Rescued pup prospers with FD woman

Blomberg starts Lucky Dog Training after successful rehab

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kaila Blomberg, of Fort Dodge, is all smiles as she prepares to give a treat to Scarlett, a Husky Labrador mix, near First Congregational Church on Tuesday. Blomberg adopted Scarlett in 2020. Scarlett was rescued from a southern Iowa farm in 2019.

Kaila Blomberg, of Fort Dodge, had a feeling that no one would take a chance on her. So she did.

On a recent fall day, Blomberg walked alongside her — a black and a white dog named Scarlett.

The two made eye contact as Blomberg fed Scarlett a treat. Scarlett wagged her tail and felt the cool breeze on her face. The freshly fallen red leaves crunched as Scarlett found a comfortable place to lie down.

A year-and-a-half ago, this scene was not possible. Scarlett, a Husky Labrador mix, was rescued from a farm in southern Iowa in 2019. The area had experienced extreme flooding, and Scarlett was one of 40 dogs who were almost left to drown in Mills County at a suspected puppy mill.

Instead, the brown-eyed pup was rescued by boat with the help of Emergency Evacuation Pet Rescue. Scarlett was eventually taken to Peace Creek Animal Sanctuary and Rescue in Badger.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Scarlett, a Husky Labrador mix, looks on during a walk by First Congregational Church on Tuesday. Scarlett was adopted by Kaila Blomberg, of Fort Dodge in 2020. The dog had been subjected to trauma and was very skittish in the early days of living with Blomberg. Through proper training, Scarlett is now much happier and not near as timid as she once was.

That’s where Blomberg first saw her.

“She was in bad shape,” Blomberg recalled.

The owner of the animal sanctuary, Kim Colwell, told Blomberg she would need a lot of rehabilitation. Scarlett had suffered mass wounds and was scared.

“She wouldn’t look at us,” Blomberg said. “She was a runner. She was not socialized well.”

But Blomberg was inspired by one of her favorite TV shows, “Pitbulls and Parolees,” a reality series about a rescue in Lousiana called Villalobos.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Scarlett, a Husky Labrador mix, on Tuesday sniffs her owner Kaila Blomberg's hand, in hopes that there might be another treat in her future.

Then one day, while Blomberg was working out at the gym, Scarlett kept coming to mind.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” Blomberg said. “And I just kept thinking, ‘No one else is going to give her a chance.’

Scarlett had already been at Peace Creek for a year-and-a- half.

Blomberg said that’s because Scarlett wasn’t the type of dog most people would look to adopt.

“People want dogs that run up to them, that want to be with them and that just wasn’t her,” Blomberg said. “And to a point that still isn’t her. That might never be her. But she is very gentle and she listens very well and has a lot of other qualities that are really excellent. But she just wasn’t adoptable. For someone that hasn’t had dogs for a long time, I wouldn’t recommend people just doing that. It’s not a good idea.”

-Submitted photo
Scarlett is pictured in the back with a group of dogs who were rescued from a southern Iowa farm in 2019.

In Blomberg’s case, she felt like her past experiences with dogs and her ability to be patient made her a good candidate to take Scarlett home. And in 2020, she adopted her.

“It was just a decision I made and decided to plunge myself into it and learn as much as I could,” Blomberg said. “I threw myself into learning everything I could about scared dogs.”

Blomberg, a native of Farnhamville, knew it was going to take a lot of coaching to earn Scarlett’s trust.

“When we first brought her home, we couldn’t touch her,” Blomberg said. “She would submissive urinate anytime I tried to leash her. Basically she was so terrified that she would lose her bladder. Anytime I would touch her or try to leash her, that’s what she would do. So what I had to do was learn how to leash her with my peripheral vision because it was the eye contact that was freaking her out.

“I found the problem, and then it was reading about it and how do I fix it. But finding how to fix it for this specific dog. For Scarlett, it was no eye contact and moving up to her slowly. Once she started trusting me to leash the collar, then it wasn’t a big deal anymore. But it was kind of just building that foundation of, ‘You can trust me, it’s OK.'”

-Messenger file photo by Kriss Nelson
Scarlett, right, would not make eye contact after her rescue. Jen Birkey, left, interacts with Scarlett in this 2019 file photo. Birkey helped rescue several dogs in Iowa during that time.

A top priority for Blomberg was helping Scarlett feel safe.

“With dogs that are as traumatized as Scarlett, they essentially don’t have the ability to make their own decisions,” Blomberg said. “So the best thing you can do is make sure they are safe, which meant for probably the first two months she wore a leash in the house all the time. A short leash. We did our best to give her space and create a routine. That was kind of the first step.”

Blomberg felt like she was getting somewhere when Scarlett began making eye contact.

“What people don’t understand about rehabbing a dog, is there are thousands of breakthroughs along the way,” Blomberg said. “Things that people don’t think about are a really big deal for dogs like her. She wouldn’t make eye contact with us, so the first time she would start to look us in the face or make eye contact — for dogs like her, it’s a huge deal.

“It takes confidence for them to make eye contact. She didn’t look at us in the face for a really long time. Things like her tail going up. Her tail has been broken two times. So wherever she came from was really bad. But I remember watching her and thinking I can’t wait for her to wag her tail. It’s things like that that for a regular dog wouldn’t be a big deal, but there are thousands of those moments along the way.”

Even things like car rides, which typically are a very exciting time for dogs, were at one time a terrifying experience for Scarlett.

“We have had to do a lot of work on up and down to get her into a car,” Blomberg said. “She’s 70 pounds, so if she makes a decision not to get into a car, you’re not going to get her into one. We started with one of those canvas beds that are raised up, and we practiced up and down. After that, we moved to the couch, so it was a little higher. Once she understood up and down on the couch, then we took it to the car and practiced up and down in the car.”

During her first ride around the block, Scarlett cowered under the seat shaking. But she has grown more comfortable since that first ride.

“Now she gets into a car, she doesn’t get close to the windows but she looks out the windows,” Blomberg said. “Not even terrified anymore. Just not a regular dog that you can roll down the window and she’ll poke her head out. She’s not quite that brave.”

After Blomberg’s success with Scarlett, she wanted to help others train their dogs.

“Basically as we went through this process of me finding the best way to rehabilitate her and get her to trust us, it made me realize that I could help do the same for other people,” Blomberg said. “A lot of dog behaviors are confidence things. Some of the things we just have to figure out the best way to communicate. But I feel like with a dog like her, it’s so much trial and error. You are always looking for a different way to try something. I just learned so much along the way that I didn’t understand why I wasn’t helping other people figure some of this out, too. That’s kind of what encouraged me to take the Karen Pryor certification, which is all positive reinforcement. What that means is instead of using more aversive tools like a shock collar, you encourage the behavior you want through treats, and making them want to work for you, instead of punishing them to get what you want.”

So Blomberg started Lucky Dog Training in September.

“I’ve posted a lot on Facebook about her story and I kept having people say, ‘She’s a lucky dog,’ Blomberg said. “And then every time someone would say it, it was almost like, ‘Well, she’s lucky but I’m lucky too. It just kind of fit our story.”

Through Lucky Dog Training, Blomberg offers a one-time virtual assessment for $30, a meet and greet/assessment for $50, or a puppy package (10 sessions) for $300. Other packages are available depending on how many sessions are needed. Classes are held at Almost Home Humane Society of North Central Iowa in Fort Dodge. Blomberg has also worked with dogs at Moffitt Animal Rescue in Humboldt and Peace Creek in Badger.

Blomberg has now seen other dogs improve their behavior with her help.

“This weekend I got a text message of a puppy that I’ve been working with who likes to jump on the counters,” Blomberg said. “It’s a big dog and can access the counters very easily. His owner was doing dishes and sent me a picture of his dog laying on the floor. So where he would have been jumping on the counters before, now he’s figuring out that that’s not the behavior they want. And they have learned how to communicate that behavior with him.”

Blomberg is finding that a lot of owners struggle with getting their dogs not to jump.

“We just started an obedience class at Almost Home and we had a lot of people say last night (Monday) that jumping is a big thing,” Blomberg said. “Finding these behaviors that people don’t like but don’t know how to fix and helping them see that it’s really not that complicated. Just figuring out the best way to communicate with consistency with their dog.”

Time and teaching were two keys to Blomberg’s success.

“What I learned, is the best way to help rehab a dog that is severely anxious and severely scared is to essentially teach them as much as you can teach them,” Blomberg said. “Because when they understand what you want from them, it takes some of the anxiety and decision-making out of it for them. So we walk every day almost unless the weather is really bad. We work on starts and stops, recall, up, down, basically any basic cue I could teach her, we worked on. Part of that was just her gaining confidence and understanding what I wanted from her. That helped tremendously.”

Blomberg is looking forward to future training sessions.

“What I really would like to do is help regular people who own dogs that have behaviors they want to fix, but also would like to continue finding the Scarletts and working with the severely traumatized, anxious dogs and helping them as well,” she said.

Even though Blomberg admits Scarlett was lucky to end up with her, the benefits haven’t been one sided.

“In the process of changing her life, I ended up changing my own,” Blomberg said.

Blomberg can be reached through her Facebook page, “Lucky Dog Training,” or by email at kailajo17@gmail.com .


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