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Saving a Stray Dog
Allie resting in the Berkeley animal shelter

One doesn’t often get the chance to have a hand in saving the life of another individual but early yesterday morning I had the rare opportunity to experience exactly that. A few days before, I and my pal, Naomi, were out walking our dogs at the Albany Bulb when we spotted a stray dog. The Bulb is a very unusual park constructed as landfill in the bay with debris from a previous highway. For years it was regarded as semi-marginal land full of mammoth chunks of concrete spiked with rebar tentacles but it became the favorite haunt for homeless encampments and outsider artworks, and, oh yes, for dog people too.

Recently the Bulb has received more attention from park planners, and is in the process of an intense clean-up and gentrification effort, some of it good, some of it threatening to become restrictive to our dogs. But it is still a wild and wonderful urban park with stunning views of the Golden Gate bridge. This past Saturday morning that is where my dog Lola found the dog at the end of what is referred to as the Bulb’s neck. It was only a fleeting image, of a white/brown fluff who yapped at Lola but as soon as we humans came on the scene, ran away. The next day we saw the dog at the same time and place but after a few barks, she sped off. We asked other park goers if they had seen such a dog and yes many had seen this dog for a very long time but didn’t know much more nor do much about it.

Obviously this was a dog who needed help, one can’t imagine where a dog could find any food and with no fresh water anywhere nearby, it seemed that she was in an extremely perilous situation calling for immediate intervention. So I contacted another friend, dog park advocate, Mary Barnsdale who, among many other dog-related interests, chairs an organization called Aldog, and maintains its Facebook page. I also asked her to also contact Jill Posener, another dog advocate and rescue person who runs a spay/neuter initiative called Paw Fund, who I knew has orchestrated successful stray rescues. They both had heard about this dog for at least four months, but the sightings were in many different areas that this was the first time they heard of sightings that were more precise and detailed. After our weekend initial sightings, my partner, Cameron, went out on day three, and he too found the dog in the same area. So now we now had a trifecta that could launch a rescue plan.

To further help the effort, Cameron put bowls of water, and tiny feeding stations throughout that area, and placed small irrigation flags to highlight the area. So on Tuesday evening Mary and Jill brought out the two traps, baited them and waited for a few hours. Nothing happened that night or the next, so it was decided that since we had seen the dog early in the morning, that the vigil on Thursday would be moved up to the crack of dawn.

Jill arrived first and had already baited the traps when I showed up at 5:30 a.m. She was standing off to the side of a pathway far from the traps to not be seen by the dog. She and I stood there whispering about the strategy, and at around 6:00 I saw a white flash go to the copse of trees where one of the traps was located. So we had our sighting. Jill told me that we might hear the trap door close but also cautioned that if the dog didn’t enter the trap within a few minutes that it would be it for that day. If that didn’t work then, we would have to remove the bait and plan to return the next morning and then scatter food around (and in) the trap to get the dog used to finding the food nearby. We waited with bated breath but did not hear anything, no barking, no cage door closing. But at 6:15 we quietly went out, not expecting to see anything but empty crates, but lo and behold, Jill quickly exclaimed, “bingo, we got a dog!” And there was the little wild one inside the trap, all the food had been eaten and when as we approached she barked up a storm and tried to dig her way out. It is really hard to express what a joyous moment this was but we took it very cautiously not coming too close, but close enough to see that she was safe and secure.

Jill then phoned Officer Justin Kurland of the Albany police department, who the day before had sent her this photo of the dog that he had taken at the exact spot where we were standing. He had seen the traps with a notice with Jill’s contact info. He had told her that if the trapping worked to call him and he would open the gate to the trail so she could drive up to the area instead of carrying the heavy crate down to the parking lot. So I was left alone to watch over the pup who I tried my best to reassure and cheer up, as Jill went to wait for him and to get her van. Even though the pup continued to bark, her body language seemed to calm down and she wasn’t frantic, there was even a slight tail wag. A few minutes later I was happy to see Officer Justin on a motorcycle escorting Jill’s van up to the rescue site. It was great getting his help, and he told us that he had two small dogs and might even adopt this one! We all were cooing and marveling at her. She sure is a cutie. He helped carry the traps to the van. He also added that he was so excited to get Jill’s call, that he left his cellphone at the station!

Once in the van, the dog totally calmed down, the barking stopped and she eagerly gobbled up the greasy chicken given to her between the bars, and even licked our fingers. It was like she was seemed relieved to get the wild life behind her. She didn’t appear too frightened, perhaps a little bewildered, but who wouldn’t be? We all fell under her spell.

Jill then drove her to the Berkeley animal shelter to see if she was chipped (negative) and check up on her health etc. She seemed fine considering her long ordeal, a few fur mats, but so far so good. They thought that with her nice white teeth that she was perhaps two years old (almost a quarter of her life spent as a stray). A vet will be checking her out thoroughly on Friday. So look like a Lhasa mix, with short legs and a lovely fluffy tail indicating a breed like that. Cameron and I paid a couple of visits to her today and we got to see a totally different dog as she greeted us at her kennel’s glass door. We weren’t permitted yet to go into her kennel, but Jill has the authority to do that, and it was so heartwarming to see how she was greeted by little Allie (with her new name) playing and nuzzling her. Jill will act as the adoption agent, finding her a foster home first and then picking the perfect forever guardian for her. Officer Justin might be just the candidate, and I heard that he has planned to bring his wife to meet with her. I am confident that all will work out for Allie, and I will be posting future news about her. But if anyone in the SF Bay area might be interested, you can contact me directly.

I can’t say enough about the great work that Jill and Mary do by picking up the slack from local shelters that are too strapped for staffing and funding—they simply do not have the resources to mount trapping efforts. This one was resolved quickly but normally it can take many days or even weeks and someone must be on site to check the traps so that other animals or dogs aren’t being caught. But individuals, like Jill and Mary, who freely donate their time and expertise, can also enlist others, such as eager ride-along novices like myself, to pitch in too. So this one worked out almost effortlessly, a full community effort, even involving a police officer!

I would love to hear your stray rescue stories. How were they resolved? Any tips to offer to others? Jill did teach me, that calmness and patience are key, but the payoff when a dog is safely rescued pays dividends that are definitely worth it all.

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Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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