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2011 August--October
Southern California

You are looking at Scarlett when we found her August 10 and arranged for her to board at a no-kill shelter until we could find a foster, adopter, or return home to California for her (left), and Scarlett on October 12, four days after we retrieved her from the shelter and brought her to live in our home (right).  The no-kill shelter had deemed her unadoptable after her third day there, so she was largely unsocialized and not walked during her stay there, facts we had not understood until our return to California October 5.  We immediately removed her and brought her to our home.  How great and fast a change comes from a grateful canine's heart when they are given love and a chance for a real life!

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SECOND UPDATE, 2011 Oct 16 Sunday:
Scarlett will have a home!  She has earned a forever place in our hearts, and just as she was doing that, we were led to some wonderful people in Texas who can give Scarlett love, understanding, care and guidance, fun, and -- ready for this -- a larger mellow male bull terrier with whom they are sure she will bond!  Her education (and ours from her) and her life with us will continue for a few more weeks, and then she'll fly with us to Texas, and we'll walk with her into her new home.  



Here with us, she has become a lovely canine family member.  She carries our grocery bags when she's not carrying her stuffed animal "puppies" tenderly everywhere or snuggling up to our mellow seniors (a male shepherd "Ford" and a small female terrier mix "Tilly") -- yes, she worships them!  Examination shows that her oddly splayed left front foot was crushed by something early on in her life.  It slows her a bit, but not much; enough, though, that she won't be a long-distance hiker or runner.  From what we see, she'll be very happy to walk with family, run around a yard after a ball, and spend most of the rest of her time snuggling and snoozing and daydreaming.  She lets us do anything with her, even set her down in the bathtub and give her a scrub, inspect her ears and teeth, and just about anything.  She is so happy these days.  What a love she is!

Our Chip-In has $150 now; we need to give $750 as her 'dowry'.  If you'd like to contribute, go to her chip-in site or pay with PayPal on this website; we'll know it is for Scarlett unless you specify otherwise.  On Wings Of Care  is donating all of her care and transport and then some.  We consider that small payment for all the love and learning she has already given to us! We will miss her, and as the time draws closer, well, you know, ouch, don't want to think about that right now.  Thank you all for your encouragement and help.  Love Never Fails!  We'll post more photos in the coming days and weeks.  Would have had some great ones yesterday on a short hike in the local foothills, but the camera jammed. But there will be more!

 

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UPDATE 2011 Oct 11:  Out of "prison" finally, Scarlett has shown herself to be a gentle, social, and extremely intelligent and responsive animal companion!  She has endeared herself to her temporary canine and human pack and made many new friends.  And we have learned so much about what she and her kind have to give to humans, and why humans are able to make these impressionable, intelligent dogs behave so badly.

Enjoy these photos and videos from Scarlett's first taste of freedom and a real walk in the local foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains!  And her wonderful behavior with her new canine friends and temporary foster family.  We have found her to be gentle, social, and extremely affectionate.  She greets all humans enthusiastically. We have put her in a variety of canine-social situations, and we find that if she is met aggressively or comes across a dog barking at her from behind a fence or door, she does not cower but goes toward the scene.  She does not bark, but she is not afraid or disinterested.  Yet she came away on our command, and she never started the aggression.  At no time did her behavior frighten us or look as if it were out of her conscious control.  We've known shepherds and other breeds of dogs who were less well in control of themselves.  And with dogs who are not aggressive toward her, well, take a look at these videos for yourself!  She just met these two canines Ford and Tilly two days ago, and the first time they were together face to face was on this walk this morning!  No problem at all.  In fact, on our return, when Tilly growled disapproval at Scarlett's accidentally stepping on her, Scarlett cowered and begged forgiveness -- and later brought two stuffed animals to Tilly to try to win her over!  

Oh, the stuffed animals -- that is the sweetest thing yet  She loves to have her "puppies" near her and carries them tenderly.  What can we say?  Mother love needs an outlet.  And it sure makes for a sweet dog.  If our own lives and schedules could be different, we'd love to keep her.  We hope to find some special human(s) who will appreciate how special Scarlett is, and they will find an unforgettable love, devotion, and spirit from their canine companion for years to come.  

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By the way, we received a rejection letter from Best Friends Animal Society.  They said they are too full to take her.  We wrote back and asked them to reconsider, based on how social and adoptable she is showing herself to be.  But no.  They said they could not.  Sigh...

Here are photos and video from today. These beautiful photos were taken by Kari Kochar, a local professional photographer who heard about Scarlett and wanted to meet her and take her photos.  In a very rushed 15 minutes in a busy area of the local foothills, Scarlett behaved beautifully and Kari caught her joy!  Click the "Read More" link below for more photos, videos, and her original story.

 

 

Here's the original story:
We got the desperate plea on August 10 when we were almost 2000 miles away and knew we wouldn't be back to California for at least a month. We receive many desperate pleas every day for animals about to be euthanized, and we can only respond to a small fraction of them. Why this one, and when we were nowhere near to act in person? I have no idea. There seems to be something bigger than our own minds at work sometimes, and whatever it is has a way of taking over our lives once we admit to ourselves what it is we really want to do with our lives and our energies.

I've never had a pit bull in my life. Hardly ever even been near one. Dogs yes, dogs indeed. In nearly 58 years there has almost never been a time when there wasn't a dog figuring large in my heart and my life, and for 47 of those years there has always been at least one german shepherd devotedly at my side. Yes I've had other kinds too and all sorts of mixes, all of them rescues. But I used to say that german shepherds were the real dogs -- all the rest just had four legs. How wrong I was.

The plea was for two female pit bulls, found as strays. One was lactating but her pups were nowhere to be found. Later to be named Scarlett, she was a lovely soft taupe color, sweet brown eyes, but oh my the scars on her face and bites out of her ears. One tough gal to be sure, and she would take no sass from anyone and warned them of that even before she got any. The other pitbull female was caramel-colored with white patches on her chest and face. Docile and submissive, she hid behind the dominant Scarlett. We named her Giselle.

 

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From 2000 miles away, and with all of our usual On Wings Of Care volunteers also out of southern California at the time, we had to get creative to help these two. Suddenly a perfect solution appeared -- a friend and neighbor replied to our email inquiry and told us she used to have a beloved pitbull, and asked if we needed help transporting the two "sisters of circumstance" somewhere. Well, indeed we did; and we needed help finding that "somewhere"! Almost at the same time, we both had the same idea -- a local humane society whose management staff each of us knew and from whom we thought we might be able to pull a favor. So with a 2000-mile-long arm, we arranged for Scarlett and Giselle to be picked up, driven to the shelter, and placed in special care with the promise that they would not be euthanized and, if not adopted, would be held for On Wings Of Care until we could return.

Our friend and neighbor quickly found a made-to-order adopter for Giselle, by remembering a former colleague from work who had another pit bull. Giselle is now in an extremely happy forever home, in love with and loved by her human family as well as her big brother Coltrane -- a male pit bull slightly older than she with nearly identical markings and colorings to her. The photos and videos from them are endearing.

 

 

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Now for Scarlett. She was by some counts the prettier of the two gals, and as far as her being kind of dominant -- well, we thought, there are plenty of dominant-type dogs out there that people adore -- shepherds, rottweilers, akitas. And besides, she is a nice small size and she doesn't shed! We remained optimistic and waited patiently for good news, even as our scheduled return to California kept being delayed, first by work, then by two hurricanes in a row, then an airplane repair. By mid-September we were surprised to hear from the shelter that they had decided Scarlett was "unadoptable" to their clientele because of her dominant nature, and that they wanted us to remove her from the shelter as soon as possible. Wow, that didn't sound like the sweet Miss Scarlett our friend had picked up and transported for us back in August. What had happened? Only after we returned to California in early October did we learn the sad facts.

Within days of her arrival at the shelter, when the staff was taking Scarlett out for a "behavior test", she frightened one of the staff when she redirected her response to nearby aggressively barking dogs toward the staff person. She didn't bite anyone, but she frightened the staff person. She was pronounced unadoptable on the spot. Only because of the manager's promise to On Wings Of Care did they keep her alive until we could come and take her away. So in that entire time between Aug 11 and when we returned to California around October 4, Scarlett had received no walks and little or no socializing. And no blankets, no pillow, no stuffed animals, no toys, nothing. When I arrived, I was told that staff didn't feel comfortable feeding or watering her, that she needed to leave. And that if she was to be euthanized, I would have to take her and have a veterinarian do it elsewhere. I signed papers putting her fully into our name, and they agreed to let her board there temporarily. Whew, welcome home. Not.

The very next day I visited her, brought a collar and harness and leash and took her for a walk to a nearby park. When the staff brought her to me in their small concrete "socializing yard", I could sense the fear they felt when they helped me put on her collar and harness. For the first time in my life around a dog, I wondered if I should be afraid, if there was some scary behavior that would suddenly show itself, even though I wasn't sensing it from Scarlett at all. I quickly put that aside and just trusted my own instincts. I wanted to get her out of there and get her walking with me. We were escorted out the back entrance into the alley and freedom, and my lessons from Scarlett began.

We spent nearly three hours together that first day out of the shelter. Walking, sitting in the park, eating hot dogs together, getting to know each other. Every time we passed a floor-length window she would stop and look, then look back up at me, then back at the window, then back at me. And then she smiled, wagged her tail, gave my hand some kisses. I've heard of dogs who look in mirrors, but I've never had one. That was fun. She did it again on the way back, insisted on stopping and doing that looking-back-and-forth.

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At the park, she 'sat' on request. She took food from my hand so gently and politely, I barely knew she was touching me. She stared at me with those beautiful eyes and thanked me, she put her front paws on my legs and kissed my face. Wow, I don't know when I've known a dog to show such gratitude. When we walked, I kept the leash held around my back for a good strong grip in case she pulled or lunged, as one does when belaying a rock climber. She hardly pulled at all. But later, on the way back through the park, she did get agitated, three times -- always at isolated men in dark clothing, that's about all the commonality in them that I could see. No negative reaction at all to women or children or couples walking by. She was very interested in other dogs, and I really didn't know if she wanted to go kill them or make friendly -- nor did I have the courage that day to find out.

(Videos of her in the park today, a day later, are below.) 

The hardest part of that first walk with Scarlett, and it was scary hard -- was walking back through the long gauntlet of cages full of aggressively barking dogs in order to reach her kennel at the back of the boarding unit. It was awful, the noise and the vibes from the other dogs. Scarlett didn't bark back, but she turned and stared at them and pulled at the leash. NO Scarlett! You are not going to those bars, or those, or those... oh did I dread facing that one-minute mile of horror again the next day. She was a totally different dog in there than she had been outside. But when I put her in her kennel, she was all sweetness with me. Jeckyl and Hyde? Or a dog who had learned to distrust other dogs but to trust almost all people? I began to wonder seriously about all those scars on her face and left front foot, and all the chunks out of her ears. 

The next day I called the shelter to ask if I could come and walk her again. The manager who had kindly kept her all this time had just left on vacation, and I was advised by the acting manager that Scarlett had to go! They said that I could continue to board her temporarily, maybe for as much as a week, but that I was now fully responsible for her. I had left my two senior dogs at home that day, thinking that maybe I'd take Scarlett along in the car for some errands, so I was ready for a big day with her, but I didn't plan to take her home with me. In her kennel I was greeted with big smiles and kisses. We braved the gauntlet one last time and I pushed open the main door to freedom with huge relief and headed down the street toward my car. Good-bye cold kennels of concrete and metal! Hello warm car with dog beds and blankets and nice music and all the hugs and kisses and company she wanted. She smelled my dogs' scents all over the car, and she seemed absolutely delighted to be in the car. Five minutes of that, and then I showed her where to sit (back seat to my right) and told her that she had to stay there. Done, curled right up and just beamed at me. No "fence", no leash, nothing. She understood. Wow, I thought. This is a good dog! Why does she act like she wants to kill other dogs? I hoped I would figure that out before anything bad happened.

She spent the day with me, running errands all over town. Each time I returned to the car, she was sitting in the front seat waiting to greet me excitedly with kisses, and then she would obediently go back to the back right seat. Hmm, how come I never could teach that to my little terrier Tilly?

Mid-afternoon came and I needed to decide whether I was going to drive her back to the shelter. If I didn't, how could I take her home? I would have to figure out how to separate her from my two dogs, until I felt they could be together peacefully. We live in a fairly remote home up in the foothills, isolated from neighbors (good), but would she be unwieldly on a leash as we navigated the stream crossings and hike to our home? Would she try to chase the wildlife? I looked back at her in my car and knew I couldn't take her back to that shelter. So I telephoned a neighbor whose yard we walk through on our way home, to warn them to keep their small dog inside as I walked Scarlett through. And home we went. Once past that yard, I heaved a sigh of relief, as no more unexpected people or dogs would appear on the next half-mile of our hike home.

That's when I realized that in her whole life, Scarlett must never have hiked in a forest, never seen a stream. She was timid and clumsy. She stepped right into the stream and looked frozen with fear when she found herself immersed up to her chest. She didn't recognize the path out of the stream and struggled to climb up the steep bank on the other side, where I had to pull her up. She looked at me as if I were a god and thereafter followed carefully in my footsteps. When we came to the first of three tough crossings with a large rock that I always have to hoist my dogs over, I expected she would just leap over it. But no, she waited for me and let me pick her up completely and set her up on top of the rock. Assertive dominatrix not. Hmmm. I began to wonder if a "real" life in the woods, with love and laid-back senior dogs who could care less about fighting with her, and the sounds of birds all day long and crickets and frogs all night long, might not work some magic on this canine psyche.

She set eyes on Ford, my large 12-year-old long-haired german shepherd and the most peaceful soul on the planet, and immediately took a defensive fighting posture, eyes riveted on him. He wisely looked away and then at me, as if to ask "She's kind of angry, huh Mom?" When she saw my small 12-year-old terrier mix Tilly, she wanted to lunge, as if Tilly were a meal or an ancient enemy. Tilly was sleeping on the chair and opened one eye widely and slowly sat up, again looking toward me as if to ask "Geez mom, why'd you bring her home?" I was beginning to ask myself the same question.

So the night went, first offering her the outside porch, then the full outside, then swapping and letting my dogs go outside while she was inside and free to inspect the whole house. What a pain it would be if this had to go on for long. But by morning she was quite calm watching Ford or Tilly go by. I had set up a large cage for her in my kitchen where she would be in the middle of all our activity, and lined it with layers on layers of blankets, pillows and toys. The toy idea was hers, for I watched her discover some stuffed animals in the back bedroom. She crept up to them very cautiously, then her tail wagged and her face relaxed as she realized they were no threat, and she gently picked one of them up in her mouth. She never put it down, just carried it happily everywhere else she went. Well Duh, I thought -- the poor gal had lost her pups while she was still nursing them, and then had been left on a concrete floor without even a bed or blanket. I gave her two more for her cage, and in minutes she had mouthed them all and had them all next to her. I wondered what kind of a difference it might have made to her psyche had the shelter given her bedding and a stuffed toy or two from the start? She curled up on her pillow in her cage and heaved a huge sigh. I sensed that she hadn't slept like that in a long time.

scarletts-cabin-cage1web-20111008-0309  ...Now as I write this, this is her second night at our home. She is behind me in her cage snoring, and my two senior dogs are on the kitchen couch nearby, also snoring. Occurs to me that it's time for me to do the same. I know my time is running out, for I have to fly back to the Gulf very soon, and I need to find a home for Scarlett before I leave. We will fly her anywhere she needs to go, but we so want to find her a warm home in which to continue her progress to becoming a peaceful happy canine and just forget about fear and fights. It was recommended to me today that I try Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, UT. I have flown animals to them before. Perhaps if I offer to fly her and any other animals they need transported to them, or from them, they might agree to take Scarlett. I know they worked wonders with Michael Vick's fighting pit bulls. I'll write them a note tomorrow. Here's hoping for Miss Scarlett!