Stranger Danger! The Rewards of Saving a Shy Dog: An Animal Rescue Adventure

Nov 16, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Joyce Brandon, Pets

by Joyce Brandon

Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Fresno.

The very patient editor of this online magazine, Lorie Ham, knows that every month my article will be past due. Often times the inspiration for my article waits to grab hold of me until the weekend it is due. This month was no exception, my article is late, but the inspiration was exceptional and I think worth waiting for.

I had been contemplating writing a piece on stranger danger for my November story. I have saved my share of shy dogs and have many of them living with me still. Next to aggression, timidity is the toughest thing for rescuers to deal with. Let’s face it; most people don’t want to adopt a dog that is afraid of them. I don’t blame them. Thankfully, we do find a handful of fabulous adopters willing to see beyond the fearful demeanor of a shy dog and give them a chance. These people are heroes in my eyes. This is the story of a dog I love and the hero who decided to give her a home of her own.

Harley when they first met

I first met Harley in the Reedley shelter a little over a year ago. She was just a big pup then and was so scared. She had been found abandoned in a cage near the shelter. No food, water or cover was provided for her. She had that look of terror in her eyes as you would expect from a dog that had never been given a gentle touch or reassuring word. I thought seriously about letting her go, but had a gal interested in working with her so off she went into a foster home. That didn’t last too long because Harley broke out with ugly lesions all over her legs which were determined to be ringworm. She had the worst case I had ever seen, so to my house she came.

As scared as Harley was, she never offered to bite. She would cower in the corner as we set about giving her smelly lime dip baths and medications to combat the fungus. She was impossible for me to catch so she wasn’t offered much freedom and because of the fungus, she couldn’t be allowed to play with the other dogs. It is safe to say we didn’t make much progress with her for many months. Finally the fungus cleared up and we were able to see her playful side as she was allowed to romp with the other dogs. She gradually learned to trust me enough to let me leash her up and move her from kennel to play yard, so a new pattern emerged.

Because of this new trust I was able to start taking her to our adoption center where she happily joined in even bigger playgroups and was really having a good time. I was starting to believe that there just might be a home out there for her somewhere and I was right.

Paula came to the center to meet another dog, but it became apparent right away that her existing dog was going to need careful matching. Dogs that would be reactive to this older girl’s snarls were most certainly out of the question. On a bit of a whim I asked her if she would like to meet Harley. “Harley won’t like you much at first,” I warned her, “but she should be great with your dog.” I added quickly. She agreed to meet Harley and as predicted, Harley made big wide circles around Paula but was completed unaffected by the resident dog’s snarling. Paula agreed to give her a try.

We offer extended “sleepovers” with our timid dogs. We strive to make lifelong matches and we understand that some dogs take time to settle in. Harley certainly qualified for one of those extended stays. I took Harley to Paula’s home and felt very comfortable leaving Harley in her care.

A few weeks passed and things were looking good. Harley had other issues, one of which was being destructive when bored. Paula arranged play dates with the neighbor’s dog that had a better size and energy match for rough play and this seemed to do the trick combined with nice long walks. I was still not certain Paula would agree to finalize the adoption with Harley. Shy dog with destructive tendencies–honestly, how many of us would agree to keep such a dog? I love Harley and was prepared to take her back if need be.

Joyce and Harley after she was found

Sunday morning rolled around and I spotted an email from Paula that started with a rather long narrative about how good things had been going and she felt they were making real progress so she decided to take Harley on a road trip to Yosemite. I kept waiting to read the part that said, “I regret I’ll have to return her she just isn’t going to be a good fit.” That part didn’t come, instead she said went on to tell me Harley’s leash had gotten wrapped around a metal ash can that came crashing down and scared her. Harley had slipped her collar and bolted down the road. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading! Paula went on to say she had searched until dark but had to leave and was going back up first thing that morning. I was horrified to think of Harley loose in Yosemite National Forest! Knowing what a shy dog she is I knew it was unlikely any stranger would be able to catch her, so my husband and I made the decision to head to Yosemite. I let Paula know we were coming.

Driving up, I knew the odds were against us finding her. We passed snow on the ground and my heart sank thinking of her in the cold and unprotected from predators. Harley has no fight in her and I really didn’t think she would survive long in the wilderness. That bleak feeling only continued to grow as we wound our way down into Yosemite Valley.
We received word from Paula that Harley had been spotted about 8am in the parking lot of the village store. That was great news! It was noon before we arrived and although Harley could have been miles away I had a sense she would hang near people, hoping for help, even though too frightened to approach. Jim and I paused for a prayer then set about handing out flyers, talking to people, searching, and calling Harley. Over and over I called her name. We looked under buildings, under bridges, and behind bushes. We walked footpaths and mountain trails calling and searching for hours. What little hope I had was beginning to fade. I sent a text saying “This is like finding a needle in a haystack” and told Jim, “I’m losing hope.” No more than a few minutes had passed since my “losing hope” comment when the miracle happened.

Jim and I were discussing the fact that we had already been down this path when for a reason I still cannot explain I looked back over my shoulder. I had to take a double take because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There she was. Harley was standing under a tree looking at me. The feeling is one that I will never forget: disbelief sprinkled with relief and incredible joy. I softly said, “Oh my God” and Jim who was walking in front of me stopped and turned. It was a glorious moment. We didn’t want to make any sudden moves and scare her.

Harley double leashed after being found

Thankfully we were alone (which didn’t happen often that day) and nobody was approaching. I spoke to her softly and said, “Let’s go home.” She didn’t come running, she didn’t wag her tail. In true Harley style she took five big strides into a patch of warm tall grass and lay down. I slowly approached her and sat beside her. This big tan dog didn’t move, she was visibly trembling and the relief was apparent in her eyes. I don’t think I took a breath until I had a slip lead securely around her neck. We just sat in the warm soft grass, all three of us, for a few moments trying to process the miracle that had just occurred.

As soon as I was able, I called Paula who was still out hiking and searching and told her “I have her, it’s a miracle. I have Harley!” She cried with relief.

Harley relaxing later

This is a rescue story that I won’t soon forget. I love that big goofy shy dog and I’m so happy to say that Paula loves her just as much and has offered her a forever home. There is just something so special about building trust and finding the true nature in a fearful dog that makes having them such a rewarding experience. Maybe the next time you are looking for a dog, check out that dog in the back, he or she just might be your new best friend.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to ACT.

Joyce Brandon is co-founder of Animal Compassion Team, has lived in Squaw Valley for 21 years and has always had lots of four legged friends sharing her mountain home along with her husband Jim, and five children. Joyce works part time for Mountain Valley Community Church and splits the rest of her time between family and animal rescue work. Joyce believes animal rescue is a mission field God has called her to and has given her a passion for.


  1. This story brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful set of people that would go so far to rescue a dog.

    I too have found that adopted dogs are the most wonderful pets. Maybe they remember the bad times.

  2. What a wonderful rescue story. So glad Harley was found. You are all really good people to care so much.


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