by Joyce Brandon
Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Fresno.
“I picked up a dog and her five puppies from a vacant lot. She is really bad. I’ve tried to make friends with her but she won’t let me near her. She has been raising her puppies underneath a bush,” the Animal Control Officer told me.
I felt the all too familiar squeeze to my heart and in my mind all the different possibilities started playing out like a series of movie trailers:
• I could take the puppies but they are only two to three weeks old according to the Animal Control Officer and what a horrible thought to take the babies and leave a frantic mama behind to die in the shelter. I quickly deleted that movie.
• I could opt to leave them all behind; after all, there are way too many puppies and homeless dogs already. Why worry about an aggressive dog and her offspring. Surely my time and resources would be better spent on a well socialized family of dogs. I had myself convinced for maybe 10 seconds on that one. Nope…not an option…again hit the delete button.
• I could take the whole family. Give the puppies a few more weeks with their mom and get them to safety. Then, if we aren’t able to handle mom, I need to be willing to have her euthanized. I just don’t have room for another biter. I hit rewind a few times and of all the scenarios, this one seemed to make the most sense.
So number three it was: I let the officer know that I would give them a shot (sight unseen mind you).
My days were already scheduled from sunup to sundown so I asked my teenaged daughters to drive down to the shelter and pick up the family. I asked them to take along two crates, one for the mom and one for the puppies. Simple solution, John (the ACO) could get them loaded up at the shelter and I could get her safely unloaded at home. I forgot to be specific about the crates so instead of the solid sided plastic crates they grabbed two of our wire crates which made the loading and unloading slightly more interesting.
In retrospect, it is a really good thing I sent the girls instead of going myself. I had asked my daughter Ashley to take some pictures and video of the dogs and send them to me. I was not quite prepared for what I saw. Our little mama was furious and really trying hard to bite. The only way John was able to load her was with his catch pole and she was viciously trying to attack it! When Ashley sent me the video from her phone, I thought, Lord what have I done! Had I been at the shelter and witnessed her behavior I honestly believe I would have left her behind.
The girls arrived home. I looked in one crate and there was the most adorable pile of delightfully colored, chubby little puppies. I couldn’t wait to settle them into their comfortable new home. They had blankets, toys, and plenty of goodies waiting for them. My plan was to get them settled in and then to bring mom in and turn her loose. Phase one of my plan went off without a hitch. The puppies enjoyed snuggling up in the warm blanket and even got brave enough to do a little exploring. I was thrilled that they were not only adorable but that they looked very healthy. Now it was time to deal with mom.
I was sure sorry I hadn’t been more specific about the type of crate to take to the shelter. Mom pretty much filled the wire crate and there was no way I was going to put my fingers through the wires to pick it up! She was serious about inflicting bodily harm! We rigged up a sling of sorts with a net I had in the garage. Taylor and I, using long handled pliers, were able to pick the wire crate up enough to slip the sling underneath. We carefully transported the crate from the truck to the trailer which is where she would now call home. After setting the crate down in the room with the puppies, I used the pliers to pull back the latch and open the door. Mom cautiously stepped out of the crate and went immediately to the puppies giving me enough time to back out of the room and close the gate. She looked at me and showed me all her teeth as she snarled and told me she means business. I remember thinking she couldn’t be much over a year since her teeth are all bright white (crazy how the mind of an animal rescuer works!)
Over the next ten days we had a routine of corralling the little family into a corner while we cleaned and freshened up the water and food bowls. Each time we entered we were met with barking, bearing of teeth, and growling. Our little mama let us know that we were not welcomed near her family and we respected her wishes.
The puppies were not fearful of us and would attempt to approach but mom would always stop them. It became obvious to me that I was going to have to separate them from their mom or they would learn to fear humans too. I figured they were about five weeks old, mom was already weaning them, and it was now or never.
I arranged for a great foster family to take the puppies, and with great sadness we set about the task of taking the puppies from their mom. It was a really hard thing to do. We kept mom behind a gate and one by one coaxed the little ones away. My heart broke for her but it was what we had to do if any of them were to have a chance at a normal life.
We started to see a change in mom within just a few short days. At first she barked and carried on a lot, understandably so; but, on day three I noticed that she seemed almost happy to see me when I entered her room. I think she was just happy to have company and I suppose the really great treats I always brought to her didn’t hurt either. She no longer had to protect the babies, she no longer had to worry about feeding them or herself, perhaps she was just able to relax and be carefree for the first time in many months, whatever the reason; for the first time I began to believe we could save her. On that day, she ceased being a nameless vicious dog, and became my Hope.
It has now been about ten days since the puppies were moved along. They are doing great in their foster home! Social, funny, and adorable! A few already have homes waiting for them. Hope’s progress has been miraculous! We can now leash her up and take her for walks. She gets to spend beautiful spring days outdoors and she is enjoying herself. I have every confidence that my little Hope will one day find herself with a new family that will adore her.
A new foster parent recently had some bad news about one of her foster dogs. She said “it hurts.” I told someone recently that my rescuer’s heart is sort of like of sponge. Sorrow often fills it but then something magical happens and the sponge is squeezed, emptied of all the sorrow, and ready to go again. We don’t give up because even though we may not win every battle, there is always hope, and my Hope is living proof of that.
Consider adopting Hope!
Video of Hope on her first day out of her trailer:
Check out more animal rescue stories, including those referenced above, in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to ACT.