You Won’t Remember Me

She was living in the thick underbrush near the riverbank, skinny and scrounging for food among the garbage left by weekday fishermen and many others.  A frayed and faded collar betrayed her last owner, proof of abandonment, possibly discarded for lack of puppies or a soft disposition, making her unsuitable for crueler purposes.  It happens a lot in this city.

You never know what to expect when you go to rescue a dog. I’ve had them run up to me and jump in my truck; others I’ve watch in heartbreak as they collapse on the ground at my feet, belly up, crying and waiting, expecting my human hands to hurt them.  Some have been out too long and cannot be caught without a trap, their feral nature having taken over, but they all have the same empty pleading look in their eyes, fear and hope sown together.  We call this the dance, you wait to see what works and each dog is different.

The dog was wary, not willing to leave the tall grass, but we were patient and soon she let us come to her and within minutes we were scratching behind her ears as we clipped the leash on her collar and walked her away.  We called her Marigold.

The plea went out and a group in Austin stepped up to foster her if we could get her there. I agreed to take her home and drive her the next morning. After a short walk and investigation of her new surroundings, I settled her in for the night on a bed in a crate with fresh water and good food and sat down next to her. Apparently, that was her cue to edge closer, and then a little closer until finally she was in my lap, all 40 pittie pounds of her. We sat like that until my legs were numb and the hour was late, and I told her it was time to sleep and that I would see her in the morning.  She cocked her head at me, got up from my lap, entered the crate, turned around twice and then curled on her bed.  I left some treats by her crate, turned out the light and as I left her, she whined just once and then she was silent.

The next morning after a walk and breakfast, I go to load her crate and I find my husband with her, his big hands cradling her face, telling her she’s going to be okay and to be a good girl.  She seems to understand. I would have liked to leave her loose in the truck, but I’ve learned from experience that you never know how a dog is going to respond in transport, some sleep the entire way and others are jumpy and active, so for their safety, I use a crate.  The night before I had left the crate door open in her room so she would be used to it and feel safe for the trip and sure enough, she didn’t mind at all when I put her back in the crate in the truck. As I closed the crate door, I asked if she was ready and she replied with that odd little sound pitties make when they answer you.  She was ready.

The drive from Houston to Austin is a nice one once you get out of the city, it’s mostly rural highway as the roads are quiet and traffic is light and you have time to think as you pass the small farms and towns with names like Giddings, Elgin and Manor. As I drove I wondered about Marigold, where she came from and where she was going, I didn’t know the young woman named Kate that was meeting me, but others that I trusted knew her and had worked with her rescue group before, so I felt certain she would be in good hands, but even so I worried, we always worry. She was going straight to the vet as soon as I dropped her off and then to her new foster home.  I was glad she had a place to go, she was lucky, many like her are killed in shelters for being born a pit bull.

We arrived in Austin a little early so I backed the truck into a spot and sat with her while we waited. She wasn’t afraid, she trusted me completely and I felt the bond of her trust knot inside of me. It’s hard to let them go and I told her so as we sat there together in the back of the truck with the door up, watching it rain. I told her that she was going to be happy and that she would learn about couches, toys and dog parks. I said that she wouldn’t remember me, that it was okay, she wouldn’t need to, but I promised to remember her. When I was done, she put her paw on my leg and licked my chin with her eyes closed, this big sweet girl I’d known for less than 24 hours.

Before long, I was loading her into another car and being assured that she would be fine, that her foster mom was good and kind and couldn’t wait to see her. I gathered her bed and the red blanket from the crate and handed it to Kate who smiled as I explained that it was bought for Marigold and I wanted her to take something of her own into her new life, she understood and took them from me. I reached inside the car and gave Marigold one last pat on the head, closed the door and they were gone, my part in her life was done.

I walked back to my truck and as I was closing the back door I noticed something in bottom corner of the crate, I opened it, moved the other blanket and saw the treats I had given her the night before, uneaten, but tucked carefully and intentionally for safekeeping beneath her bed. She had buried her treasures.  Had I known, I would have sent them with her, but she was gone, and I knew she wouldn’t miss them, she had many treats in her future. It was enough to know that she had felt love in a handful of treats.  

Standing in that parking lot in the rain, 3 hours from home, I recognized grace in the guise of a 40-pound pittie. I released my fears and let her go.  I left her treasures where they were, climbed in my truck and headed east; it would be dark when I crossed over the river, dark on the road leading me home.

Copyright 2020, itsa5doglife.com Rhonda Alford Owens

HUMANITY, THY NAME IS PUPPY

I had never worked with a rescue group, but my husband and I had rescued dogs on our own, fixed them up, made sure they were neutered or spayed, and found good homes for them, that is, when we didn’t keep them ourselves.

I had read about Corridor Rescue, Inc. in the local paper, their founder had recently been recognized by CNN for the work she was doing, and I liked the idea that they took on one of the worst areas of town for animal dumping and cruelty. The area is off a major freeway and is so bad that it is known as the Corridor of Cruelty. Corridor volunteers visit the area looking for abandoned animals and have feeding stations throughout.

Beyond all they do for the animals, Corridor is just as committed to making a difference on the front end, before cruelty or abandonment can happen. They go into the community and talk to people, build fences to free dogs from chains, educate owners on the horrors of dog fighting and offer free spaying, neutering, shots and grooming. Corridor provides dog food for low-income families so they can keep their pets, and they go into the schools and talk to the kids about caring for animals.

My first work with Corridor was at one of their Saturday adoption events, setting up the crates, showing off the dogs to prospective adopters, walking the dogs and giving lots of head and chin rubs. I loved it and decided to step up a bit, so I started visiting some of the rescued dogs at the boarding kennels that were waiting for foster homes and transporting dogs to and from events.

One day a call went out, that thirteen lab-mix puppies had been dumped in the Corridor. At the time, Corridor didn’t have a place for the puppies to go as foster homes are hard to come by, boarding is expensive, and the puppies needed treatment for mange and ringworm. Corridor’s founder was getting ready to remodel a house that had air conditioning and plenty of room, so she put up a wood fence and we set up rooms for the puppies in the house. The Baker’s Dozen project was in business.

The coordinator set up a volunteer schedule so that there would be someone at the house with the pups from very early in the morning to very late at night and I agreed to mornings on the weekdays. If you’ve ever had a puppy you know how much work one can be, now multiply that by 13 puppies.

That first day I unlatched the gate to the house, and I could hear them as I opened the sliding glass patio door and went to the rooms.   Carefully, I opened the first room door and puppies poured out, jumping all over me, running around, barking as I opened the second door. I couldn’t move, trapped by 13 balls of fur, running around my feet.  I slowly scooted my feet along the floor so that I didn’t step on one of them or fall and break my legs. I herded them with my feet like soccer balls towards the living room where they scattered in the open, running off into other rooms – when I finally had them out the back door, I had to count them to make sure they all went out. More than once I counted twelve only to look down and find a puppy sitting at my feet. It wasn’t long before I figured out how to block off every room entrance so they could not divert off the path to the back door.

While the puppies play outside, I clean their rooms. Rooms are cleaned and fresh papers put down at pretty much every shift, as was done the night before, but when I walked in that room, my jaw almost hit the floor, except I would not have wanted my jaw to hit that floor. The puppies had used the papers extensively in the designated area away from their beds and food, but they had also torn up all the newspapers and spread them around the room, like nasty papier-mache. At this point I go in search of rubber gloves and, thankfully, find a box in the kitchen, but when I get back to the rooms, I am also wishing for rubber boots. After picking and scraping up the debris, including the food and water that they tossed around for fun, the floor is cleaned with a special antiseptic liquid. I fill the huge commercial sized bucket with the cleaner and water and with a gigantic industrial mop, start at one corner and mop my way backwards to the door. I repeat the process for the other room and then I wait for it to dry, put down clean newspapers on half the floor and close the doors until I’m ready to put the pups up when I leave. You figure what works after you’ve done it a few times– I got pretty good at it.

During the cleaning, the pups have been playing outside so I scatter clean dog beds in the living room, put out huge bowls of water and some food and treats, and pee pads because I know that even though they have been outside for an hour, the first thing some of them will do is poop or pee and do not want to haul out the big yellow monster and mop again. I brace myself and approach the back door. Thirteen puppies are jumping on the glass barking and whining, so I slowly slide the door back and as soon as the door is open a few inches they are pushing and climbing over each other to get in like the mobs on Black Friday.

Finally, everyone is in the living room, wait, no, there’s only twelve, so I go into the backyard and sure enough, there’s Cadence sitting by the corner of the fence, without a care in the world. I scoop her up and go inside, trying not to let the others back out. By this time in the living room there’s lots of running, slurping, crunching, fighting over treats, toys, beds and me, but suddenly like magic they all pass out. While they nap, I sit on the floor, several pups snuggled against me.   There are puppies everywhere, making small sweet sounds in their sleep, some on the beds, some on the cool floor, but almost everyone is sleeping next to someone else. Occasionally someone will get up and then plop back down somewhere else, but peace reigns for about 30 minutes.

Soon, awake, re-energized, I shuffle them outside to play a little more and this time I go with them. I toss toys, hold them, play tug of war, stop a few fights, and occasionally yell “Puppies!” just to see thirteen little faces running at me. Soon it’s time for me to go. I get up from the grass and they think it’s a game, I now have puppies chewing and tugging on my pant legs so I drag walk the attached puppies back inside and start trying to catch them and put them back in the clean rooms. As I slip them in the rooms, one at a time, the puppies already in the room are trying to get back out. And, of course, I must count them again and make sure Sam doesn’t go into the same room with Tansey, who chews on Sam’s ears.

I am exhausted and filthy, but I’ll be back tomorrow. In an hour or so another volunteer will arrive, and the routine will begin again and all the pups will get baths – I kind of hate to miss that.  As the weeks go by, the pups heal from their various issues, they get their shots, all are spayed or neutered and grow huge. Each day more of them find foster and permanent homes and there is less to look after and then one day they are all gone.  Every now and then I see pictures of some of the pups, Lark, little Ellie, Angel, Bella, Sam – they turned out beautifully.

Before being adopted or fostered, some of the puppies were part of a program for juveniles at risk and under the close supervision of volunteers, the young men and women handled and played with the pups, were taught proper animal care and made to realize that animals are not possessions to be used and disposed of at will, that they feel love, pain and cling to life as we do . I suspect for some those puppies gave the first unconditional love and acceptance of their life.  If nothing else, maybe a little healing took place, a softening of a heart or opening of a mind; you never know what sparks a soul.

Just a group of ordinary people, noticing what needed to be done and doing it, buying supplies and dog food and transporting back and forth to the vet, all to save some thrown-away mix-breed puppies. It didn’t change the world, but it was decent, and it was good.   It was humanity at its best.

©2011-2012 itsa5doglife All Rights Reserved.Note: Photo 2 and 3 are the property of Corridor Rescue, Inc. All other photos are the property of itsa5doglife

As it passes by

We didn’t need a big dog, we already had two big dogs, but that brown lab was the saddest animal I’d ever seen, and I couldn’t walk away. I did at first, I left the pet store where the rescue group was set up, drove home, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. She was found at an abandoned house, her owners had moved and left her alone with no food or water, with a small pup from her last litter and she was pregnant again. The poor dog had been bred nearly to death, practically crippled from being kept in a small crate and she had heartworms. A rescuer had pulled her from a county shelter on the day she and her pup were to be euthanized, brought her home and set up a place for her to have the new puppies. Soon the puppies were old enough and all were adopted, but no one had showed interest in this big sad girl.  Her story stayed with me.  I gave up and made a call.

She lumbered along, head and tail down, and she didn’t resist when I brought her in the house, she had long ago given up her spirit to humans. This dog had no expectations of kindness or comfort and had simply resigned herself to bear whatever was next. I led her to a huge soft bed, she stopped, lifted her head and looked at me, puzzled, and then with hesitation, stepped up on the bed. I sat down beside her for a while, rubbed her head and told her that her name was Sadie, that she was safe and that our hands would never hurt her and then I left her alone to rest, but I could feel her eyes following me.  

She was a beautiful dog, dark brown with a ridge of hair down her back like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, which was probably one of the reasons she was being bred, but her beautiful body was ravaged after so many years of starvation, breeding and neglect. Her heartworms were very severe, her teeth were ground down, from chewing on a kennel or fencing, her joints were stiff and muscles atrophied from a life of confinement, but with patience over time her sadness lightened and her eyes shone with intelligence and interest. The vet told us we could try the heartworm shots to possibly slow down the progressive destruction of her heart, but we needed to understand she was not going to survive the heartworms, the damage was already done. We tried one shot, but after witnessing her pain, we said, no more, and took her home to live out the rest of her life.  And Sadie did live.

She decided early on that she was queen and made sure the rest of the pack understood this completely. She installed her throne (foam bed) in the foyer so she could look out the front door to keep an eye on the neighborhood and nothing escaped her notice. Our world was a far safer place when Sadie was on guard. The other dogs acknowledged her superiority and avoided the foyer, any ball or toy that landed near her was lost, they would not cross the invisible boundary she had established.  They simply waited until she went outside to make a dash to claim the errant item. Having raised many puppies, Sadie was quick to mete out discipline in the form of a gentle nip to either human or canine should they get out of line. More than once have I been in her way or a little too slow and received a small nip as she passed, but she was quick to show love by butting her head against our legs and holding her it there for just a moment, and then moving on.

Sadie loved to go for long slow walks by herself in the fields around our house and being that the property was fenced and she too hefty to fit under or through the fence rails, we let her go. Every morning at about 5:00 am, she would stand outside our bedroom door and flap her jaws until one of us surrendered and got up to let her outside. She would wander around the fields and yards for about an hour and then bark at the back door to be let back in and you better be quick to respond, or you were in for a nip as she walked past. This routine would take place each morning until the day she died, and nothing stood in her way, not anything or anyone. One morning, still half asleep, I missed a step and fell to the tile, breaking my leg. Sadie stood at the top of the steps looking at me, obviously annoyed, then ambled down and flapped her jaws until I pulled myself over to the door and let her out.  Only then did I yell for my husband.

Although her health deteriorated over the two years she was here, I believe she was happy with us. She knew what it was to lay her head down in comfort and safety, she knew the freedom of wandering and following scents on the wind, and she knew we loved her, of that I’m sure. That morning I knew something was up as she wandered room to room as if looking for something and kept coming back to me in my study. I followed her to her bed by the door and she stood there waiting for me to sit down. I sat on the floor and she climbed on her bed just as the sun rays were starting to move through the glass across the floor. We stayed there together for some time while I rubbed her head and body, but her eyes didn’t leave me and when her breathing changed, I knew where we were going. I stretched out beside her on her big bed, put my arm across her softly trembling body, held her close and whispered to her. She lifted her head to look at me a final time, gently sighed, and then she left me. The other dogs had gathered and lay near us, but still outside her invisible line until that last breath and then they silently moved closer and settled around her bed. We laid there awhile, all of us still and quiet, but when I finally got up and was walking away, I looked back and saw little Shasta crawl closer, put her two front paws on the bed, and lick Sadie’s face.

Some mornings I look across the wet fields and I expect to see her plodding gait, brown nose to the wind, as she follows the smells leading her back home. You take grace where you find it and sometimes it nips you on the leg as it passes by. I miss her still.

©2020 Rhonda Alford Owens All Rights Reserved