Summit County Animal Shelter dog retires after nearly 13 years working with kids
Of all the dogs in Summit County, one is best known for kissing thousands of elementary school children.
Jake McKaig was a stray husky-coyote mix dropped off at the county shelter in 2000, and the nearly feral puppy displayed dangerous behavior and was almost euthanized.
Thanks to the hard work of his owner and former shelter manager, Annie McKaig, he became one of the county animal shelter’s first humane-education dogs.
Jake accompanied shelter employee Donna Corcel for about 13 years, teaching kids about the shelter adoptions, pet overpopulation, animal behavior and how to stay safe around stray dogs.
He also visited nursing homes, helped children learn to read and became a model for other dogs before retiring in December.
“He did so much service for this community,” Corcel said. “He’s been a huge inspiration for a lot of people.”
FROM THREAT TO THERAPY
Jake arrived at the shelter at about 8 weeks old.
“He was a pistol,” Corcel said. “He was trouble.”
He bit and scratched shelter employees and volunteers, including two teenage girls who walked him, said McKaig, who managed the shelter for about 10 years. “He was very mouthy.”
Originally from New York, McKaig trained and bred Dobermans and German shepherds there before moving to Frisco in 1978 and working at Copper Mountain Resort for 24 years.
After she became shelter manager, she started a free Saturday class to teach people adopting dogs training fundamentals, she said, because “owners would come in with such lame excuses for giving their pet up.”
She also co-founded a dog-training school and used the best-behaved shelter dogs in her training lessons.
She and Corcel believe Jake was taken too early from his mother because he hadn’t learned appropriate behaviors dogs teach their 4- to 8-week-old puppies. He was also likely exposed to other harmful experiences at that critical time that led to his aggression.
“Dogs have to have an alpha in their life,” McKaig said. “They have to take the role if they’re not getting it.”
One of the last straws was when Jake shredded the hand of a volunteer known as Grandma Connie. The shelter technician said he would have to be put down.
“(Annie) was like, ‘No.’ She was very adamant,” Corcel said. “She saw something in Jake that she was not going to give up on him.”
McKaig took Jake home, where he fought with her other dogs and tested her authority. Every day, she worked on his behavior problems.
She used a special collar to teach him not to bark or growl when on hikes. She brought him to trainers in Denver. She regularly put him on his back and stood over him — as his mother would’ve done in the second month of his life — to show him she was boss and what he was doing wouldn’t be tolerated.
It took six months before he turned around.
She was lying in bed reading, and Jake jumped up and joined her. She gave him a raw hide, and then, when she tried to take it from him, he started to growl at her. McKaig quickly snatched the raw hide, threw Jake onto his back, muzzled him with her hand and told him “no” in a loud, deep voice.
The same scenario played out again, and the second time, McKaig said, she was even more dominant with him. After that, Jake tucked his head under her arm.
“I knew at that moment. I got him. He’s mine,” she said.
She was alpha now. From then on, Jake gently took food and gave up objects. He soon behaved so well that she used him in her obedience classes and then he started going to schools.
With McKaig’s dedication, Jake went from being a sure-fire threat to everyone around him, Corcel said, to a dog “we felt 100 percent safe.”
A WARM, FUZZY INSPIRATION
The shelter’s humane-ed program brings an employee and a well-trained and behaved dog into local schools to teach classrooms of 20 to 30 kids and assemblies with 250 students.
Corcel taught students to ask before petting a dog and to stay still and quiet if they saw a dog without a human owner. They should stand tall like trees, or if they were on the ground, they should become rocks, she said.
Jake would practice with them, walking through the forest of kids and sniffing every young rock.
“Jake was always known to kiss the rocks. It was his favorite thing to do,” she said. “Jake would go and kiss every single kid on the cheek.”
Corcel would tell the children about how Jake was almost put down and how he transformed with McKaig’s care, commitment and consistency. Jake wasn’t a “bad boy” forever, she told them. “Look at who he is now.”
She hoped the kids would receive the underlying message that if they were going through hard times, they could change with the support of parents and teachers who believed in them.
Jake loved kids and took his job seriously.
“Jake was just so calm and so warm and fuzzy for the kids,” said Cindy Birchler, a Frisco Elementary second-grade teacher.
Summit Cove Elementary third-grade teacher Megan Smith said Jake taught her that though people rescue dogs from shelters, the dogs are often the ones rescuing the people.
“I can’t even imagine how many students across the district that he has kissed over the years,” she said. “He will certainly be missed.”
Jake also would sit quietly next to children as they practiced their reading, and, for a few winters, he made monthly visits to the nursing home at St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville.
His change from wild to therapy dog — and his magical connection with children — inspired shelter volunteer Holly Holden to train her 9-year-old husky to work with the humane-ed program.
“I’m indebted to him,” Holden said. “Because of Jake, my dog and I have a calling.”
When Jake was on walks and hikes throughout the county, McKaig said, children recognized him and would get so excited. The ones who assumed rock pose, just like they were taught in school, would be blessed with another lick from their furry friend.
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