Dog story photo

Coles County animal shelter employee Marissa Burton sits with Toby, a dog that was left at the shelter in mid-August. Burton's work with Toby helped change his fearful behavior so he could be trained and adopted.


CHARLESTON -- When Toby the dog first showed up, he cowered in his kennel, wouldn't eat and wouldn't let anyone touch him.

But Marissa Burton thought there was a chance for the 7-month-old retriever mix left at the Coles County Animal Rescue and Education Center.

"I just had a feeling that he was a good dog," she said.

Burton, an animal shelter employee who serves as its public relations representative, decided Toby was worth the effort. She's had no formal training but thought she could make the dog more comfortable with people and take it from there.

"I've just been a dog lover my entire life," she said. "Something in his eyes told me he was intelligent but scared out of his mind."

Toby was left in the shelter's after-hours drop off in mid-August. The note his owners left said they were surrendering him because of "fearful behavior" and that he'd acted that way his entire life.

Still, Burton said there were signs that Toby might have been mistreated. But despite the cowering, the flinching at a quickly raised hand and other behavior, he "showed he wanted to be with people," she said.

She started by sitting with Toby in his kennel until he finally approached her. She said "little by little" he was willing to do more, go outside or spend time in the shelter's office.

Though Toby was making progress, Burton said the shelter was nearing the maximum number of dogs it could hold and that "made me nervous." Reaching that point means there's "no choice" but to euthanize, though the shelter hasn't had to do that since the end of last year, she said.

Toby still wasn't ready to be adopted so the shelter posted his story on social media to try to find someone who could continue to work with him, Burton said.

That's when Jennifer Warner entered the picture. A dog trainer and rescuer who lives in Saluda, S.C., she heard about Toby's story and contacted the shelter the next day.

Warner said she's worked with dogs for "20-plus years" and most have been fearful or aggressive. What she learned about Toby made her think he fit the profile of a dog who could be helped.

"If it's a learned from a human it can be undone by a human," she said.

Warner's son and his fiance made the trip to Coles County to get Toby. Burton said shelter volunteer Susan Love helped make the travel arrangements and raise money for the expenses.

Warner said Toby refused to leave his crate during the trip to South Carolina. When he first arrived, he wouldn't let anyone touch him and tried to hide most of the time, she said.

To try to get Toby to change, Warner said she "flooded" him, made he stay around her by keeping him on a leash. She said she used a quiet, slow approach, petting him for a bit and making him follow her.

"He understood I wasn't going to hurt him," she said.

She soon introduced him to other dogs that were "stable," her own pets plus several others she rescued. Soon, Warner's husband and son could pet Toby, he started to lay people's laps and became friends with the other pooches.

"He's like a completely different dog," Warner said.

Toby's been with Warner for about three weeks and she plans to eventually find someone to adopt him.

She said applicants will have to be "heavily screened" to ensure they're compatible. She thinks he'll be ready by the end of the year but it depends "when the right person comes along," she said.

Warner praised the people at the Coles County shelter for going "above and beyond" in their efforts to find a home for Toby.

"He just needed a chance to feel safe," she said.


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