World responds with aid to dog ‘looking for help’
Shane Fitts has run into many stray dogs over the years near his workplace in southwest Detroit, but never has he seen a dog like the one he encountered last month.
Fitts did a double take when he saw the dog, a Rottweiler mix many now know as “Baron,” walking on Epworth near Warren Avenue. Baron’s nose and ears were severed, his tail was docked and he had wounds on his back legs.
When Fitts guided Baron to his car, he jumped in. He even curled up next to Fitts as he stroked the dog’s chest and neck.
“This dog was looking for help,” said Fitts of Lincoln Park. “Most stray dogs are afraid of you. He licked his tail while I petted him. I was talking to him and as I was petting him, he licked my hand, then pressed his chin up the palm of my hand. I wanted to cry. He was really reaching out to me, looking for help.”
Things slowly are improving for Baron. Donations are flowing in and, on Wednesday, Baron’s journey takes another turn when Michigan State University veterinarians will lead surgical reconstruction of his nose and tail.
Fitts, 46, was the first in a lifeline for a dog whose severe disfiguring has flooded social media, drawing outrage from around the world. Donations of $40,000, the highest in the history of the Michigan Humane Society, which is caring for him, and adoption applications have poured in.
Animal activists say Baron has become the face of many animals that are abused or neglected, and cruelty investigators are pushing to find his abusers.
“This is a public safety issue,” said Matthew Pepper, president and CEO of the Michigan Humane Society. “It is not just an animal welfare issue.”
While Baron currently is the most high-profile animal cruelty case in the region, the Michigan Humane Society’s investigative team responded to 6,162 calls in 2016, an 11 percent increase over 2015.
Some cases receive publicity, such as the Grosse Ile teens who got probation last month for killing a guinea pig to bring them luck before a lacrosse match. But other cases — such as the dog that someone cut up with a machete, or the dog that was thrown in the back of a garbage truck — never make their way into the public eye, Pepper said.
That’s why the Michigan Humane Society last year began working with law enforcement to teach them about the correlation between human violence and animal cruelty. The class, brought to nine local police departments so far, focuses on the behavior of serial killers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, who first beheaded and then disemboweled dogs before moving on to kill 17 men and boys between 1978-91.
Animal cruelty is a precursor to other crimes, Pepper said, such as domestic violence, where batterers often will threaten to hurt pets of their victims.
“Just by looking at Baron, you can see he has gone through incredible suffering,” said Pepper. “Anyone who is capable of doing something like this is capable of doing something like this to a person. This is a dangerous person. We have an obligation to do everything we can to find out who’s responsible.”
When Fitts got back to his workplace near Warren and Livernois, he fed Baron before an official from the Humane Society took him to the Mackey Center for Animal Care at the Dresner Foundation for Animal Care Campus in Detroit.
Veterinarians there examined him and put him on a regimen of painkillers and antibiotics. They determined he was about 8 years old and underweight — just 64 pounds. His brown coloring — unusual for a Rottweiler — could help draw tips on his abusers, said cruelty investigator Mark Ramos.
Ramos said investigators suspect more than one person was involved because of the clean cuts of Baron’s injuries.
“I have a hard time believing that one person could hold the dog, cut off both ears, cut off his tail, injure his back legs and slice off his nose without the dog biting or getting away,” Ramos said. “For one person to do that, they would have to struggle, and the cuts are pretty clean. I think multiple people did this, at least two.”
Tips have been coming in, but none has panned out. Ramos said he follows up on every tip, because something small may lead to something bigger.
“We are still getting tips, but we are no closer to finding out who did this or what happened to him than the day we picked him up,” Ramos said.
During his years as an animal cruelty investigator, he’s never seen anything like Baron’s injuries.
“I have never seen anything this horrific,” Ramos said. “It’s scary that someone can do this to an animal.”
People from around the world, including Europe and Asia, have responded to Baron’s plight by offering to adopt him and making donations.
Among those interested in giving him a home is Anita Bauer-Haefner, who lives outside Buffalo. She reached out to the Humane Society to see if she and her husband were eligible.
“His little face, his sadness and the horror he must have went through ... I just want to hold him and love him and show him that not everyone is horrible,” said Bauer-Haefner, 53.
Bryden J. Stanley, section chief of surgery at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will lead Baron’s surgery. Helping her will be veterinarian Maria Podsiedlik, an International Surgical Training Fellow/Scholar from Poland, and Sima Maddah, an MSU veterinary student.
Stanley said Baron’s ears and hocks are fine and won’t need reconstruction but his tail will need care. The biggest issue is the tip of his nose, the nasal planum, which is completely gone. Surgically, they can bring up the vertical grove between the nose and the lip to cover up the exposed area. That will help moisten the air that is going into his nasal passage and avoid inflammation, Stanley said.
“It will also look better, though we are mostly doing it so he will be more comfortable,” Stanley said. “As long as they can find someone to love him and he’s treated well, he is going to be fine. He deserves a good life.”
How to help
Anyone with information on the person or persons responsible for Baron’s maiming is asked to call the Michigan Humane Society cruelty investigation and emergency rescue hotline at (313) 872-3401.
To donate, call (313) 872-0004 or go to www.michiganhumane.org/donate/.