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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When You Save a Life

Dillard... so many of you have seen his name and pictures across our Dogs on Deployment Facebook page wondering to yourself, "When will he get a home?" I know I thought that every day I had him... "How could such a great dog not have a home?"

One day last November, I stopped at the mall. My phone had been acting up so I went to the store to get it fixed. When I was helped, the clerk told me I needed the box to make an exchange. Luckily, I had the box in my car. I said I'd be right back and rushed towards the parking lot to retrieve the box.

At the exact moment that I got to my car, I noticed a black body on four legs scamper past my vehicle. When I peered around the front, this sad looking, skinny and beat up bully breed dog looked at me, spun in a circle, and plopped on his side with his tail between his legs, eyes diverted and posture defeated. Immediately, my heart strings were pulled by looking at this literally, pathetic, creature. I had to help.

I called for him, but he didn't move. I came near him. Nothing. I touched him. He retreated. I went to pick him up. He curled into a tighter ball. I was able to lift the 40 lb dog off the wet grass and into my coupe. Tan leather seats with dirty stray dog? I didn't even care. What mattered was his life.

A face you can't resist.
I left the mall and took him back to my house thinking... "Oh dear... What have I gone and done again?" If you have read my previous blogs, you know that I have taken on stray dogs once upon a time before... And even successfully adopted three on my own dime, and found the original owners to four others. But I had never picked up a dog like this. He was larger, of a bully mix, unknown background, in an area where dog fighting, abuse and abandonment is very prevalent, he didn't look to be in great shape, and I had no idea if he would get along with my two dogs waiting for me at home, or if he would try to rip them apart. All I knew is he was sitting there by my car in a parking lot full of thousands of vehicles at the exact moment I by chance had to return to my car, and he asked for my help. How could I refuse?

I pulled up into the drive way. He didn't have a collar on him, so I picked him up and carried him to my backyard. I walked into my house and my dogs jumped on me smelling this visitor, all excited with the prospect of meeting a new friend. I washed my hands, and as I was drying them, I went over my options. It was a Sunday; Animal Control was closed, but I could drop him off tomorrow. I thought of his breed; an unneutered male, bully mix, stray, black dog in a shelter wouldn't last longer than the mandatory hold time. I couldn't do that. I thought of my lease and breaking my pet agreement. I couldn't keep him for that long. And then I thought of my dogs. Oh dear, what about my dogs? What would this stray do to my loving, submissive, gentle companions?

Images of dogs ripping each other apart came to my mind. Not because of his breed, but because of where I am. Corpus Christi, TX is two and a half hours away from Mexico, and the first major city between Houston and San Antonio. What this means is its a cauldron for crime and illegal activity migrating its way up from the border. As military members, when we first check into NAS Corpus Christi, we receive a safety brief from the local police department which warns us of the high rate of theft, drugs, trafficking, and other crimes which happen due to our geographic location. What they don't mention, and what I know due to my experience and involvement in the animal community, is with all that comes the side game of animal fighting.

At first look at this stray dog, I wondered if he was a bait dog, or worse, an actual fighting dog. He was of the right stature, and his face and body was covered in wounds, which appeared to be bite marks. I had no idea what I was going to do if he turned out to be aggressive. I would have no choice but to contact professionals, and unfortunately, we know the outcome of dogs that have past history of fighting.

So I stared at him through the window. He was smelling the grass, marking the fence, chewing on a stick... dog things. I went to the window and he saw me. He came up to the screen, placed his nose close to mine. Then, JD and Jersey, my dogs, came up to the window sill, and they smelt each other through the screen. And what do you know? The dog's tail began to wag.

My heart was elated. After a slow attempt to introduce my dogs to him, it turned out this stray was a huge fan of other dogs! His tail was wagging, his posture relaxed, a big smile on his face, playful behavior; the whole nine yards of what you want to see in a dog-friendly dog. My worries were for nothing. Nothing at all.

After giving him a flea bath and drying him off, I set him up with a place to sleep outdoors in my backyard. I got him a crate, covered it and stuffed it full of warm blankets. I gave him food and water, which he was extremely grateful for, and went to sleep.

The next day I woke up and did my morning routine. When I got to the part where I feed the dogs, I got a third bowl for my stray. I went outside to feed him... and he wasn't there. He wasn't in the yard, he wasn't in the crate. He was gone. I walked the fence and saw that under the gate, he had dug himself a hole and had crawled under to escape.

Now the real worrying started.

Here I am, standing in my empty yard, wondering now what fate lies ahead of this dog. I live on military base housing. I brought a large unneutered male, bully mix (some would automatically stereotype as a pitbull), black dog with no collar onto base. Now I'm deathly afraid that a mother with her kids is going to have the same concerns I was having last night about his behavior, only he's unconfined and on the loose. Stories of cops responding to a "vicious" dog on the loose which end in a dead dog and a crying owner whose dog was just misunderstood come flooding my conscious. I rush to my car and start to patrol the neighborhood. I called the base police, the housing office, the base veterinarian, the local animal control and the local police station and gave a description of the dog and that if they seen him, to call me. At this point he's not just a stray, he's MY stray.

After a couple hours of searching, I was forced to go into my squadron for my flight. It was a blessing that the weather that day was below minimums and my flight was cancelled. Having to cancel a flight because I was too concerned about a dog that wasn't even mine and I had absolutely no investment in was not something you want to explain to a Marine Corps Major. I made an announcement to the pilot ready room that if anyone sees a wandering black dog on base, call me, and rushed back home to continue my search.

I walked in the front door and just on a whim decided to check the backyard once more. And who do I see? My black stray dog sitting nicely with his tail wagging and tongue hanging lazily out one side. He had dug himself BACK in my yard and was waiting nicely for me to come home. The next day I shared my relief with my Major during my flight briefing. He told me that explained why he saw a black dog frolicking through the golf course on his way home after we were cancelled...

First thing I do when I find any stray dog is promptly search for the original owner. I contacted all the animal centers and rescues in the local area. I put up a few Found Dog flyers, and I posted a Found Dog ad on Craigslist. Here's where my jaw dropped. Over the weekend that I had found him, THREE ads were posted on Craigslist about a black dog spotted wandering the mall parking lot. This means that at least THREE individual people saw this dog and did nothing, but post an ad on Craigslist. At least they did that... the other hundred of people that went through that mall parking lot during holiday traffic hours and spotted the black stray dog and ignored him as an invisible problem... shame on them for doing nothing - not even calling Animal Control. When you see a person or animal in need, DO SOMETHING. After determining that I would help this stray dog find a new lease on life, I aptly named him Dillard; since he was found outside of Dillard's. The journey of his fostering began.

It was nearing Thanksgiving and I was going to California for the break. I had only two days to arrange a foster home for him during that time. I was lucky to have a friend that agreed to watch him. He fell hard for Dillard, so hard in fact, the day I came back he firmly told me I had to take Dillard back because he was falling in love with him and he knew he could not have a dog right now in his life. I was saddened; the idea of adopting him to a friend was relieving... unfortunately, things never work out the way they are intended to. I was about to learn this lesson the hard way.

Dillard and his Houston foster.
After putting out a plea for a foster for Dillard on Facebook, I was immediately contacted by a veteran who had used Dogs on Deployment to find a foster for her two pets through our networking partners during her last career deployment. She agreed happily to watch Dillard for me until the end of the year. I prayed and hoped I would have a home lined up for him by the New Year. I agreed to drive half way between Corpus Christi and Houston to meet her, make the transfer, and start work on finding him his home.

One of the first potential adopters who contacted me was extremely interested in adopting Dillard. He seemed like a great dog for their family; honestly, he would make a great dog for any family. He's THAT good. (unless they had cats, which we also learned the hard way...) The only problem was, they were in Georgia, and Dillard was in Houston. After another plea for help of Dogs on Deployment, we were able to arrange Dillard's transportation from Houston, TX all the way to Savannah, GA, making his transport through holiday travel to get to his new home. The day it was supposed to take place, the bad news came. The family could not take Dillard due to unexpected deployment changes. My heart dropped. His first home fell through. My hope for him fell through.

Not only did his first home fall through, but in the same week, his foster could no longer care for him. He immediately had to be transferred to a new foster home, which didn't even exist yet! Again, calling out to my Dogs on Deployment fans, we found 4 Paws Farm, which is a small rescue outside of Houston, that agreed to pick him up that day and foster him until we were able to find him his forever home.

Despite his perfect demeanor, goofy self and amazing personality, he just wasn't receiving the interest that assured me he would find his perfect forever home; at least not anytime soon. Maybe it was because it was during the holidays? Maybe it was his breed? Maybe it was his age? Size? Looks? I didn't care; I knew he was a great dog and I would keep trying.
Dillard just wants to be loved.

A week later I received another adoption application. A young, military family in Dallas was looking to add a dog to their family. They were planning on training the dog, hopefully Dillard, as a therapy dog for the husband who recently got out of the Army. They sounded great and anxious to meet Dillard. Coincidentally, my husband and I were taking our holiday in Dallas over New Year's. Everything was falling into place. The only wild card was that they had cats...

Dillard had met cats before, and the experienced ranged from interest, to fear, to prey drive. The current foster parents had several cats in their home and honestly thought that with the proper introduction, Dillard would be able to be in a home with cats.

We were wrong.

My heart still aches for the morning I got a call from the family telling me that they could not keep Dillard. He had shown prey drive towards their cats, and when I dropped him off I told them if that happened, I would come get him because endangering themselves, their cats or Dillard was not worth trying to make an adoption work. It was a very tearful afternoon. When I dropped Dillard off two days before, the family was so excited to meet him. Dillard loved the husband, rolled on his back for belly rubs, made good friends with the young daughter and even gave gentle kisses to their baby. When we all realized this wouldn't work, we said our good-byes, thanked each other gratefully for the opportunity to meet each other and Dillard, and I took Dillard away. I will not forget that family's sincere offer to love Dillard forever. I hope they find their perfect family dog soon. I'm sad it could not be Dillard.

Dillard however, was very happy to be reunited with me once again. I was wondering what I was going to do with Dillard. We were staying at a fancy, but pet-friendly hotel... typically for two pets... Here we are: husband, wife, parrot, and three dogs, in a small 400 square foot room. Luckily we had a king bed, otherwise I don't know where my husband was going to sleep...

Dillard being a good boy in the hotel lobby.
We had three more nights in Dallas with Dillard, and he made his statement! Every night, we would go to our hotel lobby for wine hour. The other guests with pets would meet us, and we would discuss our pets, trips, careers, etc over a glass of wine. While my terrible dogs would jump on people, pull on their leashes and whine because they weren't getting the crackers with pate, Dillard sat quietly, looking at the guests, wagging his tail and receiving pets with grace. He was such a good dog, that when we explained to people he was for adoption, a family was seriously considering adopting him on the spot. While we weren't going to adopt him on a whim, their interest in him gave us hope; once the right family meets Dillard, he'll get adopted.

What an interesting three days that was. Between potty breaks and being tied up in leashes in the elevator, my husband and I had a wonderful trip to Dallas. Wonderful all until the clock struck midnight on New Year's. We walked back to our hotel after the festivities ended, looking forward to crashing into bed... But that didn't happen... Warning to all readers: Do not give your dogs a new chew treat when left in a hotel room unattended. What should have been a relaxing New Year's, ended up being a two hour long scrub session of our hotel carpets... Which dog, JD, Jersey or Dillard, did it, we will never know. What we do know, is someone had explosive diarrhea across our entire room. And since my husband has the worst gag reflex to foul smells (I'm so looking forward to having children with him...) I was left cleaning the mess up. I think I did a fine job too. I won't release the name of the hotel, but I am very, very sorry, about what happened in that room... Won't happen again, I swear.

So the trip ended, two adoptions down the drain, no foster home lined up (4 Paws Farm took in an unexpected guest), and back down to Corpus Christi we go...

My husband was leaving for San Diego the next week. Originally, he was going to take JD and Jersey back to our home in San Diego while I finish flight school in Corpus Christi. "Change of plans, honey! You're now taking Dillard!" He wasn't too shocked, and since he had grown fond of Dillard, he was looking forward to the drive back (over driving back with our dogs who are monsters in the car). Shawn had a great drive back to San Diego with Dillard riding in the backseat, sleeping quietly and occasionally being mocked by our parrot from his cage (he can get along with a squeaky parrot, but not a cat... go figure.).

Once back in San Diego, we reopened his adoption (and made an adoption video! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnOax6TjsPU) He was vetted, neutered, heartworm negative and microchipped; ready to go to his new home, and we were still waiving his adoption fee to a military family. We were shocked about the amount of interest we received on him now that he was in San Diego, which is in fact, our biggest place of support on our Facebook page and organization! The first family who contacted us had been following Dillard's story since day one. The wife, Molly, was so excited at the prospect of getting to meet this dog of her dreams who she had been following for months on Facebook. I could hear the sincerity in her voice; Dillard was the dog for her and her husband, and she knew it, and she wanted him, and she would prove to me she was the right family for him.

And she did.

After reading her emails, the story of her and her husband, who is a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and talking with her on the phone, I told my husband to set up a meet and greet with them at their local dog park. When Molly first saw Dillard at the park, it was as if she knew he was already her's. Her and her husband had a great big backyard for him, a great dog-friendly lifestyle and plans to integrate Dillard into their life as any one could hope and dream for their foster dog. They will give him the life that he deserves. That first day I picked him up, scared and alone, thinking no one would ever save him, he can now sleep happily, in a big bed, with a loving family, who will always insure he has a roof over his head, food in his belly and love to be given.

Dillard has finally found his forever home.
Dillard and his new parents, Molly and Andre.

I want to thank every one who was involved in saving this boy's life. Whether you shared his Facebook posts or talked about him to your friends, our supporters online got his name out and got him his fosters and forever home. Thank you for caring about his life. And thank you to Dillard's fosters, Matt, Coree, Chris, Nancy and my husband Shawn. And to the families that had shown interest in adopting Dillard, but for whatever reason could not. I hope you find your family pet in another needing pet. Thank you for making Dillard's life possible!


  1. Awesome. I am so happy for Dillard, though maybe slightly jealous that he can't be ours. lol

    1. :) There are not enough Dillards in the world. But if there were, the world would be a better place...