by Joyce Brandon
Joyce is a part of Animal Compassion Team, an animal rescue in Fresno.
The tombstones glowed, albeit faintly, illuminated by the sliver of a moon that hung over the cemetery. The gates now locked, blocked entrance to the eerie but strangely beautiful expanse where many loved ones had been laid to rest. The silence was soothing and as I scanned the horizon for signs of life I thought to myself, “I should be scared” but, I wasn’t.
Sound like the beginning of a horror novel? It isn’t. It is just my life. The life of an animal rescuer. Nothing much surprises me anymore, least of all myself and my friends and the things we will do to save a lost pet.
My most recent adventure took me on a journey to the Sanger Cemetery in Centerville. A volunteer had posted on our Facebook page that a stray dog had been living at the cemetery for over a week. She spotted the little guy while attending a funeral. Time and propriety prevented her from trying to rescue him; but, she couldn’t get him off her mind so she asked for help.
It so happened that the cemetery was near my travel route home that night so I offered to stop by. I had no idea the cemetery was so large or so isolated. I was so focused on finding the dog I didn’t really stop to think that this should be scary! Standing in the middle of nowhere (at least it seemed so in the dark), at the gates of a cemetery with only some very faint moonlight (and an iPhone flashlight) at one point in my life would have seemed far fetched; but, now it seems like a normal thing to do.
I did not find the dog that night. It was just too dark and there were too many possible hiding spots. With great regret, I opted to head home and leave the little guy to fend for himself one more night.
I returned the next morning and asked one of the employees where I might find the dog. He directed me to a newer section of the cemetery; an area I didn’t even know existed the night before. Sure enough, just as reported, the dog was making himself quite at home amongst the tombstones and made no attempt to hide.
I was somewhat relieved to find out this was a smallish terrier mix with a pleasant disposition. He was having quite a great time exploring the freshly laid flowers. He seemed quite attached to a recently decorated gravesite and spent most of his time lying nearby. I have no idea if there is any connection; but, it is interesting to think about.
This little white free spirit seemed well fed. I began to wonder if he perhaps lived in a nearby house. He certainly seemed excited when some neighboring children came out to play; but, he never ventured close. He just liked to watch them from a distance. The mystery was solved when I spotted a mound of kibble on the grave marker of a baby at my feet. It was as if this little guy was being given kibble from heaven. I know one of the employees was likely feeding him; but, it was still a kind of special discovery.
Once I figured out that this dog certainly didn’t belong in the area it was time to go to work. I did not want to leave him behind to fend for himself.
I quickly determined him to be an “arms length socialite.” He was very interested in what I was doing, in what I had to eat, but he was not at all interested in letting me catch him. I tried many times to lure him close enough to slip a leash over his head without success. I had him close enough at one point to grab him but the scream he let out startled me and I let go (lesson learned: never let go!)
There was a man visiting a gravesite watching me with great amusement I suppose. He had his big truck and his big dog and I’m quite sure he thought I was ridiculous sitting on the ground trying to befriend the little stray. He came over and asked me if I were trying to catch the dog (seemed obvious to me but maybe not). I told him “yes, but the dog stays just out of reach.” He offered to catch him for me. In his most “manly” voice he boasted, “I’ll just grab his neck!” I thought to myself, “more power to you” and sat back to watch the show. As I’m sure you already know, he never even got close to the dog’s neck and gave up after just a few tries. He didn’t even wave goodbye as he got into his big truck with his big dog and went about his business.
It was at that point I realized that this was going to take a very long time and I was already late for an appointment. I got in my van with every intention of leaving the dog and returning another day and started driving off. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the dog trotting after me. Sigh…. I knew I couldn’t leave without him. So I began again: sitting on the ground with treats, with soft words of encouragement, and looking at this dog, just out of reach. I will say, sitting in the cemetery alone with the dog on a sunny warm Saturday morning was strangely very peaceful and pleasant.
I noticed that he was very interested in the other dogs I had crated in my van. We were on our way to an adoption venue so I had plenty of four legged friends along. He would approach the open doors on the van and investigate my caged buddies. I began to wonder if I could use one of them to gain his trust and bring him closer.
I enlisted the help of a good natured little girl named Taffy. Taffy was happy to assist in this big adventure. She greeted him, she played with him, she made him feel right at home. He did come closer. I was able to rub his belly, to pat his back, to gain his trust. I began to formulate a plan. I had a large beach towel that I planned to grab him with so that in case he got scared and tried to bite I would have some protection for my bare hands. Well, I sort of ran out of hands while holding the towel and Taffy and reaching for the dog. He positioned himself just right and I knew it was now or never: the towel fell to the ground but I knew I had to grab him.
My goodness! The struggle he put up was not anything I had anticipated. He screamed and wiggled and yes, even bit. Honestly, I might have given up and let go had it not been for the blood on my hand. Scenes from “Old Yeller” ran through my head and I knew I couldn’t let this dog that just bit me disappear into the graveyard, never to be seen again. Now I knew that the odds of this dog having rabies is really next to nothing, but the possibility was enough to keep me hanging on. I eventually managed to grab the towel with one hand and place it over his head for a more secure hold. After a few minutes, he resigned himself to being caught and I was able to pick him up and crate him in my van. My adrenaline was pumping really good at that point!
I drove him straight to our rescue center where I had a foster mom on standby. We were all surprised to find out he had a microchip and was neutered. Obviously, someone’s pet at one point. We were unable to locate an owner because the phone numbers associated with the microchip had been disconnected. Microchips do no good unless the contact information is kept current. We traced the chip to a local shelter where this boy had previous ended up as a stray. I guess free spirits are hard to contain.
Pork Chop (his new name) is off on a new adventure. He is now in a foster home and is looking for a new home. I believe that given the love and attention he so desires and deserves, Pork Chop will be content to experience new adventures closer to home. He will no longer have to rely on kibble from heaven to survive; although, that’s a really cool thought!