Saturday, April 22, 2017

A quick & dirty rescue story

I know, I know—I'm behind on rescue stories: the blind Chihuahua, the puppies... But this one happened just recently, and it has a gorgeous happy ending, too, so... Well, happy endings are too few and far between to postpone sharing, right?


So back in January I got a job. Yeah, a real one (albeit part-time), involving actual paychecks. And it didn't really work out the way I expected—I'll get into that some other time—so I quit. But, being the responsible human being I am, I didn't just quit; I gave a three-week notice. And over the course of those last three weeks, on my way to and from work, I kept seeing a rather large black dog, all matted fur and pointy ribs, on this one street. A rather busy street. I didn't see the dog every day, but whenever I did, traffic simply didn't allow me to stop. By the time I'd turned around and gone back, s/he was gone. Now, this dog looked skinny and in need of help, but s/he also looked street-smart. S/he wasn't panicky, dashing in front of oncoming cars or acting freaked out. (If she had, sorry, everyone, but I would've put the car in Park right there in the middle of the street and stopped traffic bodily if need be. I actually did that for a kitten, probably around a month old, that dashed out into the street right in front of the car ahead of me. I screeched to a stop, got out, ran out to stop the cars in the next lane, and herded the kitten—who was, miraculously, fine—back to his panicked owner on the sidewalk.)

This dog was different. S/he wasn't in any immediate danger. S/he needed food, certainly, and shouldn't have been on the street at all... But in this land of irresponsible owners who refuse to spay/neuter their dogs, who refuse to ensure their yards are properly enclosed, who throw away dogs like trash, you can imagine that not just the shelter but all animal welfare organizations and even homes of kind-hearted people are full to bursting with rescued dogs. My intention wasn't to pick the dog up, but only to give him/her food and water, and check out how friendly s/he was, maybe get close enough to assess his/her overall health. If there was an injury, or signs of any severe conditions, then I could ask for help. Until then, well. Just food.

On my very last day at work, I drove home late (tying up loose ends, you know how it is), and so it happened that, when I drove down the street where I'd been seeing the dog, traffic was non-existent. And the dog was there. I didn't even take time to think about it: I had food in the car but no water, I wasn't really wearing rescue-friendly clothes (or shoes), I didn't have a big enough kennel with me, or even a leash. (Remember that dog rescue kit we've talked about? And how important it is to always always have it with you? This is what happens when you get a job that requires you to act as if dogs don't rule your life.)

Too late. I was already there. And you know it was a dog rescuer* who came up with carpe diem: no time like the present. I'd just have to make the best of it.

I turned on my hazard lights and swung onto the shoulder, about ten meters from where s/he was sniffing at something in the grass, so as not to scare him/her away. I got out of the car, slowly, as silently as I could—a car door slamming would probably not be the best introduction—and walked around to the passenger side to get the food.

The dog looked up when I opened the passenger door. Alert, but—maybe, hopefully—not scared. "Hey, baby. Hi, sweetheart. You want some food?" And, unbelievably, she approached me. Yes, this was a dog used to humans. She would've eaten directly from the container in my hand if I'd waited a second longer before putting it down on the ground. And eat she did, ravenously. Two container-fuls, then a third over which she finally seemed to slow down some. I kicked myself mentally over the lack of water, but—well, nothing to be done. And I had bigger problems.

This dog was naught but skin and bones. But she was a purebred, or close to one; up close she looked like a Belgian shepherd. And she was human-friendly. That combination could only mean one thing: she had a home. She belonged to someone. A collar but no tags, though here in Curaçao that doesn't mean much; only about 20% of the (non-rescuer) people I know put tags on their dogs. Even fewer chip them. So the lack of ID didn't necessarily mean neglect, or abandonment. That could still be the case, of course, but... Bottom-line, this dog didn't belong in the street. As smart as she seemed, she was having a hard, hard time of it—those ribs told a story of hunger and fear that I didn't even want to contemplate. And much less contemplate the idea of leaving her there.

But where could I take her? Not home; we are at a population of 9 canines at the moment, and although two of those are foster puppies (the last two out of a litter of 5; story to follow soon), the other 7, permanent, residents aren't exactly lovers of new additions. So, no, home was not an option. All the other rescuers I know had recently acquired new members, too, so also overflowing... Not an option, either. That left the shelter. But if rescuers are overwhelmed, the shelter is way, way beyond that.


Cars drove by. The dog sought out the last of the kibble from among the tufts of grass. I racked my brain for a solution. And then I caught a glimpse of metal peeking out from under the passenger seat—a stray leash! Would she let me put it on her? She seemed friendly enough, but up until then I'd been a fairy godmother of food. A leash was a wholly different scenario. And even if she allowed it, would she get into the car?

I left it to fate. I'd try the leash. If she allowed that, I'd try to get her into the car. And if she did get in, well... Then I'd drive her to the shelter and beg for mercy. Maybe buy her some time, at least.

Of course the stray leash wasn't a lasso leash, but it was still thin enough to make an efficient loop. When I approached the dog, she didn't back away, not an inch. Instead, she sought my hand. When I petted her, on the side of her face, behind her ear, down to her neck, she wagged her tail. Oh, man. No, honey, of course I won't leave you.

I slipped the looped leash over her head, tightened it slowly, and braced for her to bolt. Nope. As soon as I stood up, she heeled. She walked right beside me to the back of the car, and when I asked her to jump in, she did—she tried, but she couldn't. She was too weak. She looked up at me, asking for help.

Now, it's one thing to pet a strange dog, but to pick one up in your arms... If she freaked out, if she had an injury I couldn't see under all that matted fur and by picking her up I hurt her, my face—my jugular—was really, really close to her teeth. And this is a dog that, when healthy, should weigh upwards of 45 pounds.

I crouched down beside her and explained what I was going to do. Not that I believe she'd understand; it was probably more for my benefit than for hers. Either way, it worked. She couldn't have weighed more than 20 lbs, she was that thin; when I lifted her up she didn't even twitch, just waited for me to set her down inside the car. And when I did, she stood still and looked at me as though waiting for permission to lie down. Yes, sweetheart, it's okay, you're safe now.

She rode like a champ, even—eventually—sticking her face out the window. She rode quietly, no fuss, no drama at all. At the shelter, when I opened the door for her, she waited for me to get a hold of the leash before jumping out. She walked neatly next to me, not pulling on the leash once. This was a well-trained dog. Someone had invested a lot of time and effort in her. Please, please let them be looking for her.

The shelter turned me away even before I finished explaining where I'd found her or why I couldn't keep her. "I understand," I told them. "I'm a rescuer, too. I know you guys—and everyone else—is beyond capacity. But... what do I do?"

So we got on the phone. Me, to a rescuer friend with a huge network in the hopes she could help me find a spot somewhere, somehow, for this Belgian girl. And the shelter volunteer to—well, I couldn't really tell, since it was all in Dutch, but she came back with a smile. "There's a family that lost a black shepherd a while back. I just called them. They're coming over now to see if it's her."

In the meantime, they told me, she could stay in the quarantine kennel. Not the nicest place (it's meant to be isolation, so the cages are rather dark and, well, isolated), but we hoped she'd only be there briefly.

And... she was. The shelter volunteer told me (the next day when I called) that, yes, it had been an ecstatic reunion. She and her brother had been missing since the end of December. Back in January, another dog rescuer spotted them (a few blocks from where I found her) and managed to get the male, but the female ran off and no one had seen her since. The owners had given up all hope, I'm sure—I can't imagine how horrible it must have been for them. And for her, the dog.

So there you have it. Rescue stories rarely end well, let alone with a reunion like this one, the long-lost dog reunited with her family. It made my year to be a part of that.

*I totally made that up.


  1. Welll, Guilie, you just made my year too, so thank you for being exactly who you are, and for sharing this wonderful story. Maybe this was the reason you were meant to have that part-time job....

  2. You can see the relief in the back of the car. Bravo!

  3. This is wonderful and I will be telling my hubby what you did. He will be very happy to hear this. He once stopped traffic on the freeway to make sure a family of ducks were able to get across.

  4. How nice it is to have a happy ending; so much better than the poor girl languishing in a shelter with so many others, just waiting for a forever home.
    Deep respect to you, Guilie.


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