Miracle Mutt

A shelter dog survives the gas chamber to tell about it

By Jennifer Martin

Randy Grim could barely believe it when he got the call from the St. Louis Animal Regulation Center. After 15 minutes in a gas chamber, a dog was foundalive, having somehow survived the carbon monoxide that killed seven other dogs inside the sealed compartment.

“He was standing on the other dogs, wagging his tail at me,” one animal control worker remembers. Everyone was shocked. Some thought that perhaps the chamber had malfunctioned.

Regardless, the director of the facility didn’t have the heart to put the dog through the gassing process again, so she asked Grim, who ran a private shelter, if he could take the mutt under his wing.

“Sure,” Grim said, “I’ll take him.” Although the dog’s name was Cain, Grim re-named him Quentin after the San Quentin prison, which was notorious for its gas chamber. The little Pit Bull/Basenji mix came to live at Grim’s house, and a relationship was born. Within weeks, the two were stars. “The press showed up at my doorstep,” Grim remembers. “We’ve been on CNN, MSNBC, ‘The Today Show’…We’re traveling all over the place.” Quentin, in fact, now has celebrity status on American Airlines. “He always knows just what to do [at the airport], from security when they sweep him with a wand, to getting on the plane.”

Quentin has become a “spokesdog” since his 2003 ordeal, serving as a living witness to the number of animals who die for lack of homes. At the pound, he wasn’t actually the best candidate for adoption. While he was fine when workers kept their distance, he sometimes growled if they approached. But Grim has rehabilitated him, providing the tender loving care that often helps turn a hostile dog into a friendly one. Grim believes that coming out of an environment around dozens of other strange dogs has something to do with Quentin’s transformation. “I think it’s really hard in a shelter setting to say what a dog’s temperament really is,” Grim says. Also, at the city pound, the employees used a pole and noose to drag dogs from one pen to another—something Grim would never do. Grim says since Quentin has lived with him, he’s been much more relaxed and gets along with everyone.

As with many shelter dogs, Quentin’s background was difficult before he came to the pound. He lived on a rougher side of the city, and his guardians turned him in because they simply didn’t want him anymore. Now, he lives in Grim’s large Victorian house with three other dogs and five cats. Grim likes all the company. “I always say some people should have one dog, and some people should have five,” he says. “It’s like children. It depends on what you have to offer. My dogs are all the rejects that never got homes.”

Grim runs two animal shelters of his own and takes in 1,500 to 2,000 animals a year. Very few are euthanized: only the ones who are seriously ill or extremely aggressive. But even the aggressive dogs are worked with first. “We have two behaviorists and an obedience trainer and a vet,” Grim says. “We try to give the dogs some fun things to do that aren’t stressful.”

Grim has authored two books, “The Man Who Talks to Dogs” and, more recently, “Miracle Dog: How Quentin Survived the Gas Chamber to Speak for Animals on Death Row.” Since his first book came out, the St. Louis Animal Regulation Center has switched its euthanasia method from gassing to lethal injection—a far quicker and less traumatizing way for the animals to die. Although it’s only a small step in the right direction, it’s much easier for the 4,000 to 5,000 dogs the pound euthanizes every year.

Grim has also made public some thorny issues at another shelter, the local humane society in St. Louis, which euthanizes 40,000 animals a year even though it’s a wealthy organization. “They only adopt out 9,000 animals a year; I pointed this out to the press,” Grim says. “Our congressman went to [their] office and gave them a piece of his mind.” Grim and the humane society’s executive director sit on a committee that’s now seeking a replacement for the humane society’s director.

Grim’s own two shelters survive on fund-raisers, grants, and private donations. Grim lives on $30,000, as does his director of development. The dogs have 8-foot-by-10-foot “apartments” rather than cages, with beds, toys, and blankets. The shelter also has two birthing rooms. “You wouldn’t believe how many strays we pick up and they give birth the next day,” he says. “It happens constantly. Only a handful have ever gone OK because the mothers are so sick or malnourished. A lot of the puppies are dead, or the mother needs a C-section, or we’ve lost a whole litter because they had herpes or other types of diseases.” The birthing rooms are large and spacious, with heat lamps, a birthing box, and a picture of St. Christopher, who was said to carry the infant Jesus across a rushing stream.

Grim hopes his work raises awareness about the desperate need to spay and neuter animals, and to come up with a better solution for homeless pets nationwide. “I want this to help people understand how precious life is, both for people and animals,” he says. “Animals are capable of giving so much.”

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