Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dex a/k/a Mini-Mike

Dex came from Animal Control just south of Memphis. He had been there only a few days so it was only twenty dollars to spring him. My son had just moved back from Denver and twenty dollars was just about all he had in his pocket. He had graduated and was in flux looking for a job. He had been living in an apartment while in school and was anxious to get a dog —his own dog.

Mike hadn’t been home long when he called me laughing, “I just got a dog and he’s digging a hole in the seat of my truck.” Their relationship grew from there. I honestly believe that Animal Control was ready to find a home for this little bit of big trouble. And, I don’t think this was his first time to be incarcerated.

That weekend I met Dex. “Wow, Mike that’s a nice dog. He looks like a Jack Russell.” But, it didn’t take long to figure out how this one ended up at Animal Control. The dog had a bad habit of running in the opposite direction when called. I have no doubt that his previous owner just got tired of chasing him. He’d take off like a streak of lightening and never break stride. The only way to catch him was if he found something interesting to water or stopped to scratch and sniff. If he sensed that he was just about to get nabbed, he’d take off again before you could get your hands on him.

The patience of a twenty-one year old is short and Dex soon learned that Mike might call once but his world was not going to stop to chase a dog. I purchased a collar that said “Dex” with several phone numbers stamped on it. Over the next few months, Mike met many of his neighbors.

As time has passed, I noticed that this pair had the same behavior patterns and cocky attitudes, so I started calling the annoying little animal “Mini-Mike”. I mentioned this likeness to one of Mike’s friends and he said, “Yea, they both have attention spans about this long”, and held up his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.

Now, when you see one, you know the other is close by. As for the bad habit, as soon as Dex realized that no one was chasing him, he stopped running.

When they come to the house for their usual weekend visit, I will ask, “Where’s his hoody?” I’d noticed that I don’t get an answer. I had purchased Dex a hot pink velvet sweatshirt at Target with rhinestones dotting the “is in the word Vicious and it had a hood. It seemed fitting. But, maybe hot pink isn’t a guy color or maybe the rhinestones were a little much. Anyway, I’m guessing that the hoody got traded for a beer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Harley’s Story

It was fall 2005, post Katrina, and I was traveling from Memphis to south Louisiana to find and adopt a dog left homeless. I had searched the Internet and found a shelter that would be open over the Thanksgiving Holiday. I would have only an hour to spend at the shelter because the drive would take so long and I had to be back at work on Monday.

I headed out. After many hours, I arrived at the shelter. It was packed and wet with desperation. As I walked down the dark narrow passageway between the indoor kennels, I had to fight the impulse to cover my eyes and ears. When we finally entered a fenced area, the shelter owner brought out several dogs and then added one that ran around wildly. She said that many families had looked at the wild one but no one wanted her because she was so strangely undomesticated. Her name was Harley.

The shelter owner explained that about a year earlier, Harley had been boarded at the local vet’s office while her owner went into the hospital. She was only 3 months old. Unfortunately, the owner died and no one ever came to pick Harley up, so she spent the next year boarded and was kept tranquilized in an effort to keep her calm.

When the hurricane loomed, the vet decided to evacuate. He called the shelter to see if they could take on another dog. The shelter picked up Harley and endured the storm with all their animals. When they told me that no one would adopt her, I signed the papers and loaded her into my car.

Harley is extremely intelligent and an excellent watch dog. I learned from the records that I later got from the vet that she is half Chocolate Lab and half Austrian Shepard. The veterinarian was very relieved to learn that she had been adopted.

Harley has a residual habit that she may never overcome. She repeatedly spins in tight circles when close to me, always to the left. In the back yard where she has room to run, she has worn a path, a perfect circle, about 12 feet in diameter. She runs and reruns her circle, always to the left. I can only guess that she probably did this constantly while boarded.

Harley is a wonderful pet and many thanks are due to the veterinarian and the shelter for keeping her alive. The shelter owner said that Harley truly has an angel watching over her.

Monday, February 13, 2012



My small town of 2300 citizens probably includes cats and dogs in the count. During the day, the dogs run loose usually in small packs. They don’t seem to cause much trouble except for an occasional garbage incident. There isn’t much traffic and not one red light. So, it is not unusual, especially in the summer, to see a dog lying in the middle of the street napping only to raise his head indignantly and lazily look as you honk and pass by. When I witnessed this “lounging” more than once, I knew that my town was indeed on the small side.

There aren’t many places to eat lunch here. But, one place, “Mr. Jiffy”, a grocery-convenience-gas store, serves a home cooked meal every weekday and had become my usual noontime stop. As I got out of my truck that day, I saw a small dog sniffing the sticky pavement around the gas pumps. She looked hungry and a little scabby. But, it was the look on her face that caused me to stop. She was looking directly at me and continued to watch me as I went inside. The lunch crowd was thick with lots of folks coming in and out. As I stepped out the door, she spotted me and followed me to the truck.

It was not unusual to see dogs hanging out at Mr. Jiffy. But, on this day, the neighborhood pack was conspicuously absent. I put my food in the truck and bent to inspect her closer. I decided that she had probably been put out here to find herself a “new” home. I went into the store and told the clerk, “I’m gonna take the little dog home with me; just letting you know so if someone comes looking for her.” The clerk said, “No one will come. She’s been around for a few weeks now.”

I took her back to my office and gave her some of my macaroni and cheese. After a while, she napped and then we went outside. My aunt, a school-board worker, was passing by and pulled in the driveway. “That little dog has been over at the school for the last two weeks and they have been feeding her molded bread.” Looking at the little dog nestled in my arms, my aunt said, “Just look at her, I swear she’s smiling.”

I took her home that evening and noticed more small patches of skin with no hair. I bathed her and kept her clean but after several weeks the patches had not cleared. The vet confirmed that it was mange. He said that it was the kind of mange that dogs are sometimes born with but the immune system usually fights it off by adulthood. He thought she was about two years old and said that stress and malnutrition had weakened her and we needed to get this under control quickly. For several months, I gave her medicine and shampooed her and everything healed. Things were going well.

Twinkie went everywhere with me. Much to my son’s dismay she even went to his dirt bike races. She particularly enjoyed the ones out-of-state where she ripped around the hotel rooms and wallowed in the beds. My son was clearly embarrassed to see his mom at the start line carrying this tiny dog for all his rider-friends to see.

About a year had passed when the scabby patches returned. I took her back and she received more treatment; but, the vet said, “This is the latest medication on the market so if this doesn’t do it, then there is nothing else I can do. Just want you to know.”

It was 4th of July when she got really bad. The vet was closed. She was in severe pain and was hiding amongst the shoes at the bottom of a small closet. She wouldn’t come out so I placed her bed in with her. She wouldn’t even get up to go out in the yard where she had loved to dart around and terrorize the squirrels. I couldn’t pick her up because she would snap at me. She was extremely hot to the touch and had swelling that was tender to the lightest brush. We suffered all that day and night. The next day was worse. My usual vet had been ill and was still closed. So, I found a clinic in a nearby town that was open. I lifted her gingerly, bed and all, and loaded her into the truck. I then made the long drive knowing what I had to do. When I arrived, I explained her history and treatment and was again told that there was nothing else to be done. I heard, “Wow, she’s hot as a firecracker.” Followed by, “ You’ve done everything you can. I agree with your other doctor.”

The shot took effect quickly. Huge silent tears rolled down my face as I walked into the waiting room full of sympathetic eyes of strangers. This was unexpected and had come on suddenly. I thought I had gotten control of the situation. I have since learned that many of these dogs are too far gone when I get them for me to make much of a difference. But, I seem to be able to give them a quality life even if it is for just a short time.

Her name was Twinkie. She came from a grocery store.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Precious - Just happy to be here


“She’s just happy to be here,” the vet said as he stepped out of his truck to vaccinate the horses. He was talking about the dog wagging her way to greet him. “She’s blind and deaf,” I explained. “She gets around by smell.”

Precious is a small Catahoula that I had been asked to foster for a while. She was abandoned as a young dog. The family probably picked her out of a litter of puppies and didn’t realize that she was impaired. Then she grew up and was put on the street. The shelter picked her up. It seemed that she had been left behind. After a while, she was adopted from the shelter. A few months later, the second family moved and left her tied to the back steps. So, the shelter picked her up again. It’s hard to place a dog with two major disabilities.

Precious is from south Louisiana and the product of an effort to breed for her beautiful blue merle coat and glass blue eyes. It was to be temporary and I was concerned about dealing with an animal that could not see or hear. How do you communicate with her?

The first few months went okay but then she just stopped eating. I thought simply that she would just get hungry enough and eat. This didn’t happen. I tried table scraps, milk, cottage cheese and bread but it was clear that she must also have an eating disorder. “Well,” said the vet, “any change will be amplified psychologically because of her problems.” I found that I could get her to eat by sitting on the floor beside her and putting dry dog food in my hand. Slowly she began to eat regular meals in a regular manner.

As the weeks passed, she learned to take her cues from my “normal” dogs and seemed to get around okay. It was difficult to get her attention. If she were sunbathing in the yard, I would have to go out and touch her. For the longest, she would jump up startled in raw fear. If she was sleeping on the porch, I stomped my foot. At night, I blinked the porch light. I learned that she could see just enough to notice the blinking.

As fall approached, my son began deer hunting in tree stands that he had scattered about the property. “Mom, your dog finds me in the woods and sits at the bottom of the tree! She’s ruining my hunting.”

She is very intelligent and manages to avoid dangers such as flying horse hooves. When she ventures into the pasture, she carefully stays by the fence or the edge of the woods so she can jump to safety should the horses spy her and decide to investigate.

She can find anything with her nose. She will now awaken if sleeping in the yard and the breeze blows my scent her way. She jumps up, puts nose to the ground and tracks every step that I have made until she runs into my legs. She begins at a walk, that grows into a trot, that becomes a dead run. “How brave. Blind dog running.” I wonder, “Would I be brave enough to run if I were blind… and deaf?”

I have now had her about four years and she is… just happy to be here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Billy's I Wuv Eyes

Billy B. Bob

I came about Billy indirectly. One day I looked in my pasture and saw a white spot in the tall grass. It appeared to be something dead, particularly since my horses were not interested in the least. As I walked toward it, a blocky head raised. I don’t believe that I have ever seen a dog so skinny and still alive. As I drew closer it sat up, crouched and crawled a little backward. I went into the house and came back out with a bowl of dry dog food. It would not let me approach so I poured the food on the ground. This seemed to work.

When my son saw what was going on, he said that the dog looked like it just needed to be put down. I had to agree. When I looked closer I noticed swelling around its belly. “I think she must have pups somewhere”. As often happens, she and her pups were put out on the side of the road. “How do you drive off from that,” I wondered.

I began to set out Ziploc bags of food at the end of my driveway near the road. Everyday she would silently appear. She would sit at the end of my drive for a moment then grab the bag and run. This was a daily routine and she appeared at the same time every day. She began to put on weight and her belly filled out becoming obvious that she was taking care of a litter. I soon doubled the amount in the bags and placed them out twice a day. She would come twice a day and retrieve the meals. People began talking, saying how they would see a dog going down the highway everyday with a bag full of food. They eventually would say, “I saw your dog today.”

At the time I was working in Memphis and would only come to the country on the weekends. I made enough bags for a week at a time and my son would put them out daily. After a few months, I found the litter in a culvert on the side of the road. There were seven pups, all very timid as they had had no human interaction and neither had she. I called a shelter and they agreed to take the mom and litter.

The next weekend, I managed to crawl into the ditch and then the culvert and was able to retrieve the pups without much ruckus. But, the mother was upset and not to be caught. After about thirty minutes, I gathered the calmest pup to hold out to her and finally got my hands on her. I quickly put her in the crate with her pups and placed the calm pup in the cab of my truck where he fell asleep under the seat.

We made our way to the next town where I found the shelter to be very clean but overrun with dogs. They were very accommodating and readily showed me where she and her pups would be kept. Someone, a student, was already in the pen with the family cleaning them up. The plan was to then check them for heartworms. I was directed to the office to fill out the paperwork.

The office had people everywhere trying to adopt. I was handed a clipboard with the papers and I filled out the front side. When I turned it over there was a question to be checked “yes” or “no”. It asked if I wanted to be called before the family was euthanized. I was unaware that this was a possibility and wanted to run get the family and take them back home. But, I knew that my Memphis landlord would not understand. I checked “yes” for the call and decided that if they were not adopted in 7 days that I would just go get them. I left and the calm pup was still sleeping under the seat of my truck. I did not have it in me to leave him behind.

Seven days passed, I had not heard a word so I made the call. “Oh yes, that family was picked up by a no-kill shelter out of Arkansas.” So, there I was with a small pup to add to my two dogs and four horses and me working in Memphis during the week.

I must say that Billy turned out to be the best, easiest puppy that I have ever raised. He lived with me about a year traveling back and forth to Memphis. It became clear that he had a lot of Lab in him and was turning into a beautiful dog with unusual green eyes. A friend of my son’s adopted him but he had to move into an apartment. So, Billy has permanently rejoined me on the farm and I wonder how I ever let him go. It’s funny how things work out. Vicki Wood, JD©

Yogi's Morning Position

Ode to Yogi

If Yogi were here he would say, “Please excuse my torn ear.”

It was early one morning when we met. I was walking to feed my always-hungry horses. I was still in my morning grog. My horses were nickering their usual “I’m hungry” like “I’ve never been fed”— chatter. I walked to the hay bales that were covered with tarps and randomly stacked. As I bent to lift the tarp, I thought I saw something move. There he was, a very large Pit Bull, lying on a bale of hay watching me. He slowly stood which put us face to face. I froze in my bent position scared for my life. Many thoughts flashed through my mind, mostly about death.

He stared motionless. It seemed like forever. After a while, I slowly straightened, scared to break eye contact. Do I just stand here or run for the house? Then he lowered his large head and simply stepped down off the hay bale. He just stood there.

I could tell by his bent frame that he had lived his life on a chain. He also had scars on his face and a torn ear, which could mean only one thing. But, his eyes watched me with the gentleness of a warm soul. He was skeleton thin and had labored breathing. No doubt that it had been a long time since he had eaten and I supposed that he had heartworms.

I went about my routine of feeding and watering the onlookers. He sat down and watched my every move. I walked back to the house and he laid down by the haystack. When I came back with dog food, he stood and waited until I sat the bowl on the ground before he approached. He showed no aggression. After a few days, I decided that I had to do something about the fleas that covered him. As I drew the water hose near the haystack, I slowly reached for his collar. He did his usual and simply stood still as I doused him.

Days passed and he began to feel better. He started making every step that I made in my predictable routine. He particularly enjoyed the mornings and seemed to be visibly humbled by the fact that he got two meals a day. He always waited patiently for me to place his bowl on the ground before he approached.

After a few weeks, he moved onto my porch. He learned quickly and began to jog with me around the pasture. As days passed, he became a fixture on the front porch and found a spot in the yard to just sit and watch the daily happenings. He had such a large presence.

You know that you can’t keep him, I would think. So, I went on-line to see if there were any placement services for Pit Bulls. I knew there was a risk that he would be put down. I also knew that no one would want a Pit with heartworms. He began to put on weight but the coughing was worse. I decided that my Christmas present would be to have him treated for the heartworms. The vet said that Yogi was about three years old.

I had him only a few months. He died during the second week of the heartworm treatment. In that short time he had so easily forgiven those who had kept him chained and made him fight. In the last hours, it was as though he knew that death was close. He seemed to have a calm resolve as if to say, “It’s okay”. As if to say, “I now have dignity and pride. And best of all, I have a name.”

Vicki Wood, JD ©

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't Leave Without Me....


Every year I paint a portrait of an Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society "resident" and donate it for their annual fundraiser, "Paws for Art". I also write an accompanying story (which rises to the level of being compelled to do so). I usually leave home with one particular idea in mind but, after time at the shelter, always end up with something different. Here is my story about "Izzy":

I had heard that Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society was housing about 30 Chinese Cresteds they had recently rescued. I had not yet taken this year’s photo for OLHS’s “Paws for Art” fundraiser and decided that these hairless dogs might be good candidates for my annual donation portrait.

When I arrived I learned that the Cresteds were shy due to their past living conditions and I would need to wait while they retrieved a few of the more social ones. I had made up my mind prior to arriving that I would go through this as if I had on blinders in an effort to lessen the hurtfulness produced by the scene of any animal shelter. So, I planted myself on what I thought was fairly neutral ground. As I waited, I couldn’t help but notice an 8 x 8 portable pen full of puppies. They were the non-descript dogs —medium height, medium weight, medium black hair, with a long tail— the ones that are so often seen on the side of the road eating anything and looking worse than half-starved.

A kennel worker passed and saw me. “They have been here a while,” he said and I knew that meant their time was short. I stood watching and noticed that some looked to be about 3 months old while others were just babies. Lost in my troubling thoughts, I saw that the smallest one had pushed her tiny head through one of the squares of the chain-link fence. With her head lowered and chin resting on the wet concrete she rolled her eyes up and was looking directly at me. Trying to pass the time and shift my thoughts to thinking that this was cute, unsuccessfully veneering over the true sadness, I snapped a few photos. She sat very still by herself, close to me, body in the pen and head out with her pen-mates piled up in the far corner. She watched as I moved trying to break her gaze in a thickened time that seemed like hours. “Today will be their last day here,” said the kennel attendant nodding toward the pups bringing me quickly forth to the harsh reality of the situation. I lowered my camera, “Look at that little one with her head sticking out …what a shame.” *

I was shown to an area where I could photograph the Cresteds. For a moment, I was completely absorbed in the darting movements of these nervous creatures of only skin and a few puffs of hair. I knew that, unlike the pups, their uniqueness would find them in adoptive homes.

The afternoon was hot. I began to feel uneasy and wanted to leave. I finished the last photo of the Cresteds and walked toward the office. I again passed the pen of puppies. Only now it was different. It was empty except for the little one who had moved to the far corner where her buddies had been. “After you noticed her, we decided she might get adopted and, really, were hoping that you might take her,” the attendant said half smiling.

My mental image of blinders and hope for numbness suddenly dissolved. I thought of my too many animals at home and then of this tiny one with a remarkable ability to vividly express herself. I knew that in spite of her infancy, her plea was clear,

“…don’t leave without me.”

I didn’t.

Vicki Wood, JD ©

* I have worked with OLHS for years. I know they do all they can and it is inevitable that, as a single organization, they become overwhelmed at times by the shear numbers with which they are forced to deal. OLHS has taken approximately 30 animals from me over the years and most were the non-descript ones mentioned above that were abandoned on the roadside. Many have been so badly treated that they can’t be caught and wander the roadside and ditches for months and, unfortunately, produce litters forcing them into eventual captivity. OLHS knows all too well the prolonged starvation, freezing temperatures, and disease that these animals endure.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Trying my hand at gessoboard. Something new for me to try. This surface is rather slick and not at all absorbent like my usual watercolor paper or Arches artboard. I do like the effect I was able to achieve. Many times when trying something new, I will use a photo or previous painting that I am already familiar with the colors. This allows me to focus more on the overall technique and not worry about much else.