Ralphie’s road to recovery

17th Aug, 2018

Written by Lenell Hattingh, co-founder of Bulldog Rescue Angels (BRA), and Vishal Ramphal, PR volunteer for BRA

Professional photography by Emma O’Brien 

Ralphie did not like humans AT ALL. When he came to us in October 2017, we really didn’t know quite how severe his reactiveness towards humans would be.

He would need some serious TLC and loads of hard work to help restore his faith in humans.

No dog is born “human aggressive”; they are made aggressive by foolish, cruel or ignorant people. And it would take some very dedicated people to undo this and let Ralphie be the happy, loving dog he was meant to be.

Something seriously wrong

On the day we collected Ralphie, we quickly realised that there was something seriously wrong with him when he refused to get out of the car for well over two hours and became very agitated when we approached him and the car.

We found ourselves very confused and totally unprepared for this behaviour. After a quick call to our trusted COAPE (Centre of Applied Pet Ethology) animal behaviourist, Leigh Shenker, we concluded that, before we could make any decisions, we needed to get this dog expert care with people who know how to handle extremely frightened dogs.

We needed him to decompress for a couple of weeks before any assessments or decisions could be made about the future of this dog.

Ralphie’s rehabilitation process began in the awesome hands of SPCA Randburg and COAPE behaviourists Leigh Shenker and Tammy Gregor.

Glimmer of hope

Ralphie went to stay at the Randburg SPCA where we paid for his daily boarding and quality food and had him neutered. Kennel manager Cynthia Swanepoel and her very experienced kennel assistant, Elvis Makhubedu, were assigned to Ralphie and began working on getting him to trust people. Sympathetic staff members took to sitting in front of his cage to talk to him and interact with him in a non-threatening way. Slowly, very slowly, they gained Ralphie’s trust.

Two weeks later, once Ralphie had settled, Leigh did a full behavioural assessment. Ralphie was one messed-up Bulldog; he was classified with having extreme resource guarding issues, body handling issues, and a whole long list of other issues. But the assessment explained why this poor Bulldog was aggressive towards humans, the reason he was terrified.

The good news was that all of it could be worked on. That was the news we were hoping for. That glimmer of hope!

The work begins

COAPE animal behaviourist Tammy Gregor began working with him almost every other day. She slowly gained his trust, and after about two weeks of careful interactions and trust-building exercises, he got to enjoy his first walk. He even started to flop over for belly rubs (can you believe it?).

The awesome staff at Randburg SPCA, as well as Tammy and Leigh, played an integral part in the next 60 days of rehab until he was ready to be placed in a foster home with people and other dogs. To our amazement, we found out that even though he was very scared of humans he had no problems or issues with other dogs. 

He did really well at the Randburg SPCA, but dogs can’t stay there forever, so we started looking for a foster home. Following a Facebook appeal in December 2017, Andrew Steer contacted us.

Fabulous fosters

Andrew kindly agreed to meet with Ralphie at the SPCA a few times and then opened his home to him. Ralphie and Magnus (Andrew’s young Bulldog) got on very well and they played non-stop.

It was the perfect place for Ralphie to start getting used to a home and home environment. He also got to see how to behave like a Bulldog – Magnus showed him how. He was lucky enough to have spent close to five weeks with Andrew and Magnus over Christmas and New Year. The timing was perfect in view of the fact that the SPCA was full over the same period and they needed the kennel for boarding and/or abandoned animals.

Although we’d have loved him to stay, sometimes people’s circumstances change, and that’s what happened with Andrew and Magnus. Ralphie unexpectedly had to move at the end of January. Where to next? We didn’t have an expert foster home on our books and sending him back to kennels was just not an option.

The next step

Despite his bad start to life, Ralphie was somehow OK with other dogs – we decided to work on that. An in-depth discussion about Ralphie (where he came from and where he is now) with awesome dog trainer and behaviourist Carla Strydom of Canine Planet secured him a spot at her doggy day care and dog boarding facility in Centurion. Carla is brilliant with dogs and has several of her own.

He’d made brilliant progress thus far, and the next phase of rehabilitation included basic commands and working on his body-handling issues and any resource-guarding problems he still had.

Ralphie really blossomed in Carla’s capable hands. He learnt new behaviours, how to play with other dogs, and even some trick training, believe it or not. The search for Ralphie’s forever home began towards the end of February 2018, and, on Easter Friday, Ralphie went home with the Willmotts.  

It’s so wonderful to see how far he’s come since his arrival in October 2017. His settling-in period with his new family couldn’t have gone better, and they are so dedicated to him, taking him for walks and outings and continuing their training sessions at Canine Planet. Ralphie even made a guest appearance at Muddy Puppy in April 2018 and was the Bulldog Rescue Angels lucky mascot for the day.

We never stopped believing in this Bulldog – he just needed the time and expert behaviour modification to show him that the world can be a really wonderful place after all.


We’re grateful that there were so many people who were instrumental in rehabilitating Ralphie. Enormous thank yous go to the SPCA Randburg, Leigh Shenker, Cynthia Swanepoel and Tammy Gregor for playing an integral part in his “happily ever after”; and to Carla Strydom of Canine Planet for allowing him to continue his journey to healing with you. Thanks must also go to Andrew (and Magnus) for being the perfect stepping stone for Ralphie’s rehabilitation process.

And, of course, thank you to the Willmott family for giving Ralphie a chance and offering him a forever home.

Last – but definitely not least – a big thank you goes to all our supporters who donated to Ralphie’s cause and to supporting BRA so that more Bulldogs like Ralphie can be helped.

Check out the videos of Ralphie’s progress on BRA’s Facebook page: @BulldogRescueAngels/videos (https://www.facebook.com/BulldogRescueAngels/videos)


By Ghillian Willmott, Ralphie’s new owner

Nigel and I got to meet Ralphie for the first time on the 10th of March 2018. He was such a happy boy! He has an odd-looking tail (it looks more like a Boomerang) but it didn’t stop wagging once.

It was hard to believe that this happy boy in front of us had experienced such a tough journey. We knew that he would fit right in with our crazy loud family, “The Motts”. We spent the following weekends going to see him to get to know him and allow him to get to know us.

The 31st of March was his “Mott Gotcha Day” – the day Ralphie came home. He spent the entire drive home looking at his Dad.

Master of The Mott Household

Ralphie has moved in and taken over the running of The Mott Household. He has every member (aka his servants) at his beck and call. Dad is the walk master, trainer of the naughty things and best Ralphie buddy; Mom is the trick trainer, feeder, disciplinarian, groomer and cuddle buddy. The two human brothers are there for him to rough and tumble with.

He has a very large enclosed park where he takes his daily walks, morning, noon and late afternoon, and gets to see one or two other dogs there. But mostly he has the park to himself where he runs freely practising his greyhound moves. He’s also a super-fit Bulldog who keeps his servants fit too. He sulks in the morning when “dad servant” has left to do the school run but is super happy again on his return because he knows he’s about to go for a run at “his” park.

His every whim is attended to and he’s short of nothing. He amazes us every day at just how clever he is and so eager to learn.

The right direction

We understand and accept that Ralphie has had a rough past, and there are times when he has a moment and needs his space. When I first met Ralphie he didn’t like being kissed and cuddled, but, as he’s gotten to know and trust us, he now allows for kisses and cuddles; he especially loves cuddles when it’s bedtime.

To us, Ralphie is like a little boy in doggie clothes and very much a part of the family. He is our Munchkin!  

Every day with Ralphie is a step in the right direction for him; we as a family keep working with him and making sure he’s happy, spoilt, loved and safe.

We are so thankful and happy that the Bulldog Rescue Angels saw Ralphie’s potential and were prepared to invest their time and hard work in getting him where he is today.

We love him loads!

Bulldog Rescue Angels

BRA is a pro-life rescue organisation focusing on educating the public on Bulldogs and on the rescuing and rehoming of French, English and American Bulldogs. Find out more by emailing bulldogrescueangels@gmail.com and by following them on the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/BulldogRescueAngels/

Read our Animal Welfare Organisation article about this Bulldog-loving organisation here http://www.happytailsmagazine.co.za/news-articles/bulldog-rescue-angels-bra/