When my mind wanders, and that’s not an occasional happening, I often wonder what makes certain humans do what they do. That train of thought often makes a stop along the tracks when I look at how humans treat animals.
Some members of our species abuse and use their pets. There are others, however, who show compassion beyond measure to love and care for that animal as if to say, “Hey, we’re not all like that.”
Hans Van Heek, 59, has been in Charleston since 1981. He’s owned and managed restaurants and now runs a catering company called the Crazy Dutchman. He’s a recovering alcoholic, sober since 2001. But there’s something far more telling about his character and caring attitude that offers a window to his soul.
Since 2005, he’s adopted nine different dogs from the Charleston Animal Society. The first dog he brought to his house was living on the streets with a homeless person who was trying to get sober. “I guess I’m here for the underdog of dogs. I want the ones that have never been given a fair shake.”
Van Heek is known in the animal adoption world as a "foster fail." Those are people who intended to house an unwanted animal, but fell in love and adopted that animal as their own.
The two dogs now under his roof are named Boo-Boo and Fergalicious. Their backstories are heartbreaking.
Boo is part American bulldog and boxer. She was a fighting dog and remains unpredictable. Fergie is a pit mix and was a bait dog. If you’re not familiar with that term, a bait dog is used to rile-up a fighting dog just prior to combat. The bait dog’s teeth, though, have been ground down to nubs rendering it unable to protect itself.
Both dogs suffer from PTSD and these are the animals Hans has claimed as his own.
What does he get? “Unconditional, reciprocal love,” he says. “The joy is worth the risk.”
You ain’t nothin’ but ...
The lights stay on at night when Hans and his dogs are asleep. That’s to keep a bad dream or a bump in the dark from triggering trauma from the dog’s past. He still doesn’t leave the two together when he’s not home and he feeds them separately just to avoid any possible flare-ups.
Fergalicious is 100% trusting of people, but Boo-Boo remains anxiety-ridden and unadoptable, if not for Hans. “These are the ones I’m most attracted to, and when I come home, they’re thrilled to see me.”
Some despicable humans played a hand in creating very inhumane conditions for these animals. I’m far more interested in knowing that there are people who are willing to give these dogs healthy and happy lives.
In some respects, Hans Van Heek seems to have found his own healing in his own recovery as he takes in dogs no one else finds of value.