A chance sighting of a small dog running loose on the streets and some out of state calls led to my involvement in this case. The concerned couple got pictures and tracked paw prints in the snow to a truck cap and pile of old fencing. Startled by their voices, the dog bolted out of a hiding spot and was captured on video. I arrived at the address, got out of my Jeep, and a little dog immediately came out from under the front deck, walking directly towards me. Shocked, I managed to say “Well, hello sweetie.” It gave me the once over, then casually turned around, headed into the backyard, and disappeared. I talked with residents to get more information and permission to stage from properties, including a vacant house driveway.

The dog and I crossed paths several times that day, eyeing each other from a safe distance.
I learned it had wandered the large neighborhood for at least two years, and because it wore a collar, everyone assumed it lived nearby. It trotted along side streets and cut through yards using holes in fences and evergreens. It drank water from puddles and downspouts and made rounds to multiple yards to steal food left out for feral cats. Angry at the negligent, unknown owner, residents called Animal Control. A cage trap was set at various locations on numerous occasions, but the sheer number of feral cats made normal trapping an impossible task.

As the weather got worse, the dog curled up in the mulch beds of two homes. One spot was sunny, and the other, directly across the street, more sheltered. I started a feeding schedule at the “shelter” home to be in sync with trapping efforts. The vacant house was nearby, and I left a bowl of kibble and water there every night. An accumulation of snow, an ongoing cold snap, and bait freezing hampered efforts. Hot broth helped but created a soupy mess. Perfect spots to trap were only available a few hours. Strategic places to work were few, feral cats restricted working prime areas, and residential activity contributed to difficulties. The dog was constantly on high alert. It was quieter after dark, and I’d stay until my feet and hands were dead numb. Running the Jeep’s heater was “noise” and wasn’t an option. Leaving was always difficult knowing the dog was dealing with the same harsh conditions that forced me home every night.

One day I went to put a bowl of Cesar dog food at the sheltering home as part of my routine. The dog was in the mulch next to the front steps. Talking softly as I bent down, I got within twenty feet before it got up and disappeared into the yard next door. While spooning out food, I looked around and saw this tiny head poking up over a short brick wall. The little dog was standing on its hind legs watching me! The shelter home family also had a fenced yard that they couldn’t utilize easily, and lately had to leave the gate open so it wouldn’t freeze in place. I asked if I could rig a line from the gate into a window, bait the back yard, and then hide inside behind a curtain with a firm grip on the line. I said they could assist me if they wanted to. Once the dog entered the yard, the gate could be closed by yanking on the line and holding it taut until the latch was secured. I gave them a 50’ roll of green vinyl-wrapped wire clothesline. It’s sturdy and works great. The family readily agreed and said I could set up the next day.

I was happy but impatient because another snowstorm was arriving in a few hours. I was inside my blacked-out Jeep, with trap and food set up in the vacant house driveway. It’s cloudy and snow’s coming soon. I get a text message “WE GOT THE DOG !” The fence family felt badly and decided to see if they could catch the dog themselves before the storm. The lady said it watched them from across the street as they set up the line, and then entered their backyard shortly after she put out a bowl of food. I called the ACO who had just left work for the day but said he would grab his gear and arrive shortly.

The dog immediately tried to escape by digging snow out of gaps in the fence. I got down low trying to comfort it with reassuring tones. The dog came over twice to briefly lick my hand before backing away. We both shivered from the bitter cold. When the ACO got there, I hid behind a corner to let him do his thing. I’m sure the dog felt “trapped” not being able to escape the small area, but, luckily, relaxed its guard. The ACO sat on the ground with a can of cat food and was able to lure the dog to him within minutes. Lynn, who initiated this rescue effort, came by to take pictures. The snow started falling as I head home with a huge smile.

I’d like to express gratitude to Sheilah Graham who contributed countless hours. She set her own cage trap, talked with residents, shoveled snow, and managed FB and other messaging. She scouted streets and alerted when the dog was heading near the trap (I’d be dead silent inside my totally blacked out Jeep). She brought spare bait and hot broth to help thaw food that kept freezing solid. After hours spent in the cold, my core temperature dropped, fingers wouldn’t work, and my toes hurt. Sheilah picked me up and drove around while I warmed up. This allowed me to stay longer, especially after dark when I only got out to warm up bait. I’d also like to thank ACO Calandra, a dedicated professional with an abundance of patience and compassion. His jurisdiction is extremely busy and yet he extended a gracious welcome, took time to meet me, and answered all my calls.

Thought to be a Pom-Chihuahua mix, the female dog is 11 lbs. and at least 6 years old? She’s got a green stripe belly tattoo, indicating she was spayed. A faded collar doesn’t have tags and there’s no microchip. Her hair is silky but sparse along her back, perhaps rubbed off from slipping under fences and decks for years. Her spine is bony, and her right eye has a mature cataract. She tests negative for heartworm but positive for Lyme disease. She’s in decent shape despite having spent several years outdoors fending for herself. Efforts to find her owners are unsuccessful, but not surprising, given the time she was out on the streets.

I called to talk with the ACO a few times to see how things were progressing with the little dog. I was concerned about her future adoptive family. She deserved someone who knew how to handle a high flight risk with “special” needs. I didn’t think this was the best time to adopt a dog myself because my mom had Alzheimer’s, but I think I should foster. When I go to the shelter, this tiny, resourceful creature is understandably scared and not receptive to me at all. It’s not a difficult decision when it’s time to head home and I do so as a first-time foster mom. I picked the name “Sophie” which means “wisdom” out of respect for her ability to make choices that enabled her to survive. Skills that kept her alive made her extremely cautious. When I first brought Sophie home, all new outside sights, sounds, and scents frightened her, but she quickly found a “safe” cozy spot on the couch. On leashed walks, exploring the yard, she’d always head for the corners, straining the leash, wanting to push beyond the open-view wire fence. Realizing the leash was holding her back, she’d try to slip her collar like a bronco. Fast forward and now she’s content with her yard but would run off and away if not leashed. She constantly checks to see if the coast is clear by looking around and listening for noises like fireworks, gunshots, loud adults, and children yelling. After assessing risks, she then proceeds to take me for walks in our yard. She wants to go back inside immediately if she perceives anything as “scary,” and there’s a multitude of things that, for her, belong on the scary list.

Sophie is intelligent, curious, and a quick learner who studies surroundings intently. Amazing. Her cataract eye developed a serious issue, so we saw our Vet and then an eye specialist. The condition worsened and her eye was removed, but it didn’t slow her down. Chipmunks still need chasing, but she gave up on birds. Not a “yappie,” she’s only barked three times to defend our property. The wild turkey almost got a warning, but both ran in opposite directions. Stuffed toys are worth investigating but boring. Tiny tennis balls are absolutely fun to chase, while slowly learning to bring them back so mom can toss them again.

Sophie is an experienced escape artist who can jump, dig, squeeze through the tiny openings, and outsmart humans. Years ago, lost or abandoned, she managed to survive on her own. Sweet dreams forever Sophie.
Love, Momma Debbie

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