Rescuing large wild dogs that have remained outside of captivity for too long is truly an adventure. Often small animal societies get calls from the local shelters, since they will not take any dog that is has not been socialized, since it is considered un-adoptable.
The call that gave me four new animals came after a sheriff had been sent to a farmhouse by someone hearing nearby gunshots and screaming.
Apparently druggies had taken over the vacant property. When we arrived at that farm, there were five small puppies lying in the snow – – shot to death for target practice by whatever drugged out crazy had found them. Also left were four dogs. Two older ones appeared to be partially tame and were maybe former pets. The other two appeared to have never heard a kind word from anyone. This was a mother and the only puppy she had been able to save. It took us hours to round these two up. I could see why they were still alive. The mother, who we named Foxie, was just that—smart, cagey and determined. The pup, who we named Zeus, was a strong, suspicious, wiggly kid who was impossible to corner. It was only after we had successfully gotten Foxie into the truck that Zeus came close enough to grab.
Feral dogs can take months to tame, and it feels like a major accomplishment when then finally even come to you. They often try to get out and break free, because humans don’t represent safety. We had Foxie for nearly a month, and I thought she was becoming accustomed to being on a leash. So I was completely depressed when she pushed past me and headed off into the forest near our home for parts unknown. Left locked inside was Zeus, his nose pressed to the glass door, howling continuously for his mama.
Despite spending several hours chasing after her, I had no luck. Finally I had to leave for work. My job didn’t permit same-day call-ins, and I needed the check to pay for dog food. When I left for work, Zeus began howling even more, as if to say he couldn’t believe I’d leave with his mom out there in the wild and him alone. But I had no choice.
When I came home, I began calling for Foxie—hoping that her time in the cold December woods might have convinced her to return. But there was no response. Imagine my surprise when I walked up the second-floor stairs to find her proudly bouncing around the deck. Looking beyond where she stood, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently she had been the provider for her pack. While I had been away, she had found what remained of a hunter’s butchered deer carcass. It weighed several times what Foxie did, but somehow she had dragged it from the adjacent property, over or under barbed wire and up 15 stairs. There she was, wagging her tail, as proud as could be, basically saying, “Look what I brought home for dinner!” Zeus was looking out the door with obvious enthusiasm, anticipating a great meal!
I wasn’t sure what to do. Every time I made a move for the deer or opened the door to the house, Foxie would either crouch over it, trying to drag it inside or Zeus would try to get out. Quite a dilemma! Eventually Foxie let go and pranced inside, assuming I was bringing the delicious feast in. Imagine Zeus and Foxie’s consternation when they realized the deer was going back down the stairs. They both looked shocked. If dogs could talk, Foxie was clearly saying,”Hey, wait a minute. You’re taking my dinner and bones, there. What’s going on?!!”
After her “catch” was properly dealt with, both of them became suspicious of humans again for a time. It took several more months of my plying them with beef jerky—sitting on the stairs and tossing little bits down to where they gathered, before Foxie finally again began to come and be part of our family.
Zeus, on the other hand, wasn’t having any of it. He bit my daughter when she tried to walk him; pulled the leash back under the stairs so no one could get him; and generally made himself as scarce as possible—only coming out to eat when everyone else had left—and spending little to no time with the rest of us, staying downstairs in the basement nearly full time.
I was shocked, therefore, when six months after adopting them, I felt a cold wet nose on my elbow as I sat looking at my computer! I knew that all the other dogs, including Foxie, were comfortably snuggling together on their beds in another part of the house. Since Zeus had once again become our ghost dog, I couldn’t figure out whose nose was chilling me. Before I could turn to see, the shadow was gone. So I went back to reading.
Later, I was in my bedroom to change my clothes, and saw Zeus peek just his nose and eyes in the door. I couldn’t help but laugh, because not only did he move forward even more, but if a dog’s mouth could have fallen open, his did that night. He stood there, rocking his head from side to side, one ear lifting, then the other, as I took off my jeans and shirt. He ran to his mom, who was lying next door. It was clear he was saying, “Hey mom, she’s peeling off her fur!” You could clearly see it was made no sense to him. He even began sniffing his own paws and legs—to see if there were something he’d missed. When I put on new clothes, Zeus totally went nuts! “Mom, now she’s got different fur, what’s up?!” I swear dogs communicate with telepathy, because after some nose to nose between Zeus and mom, he settled down beside her.
We’ve had both dogs for years. But until the day Zeus passed over the Rainbow bridge, every morning when I would change my clothes—Zeus would come to watch the ritual—trying to figure out how I can peel off my fur and he couldn’t. And to this day, we have to be careful that Foxie doesn’t roam too far during hunting season. And anytime we got a package of meat out, she and Zeus would both look at us, as if to say, “So do we get any of it this time?”