• Lia Stoll

From Beat-Up Rescue to Wonderdog (The Belgian Malinois Who Wouldn't Give Up)

Max playing frisbee at tournament
From Beat-Up Rescue to Wonderdog

June 2018, south of France.

A new spasm of pain jolted Max’s head upright. He yanked against the leash that bound his body, tied around his neck to a pipe that was fastened to the floor in the middle of the small room.

He realised he was slumbering, and he was immediately washed in fear. He knew that the man was going to hurt him, bad. Kill him. Little by little, wound by wound.

Why was he doing this?

I’ve got to stay awake, he thought. I’ve got to fight back. If I drift off again, I will die.

Despite the heat in the room, his body felt iced with sweat. He looked down, whining and saw his feet were wet against the floor. The floor around him was lumped with dry patches of blood. His panic deepened.

The door to the room was shut. But he would come back. He always did. And then he’d do whatever he could think of to make him howl in pain. The windows were planked, and he had no idea if it was day or night, the only light came from a crack in the ceiling. It seemed that no one else could hear his yelping.

The man watched him with dark fiery eyes. At first, he thought that the man would take pity on him. But he soon realised that was not going to happen. Urine and blood mixed on his body and he could feel blood matted on his coat. His eyes stung making it harder to see.

He let his head drop.

Die now, he begged himself.

The first rays of sun lit up the room. Hands caressed his body as he fell asleep.


What A Dog Can Teach You About Trust

It was the agonising, non-stop howling that alerted neighbours to a slowly unfolding tragedy.

Max, a 1.5-year-old Belgian Malinois was abused for months by his owner.

The animal shelter had its suspicions. But, only after a tip-off from neighbours, saying that the dog next door wasn’t seen for days, were they able to secure a warrant.

The bitter suffering and cruel abuse that took place were horrendous. Dog faeces, vomit and blood was everywhere, and the smell alone was enough to make anyone sick.

And, here’s the part that’s tough to swallow…

Max had a chain wrapped around his neck so tightly that it had become embedded in his skin, causing an oozing, bloody wound. He was filthy and his ribs were standing out. His hipbones jutted through his skin. Malnourished with 15kg, he was half the dog he should have been.

At the animal clinic, he was prepped for emergency treatment and the staff prepared to respond to aggression but were surprised to find a remarkable, sweet-natured boy.

After 3 weeks of recovery and with a new bed from the animal shelter, he was ready to face the world. A world that could show him, love.

First, a dog trainer from the nearby French security training centre for German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois showed interest in Max.

Now, it’s no secret that the Belgian Malinois is an impressive, fearless dog with thundering energy that is prized for military and police work. Their supreme intelligence and epic athletic ability make them an excellent choice for active duty.

I don’t know about you but I was sceptical.

Max was placed in their training program for 3 months. That’s how long it took for the professionals to realise that he wasn’t cut out for the job.


Back at the animal shelter, he was heartbroken. He showed signs of stress and chewed the fence causing permanent damage to his nose.

Here’s one more cold, hard truth.

There’s a 2-week deadline for listed dogs in France to find a home. If they don’t, they are euthanised.

Does this make sense to you?

The manager felt miserable and took him home. Max not only adapted to life in a home but even made friends with the 3 dogs in the family, and described Max as open-hearted, faithful, and friendly.

Astonishing, isn’t it?

Imagine, being the victim of suffering and trauma. And, still having the courage to believe in the good of humanity.


The Alarming Truth About Emotional Abuse

A steaming cup of mulled wine amid timber-frame stalls dressed in whimsical string light and the ambrosial smell of local gingerbread.

I was Christmas shopping when my phone rang. Barbara, my colleague back in the days when we were training guide dogs together wanted to know if I was interested in fostering a dog for 2 weeks.

“A Belgian Malinois. From a rescue centre. Had a rough time. I think he’ll fit in swell with you and your family.”

It’s no secret that we were looking for a dog. Ours had passed away and there was a hollow void. But, I need to tell you that our son was 3 years old and I was not going to risk our safety with a Belgian Malinois who did time in a security camp.

But, surely, we could share our home for 2 weeks with a poor boy.


“Yes. Give me the details.” I said.

Two weeks before Christmas I entered our flat with a scrawny, wilted looking brown dog. “Where’s the rest of him?” my husband asked.

Have you ever wished for a dog that would change your life for the better?

I wished for a dog that would make our family feel complete. A buddy to play, a buddy to go out in nature with, a buddy for our son.

Now, animal shelters and rescues work hard to place all animals in homes that can provide them with the care they need.

And, my background as a guide dog mobility instructor was the free ticket the animal shelter needed to hand over Max.

But, can I be painfully honest for a second?

I underestimated the power of emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is like a tornado. It touches down and destroys everything in its path leaving the victim to suffer the consequences.

The bad news?

It can cause deep-rooted separation anxiety, fear responses like hiding, anxiety towards people when feeling threatened, and aggression.

The good news?

Mistreated animals show responses to the abuse they are conditioned to. And, abused dogs continue to learn. The severe and prolonged suffering Max endured is something he can learn to overcome — given enough time and the right kind of training.


How to Thrive When the Whole World Seems Anxious

Summer 2021.

Three years later and it’s no surprise, Max stole our hearts.

He is our Wonderdog.

Frisbee player magnifique.

Winter sledge power puller.

Hiking buddy extraordinaire.

Bikejoring spectaculaire.

Personal stress detector, entertainer, comforter, protector.

But what is easy? My answer: The biggest time sinkhole was the emotional and behavioural modification.

There were days when I beat my head against the wall trying to ease the reaction to triggers only to have them repeat or recur. The good news? I asked for help. I got my family and friends (yes, some of them are dog trainers) to help out. And guess what? It worked. Max is the Love that touches the dreamy parts, the devoted parts — the parts we call the heart. It’s there that Max lives now.

Max is the Love that touches the dreamy parts, the devoted parts — the parts we call the heart. It’s there that Max lives now.
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