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Finding the Perfect Home for Dawn


(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.

Meet B. Lou Lou, A Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog

B Lou CU(B. Lou Lou)

for sure(Adriana and B. Lou Lou)

B. Lou Lou is a homeless dog in the ICHBA network that isn’t living at the Farnival. She’s staying with another foster family. All we know about her history is that someone dumped her off at the door of the Southside Pharmacy in Springfield this winter.

In May, Donna, ICHBA’s head honcho, and I tried to take B. Lou to the 2015 Springfield Art Walk, but she was so horrible on a leash that we had to pack her back up and send her home. It was not the time or the place for training a high energy yearling that had never been tethered before.

About a week ago, Mason and I started leash training B. She’s a smart little freak. After three days, she was prancing right by my side, slack leash, matching my stride. The only time I had to correct her was when she saw a squirrel. We tested her behavior this morning by walking her with six other dogs. She did awesome, letting everybody take long sniffs of her booty, then moving beside them as though they’d been migrating together for years.

If you didn’t already guess, B. Lou Lou isn’t her real name. It’s Brandy or Brinley or something along those lines, but she is such a crazy looking dog that she deserves a crazy nickname. She wears a coat that looks like it belongs on a wild animal, white paws, and cockeyed ears. Even the name of her breed sounds funny; her foster mom says she’s part Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. What does that even mean?! 🙂

Socializing Dawn: Update 3

Dawn 3:21:15(Dawn)

I Could Have Been Adopted has had two more inquiries about our foster dog Dawn. Nothing beyond an email expressing interest, but it portends good things for her adoption chances. For those of you just tuning in, three months ago Dawn was a feral dog living on the street – producing litter after litter – that we captured and domesticated with the help of our own pack.

Since spring has finally arrived, Mason and I have been kicking Dawn’s socialization process into high gear. This week she’s gotten treats at the bank drive-thru, visited PetSmart to get Adriana a new collar, and accompanied us to our favorite restaurant Chipotle.

She still has problems with first impressions and barks at people or dogs from a distance, particularly if she’s in the car. But, it’s not an aggressive bark, it’s more of a “hey, look over there” warning. Up close, she greets every dog and human with a shy and gentle demeanor.

To celebrate the first weekend of spring, this morning Mason and I are taking Dawn on an urban hike through Nashville so that we can expose her to the bustle of a big city. The forecast predicts a sunny warm day so we’re hoping the streets are hopping. I’ll let you know how she does.

Letting Dawn Go

wsup(Dawn and Mason selfie, two months ago)

Right now, as I type, it’s pouring outside. A heavy fog hovers over the yard and between the naked tree branches. I hear the rain tapping against the ground, the roof, the windows, and try not to think about Mason. He’s sitting on the couch, slumped really, staring at our foster dog Dawn and brooding. I told him an hour ago that ICHBA has already received an inquiry about her.

It’s hard for me to watch him watching her. I know his heart sags with the reality that one day, maybe one day really soon, he has to say goodbye.

He’s attached. She’s attached. It’s a love affair. And who could blame them? Mason’s the one that went into that dark shed last Christmas Eve morning to capture her, he’s the one that wooed her when she was imprisoned in our basement until we could have her spayed. He cares about that sweet shy ghetto mutt more than I’ve seen him care about any dog.

And Dawn feels just as strongly about him. For the longest time, he kept inviting her onto our bed for an afternoon nap, but she kept declining, whining a little but always going back to her perch on the couch. And then, a few days ago I walked around the corner and caught her snuggled next to Mace. He was sound asleep, chest rhythmically rising and falling. Her snout was on his stomach, brown liquid eyes wide open but as peaceful as I’ve ever seen them. She loves my husband.

The inquiry is just an email, asking to speak with ICHBA about Dawn. It may not go a step farther, but it’s enough to kickstart the emotional process of letting Dawn go. It’s not going to be easy…especially for Mason.

The Women of Smith Street

Dawn&Tony(Adriana and Dawn)

I watched the road with a keen anxiety. A cold front was moving through Middle Tennessee, and although the sun blared on our rural street, the wind was frigid.

Bernice was coming to the Farnival to visit Dawn. Bernice is one of the women that fed Dawn on Smith Street. Since we caught her, Bernice texts or calls every week, asking about her progress, wanting to know when she’s coming back.

I needed to explain it wasn’t going to happen. A text would have delivered the message, but I felt like I owed Bernice closure, a face-to-face explanation. The problem was I had no idea how to tell her I wasn’t bringing the dog she loved back home.

After seven months and two litters (totaling 19 puppies) we had finally caught Dawn, a feral lab mutt, on a drizzly, black Christmas Eve morning. Dawn had lived her entire life roaming around Smith Street, a rough neighborhood in Springfield, TN, where drug deals take place as openly as checking the mail.

ICHBA used every trick possible to catch Dawn; we drugged, chased, trapped, tracked and stalked her, pulling both her litters before the pups were even weaned, then using them as bait to lure her out of hiding. We failed so many times that we came close to giving up.

Our biggest obstacle was Dawn’s well-founded fear of humans. Our second hurdle were the women that lived on Smith Street – Bernice, Martha, and Sandra, three older ladies with big hearts and antiquated beliefs that feed all the sickly and overproducing strays living in their ghetto. Even though they had never touched her, the women developed a strong attachment to Dawn and helped us only when absolutely necessary because they were afraid once we caught her, we wouldn’t bring her back. At one point, they even banned us from their property.

Over the past seven months, as odd as it sounds, I’ve started to really care about Bernice, a short, white-haired southern lady that spends her time with her diabetic blind husband or smoking menthols on her porch. Bernice honestly loves Dawn. No matter how many times Bernice thwarted our efforts to catch her, she still fed her for two years and contacted ICHBA when Dawn started dropping litters.

Bernice walked in the house wearing a camouflage jacket, sweatpants, and sandals with white cotton socks. She smelled like cigarette smoke and garlic. She may have once been pretty, but now, her pale blue eyes are the only part of her face still beautiful. Deep wrinkles groove the rest, her forehead, cheeks, and lips. Her fingertips are chapped and callused, her knuckles swollen.

“Is that [Dawn]?” Bernice asked, reaching for the now-healthy looking dog. Dawn beelined it for the couch, nails scratching hardwood as she scrammed.

Bernice drank her coffee with a spoonful of sugar while I taught her how to gently approach Dawn, how to reach under her chin and not above her head. After a few minutes, Dawn allowed Bernice to sit next to her on the couch. It was the first time that Bernice had ever touched her. She beamed like she was looking at her newborn grandchild.

“When she coming back home?” Bernice asked.

We locked eyes and all those words I didn’t know how to say clogged in my throat. Bernice’s already wrinkled forehead creased even deeper. Her baby blue eyes widened and brimmed with tears. She knew. She had always known. I thought about her sad-looking house on Smith Street, her husband dying of diabetes, about how I was taking away an animal that she loved in the only way she could, and it still wasn’t good enough. I thought about about how sometimes doing the right thing didn’t feel right.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Saying No Isn’t Easy: Rosie Update 3

DSC_0292(Rosie and Adriana)

Our foster dog Rosie, a St. Bernard mutt, returned to the Farnival in October. ICHBA had adopted her out when she was a pup and she was given back as an adolescent. This last return marks the fifth time she’s changed homes in less than a year.

Not many people ask about Rosie. Since she went up for adoption again in October, we’ve only had two inquires.

The first young woman wanted an already-trained-on-a-leash dog, but even after daily walks, Rosie still yanks likes she’s leading a dog sled team. When I explained to the young woman about Rosie’s strength and stubbornness, she instantly said no, they wouldn’t make a good pair.

The second inquiry was from a soldier named Mary. I told her about all of Rosie’s quirks, and Mary seemed willing and anxious to work with her. She spoke knowledgeably about dogs, explaining she had grown up with animals, and was ready for a challenge. When I asked what would happen to Rosie if she got deployed, she said she had several options.

I stewed on our conversation for an entire day. Everything about Mary was perfect. She said she planned to take Rosie for long jogs in the morning and drop her off at a doggie day care while she was on base. She even giggled when I mentioned that Rosie had zero manners, farting burping, and snoring without worrying about who was in the room.

Plus, I didn’t want to say no to a soldier. Mary fought for our country; she was part of what made it possible for me to walk my dogs down a sidewalk in the first place. And I couldn’t help thinking about all those heartwarming YouTube videos of dogs greeting returning troops, not to mention the dozen or so military folks that had helped me search for Adriana when she ran away on the Fort Campbell Military Base.

Later that night, Mason nailed my concerns on the head. “It’s not if she gets deployed, it’s when and how often.”

Right then, I knew we’d be telling a soldier no. Mary was a perfect candidate for a dog, but was she a perfect candidate for Rosie?

After moving from place to place five times, Rosie’s next home must be her last. Because she’s been jostled around so much Rosie picks one person to love hard, but her love borders on dependence a.k.a. separation anxiety. She needs permanence and structure above anything else. I can’t knowingly put Rosie into another temporary situation.

It’s not always easy saying no, especially to a soldier, but the next morning I told ICHBA that Mary wasn’t the right fit.