EXCERPT: 'Rescue Ink'

Because of the extensive scar tissue around his face, much of which had already healed, Rebel's fur might never grow back. "There might not be any hair follicles left," Dr. Leon said, though "the bald spots might get smaller." Finishing off Rebel's exam, Dr. Leon noted that his teeth were broken and worn, as if he had been chewing on rocks or other hard objects. G mentioned that Rebel had a hoarse bark, and asked if it were possible that he had been debarked—that is, had his vocal cords cut. It was possible, replied Dr. Leon. "He could just have laryngitis from lots of barking, or he could have been kicked in the throat," he explained. If a more normal-sounding bark didn't return, then, yes, he might very well have been debarked.

The guys returned to the clubhouse with Rebel. Bruce had already posted a walking, feeding, and play schedule for Rebel; the guys would take turns working with him, giving him his medicine.

"It's cool to rescue," says Johnny O. "It's not a nerdy thing or inappropriate because a lot of the women do it. If you love animals, you love animals. And it just shows that you don't judge a book by its cover." Just like Rebel. And just like Rescue Ink.

In the days and weeks after his arrival, Rebel continued to impress the guys with his even temperament and general love of life. His biggest vice was his appetite for cats, about which he was clearly unrepentant. He would sit outside the door to the clubhouse's cat room, stonily determined. This wasn't Rebel's fault; it was a hardwired part of being a pit bull, which has a naturally strong prey drive. But try explaining that to the cats.

When Rebel first arrived, dog trainers came out of the woodwork, offering to train him. Most used punishment-based methods, like shock collars or physical corrections. Many of the Rescue Ink guys are old-school when it comes to dog training; they learned how to communicate with their dogs with the "jerk and pop" choke-collar techniques made popular in the 1950s by returning World War II dog trainers. But Rebel had been through so much that they wanted the gentlest training method possible. And Rebel really didn't need that much remedial work, just some brushing up on his basic manners. Most important, for Rebel's progress, the guys needed to come to a consensus on how they would train him.

For their first foray into positive dog training, the guys got in touch with Denise Herman of Empire of the Dog in Brooklyn. Denise had trained at the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, known as the "Harvard for dog trainers."

Eric, G, Joe, Big Ant, Angel, Johnny O, Mary, and Bruce cleared the main room of the clubhouse, pushing all the chairs against the wall so Denise would have room to work. As she stood in the clubhouse, surrounded by this muscled assemblage, she started off with an appropriate analogy: bodybuilding.

"Say you want to get into shape, so you go to a gym, grab a ten-pound weight, do your reps, and go home. If you come back the next day and I throw you a hundred-pound weight, you're going to fail," she said. "That's not because you're spiteful, or because you didn't want to. It's because you haven't worked up to that level yet." Similarly, with dogs, learning obedience is about repeating training, in increasingly more distracting environments, until the dog has the "mental muscle" to respond the way his handler wants him to.

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