Deep inhale. Center myself.
I can tell I’m going to have a hard time telling this story. If come at it rationally as a friend listening to it be told by another person, then I’ll not do it justice. If I go all melodramatic and compare it to, say, “Brian’s Song” then I’m completely missing the point as well. My intention here is not to emotionally manipulate anyone, or to provoke some form of inorganic response. My intention is to share the story of a little dog, his three sisters, one brother, his mama, and two heroic women who had to follow their gut instincts and female intuition as both creators and salvagers of life. I’ll do my best to play the reporter, say, of Rolling Stone Magazine or an NPR blog piece.
So we start at the beginning.
On Wednesday, January 1, 2014, Annie* was returning home, northbound along I-95 from her Christmas vacation to see family in Florida. She and her husband, a loving, practical and reasonable man, and their young daughter and son were crammed in their little Honda hatchback along with a bounty of Christmas goodies showered upon them during the visit.
“We were driving along 95, somewhere in the early afternoon, and I saw a shaggy black lab kind of dog. A mix of some sort, just wandering along the shoulder of the road heading north with us. I physically turned to watch him as we drove by, wondering about him. I turned to my husband as I normally do, because we’ve done a lot of crazy animal rescues and I asked him, ‘Should we turn around?’ and of course he said, ‘yes,’ and so we turned around and it took forever, about an hour to find the dog and coax him to come to us, but it was too scared. So we had to give up.”
At this point, it’s well after lunchtime and their kids are super hungry. So they got back on the road with the full intent of stopping, as they had planned before, but just not at the exit next after they had encountered the black lab-ish dog, but they needed to get a bite into their daughter.
“So we stopped at exit 119 and we pull into this travel station, it’s like a truck stop and as soon as I parked, I looked up and there were TWO dogs. This mini golden retriever that looked like she had been a mama, and another dog next to her on the curb.”
Annie was still on dog rescue mode; her adrenaline was up from the attempted and failed effort with who I’m going to call “Recon,” who got her to stop in the first place. She got out of her car and started to ask people about the dogs and no one claimed them.
“So I went into the little shop at the stop and bought a leash and a couple cans of wet dog food and went to the dogs to feed them. The dogs rejected the leash, so we bought a collar. I’m still hand-feeding them and once we were able to put the collar on her,” Annie paused, reflecting and sighed. “It’s like the strangest thing. Every time I put a collar on a stray dog, it’s like they’re domesticated, from the inside and they respond like a pet dog. So I got her. The male, there was no way. He was not coming.”
At this point, it’s close to 3:45. Annie and her family had been at this for about two hours and her husband had referred to the mama dog as “Mini,” because she looks like a mini golden retriever. Mini had jumped into the car, happy as a clam at high tide, and was settling in to her new digs just fine.
Meanwhile, Annie is still trying to get the male dog to join her but he was just too scared. Annie asked several people in the shop about the possibility of puppies. It was confirmed that Mini was pregnant six-eight weeks before. Some time before Thanksgiving, Mini had puppies everyone guessed. The consensus in the shop was that Mini had also stopped coming to the shop to beg and that she’d stayed away for almost two months. So she had recently returned although no one saw any puppies.
This is where I start getting emotional about all the synergies lining up like gossamer strands keeping things linear and organized even though it seems and feels random. This is where I start to believe in “dovetailing” and “fate” and “inexplicable reasons” for why people should always follow their internal wisdom; the wisdom that lives in all of us if we’d just sit, breathe and be still for a few moments. Like a stray animal, we need to show our intuition we are ready for it to guide us; that we trust it and then it will come to us.
Annie has been involved in animal rescue for several years; once taking in dozens of feral cats to foster, spay and neuter them with the help of her local animal welfare league. She has experience with all manner of beast, so getting to know a little more about this stray dog and her potential puppies was nothing new.
Mini’s teats were sagging, so she looked like she’d at least had puppies once, but Annie and her husband had asked around and no one had seen the pups. “So we fed the kids and took in Mini and even though there was a thought at the back of my mind that there might be puppies, we’d done all we could within reason to ensure that they weren’t leaving anyone behind. So we all packed back into our tiny car,” she said. It was crowded: Mini, Christmas packages, baggage, high hopes, good intentions, children and all. “Mini didn’t make a peep the whole way back; she slept on the kids in the back seat.”
The rest of the journey was blissfully uneventful. A bit after 11 o’clock at night, five days before the much-hyped Polar Vortex was about hit the U.S., Annie and her family pulled up to their home after a very long day of fruitlessly chasing after Recon, buying a leash and a collar and wet food and kibble and coaxing and waiting and hoping and lying on the cold asphalt or gravel or mud at a South Carolina truck stop to rescue Mini, which had been successful and the other dog, which had not been successful.
“So I’m getting Mini out of the car and she was FULL OF MILK. Her belly was red, her nipples were red. I knew what mastitis was all about and I thought, ‘Oh no. We’ve got this dog who’s going to get mastitis.’ So my husband and I went back and forth between, ‘no babies and we left the babies to die…'”
Annie is well-connected with people who can help. She called up her friend who is a vet tech and she took Mini to see her and the diagnosis was no mastitis … yet. She would be OK until the morning.
The next morning, Thursday January 2, when many Americans have begun their second day of New Year’s Resolutions and many children are off from school, Annie took Mini to the local animal welfare clinic and got her dewormed and vaccinated. She also wanted to get their insight into whether Mini did actually have babies. They checked her out and surmised that yes, Mini was a recent mother and that there are puppies waiting for her return.
I know. Just when you thought you could exhale.
“So, at that point, and even before — like Wednesday night when I got home, I kept calling the people at the rest stop and asking them more questions. So on Thursday morning, I also called rescue groups in South Carolina to see if anyone could go to the rest stop and find the puppies, but no one could help us. They’re all strapped thin.”
When Annie first called the rescue groups, they were not willing to help at all. But she was persistent and explained to them that she would take the puppies and help find them homes, she started to get some traction. One of the groups agreed to call, “Bill” the single local animal control officer, who was a good guy, who could be trusted to actually help, to see if he would go look for the puppies.
“She said she would call Bill, but she never said she’d call me back. I left several messages and none of them were returned.”
So Thursday night comes. Still no phone calls and Mini has been without her puppies, and they without her, for more than 30 hours and things are getting sort of desperate at this point. Many things are at play: Mini will develop mastitis; the puppies, of there are any, could fail to thrive and the temps are dropping, even in South Carolina as the Polar Vortex starts its journey across the country. Reports of snowfall and crazy-low temps populate the airwaves. My own radio news station, WTOP, couldn’t get its fangs on this Polar Vortex story fast enough.
Annie’s husband and she are inclined toward her venturing back to the site with Mini where they found her to see if she can locate the puppies.
“I hadn’t used Facebook in a year. I just decided to post the story about what was happening. It was one of the first things I’d posted in a very long time. So I went to sleep and we thought, ‘I’d never left my kids on any trip without them,’ but I was determined. I was going to see what was happening with the dogs.”
Overnight, a friend, Mandi* responded to Annie’s Facebook update and offered to join her to find the puppies.
I know… right?
“So the next morning, I talked to Mandi, and we made plans about when to leave. My husband gave me these two little flashlights. Mandi brought some extra leashes and a cat carrier. I don’t even think we got any food [for anyone, human or dog], we just went.” Annie said, in a matter-of-fact and assured way. To her, there was any possibility; but the one thing she knew for sure was that she was going back.
They really had no idea what they were in for, but they were up for anything and that, my friends makes the difference.
So at 11 o’clock Friday morning, on January 3, 2014, Annie and Mandi hit the road in search of puppies.
# # #
Yes. I’m going to string you along here. Not because I’m desperate for people to read this and to follow the posts, which I hope they will do because it’s a great story, but also because I’ve been typing for about three hours and listening to an MP3 recording of this story from Annie and I need a break. Come back tomorrow. I will have the next update. I suspect this story will run two or three more posts.