Sunday, April 12, 2009

Darlin's story and rescue

I met Darlin’ the first time last August 2008. She was half starved running around a grocery store parking lot looking for food. My daughter and I were dropping off video rentals so I got out of my car as to not lose sight of her and had my daughter drive around to buy her a meal. Everything in the area was closed so I had to leave her there fending for herself. She was so skinny I thought she was a hound dog so it was really hard to go home without feeding her.

Then one night in September I returned some movies around 9:30 and she was there again. That night everything was still open so I had my daughter keep an eye on her while I ran through the store grabbing food, water, and bowls. She was still there when I came out so I took food to a tree in the nearby landscaping and tried to call her over to me. I could see that she was wary of strangers so I got back in my car and drove far enough away so that I could watch her. As soon as I did she ran to the food.

The following evening I went back curious if she would be there again and she was, so again I ran in the store and bought food. I needed to check out quickly so I ran up the customer service counter. I told the cashier that I was feeding a dog outside and he replied, “Yeah, she’s out there every night. I thought, “She’s out there every night and looks like that!” That dog had been hungry for a long time!!

From that day on I drove to the grocery store to feed her and it didn’t take long to discover she was crossing a major highway an hour after dark to eat. She would show up, but she would not come closer than 20 ft. of me.

Initially I thought she belonged to someone, thinking perhaps she was underfed and neglected. I even thought she was getting out of a yard to go eat. There are so many dogs tied, chained, or living in backyards that are neglected and forgotten. I had lived in the area for 9 months and never saw her before August so I tried to think of several possible scenarios. The only strays I had seen were dogs that go out in my own neighborhood and they had homes.

The feedings became a routine so I knew what time she would be there and I started keeping food in all of our vehicles in case I needed it. Her crossing the highway scared me, but at the time there wasn’t too much traffic. However, when the time changed she changed with it and continued to cross the highway an hour after dark – at 6:30 at night during rush hour traffic!

There were more times than I can count when I was sitting there waiting for her to show and I looked across the highway and could see her pacing on the side of the highway waiting for a break in traffic. There were a lot of times I saw her run right in front of cars and they were beeping their horns at her too! On more than one occasion I could see her tail wagging in excitement because she could see my car across the road and I was so scared that she would get hit. On those nights I quickly ducked behind my car! And I was so afraid she would get hit by a car that I couldn’t drive the speed limit through there after dark because I was afraid I might be the one to do it! Imagine turning off a highway into a parking lot and your headlights hitting the back feet of the dog you are going to feed! It happened!

By December the nightly feedings were starting to interfere with my home life. I have a family, a small business, three dogs and three cats, and I began working in animal rescue. There were times I had to leave dinner and ask my husband to finish or nights when my daughter was leaving the house so I asked her to feed Darlin for me. If we went out of town I had to be home by 6:30 or I was calling someone at home to go feed her. They already knew that call was coming in and would assure me they were leaving the house or had already placed her food out.

I couldn't eat dinner if I knew she was there waiting for me. One night in December we went to a Christmas concert, afterwards we went to dinner. I could not have a good time because I knew she was there waiting. We were in my husbands SUV and didn't have dog food so I scraped our scraps together and planned on leaving it for her on our way home. We arrived about 3 1/2 hours late and to my surprise she was sleeping by the tree!

On Christmas Eve my husband and I drove to her feeding spot and left her a special bone with her food, but it was raining and windy so she hadn’t come. I was worried about her because I hadn’t seen her for at least two nights. I started thinking of the possibility of her owners being home, perhaps their schedule changed during the holidays and is why I didn’t see her. The food was eaten, but we are in a more rural area so it could have been a wild animal. On the nights that I didn’t see her I would find a reason to leave the house, even if it just meant checking her bowls to make sure she had been there.

My family asked me sometime around Christmas what my intentions were with Darlin. I told them that I had intended to keep her alive with food through winter, after that it was in Gods hands. She was fearful, she spooked easily, and she wouldn’t come near me so I couldn’t bring her home even if I could catch her.

In January 2009 I realized it was time for change. One day while I was out looking for where she might live I stumbled upon a gravel road with some small run down houses. There at the end of the road were two Pit Bulls chained to a tree. One seemed excited to see me, but the other didn’t move. I could count every rib on that dogs body while she laid there curled up in a ball. I stayed in my car and watched for signs of life; she was breathing so I went straight home and called Animal Control. Long story short: I have since gone back, untied, untwisted, and fed the dogs and Animal Control did leave them an animal cruelty notice. I need to follow up for the third time on those dogs. Darlin is the reason I found them and was able to feed them and contact authorities.

During my conversation with Animal Control I mentioned that I had been looking for a stray dog that I had been feeding. I assured the AC officer that she was not a problem and that I was trying to figure out where she was living. He mentioned that if I decided that I wanted to catch her that he would help me.

By February I realized I was going to have to trap her, but my husband spoke up right away and said I couldn’t bring her home. He’s a good man and helps out a lot with our other animals, but I knew where he was coming from. There are times we are overwhelmed with our own, not to mention what we could be getting in to bringing a stray fearful dog home. I also decided to keep a foster dog in February which meant we had four other dogs to consider.

I sent out an email to local rescues asking for help, telling them her story, and hoping someone would take her. Heck, I know nothing about fearful stray dogs and I didn’t know how she would react in captivity. Two rescues did respond to my email; they were touched by our story, but already overwhelmed with dogs and “didn’t hold out much hope for a feral dog like Darlin’. They also informed me that our local shelter would euthanize within 7 days, but a stray feral dog probably wouldn’t last 24 hrs. So I contacted Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. My dad and his wife have volunteered there and told me that the large dogs like Darlin usually stay there for life because they are so hard to rehabilitate. Best Friends did write back, they couldn’t take her for the same reasons…she was feral and they were over capacity on feral dogs.

I forwarded the emails to my husband at which time he said we could try and trap her and rehabilitate her before placing her up for adoption. As soon as I knew I had a place to take her, I began researching how to trap a stray dog and also started a thread on Pet Finder forums asking for help or advice. Most of what you’ll read here is a summary of my original posts there.

It took me a month to pull everything together. AC took a week to get back in touch with me when I called, then when we finally met he brought a trap that was too small. Once the bigger trap was delivered it was an antique rusty thing that I feared wouldn’t work. If it failed or if she got her tail caught, she may never go near a trap again.

The first trap was set by the tree where I fed her at a shopping center. I put a large sign on the tree, Property of Animal Control, This Dog Will be Rescued, and my phone number. I also chained the trap to the tree. It sat two nights and both nights I had to stop people from throwing food away from the trap while she was trying to approach the food! Long story, but they obviously thought they were saving her. I wanted to ask them if they wanted to feed her the rest of their lives! And where were they all those months that I had been feeding her?!!

At that point I decided to move the trap across the street, but I needed a bigger one as I was certain she would not crouch down to go into a trap. This dog is so cautious she looks over her shoulder with every bite of food and spooks easily. During feedings, if she heard a loud noise she would run back to wherever she lived and come back during the night to finish so I had to be sure that she would go inside.

Another week goes by looking for a large dog trap. Just when I was going to order one, County AC called and was willing it to deliver a large trap right away. That was Tuesday March 10, 2009. We set the trap behind a chain link fenced area where I have seen her come and go from feedings. The property belonged to a rock and gravel company. When I called to ask if she was their dog they said she was not but they saw her frequently so they agreed to let me come and go through the property and set traps for her.

That Tuesday morning when I met animal control with the 6 ft trap, he remarked that we had a nice breeze and if she was anywhere in the vicinity that she smelled my scent and knew I was there. Not a minute later I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “Look, there’s my dog!” I was emotional and almost started crying!

That was only the second time in six months of feeding her that I saw her in the day light. The other time was months before when I drove by that rock yard on a Saturday morning. I saw her out walking around some tall grass. That was one of those days I thought she belonged to the owner of the rock yard. Another time I thought she belonged to them was when I saw her run past a warehouse garage door in the dark. She also came across that highway by crawling under fence that separated the rock yard from the highway.

I prepared home cooked meats: chicken legs, pork spare ribs, meatballs, and chunks of smoked ham. I browned it off, added chicken stock, and reduced it until the meat started falling off the bones. Once it cooled I took all the meat off the bones, used a nice brown gravy, and mixed it all together. Since I had fed her every night for 6 months, I had to make the food hard to resist.

That Tuesday night when the trap was set was really hard on me emotionally. It's the first night in 6 months that I didn't feed her. It just so happened that I went to buy her a dog house and she was crossing the highway on my way home. I tried not to think about her sitting there waiting, but I knew that once she was hungry enough she would go near that trap.

The next morning I had a catch so I knew that trap was working. It wasn't my dog, but a possum. I gave him 2 1/2 hours to leave and he went right back to sleep. We tipped the trap up and he decided to climb, then we prodded him gently with a stick until he finally crawled out. Once I had him out, I cleaned up his mess and moved the trap about 10 ft away and hoped his smell wouldn't keep her away.

I put dinner in the oven at 6 pm and decided to go see if she was anywhere around. My husband drove me so it would be easier to see without traffic distracting me. As we drove by I saw her near the trap! I decided not to cover the trap so it being wire it was hard to tell if she was inside. We pulled into a business nearby and discovered she was inside the trap eating, but the trap door was open! I called my daughter and told her the good news, but since the door wasn't closed we would go eat and come back. If she was inside, then we would have her.

I just pulled dinner from the oven when my daughter walked in. I asked her why she was home because I didn't expect her unless we called for help. She said her and her boyfriend just had to go see for themselves and "for me to mark my calendar because we had her!"

We hugged and we cried! I couldn't believe it; I had her on the 2nd day! We were all overcome with emotion! I had so many emails, phone calls, and a lot of emotional energy tied up in trapping her, not to mention worrying about her getting hit by a car the last 6 months. We found a clear path to the trap and were able to carry her out of there and put her in our SUV. We had her home within 30 minutes!

click on images to enlarge.

She was scared to death. As we approached the trap she barked at us. That was the first time I ever heard her voice in all these months.

Once home, we put the trap against the open gate to the dog pen we bought for her. She didn't come out right way, but did as soon as we gave her space. She went and crouched down behind her dog house and that’s where she stayed all night.


  1. OMG! I allready knew her story but this blog has made me cry all over again. I Love You because you are my Sister but also for doing what you do for the animals. I am so Thankful for your rescueing the dogs you do because if it were not for your Rescue efforts I would not have my precious dog that my Husband and I have fallen in Love with. He Is the best thing you ever gave me:)

  2. I admire your kind heart, patience and knowledge. Darlin is sooo lucky.

  3. Stormy63, I told you he would be the best thing I ever gave you!

    Elizabeth, thank you for your kindness. We are also grateful to you for linking her blog, we appreciate you very much.

  4. I love your story. You have inspired me to never give up on my little Deer. She is a stray do that looks like a baby deer. She has been around this gas station for a few months. I finally have her feeding out of my hand but she gets scared if I try to put a leash on her or just try to pet her she jumps back and runs about ten feet. She has a broken back leg that just hangs there and needs to have it amputated. I am willing to take her to the vet and help her but just can't get her. You have inspired me to never give up and I am making a trap right now. I have a x large dog cage I am putting a rope on the door and when she goes in it for some yummy food I will be standing back behind it a few feet and I will pull on the rope and the door will close, hopefully. I love her so much and just want to get her to the vets and home safe and healthy. Pray for me to get my little Deer home. By the way we have no animal control in my area. It does get frustrating when there is no one around that wants to help. I am so happy I read your stoy and love the person you are. If you have any advice let me know I would love to hear it. Thanks - Marcy

  5. Marcy, I hope you'll come back and let me know the status of your stray dog. I've added my email address to my profile. Sorry I'm so late seeing this, it's been a hectic month. I hope you have your little Deer! I always thought Darlin looked like a der\er at that tree when I fed her! She would stand with one foot off the ground. And youre little Deer's leg needs attention, I hope you have her!

  6. oh my god this is an amazing story.

  7. hello, I am new to your blog so I am starting with the first story.
    You have allot of courage. It is hard to do what you did. I am looking forward to reading the stories of Darlin.

    Thank you for helping animals.