Back in early March, a black dog showed up in my driveway. She was severely emaciated and had been beaten half to death, and evidently was dumped on the low-traffic dead-end road to die. In spite of her condition – or more likely because of it – none of us could get close to her. I was never able to take photos of her because every time she spotted a human she would stagger into the woods. I took the pragmatic (and I’ll admit cold) attitude that she would die or she wouldn’t, but there was little I could do about it if I couldn’t catch her. I wanted to give her a fighting chance all the same so I started putting food out at the curve of the driveway. One day during that period Danielle Hoversten gave me a pork shoulder bone with a great deal of good skin and fatty meat still attached, with instructions to give it to my dogs. I thought about it and decided it would be better used as a gift to the poor starving “pibble” I’d been feeding than to my own pampered pooches and their equally pampered foster siblings. Evidently our “pibble” thought so too, because there wasn’t a scrap left in the dish when I stopped to refill it the next morning. She got dry kibble (Natural Balance mostly); she also got boiled chicken and rice; canned tuna; canned salmon; grilled salmon; and many other things that probably made my dogs very jealous.
This went on for a little more than a month, when finally my landlord at the time was able to catch her. Damon, my son, and I went over to get her. I knew going in that bringing a Pit Bull-type mix into my pack and my family was a huge risk, but by this point I knew she wouldn’t survive the animal shelter. Don’t get me wrong – our ACOs in Stokes County are amazing, and they do everything they can to find homes for the dogs that come through the shelter – but the volume is too high, and this poor dog was in an extremely unadoptable condition.
She’d put on a little weight, but still had much more to gain to be considered healthy. Most of her wounds had healed, though a couple of the worst needed a little work. She kept her head turned and her eyes averted, and didn’t struggle against me at all, though she also didn’t make any effort to make handling her any easier. She was just limp, like a rag dog. I pulled out the leash and she got those scared eyes that a dog gets when it knows it’s in trouble. I put the leash around her neck and she exploded, struggling and bucking and fighting against me like a wild thing. I released the leash and it slipped off her neck and she hit the ground like a switch had been turned off. OK; we’d do it without the leash. Someone had hurt her with a leash and she was as a result terrified of it. I had a bad feeling… but it was outweighed by an intense rush of sympathy for her and anger at whoever had hurt her. I won’t say what I wish I could do if I found out who did those things to that dog… Suffice it to say that if I ever find out who hurt her, who tried to fight her, it will not end well for that person.
Even in her half-starved state she was too heavy for me to carry all the way home – not to mention the fact I frankly didn’t want a strange, frightened, stressed dog of ANY breed that close to my face for an extended period of time. In the end Damon had to go home and get my car and bring it around so that we could drive her the few hundred yards to my house. She rode draped across my lap, head and eyes still averted. She didn’t move a muscle. At home I carried her into the house – there she again panicked; I quickly brought her into the back yard, where she lay still while the other dogs checked her out, then belly-crawled into a vacant doghouse, where she spent most of the next two days. That evening I crawled into the doghouse with her and injected her with parvo/distemper vaccine, squirted Bordatella vaccine up her nose, and wormed her. I dragged her out so that I could run my hands over her body and assess her wounds, which I cleaned with warm soapy water and peroxide. I gave her every opportunity to bite me and she consistently refused to do so.
Two days later we had her spayed – and though it was a risk to her in her condition, I’m glad we authorized the procedure, because it turned out she was pregnant, and the last thing this world needs is one more litter of unwanted “pibble” puppies.
Did you know that the number one animal euthanized in shelters in North Carolina is the cat… but number two is the Pit Bull-type dog? This is a vastly under-served group of breeds (American Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bulldog, to name a few.) They are overly-sensationalized, get a great deal of negative press, and most people are either afraid of them or want them for the wrong reasons. The handful of rescue groups who deal specifically with Pit Bull-type dogs are full, and most general rescues won’t take them at all because they’re just hard to move and have such negative stereotypes attached to them. SCHS currently has one other “pibble” mix in foster care – her name is Tulip and she’s been with her foster mom for two years. For that reason, SCHS was reluctant to bring another Pit-type mix into the program… but on the other hand, we agreed we had little choice with this dog.
I decided to call this gal Onyx. My husband called her Blackie, and my teenage children (ages 14, 16 and almost 18) insisted that her name was Reptar. It’s a good thing that I’m her primary handler, because Onyx is the name she recognizes!
She gradually began to come out of her shell and warmed up to the family – though she warmed up to the dogs long before she trusted us, and she bonded with my 14-year-old daughter Bridget before she would have anything to do with the rest of us. She is very young – around a year old – and she still plays very rough, which is ok for some of my dogs but not for others. During the first month she was with us there were two dog fights. The first time, Onyx and my 4 year old Pointer mix, Peaches, got into a fight – Peaches started the fight and took the worst of the injuries, and in my honest opinion she deserved everything she got; but it cost me quite a bit of money, and Peaches had to stay in the house afterward and was only able to be around Onyx under adult human supervision. Onyx also fought one other of my fosters, a little black & tan hound mix named Ladybug; I’m not sure who started that one but I have a feeling it was a result of Ladybug objecting to Onyx’s roughhousing. In any event, it was evident from these two fights that Onyx isn’t a fighter by nature; there were no kill-wounds on either Peaches or Ladybug, and Onyx stopped fighting on her own when my husband told her to stop – dangerous dogs fight to kill and don’t stop until the adversary is dead.
Our SCHS trainer advised after the second fight that we should separate Onyx from the other dogs and not let her around them under any circumstances. I struggled for quite some time with that and finally hubby and I decided not to heed the expert’s advice. Our fear was that it would frustrate Onyx and would be a setback in what was otherwise, in my humble opinion, a marvelous recovery. Maybe we should have heeded her advice – maybe not. Onyx was doing so well with the males – Max and Nanuq – and with my sweet submissive Maggie, that I couldn’t imagine her fighting again.
At the end of August, we moved to my mother’s farm. I call it a farm – it’s going to become one again, though it hasn’t been farmed in many years. That is a subject for another blog post. Mama has three acres, two of which are surrounded by a five foot welded wire fence. She has a whole passel of frou-frou yappy little dogs, a Pyrie, a Basset Hound, and a very elderly pointer mix. We fenced the front quarter-acre all the way across for my dogs, leaving the remaining property for hers. The move was chaotic for all involved, but it was done and we settled in, critters and all.
The first weekend of September we took Onyx to the Stokes Stomp, our annual fall festival here in Stokes County. She did very well. She met many new people, including a young teen with Downs Syndrome, with whom she communed for quite some time. I wish someone had taken a photo – it would have been a perfect positive PR bit for the Pit Bull breeds.
The second weekend in September Onyx jumped on Maggie. Once again, hubby was home and was able to stop it with nothing more than his verbal command that they stop. Maggie only had one bad bite, to her thigh. This time, though, hubby had had enough.
“She has to go,” he said. “Today.”
He was adamant. No amount of tears or pleading on my part could sway him. At this point the SCHS Executive Director and one of our SCHS volunteers stepped up and started reaching out. They found a rescuer who would take her. The catch was, though the volunteer was familiar with the rescuer, none of the rest of us were. I informed hubby that the rescuer was willing to take Onyx, but that we were going to deliver her there, and if I didn’t like what I saw we would be bringing Onyx home again.
We drove to Hamptonville that Saturday evening. Hamptonville is between Yadkinville and North Wilkesboro on 421. It’s about an hour & a half from us. Yahoo! Maps says two hours, but Yahoo! Maps doesn’t take my husband’s lead foot into account.
It was dark when we pulled up outside the single-wide trailer. I was apprehensive, but I refused to make any premature judgments. I myself have lived in both single-wide and double-wide trailers, and might again. I would NOT judge this person based on her home.
She came out to the car as we stepped onto her driveway. She looked to be about 15. “Amber?” I asked.
“You must be Heather!” she responded with a firm handshake. “This is my husband.” She introduced us to her hubby and I introduced her to mine. Then I introduced her to Onyx.
Amber, as it turns out, is 23 years old and very active in rescue. She mainly works with the Pit Bull breeds, but she’s got others as well. Including her own personal dogs she has facilities for ten dogs at one time. Including my own dogs and Onyx, I had ten as well. She had had an adoption the day before – that’s the only reason she was able to take Onyx. I explained that Onyx is female aggressive; Amber was not concerned. She said that’s typical with Pit Bull breeds. She herself has one female aggressive foster and two of her own dogs are male aggressive. She happily showed me around her place, and I confess myself impressed. It’s not a shelter facility by any means… but neither is mine. Amber at 23 is pretty much where I am at 35, and yes, I really am impressed. She is young, but I feel she will go far in the rescue world. After all, it’s about the dogs, and Amber, much like myself, has little care for anything besides the dogs.
I cried when we drove away without Onyx. I doubt I’ll ever completely recover from her. Every dog should make an impact on a human’s life… but every so often a dog comes along that is so miraculous the mark it makes is like a scar. I know I’ll never forget her. I’ll never be sorry for any of it, either. And I can live my life knowing that I took an abused, unloved Pit Bull and showed her that human beings could be sources of love and kindness as well as pain and cruelty. I hope she never forgets that.