The little black and white dog was either going to be known as Animal Aid #95-110, or she was going to become a permanent marker on highway 51.
A local group focused on rescuing and rehabilitating injured pets and then rehoming them, Animal Aid relies heavily on its volunteer force. On standby for the phone call describing an animal in need, I was always eager to assist whenever I could. The chance for success is typically pretty clear from the description of the rescue, but this one had my heart in my throat from beginning to end. A little dog had been spotted on the grassy median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of highway 51, just outside of Tulsa. The timing couldn’t have been worse. A heavily traveled route, highway 51 was preparing for its afternoon rush hour, so I knew I had to hurry.
When I got to the median I drove as slowly as was safe in the left lane of the three-lane highway. I scanned the grassy strip carefully as cars whizzed past me on my right. No dog. Off the exit ramp, and back onto the highway, headed east. Again, I scanned the… Aha! I spotted a black and white lump in the center of the median. Her entire body flattened against the ground, she seemed to be saying “Nobody here but us grasses…” By now traffic was picking up and I had to make some quick decisions. I drove past her and pulled off the highway, onto the left shoulder. I immediately realized this poor dog had nowhere to go. About 300 yards of grassy median lay ahead of her, but then it narrowed into a tiny strip, and was eventually swallowed up by the opposing highway lanes. I recognized the intense seriousness of the situation, and sat motionless for a few minutes, planning my approach.
I could see her in my side mirror, and I could tell she was terrified. I knew I was too close to her, but I took a chance and opened the car door. Her head instantly popped up, and she bolted past my car, heading full speed down the median toward a grisly, tragic end. I froze. Two hundred yards from the end she sat down. Within seconds a green Bronco pulled over, stopped next to her, and spit out a woman in high heels. Wearing a dark skirt and blazer, she gingerly started towards the dog, calling out and clapping her hands loudly. Clearly horrified, the dog ran full speed toward the end of the median. My heart was racing. One turn to the left or the right and she would meet with certain disaster. She finally stopped a mere 20 yards from the end and flopped down in the grass. I wanted to scream at the lady but she had already gotten into her truck and was moving off into the beastly traffic. I was torn between trying again or abandoning the rescue until rush hour was over.
I drove back onto the highway and scanned the traffic. Back off the next exit, turn onto the highway, off at the next exit, and then back on. This time I drove past the dog and positioned my car as close to the end as possible. I just had to try again, and this way, if I sent her scampering once more she would hopefully head back up the median away from my car and the deadly flow of traffic. I opened my car door and got out very casually, armed with an open can of odiferous cat food. I never looked in the direction of the dog, rather, I kneeled down in the grass about 5 yards from her. She didn’t move. When using food in a rescue I typically try to place myself upwind from an animal for maximum effect. This time I had little choice and I realized the wind was not in my favor. The food isn’t only used to entice an animal but also to establish that a) I might be okay since we like the same things, and b) I am preoccupied with something other than the animal. In this case, I was thrilled to notice that the dog had not budged, so I knew I had a chance for establishing a relationship.
The cars continued to whiz past and I prayed that no one else would stop to help. Humming, I proceeded to play with the food, using a plastic fork to flip some here and there in the grass, occasionally “eating” a bite and smacking loudly. I finally looked over at her, as if noticing her for the first time. She remained motionless, her entire body plastered to the ground. I looked away, then glanced her way again briefly, finally surmising that she was an adorable black and white Basset Hound mix puppy, her white nose sprinkled with little black spots. Her big sad eyes looked up at me, seemingly begging for kindness. I casually flipped some food her way, and she gobbled it up unashamedly. I took another “bite” and then flipped her some more, a little closer to me so that she had to belly crawl to reach it. It was very clear in my actions that I wasn’t feedingher, I was sharingwith her. We were becoming friends. I named her Ellie and cooed to her softly as she licked the grass where the food had been. Tricking a dog is not only difficult but also risky. Talking too softly or moving too slowly can be as suspicious and as threatening to a frightened animal as clapping hands are. A frightened or injured animal’s senses are generally heightened, particularly their sense of self preservation. They will employ whatever defenses are least confrontational, typically opting for flight at the slightest provocation or suspicious behavior.
So, we did this several times, flip, crawl, flip, crawl… until I started worrying I would run out of food. Ellie was about two feet away from me at this point so I held out a handful of food matter-of-factly and she gently took it, her soft tongue melting in my hand as she licked. I scooted over to her sideways, patted her head, and held the can out to her. It was clear I was not posing a major threat. I held my breath. I slowly looped the nylon choke leash around her neck and snugged it down, wrapping the end of the leash around my hand several times. In doing so, I realized the potential for rope burns on my hands, but I couldn’t afford to lose Ellie if she suddenly balked. As calm as she appeared, I knew her demeanor could change in a flash, as soon as she bumped against the choke around her neck. She never budged. In fact, I had to pick her up to put her into my car, which presented yet another danger. Without any way of protecting my face from hers, I lifted her up and could do little more than hope she wouldn’t go for a piece of my nose. This is especially risky and not recommended when dealing with an injured animal as one can never really be sure of the extent of their internal injuries. Fortunately, this little girl was clinging to me, wrapping her front legs around my chest, and attempting to claw her way up my torso. I opened the back door of my Escort wagon and plopped her on the seat. Shoving her over, I climbed in, and slammed the door. She flattened herself out and hugged the seat just as she had done in the grass, so I crawled to the front and climbed into the driver’s seat. Then I exhaled.
Ellie spent two weeks the animal hospital before being adopted by a wonderful family with two gentle children. During her stay at the hospital she got the full work up of vaccinations, testing and worming, as well as her spay. She also came out of her shell and blossomed into a wiggly, smiley little girl with lots of personality. Just like my own basset mix, Heidi, when she was excited Ellie would bend her body in half, so that her tail smacked her in the face as she wiggled in circles. Round and round she’d go; wagging and blinking, wagging and blinking…