The story would have been completely different two weeks ago. Instead of a rage-inducing account of animal neglect, the animals themselves are turning their tale into an unlikely display of trust and healing.

Eight dogs — four female and four male — are recovering at the Clinton Humane Society from an almost unspeakable existence. If they had not been rescued from their cold, dark, bloody captivity in a Clinton home on Feb. 21, they may very well have died miserable deaths. A ninth dog was found dead in a garbage can at the home where police, Humane Society workers and volunteers were called to remove them.

"They had an extreme number of fight wounds to their faces, ears and necks," said Marcie Williams, operations assistant and veterinary technician at the Clinton-based shelter. "It definitely took about a week for them to come out of their shells. Their personalities are coming out."

And one trait is obvious: The dogs did not want to fight.

"When we get two of them out together, they wag their tails and lick each other," she said. "There's definitely no aggression."

And that's surprising.

Williams described the conditions in which the eight dogs were living: "There was no food and no water. It was a house without heat or electricity. They were covered in blood and feces, which covered the floor. When they got hungry enough, they ate feces."

Enough of that.

If dogs are capable of forgiveness, the Clinton dogs have forgiven. They are, against presumable odds, thrilled to see people. In fact, two shelter workers and a volunteer each pointed out independently that they are convinced the dogs have been smiling.

"It's been very emotional to see," Williams said. "They go to each other, wagging their tails, as if to say, 'We made it.'"

In addition to the love, attention and medical care being lavished upon them by shelter staff, Williams said, the Clinton community and those who surround it have eagerly pitched in to show their concern.

"They definitely didn't know what toys were," she said. "People have been donating them, and they love the stuffed animals.

"The first week we had them, we kept the (outside) doors open in their runs. None of them wanted to go out. They had no idea what blankets were, and they didn't know about the outdoors."

All of that has changed. And they are living up to the empowering names given to them by shelter staff — Adonis, Zeus, Aphrodite and Warrior among them.

Seven of the dogs are about 2 years old and one, a large female, is about 7.

"All of the females have been completely over bred," Williams said. "Some of their scars appear to be older; several months old."

The eight are living in neighboring runs as they heal. As people enter their area of the shelter, the dogs demonstrate their menacing barks — typical of the mixed breed generally known as pit bulls. Despite the barking, all eight tails wagged with abandon.

"Aren't they beautiful?" shelter worker Kevin Rose asked. "So sweet, too."

Williams let Warrior out of her run, and the dog was reluctant about the pink leash that was tied into a lasso.

"They'd never been on a leash before," she said, handing Warrior a squeaky toy. "They looked pretty bad at first. One had a terrible gash on her arm, and Warrior had blood dripping from her face. One of the guys, because he was in such pain, was very grumpy at first. We were able to get him some medicine right away, and he's doing so much better now. They all are.

"People want to come and see them, but we can't right now," she said. "They're just learning to trust and be around people. After another vet check, which is coming up, we'll have them altered. They should be ready for adopting in six or eight weeks. Unfortunately, it's possible the females are pregnant, so that will slow things down."

As Williams was telling about all the people who have said they are willing to adopt the dogs, Rose emerged from the cage area, where he had been cleaning.

"How's my pumpkin?" he gushed at Warrior as he dropped to her side on the floor. "What do you have? Do you have a toy, sweet girl?"

It's like that for the dogs — from famine to feast.

"I get attached to every animal that comes through this building," shelter worker Kaitlyn Determan said from behind the front desk. "When they've been through hell, you feel that even more.

"They show so much improvement, just being loved," she said. "Their tails are constantly wagging.

"I think humans can learn a lot from animals."

She said a mouthful there.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or