In the latter part of 2002, my husband and I purchased a house in the suburbs of Southern California in a quiet little town called Devore. We moved in in August. It was a well built house in decent condition, but it was going through foreclosure so the 1 ¾ acre property needed quite a bit of work. Due to neglect thick brush and weeds had grown up, creating a significant concern due to the location being in a high fire hazard area. We had our work cut out for us. The added difficulty was that we both traveled for business.
After unpacking the inside, I got the worst of the overgrowth and debris cleared away from around the house. I reseeded the lawn and waited for it to grow. We started working out from the house to clear the thick brush around the property. When my husband was away, I would work on smaller tasks that didn’t require his help.
One afternoon in November I was attempting to remove debris from the seasonal creek bed that ran next to the house. Previous owners had tossed branches and grass clippings into the ravine rather than hauling it to the trash. To make things worse, poison oak was growing up through the brush and debris. Because of this I couldn’t climb down into the ravine to remove the brush; I had to stand on top and do my best to fish it out with rakes and other implements.
I took a break to get some water. As I headed for the house, I saw two dogs standing on the driveway. I didn’t recognize them as belonging to any of my neighbors. There was a ranch hand at the next property tending to the llamas, Mike, so I asked him if he knew who’s dogs they were. He said he didn’t recognize them either, and that they were probably strays. Mike said that people would sometimes drive up to this area and drop off dogs that they no longer wanted, rather than taking them to the local shelter that was known to be a high-kill shelter.
The dogs both appeared to be young, less than a year old. One was a pitbull puppy with brindle markings; the other was a mixed breed that was mostly tan. I didn’t pay much attention to them, figuring that they would wander away and be gone. I continued into the house for water and a break.
When I came back out a short time later the dogs were still wandering around. I went back to where I was working at the ravine to continue with brush removal. I went to put my gloves on but I could only find one of them. I was certain that I had dropped both of them together on the ground, but one was missing. I retraced my steps back to the house to see if perhaps I had possibly dropped it on my way. As I approached the house, there was the tan dog standing in the driveway, with my glove at her feet. I laughed as I walked over to pick up the glove. The dog backed away from me as I approached her, but let me retrieve the glove. I went back to work as the two wandered around some more.
After a couple more hours of work I was done for the day. I got myself a refreshment and sat on the front porch to watch the sun set. My current dog, Gabriel, a golden retriever joined me. Shortly, the two stray dogs showed up again. Gabriel went over to investigate them, as dogs do. The pitbull was not disturbed, but the tan dog was terrified of Gabriel. She fell on her back and cowered. I tried to soothe the tan dog, but she wouldn’t let me get close to her. I made sure the strays knew where the water dish was, and let them drink their fill. Other than that, I didn’t pay much attention to them, assuming they would wander off.
But the next day, they were still there. After a couple of days of them hanging around, I started to leave some food out for them. They would wander and explore the neighborhood, but they always came back to my house. The tan dog was getting more used to me and would let me approach her after a few days. I was able to better observe her condition, and it saddened me. Her eyes were crusted with goo and she couldn’t open them fully. Her forehead was wrinkled as with worry and concern. With her big pointed ears and wrinkled brow, I started calling her Yoda after the Star Wars character. I could also see that she had several scars and many puncture wounds all over her body.
One day after work I wanted to give Gabriel a treat. I decided to bring some out for the other dogs as well. They were just little morsels, so I brought several. Gabriel knew the drill, and readily accepted his morsels. The other two dogs didn’t know to come to me for the treats, so I put a few on the ground at my feet for them. The pitbull easily took the treats I offered to her from my hand. But the tan dog didn’t even look at my hand. She found the morsels on the ground and was enjoying one of them when I got her attention by touching her. I had a treat in my hand and was trying to give it to her, but she had no concept of accepting something from a human’s hand. I put the treat right in front of her mouth until she finally accepted it. She looked up at me in awe, her eyes filled with wonderment and dawning. It broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes, for I instantly understood. This dog, while obviously having been in the presence of humans in the past, had never known human kindness.
It had been almost two weeks since the dogs had shown up on the driveway. My husband had returned and we were preparing to leave for a week for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I wondered what to do about the strays. I hadn’t committed to adopting them yet. I decided that if they were still here when we returned, I would figure out what to do with them then. They were going to have to fend for themselves because there was no way to feed them. I left a bowl full of food for them that could have lasted a couple of days.
Well, when we returned, the strays were still there. So, now I had a decision to make.
I wasn’t against adopting them both. I certainly had enough room for them. My real concern was with their attitude. So I spent as much time as I could with them in the following days. The tan dog was fine, she was just very timid and afraid of other dogs and people, but never showed any aggression. The pitbull on the other hand, displayed some worrisome traits. I can give a pitbull the benefit of the doubt that they aren’t all bad dogs and some can be sweeties. But this puppy made many aggressive actions towards the tan dog, unprovoked. There were times when it would snarl and put the tan dog’s head in its mouth and push her to the ground. It was obvious where some of the tan dog’s puncture wounds had come from. I had to make the tough decision. I didn’t want the pitbull to get her confidence up enough to start treating Gabriel this way. I also had a neighbor with a very young grandson, and was concerned for his safety. So I took the pitbull to the shelter; the tan dog would stay with me. Continue reading Amber, the Wonderful Underdog: A Tribute