A Transformation You Need to See to Believe

By Brent Honcharenko

Her name was Jackie-O, a name synonymous with a prestigious, famous and wealthy lifestyle, and who once lived in a place they called “Camelot”. But for this Jackie-O, her life, prior to arriving at Ruff Start Rescue (RSR), in no way resembled a glamorous one. In fact, this Jackie-O came from the complete opposite; she was brought to RSR from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She arrived emaciated, with severe mange all over her body, she had secondary skin infections, open wounds, and both of her eyes were infected. Her life and daily routine, before being rescued from the unforgiving environment and exposure she endured, consisted of simply finding a way to survive each and every day.

“She was really sick and in really rough shape,” RSR foster Shawn LaBarre explained. “It was bad and she wouldn’t have made it much longer out there on her own.”

Treatment began immediately in an effort to save Jackie-O. She not only had to be saved physically from her severe medical conditions, she had to be saved psychologically.

“She was physically and mentally shut down when she arrived,” LaBarre said. “We knew this was going to be quite the healing process.”

Not knowing what to expect, LaBarre took Jackie-O to her home and followed the veterinarian’s instructions; giving her antibiotics, applying medicated cream and bathing her one to two times a week.

Jackie-O sitting in a crate
Jackie-O's face
Jackie-O walking on a leash

Coming from the reservation, as far as LaBarre and the RSR staff knew, Jackie-O had never even been inside a building and they had no idea what her interaction with humans had, or hadn’t, been.

“It was scary for her the first time I brought her into the house,” LaBarre said. “I had to carry her in and you could tell she didn’t know what to think.”

From that point, LaBarre said she had to actually teach Jackie-O how to come in and out of the house, and then how to navigate the stairs.

“She was really timid at first, but she responded very well to encouragement and affection,” LaBarre added.

LaBarre, who has been a rescue foster for 11 years and a RSR foster for the past three years, explained that she has four other dogs in her home and they really aided in the process to help teach and guide Jackie-O how to be a good family member.

“Jackie-O learned a lot just from watching my dogs,” LaBarre said. “She watched how they interacted with one another, how they behaved in the house, how they interacted with me, and from that she learned how to become part of the family.”

When asked how she was so successful transforming Jackie-O, LaBarre said it’s actually quite simple; “First you earn their trust. You take it day-by-day and you follow their lead, but you also guide. It’s amazing how quickly they learn to trust you and they become comfortable with you in your home.”

LaBarre said Jackie-O, who is estimated to be just shy of one year old, arrived a very sick, shattered and quiet dog, but she left a happy, playful puppy. She added that Jackie-O really enjoyed living in the house and being around people, even when she had visitors, Jackie-O was always friendly towards them.

“Although one of her favorite things to do at my house was to sit out on the lawn chair in the backyard, I could tell by the time she left that Jackie-O wanted nothing to do with ever having to live outside again,” LaBarre concluded.

But, this wonderful story does not end here. Enter Jackie-O’s adopter, Chelsey Shoup.

Jackie-O sleeping in bed
Jackie-O relaxing in dog bed

Shoup and her boyfriend had been contemplating adopting a rescue dog for some time. They checked out RSR and the organization really appealed to them, so they completed the paperwork and became qualified to adopt.

Despite Jackie-O’s initial appearance, Shoup said she was attracted to her immediately, so they applied for her, but under the condition that she was “cat friendly”. It was already known that Jackie-O was good with other dogs and with people, but Shoup has cats, so they had to find out how Jackie-O acted around them.

Shoup said that LaBarre took Jackie-O to a neighbor’s house, with cats, to see how she interacted, and it was a non-issue. Then Jackie-O was brought to Shoup’s house and introduced her to her cats, and again, everything went great.

“She was so sweet and loving when we met her,” Shoup said. “After we saw how well she did with us and with our cats, we knew we wanted her. So we adopted her.”

By the time Shoup adopted Jackie-O, about a month after she arrived from South Dakota, she was in much better condition, but still needed routine medical attention and she continued on a good diet plan to help her gain weight.

In addition to a complete lifestyle change, Jackie-O also went through a name change after being adopted. Jackie-O is now Tater Tot.

“I’ve always liked pet names associated with food, and Tater Tot is such a Minnesota thing,” Shoup said. “It also sounds playful, like her, and a bit mischievous, like her.”

Chelsey Shoup and Tater Tot

Shoup said she was thankful for all the love, attention and training Tater Tot received at her foster home. Tater Tot arrived house-trained and very social. “She wasn’t even afraid of the vacuum cleaner,” Shoup added.

At the time of this writing, Shoup and her boyfriend have had Tater Tot for almost three weeks, and they couldn’t be happier. They go on walks every day. They go to the dog park three-to-four times a week. They’ve taken her camping, and they’ve even taken Tater Tot with to a local dog-friendly brewpub. Shoup said as much as Tater Tot loves being out-and-about with them, around other people, and around other dogs, she also really likes her own fenced-in backyard.

To say Tater Tot is unrecognizable today, compared to the day she was brought to RSR, is, in this case, the most complimentary statement that can be made.

“She really is just the sweetest dog we could ever imagine having,” Shoup said.

It’s almost certain that Tater Tot (formerly Jackie-O) is enjoying her new life with her new family, too, in her own version of “Camelot.”

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