BOOKS: The man who talks to dogs
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2003:
The man who talks to dogs:
The story of America’s wild street dogs and their unlikely savior
by Melinda Roth
Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press (175 Fifth Avenue,
New York, N.Y. 10010), 2002. 232 pages. $24.95, hardcover.
“To be a stray dog in most major cities is to be a dead dog
walking,” believes Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St.
Louis. The dogs Grim and his team rescue may be few compared to the
many in need, but Randy believes in the value of every life, and
strives to save every dog he can, no matter how sick, estranged,
Though Grim always loved animals, he used to have a “normal”
life, running a successful grooming shop. Bonnie changed his life.
She appeared one day in front of Grim’s shop: a pregnant stray, all
skin and bones, sick and crippled. She trusted Grim and followed
Soon Bonnie gave birth to thirteen puppies. Unfortunately
Bonnie developed mastitis, and could not breast-feed her pups. For
six weeks Grim hand-fed all 13 pups, every two hours, twenty-four
hours a day. Puppy care left him no time for anything else. Most of
his friends turned away, but Grim continued until each of the pups
Later Grim found nice homes for Bonnie and all the pups, but
he did not forget them. He remembered the abominable state in which
Bonnie was found. He remembered her grateful eyes and her
devotedness. Grim saw hundreds of sick, underfed, and often
maltreated strays in the streets of St. Louis, and he knew each one
desperately needed his help.
From then on Randy spent much of his time rescuing,
fostering and placing strays in new homes. The organization Stray
Rescue formed after his work attracted additional volunteers and
supporters. It now has two sanctuary buildings.
Other than in exceptional situations, biographer Melinda
Roth says, Grim never “catches” strays in traps. Instead, working
in one of the few U.S. cities which have roving dog packs rather than
isolated individual stray dogs, Grim befriends an entire pack at
once, and encourages the members to trust him by talking to them.
He visits the pack every day, brings food to the dogs, and despite
his very busy schedule, he stays and talks to them.
Grim continues to feed and talk to the dogs for months,
until the dogs learn to trust him, and come to him. Then Grim looks
for a foster family to socialize them. In the foster family the dogs
learn to live with people, and to trust them. After several months
the dogs become ready for adoption.
Grim also campaigns to introduce large scale spay/neuter
programs in low-income areas, and does what he can to stop
dogfighting and commercial dog breeding.
Roth says she was initially skeptical of Grim’s work. She
became a supporter while researching an article for the Riverfront
Times newspaper, when she rode around St. Louis for several weeks
with Grim in the old green Volkswagen bus, since replaced, that he
formerly used as a rescue van. Roth eventually adopted two dogs from
Paralleling the lives of homeless people and stray dogs,
author Roth describes Lester, a Vietnam veteran. Wartime experience
turned Lester toward self-isolation.
“They are all trapped: the dogs, the people who live in
poverty, and the people who can’t deal with reality any more,” Grim
Grim believes unspecified early life experience could have
sent him the same way as Lester. “Saving a cat or a dog saved a part
of myself,” Grim strongly believes. “I know that if it wasn’t for
dogs, I would have ended up a lost soul with a bleak life. No one
requires an epiphany to follow whatever their passions might be.
They just have to pay attention to all of the little pieces, to
their own life puzzle, and make sure that what isn’t missing is
compassion.” –Tanja Maroueva
More about Randy Grim reality and the emergence of U.S. feral dogs
ST. LOUIS–Randy Grim catches feral dogs, he told ANIMAL
PEOPLE at the recent Conference on Homeless Animal Management and
Policy, by catching the lower-ranking pack members first, finishing
with the highest-ranking members. If Grim captures the
highest-ranking members first, he finds, the packs break up, and
catching the remaining dogs becomes much more difficult.
The Grim approach is not recommended by any major humane
organization, because of the potential risk to the public and to
wildlife from free-roaming packs of former pet dogs, guard dogs,
and fighting dogs, who are often highly territorial.
There is reason for caution. The typical free-roaming dog
captured by animal control agencies in U.S. cities is roughly twice
the size of the typical Asian street dog, and is most often a mixed
breed with evident pit bull terrier and/or German shepherd
These dogs are potentially much more dangerous than the
overwhelming majority of dogs who are part of ABC street dog
sterilization projects in India, the Philippines, Thailand,
Turkey, and other Asian nations.
Former pet dogs, guard dogs, and fighting dogs are also
much more dangerous, however, than most of the dogs Randy Grim
rescues, who are often several generations removed from any
ancestors who had homes of any kind with humans.
As Grim points out, the true feral dog–like the true feral
cat–is mostly nocturnal and is quite wary about approaching humans.
Authentic feral dogs tend to have lost almost all of their
breed-specific characteristics, Grim demonstrated with slides at the
CHAMP conference, and tend to be much smaller than the escaped or
abandoned ex-pets, guard dogs, and fighting dogs from whom they are
Unlike the feral packs descended from former hunting dogs,
who roamed much of the rural South during the 1940s and 1950s, and
are still at large in some areas, most U.S. feral dogs today inhabit
neighborhoods of abandoned factories and warehouses, with sparse
human habitation. Vacant houses tend to outnumber homes that are
still occupied. These are areas favored by dogfighters, illegal
drug dealers, and derelicts. Because the remaining residents rarely
call animal control, and because feral dogs are nocturnal and
elusive, they relatively rarely enter animal shelters, and
accordingly do not register to any visible extent in current shelter
Grim has identified a “feral dog belt” stretching through
blighted neighborhoods from Los Angeles and Fresno, California, to
New York City, Philadelphia, and Washing-ton D.C. Links in the
“feral dog belt” include Albuquerque, San Antonio, New Orleans,
Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland.
Other cities may be involved but not yet identified with the feral
Grim believes that the growth of the U.S. feral dog
population reflects the disappearance of “smokestack” industries from
inner cities in recent decades, followed by residential flight to
the suburbs, increasing use of dogs to guard property left behind,
and– especially–the recent explosive growth of dogfighting. As
ANIMAL PEOPLE documented in May 2002, U.S. arrests for dogfighting
quadrupled, 1997-2001, and seizures of fighting dogs increased
Grim emphasizes, however, that feral dogs are more likely
to be descended from escaped or abandoned “bait dogs” used to train
fighting dogs than from actual fighters, who rarely survive their
fighting careers. A fighting dog may be encouraged to kill many
non-threatening stolen “bait dogs” before being pitted against a dog
capable of fighting back. Even if only a small percentage of “bait
dogs” get away to join the feral population, they still outnumber
pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, and other dogs of fighting ancestry
in the feral dog gene pool.
Free-roaming dogs–and Randy Grim’s work–became intensely
controversial in St. Louis after Rodney McAllister, 10, was fatally
mauled and partially eaten by a free-roaming pack on March 6, 2001.
The attack set off a hue-and-cry around St. Louis seeking the
immediate extermination of all loose dogs. The ensuing controversy
had much to do with the opposition of many St. Louis officials and
the Humane Society of Missouri to a public proposal by Grim that St.
Louis should try to introduce no-kill animal control.
Memories of the McAllister case were revived on July 21,
2003 when three free-roaming pit bull terriers severely injured
Ealgie Edwards, 55, just six blocks from where McAllister was
killed. The unvaccinated pit bulls nominally had a caretaker, who
was charged with six related offenses, but he apparently did not
want the dogs and became responsible for them when they were left at
his home by a relative.
Grim believes that the McAllister killing, like the Edwards
attack, resulted from irresponsible handling of pit bulls who had a
keeper of some kind, but allowed them to roam. Feral dogs then
scavenged McAllister’s remains, Grim believes, much as they
scavenge roadkills. In Grim’s observation, and in the observation
of feral dogs in some of the same neighborhoods more than 30 years
ago by Michael Fox, DVM, U.S. feral dogs are scavengers rather than
hunters, and unlike the feral dogs of other parts of the world, are
not even very good at hunting rats.
The official U.S. dogbite statistics kept by the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention do not distinguish between attacks by
feral dogs and free-roaming dogs who either have homes or recently
did. It is noteworthy, however, that about half of all bites
requiring hospital treatment are inflicted by dogs who not only have
homes but are chained or otherwise confined when they attack.
In India, where very few dogs are confined or tethered, and
most dogs are in constant proximity to hundreds or even thousands of
people, the annual ratio of people to dogbites requiring hospital
treatment (17 million per year) is 62/1.
In the U.S., where most dogs are confined and have little
exposure to strangers, the annual ratio of people to dogbites
requiring hospital treatment (4.5 million per year) is identical,
also at 62/1.
Clearly the American dogs are inflicting closely comparable
numbers of injuries with just a fraction of the opportunity. The
often exaggerated territoriality of confined and recently confined
dogs would appear to be the major reason why.