozniak. “For the first two or three weeks, his tail was tucked between his legs almost all the time. He would just stay on his bed, and if you moved the bed, he would get up, but then he would run back to it. When we took him for a walk the first time, he heard a car and just froze, scared stiff. He was terrified in the backyard, and now he just hops around like a bunny.”
Now Humphrey particularly loves walks, striding down the sidewalk ahead of Jason Wozniak, his head and tail up, happy and curious.
Also, says Jennifer Wozniak, “We found out that he loves cheese and carrots.”
The Wozniaks post videos showing Humphrey’s progress. A recent one shows him looking at his people and wagging his tail slowly.
“Chow-chows are not Labradors, they’re more reserved and less gregarious anyway,” says Workman. “The fact that we are seeing a wagging tail from him is huge.”
The Wozniaks have never regretted taking Humphrey. “He may never be a normal dog that sits and stays, but he is such a sweet dog and continues to amaze everyone who knew him when he was rescued,” says Jennifer Wozniak.
“We wanted to give him the best possible life. In doing that, I think we have done a lot for the relationship we have with each other. You have a stronger bond when you are working together to save a life.”