Years ago, my husband, Murphy, and I enjoyed an unusual, heavy snow storm during the middle of January in Greenville, South Carolina. Our six-month-old, red-haired, Australian shepherd, Sydney, raced around, his little legs sinking into the fluffy, white stuff.
Murphy had pulled a plastic, red sled to our hilly street. Sydney refused to sit on my lap. Instead, he herded the sled, yipping, as I slid down the mounds.
Ready to go again, a Black lab pup raced from the woods and plopped himself on my lap. His brown eyes stared into mine. Startled and confused, I glanced around, looking for his owners.
Syd woofed. “Get lost. These are my people.”
The Lab ignored Sydney. I put one arm around the Lab’s chest and down we went. His ears lifted in the wind as we raced down the slope. After a few minutes, Sydney played with the newcomer. We romped until my fingers and toes froze.
“Time to go home, little guy,” He cocked his head. “You’ve got to be hungry and cold.” He sat, staring, his tail whipping the snow. I turned to Murphy. “He has to be a neighbor’s dog!” After a few steps, I twisted around. “Oh, dear. He’s following.”
In the garage, I noticed his thin body. “He’s mustn’t be a neighbor’s dog. I wonder how long he’s been loose?”
Murphy ran his hands over body. “Look. He’s been hurt. And he never showed any signs of being injured. I’ll dry him, while you grab some blankets.”
In the garage, he ate small amounts of boiled rice with chicken broth and small chunks of chicken over a period of time. Murphy cleaned his wounds. We made a cozy place for him to sleep and named him, Jake.
Since our city had no snow equipment, we waited three days for the snow to melt before Jake could get medical attention. I had left messages with the local vets, animal shelters, and the newspaper, giving them our phone number. Jake’s low-key personality differed from our active, noisy Aussie. They became best friends, never leaving each other’s side.
At the Veterinarian’s office, Dr. Hill, believed Jake had been attacked by a pack of dogs and guessed his age of around seven-months from his size and weight of forty-five pounds. We made-up a birthday, gave him a red collar with tags, and he became our first rescue dog. Jake taught us about patience, resilience, and determination which we would refer to later as we rescued other dogs.
The following week Jake returned for another appointment. One wound hadn’t healed and needed a stint. He had gained fifteen pounds! Every visit after that he’d gained weight. Dr. Hill laughed, saying, “He’ll plateau sometime!”
Jake settled in, and his real personality emerged. Since he had wandered into our neighborhood, we should have known he was a nomad.
One afternoon, the two dogs played outside. I watched from the front porch. Since we lived in the woods, I had made sure the dogs knew where we lived. They’d run up and down our long driveway. I’d call their names and they’d dash back.
But one time, I got no response.
I walked up the drive, thinking they had been distracted by a scent and needed a little prodding to return. But they were nowhere in sight. My heart fluttered. My stomach ached. I paced and grew hoarse calling. I entered the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. Sydney had never been farther than the neighbor’s front yard across the street.
Thirty long, minutes later, the longest minutes of my lifetime, I saw a bedraggled, red-haired puppy limping from the woods.
Crying, I ran toward him and lifted my muddy fella into my arms. He burrowed his face into my shoulder. I cried in his ear. “Oh, Sydney. Where’s Jakey?” His worried, golden-eyes stared into mine.
After a bath, I called the neighbors, leaving messages for those who weren’t home. Then I drove with Sydney, down a street behind our woods and up the first driveway I spotted. A woman gardening glanced at me. I stuck my head out the window. “Any chance you’ve seen a small, Black lab? We live right behind this area.”
She pushed her straw hat up and smiled. “Matter of fact, I have one on my back porch. Showed up a few minutes ago. He seems mighty friendly. Go on back and see if he’s yours.”
A head poked out between the wooden railings. It was a Black lab with a red collar. “Oh, Jakey. It’s you.” He pulled his head out and raced down the stairs. I opened the car door, and he leaped in. Sydney barked and nosed him.
I thanked the neighbor and explained how Jake had found us three weeks earlier. I gave her my phone number, just in case he ever appeared in her yard, again.
After that scary incident, Murphy decided with eight acres of land, an electric fence might be the answer. We took one day, draping the wire around our property and sticking white flags in the ground. The flags marked the boundary, and as they approached closer, a chirping signal warned them to back-off.
Sydney learned after one crossing of the line and being zapped. But Jake took days and many zaps to be deterred. He never went any farther than the cul-de-sac and played with the other neighborhood dogs, and always came home for dinner.
He whined and barked, hating to cross the line. I’d pull him across, letting him get zapped, and telling him, “NO. You must stay here!” He learned, but never one-hundred-percent!
While Murphy and I were at work or on an outing, Jake stayed in our yard, and got bored. Being very much a mischievous puppy, he uprooted entire azalea plants, leaving gaping holes in the ground. He chewed the branches off the trees as high as his body could reach. One tree trunk had a hole as if it had been devoured by a beaver. The tree survived, but was deformed. Jake ate the electrical wires to the garage door opener, the boat trailer, and the tongues from Murphy’s yard shoes. Jake couldn’t be trusted in the house, alone, or our furniture and rugs would have been devoured.
During a dog class, the trainer shared ideas that would not harm the dog, but deter them from trouble. Murphy blew up colored balloons and popped them. I screamed. Once the dogs seemed afraid of the balloons, we taped them inside our azaleas, and on the electrical wires, and on Murphy’s work bench.
The neighbors laughed when they saw our colorful yard. But as the air dissipated, Jake would rip off each balloon and eat it. We’d find balloon poop on the grass and decided balloons could be dangerous.
Our daughter’s wedding invitations and decorations arrived one afternoon, and Jake’s curiosity destroyed the box. When our son arrived home, he spent hours cleaning-up purple confetti from the shredded napkins, and invitations.
Education is a wonderful tool. We learned later, Jake suffered from separation anxiety. If we had crated him, we could have prevented these problems.
As you bring home a rescued dog, you have no idea about their past. Jake watched our interaction with Sydney, and over time, he longed for affection. His tail wagged all the time. By age two, he weighed ninety-two pounds, and trusted that we’d never abandon him. He lived to be thirteen-and-a-half.