Barn Buddies: Rescue Dogs Give Photographer A Different View

by | 12.02.2016 | 5:48pm
Banks, Baldwin, and Barney (L to R) at Santa Anita

Pets, particularly rescued pets, are often said to provide their humans with lessons about themselves. Those lessons are sometimes deep and meaningful experiences about friendship and compassion. While California racing photographer Cecilia Gustavsson said she has learned a few of those, her three rescue dogs have also taught her a lot more mundane things about herself.

After dinner on the patio at Peppers Mexican Grill near Santa Anita Park the week of the Breeders' Cup, Gustavsson was walking Banks, Baldwin, and Barney to the car on their respective tangle of leashes. All three dogs wandered off to the left, towards the restaurant's front door.

“This way,” Gustavsson told them.

Without a visual cue or so much as a tug on their leashes, all three dogs turned 180 degrees and trotted in the other direction, unable to see they were now correctly pointed toward the parking lot.

“The funny thing about it is, I haven't done it on purpose. I just realize I must always say the same things,” she said. “When we're here [at the track], and we're walking around, I've realized I'll say, ‘Look who it is!' because if I say that anywhere else, they get excited because they think a friend is near.”

Once Gustavsson noticed the dogs' understanding of “This way,” she tested it by putting slack in their leashes on a recent walk and watched them change directions. It's not uncommon for dogs to be taught commands, of course, but Gustavsson is amused the trio has picked up on phrases she didn't intend them to learn.

The dogs also know “Hop in” and “Come on, let's go.”

Another thing the three dogs taught Gustavsson is that she is, or can be, a dog person. Before she took in Baldwin and Barney, Gustavsson considered herself a cat person and had never had dogs before. Someone found the two small dogs locked in a stall after a trainer moved out of a Santa Anita barn. They were around a year or two old, and after spending time around them, Gustavsson noticed how spooky they were with people and came to suspect they had been abused at one point.

Baldwin, a terrier mix, is named for Baldwin Avenue near the racetrack. She considered Huntington or Colorado as names for Barney, but said his somewhat exaggerated eyes reminded her a little too much of the purple dinosaur on children's television to let it go. No one is quite sure of Barney's breeding, but he is likely a Chihuahua mixed with a Corgi or Dachshund.

Barney and Banks meet Mind Your Biscuits, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint

Barney and Banks meet Mind Your Biscuits, who finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint

Gustavsson discovered Banks months later, wandering around in a department store parking lot in Burbank. Veterinarians guessed the Chihuahua mix was about a year old at the time.

“I think he was probably somebody's Christmas present,” she said. “My guess is he was an older person's lap dog, because that's all he seems to know and want. When I first brought him home, I have a yard, and I said, ‘Ok buddy, go play,' and he didn't know what to do. He just sat on the steps.”

Working with rescue dogs has proved challenging. Barney and Baldwin are mistrustful of people and can bristle when they perceive a threat, while Banks is more trusting with new people, but has separation anxiety. All three can be easily overwhelmed by too much activity and noise. They have become protective of each other, so an unwelcome stimulus sets off not one, but all three of them. Gustavsson brings them to the track on quiet mornings while she photographs horses, and believes all three are getting more used to foot traffic and meeting new people as a result. When they adjust to someone new, they will now seek short sessions of pats before needing a break. Occasional treats at Clocker's Corner went a long way in giving the dogs a positive association with the track.

“They've got this whole routine, it's so funny,” said Gustavsson. “Rosie [Ybarra, hostess at Clocker's] goes, ‘Order up for Barney, Banks, and Baldwin!' and Baldwin just starts spinning, Barney jumps up in the air. Rosie loves to do it, it just cracks her up. She'll make them a little bowl of chopped up bacon, sausage, and ham.”

Although she still has to be careful where she takes her trio, she has found one place they can all relax: the Santa Anita paddock on dark days.


  • Gotchagold

    Great story. Glad Cecilia found her forever dogs! I’ve had rescues that make me happy everyday I’ve had them. Thank you Ms Gustavsson for sharing your love story.

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  • Tinky

    At the risk of painting with a broad brush, rescue dogs (and cats) are the best! Why anyone would choose anything else is a mystery to me.

    • aprimo224

      That is one thing we definitely agree on. All of my animals have been rescues of one sort or another, since I was a kid. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I have one cat adopted from a rescue group and I recently took in a six week old kitten (10 weeks now) I found hiding under a car in the parking lot of my neighborhood grocery store. He’s the most expensive “free” pet I’ve ever had, since he’s had so many visits to the vet. I think he wouldn’t have lived much longer on his own. In the month I’ve had him, he has tripled his weight. He’s just so adorable! I don’t understand how all those people walked right past him in the parking lot and refused to help him. Kudos to Denny the bag boy for caring and helping me capture the kitten and take him home.

      I love these Barn Buddies stories. I hope the Paulick Report keeps these stories coming!

      • Tinky

        Thanks for the warm anecdote! It’s hard to believe that adopted pets don’t somehow “know” and appreciate how such adoptions change their lives, and of course they almost invariably bring joy to their new owners.

        • aprimo224

          I think the little guy gets it. He’s been so chill about all the vet visits and medicine and the long car trip to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving. The only time he gets upset is if you try to get between him and his food.

      • Ida Lee

        Oh yeah…those “road side adoptions” are the most rewarding. Except for the gorgeous Siberian I have now (he came from a cat rescue), all my cats have been abandoned on my property, or found on the side of the road…one showed up on my patio. I always keep them…can’t stand to give them to a shelter. Willie, one of the great dogs of all times, was found roaming the Interstate…Bless you for being so kind to our helpless little creatures…

  • Ida Lee

    All my animals have been rescues…they’re the best. Really weird observation: Banks is exactly like my dog Cisco; Baldwin and Barney look exactly like my friend and neighbor’s dogs, Tilly and Chloe…. rescues from CA. Small world …..

  • ctgreyhound

    Sounds like the trio eat better than me. Seriously, the three we’re very fortunate to make Gustavsson’s acquaintance. Or, truth be told, is it the other way…..

  • whirlaway

    So many rescue dogs and even being a pure-bred is no assurance of a secure future. Every breed has breed clubs fostering and placing rescues
    and pet owners continue to breed their pets and then complain about the work of raising puppies and not always careful placing them. Thankfully these little dogs were lucky, it is amazing in these weekly stories how many different types of animals have been rescued by people at the race track from sad situations. So many dogs both pure bred and mixed breeds end up
    in rescues from the foolish treatment of previous owners and with time and
    care become very good dogs for their owners that have patience with them.

  • Larry Sterne

    As a proud owner of multiple stray dogs over the years I can testify their nothing more satisfying. They give all the love they are capable. And yes I believe all animals have souls . This is another success story.

  • Delrene

    Thank you Ms. Gustavsson for rescuing these sweet pupsters. They are very intuitive and smart! Have fun with them at Santa Anita. I’ve seen a lady quite often with a very large German Shepherd on early a.m. workouts. I think he /or she is in training as a service dog. Getting used to the sights and sounds I’m sure. I love seeing dogs at SA.

  • Kathy Baldwin

    What a wonderful story! ;) You are awesome Cecilia! :)

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