It has been almost two years since I enlisted Bentley in a local 10 day board-and-train program, but as I write this, the emotions I feel – the anxiety, the anger, the sorrow, the guilt – make it seem like it were just yesterday.
When I was first introduced to the idea of a board-and-train program, I was more skeptical than anything because of my history of working in animal hospitals. While I had heard nothing but wonderful things from this particular company, I had helped treat enough boarding patients for puncture wounds, lacerations, and injuries to make me more than cautious.
However, after three in-person discussions, a tour of their facility, and a run-through of their program, I finally said yes. If you’ve read my other blog, you know that Bentley suffers from severe separation anxiety and during this time, his symptoms were extreme.
In the months leading up to this decision, he had physically chewed through a wooden door, destroyed three metal crates, escaped my home on numerous occasions, and even suffered multiple injuries (self-induced in his anxious-spells). So, when this company assured me that they could help with such behavioral issues, I was scared to let him go – yes – but more so, I was desperate to help him move past this condition.
And so, I agreed.
On a side note, I do want to take a moment to state that this was MY experience and MY experience alone. There are many individuals out there who have had wonderful experiences with trainers, and there are WONDERFUL trainers out there. The point of this article is not to scare you away from training facilities, but to simply give you the opportunity to learn from what Bentley and I went through.
I was so incredibly nervous when dropping Bentley off for his first day. It was irrational, but I was so fearful that he thought I was abandoning him. After all, he didn’t know what was going on. However, the staff did a very kind job of reassuring me and said they would be sure to update me everyday on how he was doing. They even promised various videos and photos, which seemed to calm my nerves.
Prior to dropping him off, Bentley had been exhibiting fickleness with his appetite. I advised the staff that, because of this, he may not eat every meal given to him, but asked to be notified if they observed any major or concerning weight loss. The staff member smiled and told me she would.
I sent out my first message to the facility, having spent the past 24 hours anxiously waiting to hear how Bentley did. “Hey there! How is Bentley doing? How did his first day go?”
I received no response. Having rationalized with myself that the day was most likely a very busy day for them, I overlooked this and was very sure that they would reach out to me tomorrow.
9am went by and still I had heard nothing. Then 10am. Then 11am. Then 1pm. Then 4pm. I felt disappointed at not hearing back when finally, my phone rang. I remember scrambling towards it on the table and practically jumping for joy when I saw their phone number.
“Hi. He’s doing great.” Is all the message said.
Day 4 – 6
Days 4 and 5 were silent and even though I grew more anxious and annoyed at the silence, I rationalized with myself again that they were just busy. On the 6th day, I received two photos of Bentley laying on a sidewalk with no handler nearby. Below the photo, a comment said, “Working on his ‘place’.”
I messaged them back, thanking them for the photo and then asked them if Bentley had been eating normally and if his weight had been checked as promised. No response came.
I messaged them in the morning, asking once more about Bentley’s eating habits and weight.
As the day went on and my concerns were met with radio silence, I decided to call and very kindly ask them for an update. It was at this time that I started to feel more insecure and more unsure. No one returned my call.
With both my message and voicemail having gone unanswered the day before, I messaged the facility again. A few hours later, I finally got a response.
“Bentley’s doing fine. Yes, he’s eating. He’s good anxiety-wise.” I was also told that his weight had not been checked, but that they would do so and get back to me. (Spoiler – they never did)
Day 9 – 10
In Bentley’s final days at the training facility, I received a few more photos of him sitting on a mesh cot and a wooden chair but no further information on his training, his anxiety, or his weight.
On the day of Bentley’s return, the staff members arrived at my home to drop him off and I was so excited to see him that I ran outside, grabbing my boyfriend Sean’s hand like a child pulling their parents to an ice cream truck.
Sean saw him first as he came through the gate. All he said was, “Man, he’s skinny.”
I didn’t understand his comment at first, my eyes solely fixed and waiting to see Bentley for myself. He saw us and his eyes grew. He ran to us and I was so consumed in just holding him again that I didn’t notice the protruding bones, the skeleton that was my dog, until about two minutes in.
Bentley couldn’t talk, but his body certainly said enough. I could see the saliva staining and inflammation on his feet from hours of anxious licking. His spine bulged out from the skin along his back like a dinosaur. Parts of his muzzle had lost hair and was even raw, no doubt from him chewing on whatever crate they kept him in. He smelt too, like vomit and diarrhea.
Tears flooded from my eyes then. The trainer, seeing my distress, pursed his lips and nodded as though he understood. “Yeah, he’s skinny”. He said.Then he proceeded to tell me that he hadn’t really been eating and that he’d been quite lethargic.
He handed me a small chart that must have been Bentley’s feeding schedule and my tear-filled eyes grazed over the page, looking for some explanation. Bentley didn’t just miss a meal or two – he had missed several. He also experienced vomiting, diarrhea, and even lethargy on a number of days – or so they wrote.
When we brought Bentley inside, I examined him further only to find worse things. He had various scabs around his body, red burn-marks on his neck from the e-collar they had used, and even small cuts around his paws and legs. I opened his mouth to find that he had also broken all four of his canines and had severely traumatized his gums.
So many thoughts and emotions ran through my head then. Images of what he experienced, physically and mentally, over the last ten days flooded my mind. As my crying died down and my emotions settled later than night, one question became very clear in my mind. Why was I not notified of any of this?
(Note: I understand that vomiting and diarrhea are understandable symptoms when pets are placed in new or stressful environments – especially when they have anxiety disorders. However, in my training, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy are concerning symptoms that should be medically evaluated when they are accompanied by drastic weight loss. )
One of the most angering parts about this experience though, was the aftermath, when the company manager requested to speak with us in person about our experience.
Going into this meeting, I was looking for answers. I was angry, yes, but my anger stemmed from my confusion. I researched this company, read through reviews, and did my homework. This was the last thing I expected to happen and yet, here I was with an emaciated and broken dog. I wanted to know what happened. The manager, however, couldn’t provide me with what I was looking for and instead, saw this meet-up as an opportunity to push blame away from the company.
She even had the audacity to say that Bentley’s current condition was as much a shock to them as it was to us. “We have staff evaluate pets every day prior to training to ensure they’re in good health.”
I don’t remember every word and comment from this conversation but this quote, this maddening, sickening quote I remember. Because it meant that Bentley’s declining condition was (supposedly) observed over the course of ten days and yet, overlooked each time. It meant that they had ten opportunities to monitor his weight and check his physical state; It also meant that they had failed ten times to report Bentley’s condition to me, as promised. When I voiced this, she merely shrugged and said that everything they observed felt irrelevant to mention.
This company was either so ignorant and money-hungry that they overlooked obvious signs of distress and illness for 10 days – or they saw the symptoms and said nothing, fearing for a bad review. To this day, I don’t know what’s worse.
Later, the manager went on to imply that some ailments were not caused by them and that Bentley had arrived with such conditions. “We have cameras that monitor our boarded dogs 24 hours a day. We would have noticed excess chewing or behaviors that resulted in him breaking all four of his canines.”
I wanted to scream. Of course, I had vet evaluations done prior to boarding Bentley that proved otherwise.
After a few more days of face-to-face meetings, the company offered their sincerest apologies and explained that they were implementing new policies to ensure the safety and health of future program participants. Then, we cut ties. They refunded HALF of the money I spent on the program under the condition that I would not publicly name their company when talking about my experience. Classy.
For those wondering about the results of his program, his behavioral issues were still very much present and even slightly more amplified after he was dropped off. He hid from us and isolated himself as much as possible for weeks after. He would shake violently and even pee himself when placed in his crate. He also experienced continued diarrhea for about two weeks after. Of course, his ability to sit and stay on command was far stronger than it had been – but obedience was never the reason we enlisted him into the program, making the entire experience THAT much more frustrating.
For the record, I never wanted to be that pushy or overly-worried parent. But it felt as if the lack of communication I was given throughout the entire program turned me into one. For ten days, I felt like I was pining for something, anything about my dog’s day-to-day wellbeing, and then made to feel like a burden when I asked for more than what I received. In hindsight, what makes those ten days hurt even more is knowing that my dog was not okay. He was not “fine”, as they so eloquently wrote.
As of today, I’m happy to report that Bentley is doing way better than before. He’s had his broken teeth extracted, his cuts have healed, and he’s gained back the eight pounds he lost during the program. As far as his anxiety goes, Sean and I have worked to manage it everyday with supplements and have even reached out to private trainers for advice, all of which have been helpful and understanding.
Although it did take some time to move past this experience, I have learned to open myself up to trainers and even training facilities again. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m far more cautious and critical than I was before. And I hope by reading this, you are too.