(Dawn, March 2015)
We met Dawn in June 2014. She was a feral stray living on the streets of a run-down, low-income community in Springfield, TN. When I say feral, I mean until last December a human had never touched her. ICHBA heard about her after she had a litter of eight pups under a pile of brush and trash.
I clearly remember seeing Dawn for the first time. She walked with her head hanging low, as though exhausted, tail tucked, teats sagging from so many pups sucking on them. Mud stained her paws and nose. Her coat was dull and ragged. She moved within a few feet of us, close but not close enough to touch.
Dawn didn’t trust humans because when she was six months old, the Springfield Police Department massacred her entire pack. We first heard about the incident from residents on Smith Street and later confirmed the report with the police department. After several complaints about twelve feral dogs harming property between Smith and Josephine Street, the S.P.D. set chickens loose in a field. When the dogs ran after the live bait, the police department opened fire with shotguns, sometimes shooting the animals two or three times. The only dog that survived was Dawn.
Sometimes, I imagine what it must have been like for Dawn during that terrible day, hiding in some drainage ditch or hunkering behind a tree while the whole world exploded and her pack screamed, the scent of blood thick. Dawn had lived through a war zone.
Mason, Donna, and I tracked Dawn – mostly by foot – down every back alley and through every abandoned lot in Springfield during a soupy hot Tennessee summer. We tried catching her using sedatives, tranquilizers, catchpoles, and nets but we failed each time. We even had Springfield Animal Control engaged in our efforts, but Dawn’s a supremely intuitive creature. She outfoxed all of us.
During the course of the next six months, Dawn had nineteen puppies, all of which ICHBA rehomed. But we were never able to get our hands on the mother until Christmas Eve morning 2014, when we trapped her under an ink black, pre-dawn sky in a crumbling shack where she had birthed her last litter of puppies. For Donna, Mason, and I catching her was like winning the Super Bowl. We were fist bumping, ass slapping, high-fiving every which way. Even now, we all still consider catching her our greatest achievement yet.
Dawn didn’t trust us fast. It took weeks before she allowed me to touch her without bolting for a corner. In fact, we discussed getting her fixed, then releasing her back to Smith Street because we never thought we’d be able to socialize her. We rationalized that if she had a collar, she wouldn’t suffer the same fate as her former pack.
But we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t give up on a dog that had already suffered so much. Instead, everybody pitched in and my whole posse – Mason, Donna, Nancy, Charlotte, Lino, Jim, and most importantly my pack – taught Dawn that being touched by humans isn’t so bad.
Watching Dawn a year after I first saw her is like seeing a different dog. Her coat is sleek, black, and shiny. Her eyes are happy and thoughtful. She wags her tail, suns on the deck, and walks on a leash just like any other dog. She’s still shy, timid even, but once in a great while, she’ll kiss my cheek.
The other day I told Mason about someone interested in adopting Dawn. The gentleman said that he doesn’t have any other animals and that she would need to be crated for eight hours a day. Mason immediately shook his head no.
“If anyone deserves a perfect home, its Dawn,” he said.