Even now, as I travel the highway that carries me over the river, over the turnaround, along the creeks and bogs lining the road, I always look. Just past the bridge through the clearing you can see it, the place where the gravel road wraps around the lake, where he always lay. He was one of five dogs dumped at the same time, dumped to die at the hand of nature, fate or cruelty. He was an odd-looking dog, more like a pit bull than a boxer, but there was something else in the mix as well and we called him Ross. Of all the dogs, he had the most presence and he seemed to be the leader, the dog the other ones followed in spite of an injury to his leg. If he came to eat, they all came to eat and when he was done they all left together. Back when it all began, when we were wringing our hands about what to do with five dumped dogs as funds were low and fosters impossible to find, so we came up with a plan, a plan that would allow us to save them all. We set up a den for them in the dense woods, with shelter, food and clean water and checked on them each day, hoping to draw them closer and gain their trust so we could take them to a better life.
We came to know the dogs well, each with their individual personalities, but they would never get close enough to touch or pick up and load in the truck and I believe this was because they took their cues from Ross, the alpha dog. Across the lake we would see them, sitting together in the morning sun or under a small tree by the water and as we entered the den we would hear them in the woods around us when we came to feed. We contacted a kind-hearted trapper named Kevin who has helped so many animals and with his help slowly we got them one by one. All that is but Ross, who until the end managed to elude the traps, who from a distance watched us load up his last friend and then ran back up the road all alone. Ross was smart and not easily fooled by the smells of fried chicken or brisket in the trap, but our trapper was not giving up. He could now turn his full attention to Ross and took it on as a mission and for weeks he would set the trap out before the earliest light each morning and after dusk each evening, but still Ross would not be trapped.
We were left with the realization that Ross would have to be darted with a tranquilizer to save his life, he would simply go to sleep and wake up safely in our hands at the vet before heading to boarding, we had it all planned and we were ready, but so was Ross. Despite several tries, Ross would not cooperate, he stayed hidden or became unpredictable in his whereabouts and you can’t catch what you can’t find. We were still seeing Ross, he just knew when to stay hidden and I believe he could smell the presence of someone new. We fell back to trapping again and Kevin tried every trick he knew, even invented a few new methods, but still no Ross. We would see him, usually at a distance and although he was eating the food we put out, he would not use the shelter and we could see him deteriorating from the stress of being alone and once again we were wringing our hands. Often he would run up and down towards us along the road, wanting to come near, wanting to be caught, but unable to lay down his fear to let us help him, but still we came and still we tried.
By this time, Ross had been out there several months, we were anxious, afraid for him out there alone. Although he was hidden away on private land, the dumping ground was just outside the area and the dangers there were innumerable and our fears for him grew. One day we realized he had not been seen in several days so we met at the site, fanned out through the woods around the den, and walked and drove the dusty road around the lake. We carried binoculars in one hand, smelly delicious food in the other and left it at various spots along the way, hoping to draw our boy out into the open. Soon it had been weeks since we last saw him and the weeks turned to months, other dogs were dumped and we would rescue them, and we kept looking for him, always hoping that maybe he was still out there somewhere and that new activity would draw him back, but we never saw him again.
I like to believe he left to wander and found the houses on the other side of the river, that someone took him in and that as I write this he knows gentle hands and a soft bed somewhere. I like to think he’s with a pack again, leading them around a backyard until he’s called in for the night with a treat and pat on the head. That’s what my heart wants to believe, but my mind knows better. It knows that in spite of our efforts, somewhere out in those woods he laid down a last time, either sick or hurt, tired of being alone, not starved or beaten, but tired and broken by his short and sad life, betrayed by those who dumped him, unreachable by those who would have helped him. I will keep looking through that clearing as I go by, hoping to see a spot of white lying in the dust of the dirt road so I can turn my truck around and drive back to that bitter place. I will walk to the fork of the rutted road and raise my hands to shield the sunlight and I will see him. As he gets to his feet he will turn to look at me, willing me to understand that he’s at peace now, we don’t need to look for him anymore, and in a cloud of dust he will be gone, back to the woods, and I will let him go forever.
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If you would like to help the small group that is saving the lives of dumped animals in Crosby, Texas, please visit http://crosbypuppymassacre.wordpress.com/