It now seems like it happened in another age. Time moves fast in cyberspace. Some time ago, in some other life, I posted about an abused dog in New Jersey. He had been tied to a tree with a prong collar for all of the twelve months of his life, left to guard a body shop. We had been told his ears were mutilated, gored with wire hangers to make them stand up, and that he was covered with vermin. New Jersey Cat Rescue got involved in removing this dog from his owners.
Rescuing dogs is weird stuff. You can't help but get emotionally involved in some way, and it's often worst for the ones who make the initial contact and observations. They work under some very dire circumstances: hostile owners fuming at do-gooders in righteous indignation, sick and frightened dogs who have nothing to ground themselves in but their instincts, nervous rescuers handicapped by not having any dog skills at all. Stories fly and sometimes facts aren't facts.
So it was with Vera.
I met her on a Monday at a McDonald's parking lot. She arrived in a canary yellow pickup truck which had CAT RESCUE signs stuck all over, not the most dignified conveyance for a very noble dog. The first thing I noticed about her was that she was a "she", not the male I had expected.
"Well, see," said one of the cat ladies, "that guy who had her always called her "him". I thought it was kinda funny that he would give a dog a name like Vera, but you gotta believe me, this is a very strange man and we wasn't gonna argue with him."
Next I noticed the ears. Yes, there were wires, but not at all the gruesome wounds I had expected. The ears had been taped to the wires and the tape was filthy, giving the appearance that the ears had been gouged. At the shelter we unwrapped the ears very carefully and found some sore spots on the insides, treatable with antibacterial soaps and ointments. I'm happy to say her ears stand up just fine!
Her coat was ratty, she had fleas, and I felt some ticks when I ran my hands over her. None of it bad. A bath and a session with flea comb and tweezers has now made Vera into a real beauty.
But most notable about Vera was her temperament, her steady nerves. This dog had been neglected, maltreated, tied to a tree in all kinds of weather, fed and watered at the irregular whims of her owner, never played with, never socialized, and spoken to only in angry shouts. She had been taken away from the only home she knew, a tree in back of a junk yard, by people she had never met, and put in a truck which surely smelled of all the cats of New Jersey.
When I opened the tail gate to meet her I fully expected her to shy away but brave little Vera gave me a quick glance, sniffed at the dog cookie in my hand, allowed me to take her leash and then, with grace and elegance she jumped out of the truck. I talked with her, told her what a good girl she was, what a good little traveler, and it netted me a look from Vera which said, "Please, don't patronize me. Let's get on with whatever is yet to come." Vera is a German Shepherd through and through.
We had her scheduled for spaying and assorted health checks and tests, and we wanted to observe her for a while, maybe even train with her a little. Vera had no manners. She didn't know SIT or DOWN but neither was she an ill-mannered dog. She was in her own world, aware of her environment, curious only in passing of people, entirely disinterested in dog treats. She had her head up high and scented the air, or down low and sniffed around the office. She didn't flinch when we touched her but neither did she seek or invite contact with us. Vera was aloof.
Until she met her new owner.
A man came from up north in New Jersey and brought along a friend who does SAR. The man had grown up with GSDs but hadn't had any in some time because he didn't have the right house for a large dog. Funny, how people think of GSDs as "large". He had just recently bought a home, and a new pickup with a topper on it and heat in back so his dog wouldn't get cold, and he was ready to find his perfect dog. He had brought his SAR friend to help him evaluate that dog. They were looking for a big bouncy male.
Sheryl showed them around the kennel and introduced them to the dogs we have in residence. His friend asked that she let one or the other out of the run so he could interact with them but the adopter was stopped in front of Vera's pen and gazed at her. His buddy tried to interest him in one of the dogs but the man waved him off.
"What about this one here?" he asked.
"Oh, that's a little bitch we just got in. She isn't ready for adoption yet. She still needs to be spayed and looked at by the vet."
Could he just maybe take a closer look at her, he asked. Sheryl let Vera out, aloof Vera who hasn't bonded to anyone in the week she's been there. Vera came out of the run, tail straight out, ears up, sat down in front of this man, smiled at him, and said, "I'm yours. Let's go home."
So we let her go. He filled out all the paperwork, called his buddy's vet from the kennel office to make the spay appointment, wrote out a check for the adoption fee, and all the while Vera sat by his side and his one hand scritched the top of her head. Sheryl later said she's done many adoptions but not a one as touching as this one.
I know what she means.
About the Author
Anka Andrews is a freelance writer of anything related to dogs. A native of Germany, she has lived in various places in the U.S. since 1967. Most of her time was spent in southeastern Idaho where she learned to love fishing, hiking, and camping, all of them solo but with any number of dogs in tow.
Dogs have been constant companions in Anka's life ever since she was twelve, when after her father's death her mother bought her a dachshund puppy. Anka has had cockers, labs, and she's now owned by a GSD, Hasso, and a GSD/Northern mix, Jake. Both of these guys are rescues. Hasso comes from a back yard breeder, a real puppy mill, and Jake was on death row at a dog pound. These two dogs have brought incredible and magical changes to Anka's life, culminating in her move to Pennsylvania in 1995 and getting involved in GSD rescue.