I was laying on a couch while on vacation, trying to recover from surgery and the death of our beloved dog, Sugar. I was suffering all kinds of misery. It was the kind of misery for which the only antidote was the companionship of a dog.
If you are reading this you know what I mean. There was a hole that needed to be filled. My wife told me about rescue dogs. I did some research on my computer.
The first dog to pop up was Sissy.
Being black in color, she was not desirable and was headed for a life in a kennel of a foster home. Her photo and history were compelling, and we thought that adopting her would be a great way of paying back for all the love and wonderful times we had with the fortunate dogs with which we’ve shared our lives. We adopted Sissy a month later, from Crossing Paths in Locust Fork, Alabama.
We were told to expect a “project.”
Sissy was going to need extra help, which was confirmed minutes after we first laid eyes on her. Being uprooted from her secure outdoor kennel, followed by a 22-hour car ride left her tired, frightened and anxious. It happened that the driver of the animal rescue transport vehicle, was the woman who pulled Sissy from a high kill shelter hours before she would have been gassed. Lisa Wippler of Semper Fi Rescue nodded knowingly to me as I approached her. She called out the name of our new dog. Lisa and her husband, John were both US Marines. Semper Fi is the US Marine’s motto. It means “Always Faithful.”
You can count on dogs and Marines.
It seemed everything that could go wrong did.
Sissy stepped out of the truck and then fought to back out of her collar, which would have meant disaster. I tackled her. We struggled–not exactly a warm greeting from her new human companion. As any dog would, she fought viciously for her safety. I am not sure who suffered more, she or I. Eventually we got this weary creature with a sweet, peaceful soul into a crate and made our way home.
Thirty-six hours later, I accidentally let go of her leash and Sissy escaped. She ran off frightened down our mountain road, dodging in and out of a rugged landscape full of danger. My wife and I were devastated and in despair. Our fantasy of helping an unwanted rescue dog find peace and love dashed.
That night, the coyotes howled and we fretted.
Two days passed. Sissy was sighted on a farm a short distance from our house. She would often appear in places where I had spent significant time talking with people or looking for her. She was running scared and wouldn’t allow anyone to approach her. Once, Sissy was trapped in a gated yard by a quick thinking woman. She escaped in minutes. There were more near captures, but Sissy was wily, frightened and fighting for her life, or so she thought.
Posters describing Sissy’s situation went up, and they, along with face-to-face contact helped spread the word of her plight. Over time, sightings increased around a housing development. They conintued to increase, and with that came greater anticipation, hope, and fear of dashed hopes.
The Dog Control Officer comforted us by saying that in all likelihood we would get our Sissy back–time would have to run its course. That’s what others said too. The encouragement of the community drove us forward. Strong alliances were formed with key people in the development. I’d see Sissy about twice a day–usually at 5:30 a.m. and at 8:30 p.m. She was like black lightening–a shadow streaking by with nothing but a glance back at me.
Others had closer encounters with her. People left food out in a coordinated effort. Sissy’s range narrowed to three streets and an adjoining wooded area. When a day went without a report of a sighting, we agonized. When a report would come our hopes buoyed.
We set a trap.
Sissy wasn’t going to be caught through her trust or cooperation. We had asked Sissy’s foster mother, Mary Ellen Tidwell, to send dirty clothes marked with her scent. That, and cat food might trick a hungry and fearful canine into a trap. The people who grew to know Sissy plotted her haunts, and the paths and routes that she took from house to house in search of food. Those that set out food were asked to cut back the amount. We wanted a hungry dog that knew food would appear if she just waited. Then we asked that feeding be discontinued. The trap was set in a wooded area on the property of one of many caring people. The possibility of getting someone else’s pet, or a wild animal called for vigilance. We agreed to check the trap at two hour intervals.
I took a walk to a prominence in the Shawangunk Mountains that overlooked Sissy’s territory. It felt right to be there. Upon arrival, I heard the yelping of a dog from below. Then email from Sissy’s foster mom Mary Ellen came through on my phone. She felt strongly that Sissy would be trapped. She and her friends had been praying. Many others I met on the streets while searching said the same. A look at Sissy’ s photo drew people in. She has an angelic face. It pierced through to their natural instincts, as it had ours when we saw her photo on the rescue website.
Mary Ellen wrote that once Sissy became familiar with our household she would be loyal and thankful. She stated that Sissy didn’t know it yet, but she would be in the best place she could possibly be. I walked home on trails that I had fantasized would be the ones that we and Sissy would wear down through the years. Before I arrived home, I got a call.
Sissy was caught just 45 minutes after the trap was set.
When I first hung the lost dog posters, I wondered under what conditions they would come down. Would they fade and fall off? Would they come down when we gave up? Would Sissy be found by the side of the road? Those thoughts had me crying. The posters were torn down accompanied by tears of joy after nine days of intense efforts to recover our dog. There were many poignant moments, with people coming up to me to inquire about Sissy’s fate and what it meant that I was taking the posters down. I could only personally thank a handful of the many who deserved my gratitude.
Now some 18 months later
Sissy is a constitutionally “shy dog” and her first ten days of adoption were harrowing for her. Through time and our attention, her fear proved to be mutable. Her attributes that called out for her to be saved by Crossing Paths Rescue include a desire to be social and her ability to accept love and care.
Don’t all dogs want to be loved and cared for?
Sissy is kind and gentle dog who naturally wants to do the right thing. Thankfully, we live a life that is perfect for her and she lets us know it. We regularly hear from those who had seen Sissy early on, “Is this the same dog that….?” and “I never would have known her past if you didn’t mention that she had a rough start. She seems so calm and happy.”
Sissy, like all dogs, has noteworthy qualities. She is probably a rare American breed- an English Shepherd, a farm dog that has some remarkable qualities. “Bobbie the Wonder dog” illuminated this by walking 2200 miles from Indiana to Oregon to find her family after they got separated while on vacation.
There is something about every dog, and rescue dogs, and especially your rescue dog that can bring you joy and wisdom.
We have met many wonderful people through our efforts to help Sissy. One in particular, Turid Rugaas from Norway, set us on a course that proved to suit us and Sissy well. Her methods are anything but mainstream. They are simple, yet difficult to do – much like the guidelines for good relationships with people. Love, respect, awareness. Think about what you are doing and for what reason. Be gentle and understanding. Forget about most training. Remove stress. Let the dog be a dog, and encourage the dog to use innate skills to allow it to heal and behave as a good companion wants to.
Debbie Jacobs, whose website fearfuldogs.com and booklet Guide to Living With & Training a Fearful Dog, also played an enormous role in shaping us and Sissy. Her way of communicating joy and hopefulness to Sissy in measured doses was medicine to her and helped us feel better too. Few can write so clearly as Debbie. The Yahoo group “shy k-9s” is a great place to hang out to get essential information and support for you and your dog with baggage.
Thank you Crossing Paths and thank you Sissy. We are forever indebted to you both for enriching our lives in ways that we can only hope to understand.
To learn more about Black Dog Syndrome click here: http://www.blackpearldogs.com/
Gary was brought up with dogs and has had the good fortune to have nothing but wonderful ones his entire life. He says that of all of them, Sissy has taught him the most. Gary lives with his wife and dog in the Shawangunk Mountains in New York State- a perfect place for them. He is a Social Worker by profession, and pursues many avocations.