Rescued Bosnian dog Caspar finds soulmate, gives back to his adoptive German community


The most endearing thing about Caspar is the way he grunt-snorfles like a piggie as he marks the neighborhood shrubbery.

Caspar was in a group of 65 dogs whom IFAW rescued from Bosnia late last year, and with the help of our wonderful partner organization, Streunerglück, rehomed with loving families in Germany. IFAW works with several cities in Bosnia to manage roaming dog populations in a way that improves the lives of both the dogs and people in communities.  

In one town, the community asked for help in closing a dreadful “shelter” in which dogs lived tethered to decrepit doghouses in the mud. The dogs lived on old bread discarded from bakeries and an occasional bone from a local butcher. The limit of their world was the end of that chain.

Caspar is a sturdy dog with flopped ears, tan eyebrows and a handsome, intelligent face. His tail moves gracefully when he is pleased, and stiffens into a rail when he feels challenged. A long, broad scar over his back and shoulders reveals a brutal history.

Despite his traumatic past, Caspar, like most of his companions, nonetheless gave us a chance to prove that people can be kind.

I came to know and love Caspar dearly in the three weeks in which I cared for him in the Bosnian quarantine shelter before his move to Germany. He was scary with other male dogs, as was his biological job, but lovely with everyone else.

He shared a kennel with an elderly lady dog named Ina, with whom he curled together in the basket and never stole her food. I took him out with passels of puppies so that they would learn noble dog manners. He was patient with them and a brilliant teacher, even when they chewed his ears and licked his nose off in adoration.

Marking was, of course, the priority occupation outdoors, a duty he performed with utmost absorption and precision.

He hopped along hedges, trees, fence posts and once even a chicken, snorfle-grunting to smell the neighborhood news and squeezing out droplets to post his own messages. I was in complete stitches every day before we even reached the end of the drive at his piggy noises.

Puppies, of course, got marked too when they stuck their heads underneath him to see what exciting things this King of Dogs was affecting.

I caught him off guard sometimes, though, when the pain of his history tore through his good nature. I have a deep scar on my leg from the time I had to separate him from another male who had accidentally escaped control of his leash, and Caspar slashed at me in the blind frustration of being kept from his target.

My colleagues at Streunerglück ensured that the family who adopted Caspar would be experienced with dogs, and – just in case – didn’t have children in the household.

Streunerglück worked its magic and found a fantastic foster home for Caspar with Barbro and Mathias F.  and their dog, Tara.

Barbro had a bit of a shock, she said, when she first met him. His blocky head put her in mind of something pit-bullish, and his determined character unnerved her a bit – well, she admits, “he nearly drove me crazy!” But she and Mathias came to love Caspar as deeply as I did and decided that his home would remain with them and Tara.

Barbro and Mathias enlisted the skills of a Hundelehrer, or dog teacher, to help them understand Caspar’s anxieties and motivations, and how to work through these with him.

Although Barbro and Mathias work diligently and skillfully with him, Caspar’s greatest teacher was Tara, in whom Caspar found the love of his life.

Tara also had been rescued through Streunerglück. She had experienced similar torments and the challenge of adapting to a life without fear and desperation. She taught him to play and how to behave like a gentleman in the household, how to share and to trust.

“Is it cute, dominant, or both?” Barbro wrote philosophically with photographs of Caspar’s paw placed carefully over Tara’s. “This is their ground state together.”

Caspar gained confidence and his temper evened out. He learned to trust and to relax. When Caspar first joined the family, Barbro kept a cozy crate for him in a private space, to which he could retreat whenever he decided he needed some time to himself.

He used it frequently in the first weeks, but by Christmastime Barbro was able to put it away for good. He had embraced his family as his own at last.

A few days ago, Barbro shared the story that revealed the depth of Caspar’s heart, and that belied the harsh shell that he sometimes showed the world. 

“My mother moved to a nursing home a few months ago,” Barbro wrote. “I visit her there often with Caspar. Caspar, the cheeky beast, who is always on his guard and has hard streaks in his character, transforms himself among these elderly people, sometimes sad and lost themselves, into the dearest Teddy bear.

“He brings smiles to faces in a way that stirs my heart. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all when he’s patted clumsily, while at home he dislikes this intensely.

I always introduce Caspar and speak with the nursing home residents about him. Most of them had had dogs of their own.

“Two days ago he walked up to a person who was sitting in a wheel chair somewhat abandoned in the hallway. The man was very old and his hands crippled with gout. Caspar walked straight to him, placed his head in his lap and gently waved his tail.

“The man was skeptical at first and ignored Caspar. He told me that he had never had a dog, but then added that he’d always wanted to feed one.  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I have some treats with me. Would you like to try now?’  The man nodded, ‘Yes, now.’

“I carefully placed a few treats into the man’s hand. Caspar glanced at me and then raised himself onto his hind legs. I didn’t even know he could do that! Gently as a lamb, he nibbled the treats from the old man’s hand. The man beamed. 

“That happened two days ago. As I write this, my eyes are welling up again. I never trained him to do any of this. This came purely from Caspar himself. My role is only in the privilege of observing and reporting his story.

“When he comes home from the nursing home, Caspar sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. Words will never be able to express Caspar’s transformation from the super-cool knucklehead that he sometimes plays, to the overwhelmingly gentle, careful and empathetic being that he is with these elderly people.”

Caspar’s story began long before we had the privilege of knowing him. It hardened him to survive in a world of violence, little food and even less love.

He carried through all of this, deep within himself, his most precious gift: his empathy.

Barbro, Mathias and Tara, with a little help from Streunerglück and IFAW, have transformed his world. Caspar now shares his gift with the elderly and dispossessed to transform their worlds in turn.   

-- KL

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