CALGARY -- Cute, cuddly, and affectionate, Pablo the wallaby hops around his enclosure at Cobb’s Adventure Park in northeast Calgary.

  • Warning: details in this story may be upsetting to some readers

He’s come a long way from when Cobb’s owner Mike Sheppard took him from the backyard of a drug house two years ago.

When Sheppard took the animal for medical help, the vet said his injuries showed evidence of a very traumatic past — possibly as a bait animal in dog fighting.

“He had all these bumps on his neck, and his hind was shaved. And the bumps she said is definitely dogs. It's dog bites,” said Shepard.

"And then after looking into it, they feel that the shaved part is apparently a common thing they do to teach dogs where to bite the animal that they're fighting, is they shave the rump.”

The Calgary Humane Society, along with Calgary police, investigate allegations of dog fighting and animal abuse.

In an email, Humane Society operations manager Brad Nichols told CTV, “We have had no intelligence in my career in Calgary to support the presence of organized dog fighting.”

Animal welfare groups in central Alberta say illegal dog fighting is a thriving underground activity.

Melanie Cretan of the Sylvan Lake and Area Serenity Pet Shelter Society says while she's never actually seen a dog fight, she has seen the evidence they leave behind.

“There’s no hard evidence except the dead and maimed dogs," she said.

No matter what caused Pablo’s injuries, it's clear to Sheppard the wallaby had been through extreme emotional and physical distress.

“He was not in good shape at all. When we got him, physically, he was dehydrated," he said.

"He was skinny. He had a skin condition. We probably spent a couple thousand dollars on vet bills within the first week of having him. (He was) malnourished and mentally he was very aggressive, unpredictable, agitated, and it took us a lot of work to get him to where he is today.”

Pablo’s case sparked Sheppard to start Cobb’s Exotic Animal Rescue and Education Foundation, which has now taken in dozens of animals, including snakes, tortoises, sugar gliders, iguanas and other wallabies.

When COVID-19 health measures saw the park and petting zoo closed, Sheppard lost almost all the income needed to maintain the animals in his care.

He purchased Cetus Automotive, a large car repair shop in northeast Calgary and uses the profits from it to help cover the care of the animals.

As a non-profit organization, Cobb’s Exotic Animal Rescue and Education Foundation can also offer tax receipts for donations through a partnership with Benevity.