Animal behaviourist Kasey Carlin has faced many challenges over the years – but this traumatised stray had endured unimaginable torture. She tells Lorraine Fisher how she loved her back to happiness.
Seen from afar as they scamper excitedly around the countryside near their home, Maggie and Millie look like all other joyful dogs on a walk. Maggie loves chasing after a ball while Millie can’t pass a fence post without a good sniff. But this most normal of dog behaviour becomes something quite extraordinary when you see the pair up close.
For Maggie is completely blind while Millie has a nose that’s been smashed to pieces. Both were victims of the most unspeakable cruelty, but the fact that they’re both happy and healthy today is testament to the love and devotion of their owner Kasey Carlin. Kasey is just 26 but has spent years fostering some of the world’s most challenging dogs – the ones no one else wants or could cope with. And so far she’s adopted three, including Maggie, who she fell in love with while fostering 16 others.
A qualified animal behaviourist, Kasey has taken on mutts that have been thrown off balconies, locked in a cage without company for months or even have been run over and needed wheelchairs. And, thanks to her, those dogs, utterly terrified of humans and untrusting of other animals, slowly turn into happy, friendly pooches with a newfound lust for life, ready to find a forever home with loving families.
Yet she doesn’t think she does anything special. ‘I do it for selfish reasons,’ says Kasey, who’s now written a book about her rescues. ‘Dogs make me happy. I get to have my own around me all day and help others.’
Kasey grew up wanting to study animal behaviour in college and began working with dogs who had issues as well as setting up her own ‘doggy daycare’ business, looking after lonely hounds while their owners were at work.
But it was hearing about the plight of an Alaskan klee kai called Mishka two years ago that was to really change her life. Mishka had been bought by a family who had no time to socialise her, the crucial process of meeting other animals and humans that helps puppies become well-adjusted adults, instead of fearful and aggressive. ‘Mishka had just been left in a crate and not walked,’ says Kasey, who lives in Brighton. ‘She’d lunge at everything, from people to a leaf blowing past. The family had used an electric shock collar on her to stop her. When I went to collect her she bit me three times. I’m used to taking on extreme behaviour issues but Mishka was the toughest.’
It was in the middle of trying to help Mishka be the calm, gentle dog she is today that Kasey saw an appeal by the Wild At Heart Foundation. The charity helps rescue and neuter street dogs around the world in countries including India, Swaziland and Greece. They were looking for a fosterer for Angie who’d been horrifically abused on the streets of Beirut and was being brought to the UK.
‘She was blind because her eyes had been gouged out and she’d also had one of her ears hacked off,’ remembers Kasey. ‘In the picture, where her eyes had been was now red and sore. She was sitting with her head hung low; her face told a story of exhaustion and hopelessness. Even though she looked as though she’d given up, she was beautiful.
‘While my heart bled for her, I’d only had Miskha for four months and training her was draining. but over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about Angie. She’d been through so much and still no one wanted her. So I said I’d have her because I knew I could help her.’
Kasey set off for Heathrow in September 2018. ‘I was excited but this was just another dog I was going to help. Little did I know I’d fall in love with her. I was expecting a terrified little dog but Angie walked out confidently, wagging her tail and kicking her feet really high like a show pony to feel what was in front of her. I went over to say hello and she buried her head in my lap.
‘I put her in the front of my car and talked to her nonstop as I drove home, going through a list of names because Angie didn’t feel right. She had her head down the whole journey until I said “Maggie”, when she looked up at me and wagged her tail. Maggie it was.
‘We got home at midnight and I took her straight to the garden for a wee. She’d never walked on a lawn before and the feel of wet grass freaked her a bit – she was picking up her feet and shaking them.’
That night, as she slept in Kasey’s room, Maggie whimpered. ‘It was the saddest noise I’ve ever heard. I got up to comfort her and realised she was asleep but her legs were running in the air. She seemed distressed and I was convinced she was having nightmares about the terrible things that had happened to her. She can still wake up howling.’
Another reminder of the horrific start Maggie had in life were the small pellets Kasey started to find throughout the house – bullets from the bb gun she was constantly shot with in Beirut. Local children would tie her up and use her as target practice. It was eventually stopped when a kind man saw them hack off one of her ears then start on the other. He stepped in and called rescuers. ‘Thank goodness he did,’ says Kasey. ‘I find the bullets on the couch; I hear them go up the vacuum cleaner. I knew she had them in her – you can feel them under her skin. I counted 17 but when I took her to the vet for a scan there were 200 in her shoulder alone, hundreds more in her face, her head and throughout the rest of her body. I couldn’t even cry, I was in such shock when I heard. What could she possibly have done to deserve that abuse and torture? Yet she’s forgiven people.’
Nowadays the tears fall readily as Kasey recounts the sheer horror Maggie has been through. It beggars belief that anyone could be so cruel. But in many countries dogs are treated like vermin. The fact they’ve been bred to be man’s best friend and trust us makes them easy prey. Often they’re just puppies when attacked, like Kasey’s new dog Millie, who was rescued from Russia. ‘We don’t fully know what she went through but someone shot her in the head – there are bullets in her skull and right eye, but low calibre so they didn’t kill her. Then someone maybe stomped on her face – her whole nose was smashed to pieces. She was found under a lean-to, screaming her heart out, trying to breathe but she was still friendly.’
The first Kasey knew of Millie was a video posted online by rescuers this new year. ‘I fell in love with her immediately. I must have left 12 to 13 messages about her. When they called it was overwhelming. I did think, “What have I done? Three dogs in less than two years!”’
Kasey got Wild At Heart involved and together they fundraised to bring Millie here and get her face fixed. She arrived in January and, while friendly, her face was a mess.
‘They’d got her stable in Russia, she still had her right eye and there was a metal tube acting as her nose. After three days she sneezed it out so I took her to a specialist vet. Ten days later she came home with just one eye and a nose made by turning the skin inwards. it works – Millie can always smell a treat!’
And there are no behavioural worries. From the moment she arrived, she’s been full of springy happiness. ‘She just wants to be with you. Her whole body wiggles when she says hello to a dog – she’s so glad to be alive. It was the same with Maggie. Both of them said to me, “I don’t want to die, don’t put me down” and now they’re both so happy.’
They’ve also become Instagram stars under the handles @maggiethewunderdog (430,000 followers) and @milliethewunderdog (97,000). Maggie, now around six, has appeared on TV, met royalty (the Duke of Kent) and regularly visits care homes and the local university to cheer up residents and students. Millie, about a year and a half, will join her soon.
Kasey’s currently got two foster dogs along with her own three, and has given up the doggy daycare business to help Wild At Heart adopters with any aftercare they need. Not only has she the qualifications to do the job, but she’s living proof that love and the right training can turn any troubled dog into a happy one.
Her own dogs and the countless others she’s helped prove the internet trolls – who tell Kasey she should have put them down – wrong. ‘When you read their stories on paper you might think, “Why put a dog through that?” but when you meet them, you get it. They want to live.’
Next Kasey wants to set up her own rescue charity. She even has a name planned for it – Wonky Dogs, because they’re the kind she’s drawn to.
And no matter what they’ve been through before, they’ll be able to think themselves lucky they’re with her.
The Miraculous Life of Maggie the Wunderdog by Kasey Carlin is published by Mirror Books, price £12.99. To order a copy for £8.49 until 6 September go to whsmith.co.uk and enter the code YOUWUNDER at the checkout. Book number: 9781912624928. For terms and conditions, see whsmith.co.uk/terms.