This is a story that makes me shake my head and cry tears at the same time. What in the world possesses people to torture innocent animals, like what was done to this Golden Retriever? Behavioral scientists wonder about this, too. In fact, in the 1970s, when behavioral profiling first began, one of the most consistent findings that the FBI profiling unit reported was that childhood animal torture was apparently common among serial murderers and rapists. Jeffrey Dahmer began his notorious serial killing by torturing and killing animals in his childhood.
This story has a happy ending. Getting from one end of the tale to the other is a pretty bumpy ride, however. Especially for Charlie, the dog in question. It all starts with a horrendous action by a particularly cruel man.
Sue Naiden received the kind of call no sane person ever wants to hear. The Trio Animal Foundation had gotten a report that a man had hung a young Golden Retriever by the neck and when that didn't kill him, had doused him with acid. Somehow, the dog survived. The man then dropped him off at someone's house and never came back. “The family was too afraid to go on the record about him to the police,” Naiden, president of Trio Animal Foundation, related. “We offered a $5,000 reward if someone would come forward with more information so we could catch this guy. They never did.”
Charlie was in appalling condition with acid burns over most of his back and shoulders. He lived with this pain for several days before he received any medical care. When the rescue got Charlie, they immediately arranged emergency care at Delavan Lakes Vet Clinic in Wisconsin, specialists in burn care. Miraculously, his injuries didn't require any skin grafts, but he did have to endure procedures to debride dead tissue so that healthy skin could grow back. After the painful treatments, Charlie needed comfort.
Special creams and bandaging of the burns helped the physical pain, but the mental pain was still evident. “He was very, very wary of us putting a leash on him because he had been hung,” Naiden said. “Since he had such sensitive wounds on his back, we couldn’t put him in a harness. We went super slow with him and he just flourished.” Still in need of some therapy after two weeks of intensive treatment at the burn center, Charlie found the perfect therapist back at the rescue in Chicago. Her name was Hazel Grace, and they had more in common than four legs. Hazel Grace had been a burn victim, too.
Hazel Grace's story was similar to Charlie's, although in her case a group of kids had set fire to her. Her stomach and back were both covered in burns, requiring skin grafts and seven weeks' hospitalization. Naiden adopted her during the ordeal. “When they first met, they just looked at each other like they knew exactly what the other had gone through,” Naiden said. “They sniffed each other’s burn areas, and when they started playing, were very careful of the other’s sensitive skin.”
Charlie "looked up" to the little dog whose case, like Charlie's, had never been solved. Hazel Grace turned out to be a wonderful therapist, though, providing emotional support for other dogs. And she was especially fond of Charlie.
Weeks passed and Charlie healed. Then one day, the perfect family came looking and found Charlie. “When I first heard his story, I just felt this overwhelming urge to go see him,” Karen Lagioia, Charlie’s new mom, remembers. “We weren’t really looking for another dog — but as soon as we met him, my husband just looks at me and goes, ‘So we’re bringing him home, right?’”
The teenage children in the family fell head over heels for Charlie. Since the family had been pre-approved, they took him home with them that very day. Today, Charlie's skin is healed. But the scars the acid left behind will always require special care. Sunscreen protects the skin that won't grow hair and he wears a shirt around other dogs so they won't scratch him. Does he mind? Not at all!
Not only does Charlie now have a doting family to love and protect him, he has a big brother named Moose, too. If he isn't lounging around with Moose, you'll find him outside romping with the kids. “They are over the moon for him,” Lagioia said. “They can’t wait to get home from school every day to see him.”
At this juncture, there are no updates about the man who so severely tortured Charlie. Naiden knows that the man is on the police's radar. Her greatest hope is that someone will come forward with information that will enable the perpetrator to be formally charged. She says that she couldn't help tearing up when Charlie met his forever family. And I couldn't, either.
It is disturbing that the kids who burned Hazel Grace may grow up to be like the man who hung Charlie and then threw acid on him. Since the family who turned Charlie over to the rescue are afraid to give the information that the police need, is it because they're terrified of what the man might do to them? Probably so. If you know anything about Charlie's abuser, please call the Chicago Police Department at (312) 746-6000. You never know. The life you save may be your own!