MOMMA - "I ONCE WAS LOST AND NOW AM FOUND!"
This story begins with a rather strange happening concerning our son's dog that we were keeping at the time. He was a very black hairy critter that appeared to be a mix of maybe Shepherd and Border collie. They got him from a farmer in the next county over. By the time we got him he had lost three or four toes in some kind of trap but it did not seem to bother him at all. For whatever reason that escapes me now our son named him "Mr. Dog."
One summer day he showed up after his usual afternoon trip around our acreage and the neighbors and with him was a beautiful looking mostly white dog, with some brown on her body and an all-black saddle on her back.
When we went out to see them the white dog slowly backed off a little ways and would not come to us and she seemed extremely skittish. Neither did she ever bark or even growl, just kept her distance. We also noticed that she looked like she might be pregnant.
This buddy system kept up for quite a while and always with the same results. My wife even went down to our little barn a couple of times to see if she was there with some pups. Finally, the routine ended early one fall day when neither of them showed up. We drove all around the area for many days and up and down our private three quarter mile gravel rod but we never saw "Mr. Dog" again nor any sign of neither him nor his playmate.
Then came an uneventful late fall day with really nothing planned so it was a good time to be sitting at my fly tying desk and creating chaos out of fur and feathers. After a while, I heard the doorbell ring, it turned out to be our neighbor down the road from us, and she was speaking to my wife about a problem. They called me into the conversation shortly thereafter and it turned out to be a mystery that needed solving probably sooner than later, or so it seemed.
Our neighbor was into walking the mostly gravel private road that cut through both our properties every day for exercise. And this particular morning she said that she heard strange sounds emanating from a small patch of woods at the end of her property that backed up to a stand of planted pines next to their fenced grass field where she kept her three horses. She asked for help in checking out just what was making the noises and so my wife agreed to go with her to investigate. The sounds, according to the neighbor, may be some kind of baby animals and she was not sure what; but thought it might be dogs. About half an hour later my wife came back to the house breathless and said, 'You won't believe what we found!"
"Okay, I said, so was it the Lost Dutchman's gold mine?"
"No wise guy it's a whole passel of beautiful baby puppies and their momma and they are at the end of the field where it meets the pine trees. There is a sharp drop off, it looks like a huge piece of pipe is sort of buried there, and the puppies are just inside the entrance to it. We'll need your help in getting them out."
"Wait a minute. What about the momma dog? Is she the same one that played with "Mr. Dog"? Isn't she rather opposed to this endeavor? I can't believe she'd just back away especially if she's wild or on her own as it sounds like."
"She just backs off a little ways and doesn't even bark at us. She's a beautiful dog; black and white and maybe a little brown but it's hard to tell down in all the weeds and brambles around the place."
"Well just give me time to get a coat and hat and I'll be right with you." I wonder just what breed of dog she is and, by the way, what do the pups you can see look like?
"We can't see too many but it sounds like there's maybe four or five because they went way back in the pipe when we first showed up."
My wife took off out the door and headed back to the two-person rescue squad. I soon followed the trail of the rescue party about a quarter mile down the road and then detoured into the pinewoods just where they met the pastureland. Sure enough I could hear some squealing going on and it did indeed sound like a bunch of little puppies in a scrum. Our neighbor was already standing there, had climbed down through the brambles and thickly matted grass, and had snatched up two squirming, wiggling pups and handed them to my wife. She dumpster dived again and handed out two more pups. My wife had all she could do to wrap the four in her jacket and hold on for dear life. I climbed down and began probing and grabbing anything that looked white and furry and thanking my lucky stars that nothing there was black, white, striped and smelled bad! I quickly was able to hand another two pups up to my neighbor and that was all I could see or hear. While all this was going on the momma dog stood off at a respectful distance and uttered not a bark or protest about what was going on. Sure looked like "Mr. Dog's" friend.
Our neighbor already had a house full of dogs and some cats so we agreed to take the pups and try to find some good homes for them even though we had pets of our own. The area that the momma had hid them in was totally surrounded by rabbit fur so she apparently had kept her pups well fed. In addition, after arriving home and putting all of them into a big cardboard box we began a closer check on their well-being. Not a pup had any visible signs of malnutrition. They did not have matted fur, fleas or even really any bad odor. They just smelled like normal outside dogs. Of course, my wife had to immediately start naming every one of them and the warning bells started going off.
"Look at the obvious pick of the litter. He is so regal looking and bigger than any of the others. I will call him "King Henry." And look at that beautiful little female with the black spidery web on her back. I will call her "Spider Lady." And so it went through all six pups.
"No honey, we can't keep any and you already promised we'd find a good home for them all."
In a few days, they started following my wife everywhere she went as if she was now their momma. It was comical watching them fall all over each other trying to be the closest one to the new mom on the block. We started them off on puppy food, an occasional little bit of milk, and they seemed to thrive on it. The next night we got a call from the neighbor and she was all flustered and could hardly get the words out fast enough.
"You won't believe what just happened. The momma dog just showed up at our back patio area with another pup in tow and he was drinking and eating some of the food and water we leave out for our dogs. When I went out the screen door, she just slowly backed away for a short distance and watched as I picked the pup up and carried him inside. Then, she slowly turned and walked back down our hill towards where we found the pups yesterday."
She asked if it was okay to bring the pup to us in the morning and we told her go ahead and bring him down right now and we can reunite him with his brothers and sisters. We had them all in the basement in two big boxes full of old bedding and they were mostly fast asleep. In a few minutes number seven came to join the pack. I secretly thought that "Number Seven" might be a good name for him; but was afraid to add to the possibility that we would soon have a kennel to support. Late the next evening we heard the pups squealing more than barking and wondered what did have them all upset. A quick look out the back door solved the problem.
Miracle of miracles there stood momma dog with yet another pup in tow. She performed the same ritual she had done the night before at the neighbor's. My wife slowly walked outside and gathered up the pup while momma backed off a short distance. When she was apparently satisfied that the pup was safe she again turned and slowly walked down the road towards the hiding place. Therefore, number eight now joined the fray much to the other seven's delight and they all settled down after a big scrum.
At this time, it would be appropriate to describe the breed of the momma and pups. Momma appeared to be a "treeing Walker hound" in beautiful shape and the pups all seemed to be the same. When my wife first came and told me she and the neighbor had found a bunch of pups and that the momma looked like "Mr. Dog's" friend I envisioned a romance leading to "Heinz 57" pups. However, obviously the momma was with babies sometime before she met "Mr. Dog." From the look of the momma and all the pups' one could surmise that this was a litter of purebred pups.
Occasionally, when we looked out and particularly after my wife had the pups out for a walk around the place the momma would show up as though she was checking on her babies. But this went on for just a little while.
By word of mouth and talking to our vet, we were eventually able to adopt out all the pups to good homes. My wife was sad when "King Henry" and the "Spider Lady" left though. I know we came pretty close to keeping not only one but both of them. The momma still showed up occasionally and I felt bad that none of her babies were still here.
I told my wife that I was going to try to get her to come close enough to pet and she said that would never happen, as she was excessively skittish. My underlying feeling was that someone had brutalized the dog because she was so standoffish and she never ever barked.
I decided to put my plan in motion by sitting out on the front porch when I saw her out there and I just kept talking to her in a low voice and holding out my hand, sometimes with a treat in it. It took three months or more; but she finally came close enough to let me hand feed her and one day I slowly reached out and touched her. She jumped back as if she had been hit by lightning; but again never barked. I just kept talking to her in a steady low voice and started calling her "Momma."
Because we were now in wintertime and cold nights told my wife I was going to build her a doghouse with shingled roof, lay some old towels inside, hook up a heating pad, and put it inside. I was even was clever enough to use some of the old bedding that her pups had slept in before. I decided to put it up on the front porch to keep it off the cold ground and out of any rain or snow. In addition, I tacked an old towel across the open doorway to keep the wind out. I knew she was an outside dog and probably used to being in rough weather; but, figured this may be a way to tame her a little.
Little by little, she came closer and closer and would tolerate a slight touch of my hand on her back as she finally started sitting quietly and fairly close to me at snack time. After a few more months she would now come and sit beside me and I could actually wrap my left arm slowly around her and she would snuggle up for just a bit. She never would tolerate anyone else even getting close to her and backed off even if I was around. This includes my wife and the rescue neighbor.
We approached our vet and told him the whole story just as related here and he said most likely she had been beaten and luckily escaped. We made a deal, wherein if I could catch her in the doghouse and somehow get her out we could bring her to the vet's for an exam without an appointment. This was going to be one tricky deal. However, I told my wife that I would sneak quietly out early in the morn before she left the doghouse and try to get a hold of her and we would see what happened.
The first couple of tries did not last but a second before she either heard me coming or sensed something was afoot and sped quickly out of the doghouse. She would stand and look at me as if to say, 'Nah nah nah nah nah - not this time buddy!"
After several tries, the routine worked even though I had to crawl all most all of the way inside the doghouse to get a hold of her. Just talked quietly to her while I gathered her up in my arms and told my wife to bring the station wagon around and I would slide into the back with her. This worked out just fine. It was also a great idea of mine to dress in old clothes and my tattered denim jacket because she was an outside dog and smelled as such. I called the vet ahead of time and he was waiting when we got there. She got the full exam and except for cowering a bit never barked as usual nor tried to bite. The vet agreed that she had probably been beaten badly by her past owner. We kept this arrangement for the eight or so years she owned us! And pretty soon, she did not struggle so much when I sneaked out for another trip to the vets.
It was a wonderful, beautiful seven or eight year relationship with this magnificent animal and friend. Sadly, just like "Mr. Dog" she went out one day, probably making her rounds of the neighborhood, and just never came back. The vet said dogs of her breed live about maybe ten or twelve years at the most and she was certainly in that range.
For the longest time I drove all around searching for her. I walked the woods and fields of our entire neighbor's property on the three quarter mile road. I even left the dog house out on the front porch for about a year in hopes she'd suddenly come back the same way she came into our life's. I sat out on the front porch afterwards many times and softly called for "MOMMA."
I hope I will see her once again somewhere on down the road, across the rainbow bridge.