Second-Chance Dogs Light Up Our Lives
Sunday essayist Jim Dodson is off this week. This is reprinted from the current issue of Pinestraw magazine, of which he is editor.
Four years ago, I was driving down U.S. 1 to the world-famous Sardine Festival in Aberdeen when a skinny black pup shot across the busy highway, just -narrowly missing being struck by a truck.
Something made me follow the black streak into the park, where I found a group of boys tossing a football around. I asked them about the dog, whom it belonged to, why it might be running so dangerously free.
"Oh, that dog's been around here a few weeks," one of the boys replied. "She don't belong to nobody, mister. She eats garbage and stuff people feed her. She lives in the woods yonder. Somebody put her out, or she just ran away."
As I was leaving the park a short time later, I spotted the black streak heading back for the busy highway, so I instinctively cupped my hands to my mouth, squatted and called, "Hey, black streak. Don't do that. Come here."
The dog abruptly stopped and looked back. I clapped my hands, and she did something remarkable: She bolted straight into my arms as if she knew me.
She was filthy, underfed, skinny as a gravedigger's hound, but the sweetest animal I'd ever seen. Before taking her to the Humane Society shelter in Carthage, I confirmed from park workers that she was a stray that had been hanging around the park for many days.
There was no room for the pup at the Humane Society shelter, and because I was so new to Moore County I failed to realize that the county's outstanding Animal Control facility was less than a mile away. I drove the pup instead to a no-kill shelter in Hoke County, where the rather overwhelmed owner convinced me that the foundling pup had taken quite a shine to me. When I glanced back into my car, my filthy new friend was seated on the leather console between the front seats of my new car, batting her long black eyelashes at me.
I took the foundling home, gave her a bath, and watched her wolf down a can of gourmet dog food - which she promptly threw up, along with a pile of small animal bones and bits of garbage. That night after dinner, I phoned my wife back in Maine to let her know I was temporarily in possession of an adorable stray I'd rescued and planned to keep until I could either find her rightful owner or a nice new home. My wife merely laughed.
In the middle of the night, I heard gentle snoring and rolled over to find Mulligan, as I took to calling her that evening, upside down and out for the count with her pretty retriever head on my wife's pillow.
To this day, I'm not sure who really found whom, but as with lots of Moore County residents, my life has been deeply enriched by a second-chance mutt that's turned out to be the smartest, funniest and most self-possessed animal I've ever owned. It didn't take her long to take charge of our two amiable golden retrievers and the cat. Mully became the four-legged head of household, the queen bee, the wild thing that won our hearts.
A Common Story
Some version of Mully's tale is repeated every day in this county, where roughly 5,000 cats and dogs a year pass through a fine Animal Control facility. The sad part of this story is that, while a good many of these wonderful strays, rescues or surrendered pets are well cared for and eventually adopted into good homes, owing to the tireless work of several local animal advocacy groups, a large percentage of them - more than 60 percent - are eventually euthanized. And the problem gets worse as you get out into the country.
According to the latest statistics provided by the Companion Animal Clinic Foundation of the Sandhills, which provides affordable spay-neuter services to companion animal groups in a nine-county area struggling to curb a population explosion of unwanted dogs and cats, neighboring counties like Randolph, Montgomery and Cumberland, for instance, have euthanasia rates topping 80 percent, directly reflecting rural poverty rates in the vicinity of 16 percent.
Since opening its doors in 2007, the not-for-profit spay-neuter clinic has performed more than 10,000 low-cost surgeries, making a significant dent in helping to curb regional overpopulation. As the dedicated vets and assistants at CAC will tell you, though, the fight ahead remains a formidable one - which is why you should not only make certain your household dogs and cats are spayed and neutered by your preferred veterinarian, but also consider financially supporting CAC with a tax-deductible donation today.
From a pure economic perspective, it makes perfect sense because euthanizing an animal costs the county three times as much taxpayer money as neutering and spaying.
The Story of Baxter
Three summers ago, we at PineStraw magazine did a cover story celebrating this community's remarkable love of animals, particularly our collective passion for dogs. As the hottest days of summer descend upon us again - what traditionally many like to call the "dog days of summer" - we thought a closer look at the unique relationship between human and dog was in order for our July issue, personal dog tales from the heart. Not surprisingly, most involve second-chance mutts.
Consider, for instance, the story of Adair Beutel and her wonderful dog Baxter. Several years ago, not long after her husband, Bill, died, Adair's beloved bull terrier, Abby, and golden retriever, Grace, also died.
"Losing Bill was just terrible, but losing the dogs in fairly short order was a devastating blow," says Adair, who grieved for months until she was persuaded that it was time to consider finding a new dog. "I didn't know what I wanted, or even that I was ready for a dog to try to replace Abby and Grace. But we went to Animal Control and the Humane Society just to see what kind of animals might be available."
They looked over every pooch available for adoption at both agencies. "There were plenty of wonderful dogs," she remembers, "dogs of every size and type, but none that really spoke to me. I thought maybe this meant I wasn't quite ready to get a dog after all."
One final dog was brought out for her consideration. He was young, scruffy, recently found on the side of the road. He looked at her with intelligent brown eyes.
"Poor thing had almost no hair on his body, just a little wisp on his tail and these adorable fluffy feet," Adair recounts. "But the instant I looked into those soulful brown eyes, I knew we belonged together. There was an instantaneous connection, like he knew me and it was meant to be."
She named him Baxter, after her pal Ruffles Clement's talented musical son, Baxter - Southern Pines' own Buddy Holly, whose hair is always an adventure.
She brought him home to CCNC and was surprised to see how quickly he acclimated to his new environment.
"He was perfectly behaved from the day he got here last September," she says. "He walked in and hopped up on the sofa like he owned the place. His attitude was so relaxed and endearing, playful and sassy at times, with no apologies for where he'd come from, just visibly glad to be here. Anyone who met him could see it instantly."
A fortnight after he arrived, Ruffles Clement and artist Mary Schwab threw a "shower" for Baxter, whose only issue was his somewhat finicky eating habits, perhaps the result of his days in the wild.
"I was a little concerned that he wasn't eating enough to put on weight," says Adair, who solved this problem by adding blue cheese burgers from Fresh Market to Baxter's dry dog food for a while. He put on weight, and his hair returned.
"Baxter had a grand time at his shower," she adds, "and opened every one of his gifts." Not long after this, he went to obedience school and became the star pupil of his class.
'They're Saving Us'
Today, Baxter - who appears to be equal parts bearded collie and Hollywood wonder dog - is a healthy, happy character who has a coat of gorgeous gray hair with golden highlights and greets all visitors like the lord of the manor.
"He goes everywhere with me," says Adair. "He particularly loves to ride shotgun in the car over to visit my mother at Belle Meade or trips up to Raleigh. He's such a curious and loving animal; he constantly reminds me how important it is to look at the world with fresh eyes and a new perspective."
She ruffles Baxter's hair, and he looks at her with shining eyes.
"This dog has been a blessing to my life," she says. "We think we're saving them. But I think they may be saving us."
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