Fur Should Fly began in honor of our amazing rescue dog Grey Bear and his rescued sidekick Sherman. Here is the amazing story of Grey Bear.
Ours is a story about finding a new friend, losing him and our joyous reunion. This is the first photograph that I ever took of Grey Bear, at the Lucy MacKenzie Humane Society in Brownsville, Vermont, where he was very lovingly cared for (after living outside, chained to a doghouse during the first five years of his life, in a compound, with countless other dogs). I often went into the shelter to snuggle and photograph the doggies and kitties in need of homes; the day that I met this sweet guy, my heart melted, especially. I had no intention of adding to my rather large fur-family but started to visit him regularly and took him him for walks on the shelter grounds, finding myself becoming quite attached. After a couple of weeks, I decided to bring him home for a foster sleepover, which went perfectly...he even ate his dinner right in front of me which no one had ever seen him do. The other kids in the house liked him and Grey Bear seemed very grateful and content. (As an interesting little injection here, I happened to photograph his paw print in the light dusting of snow that we had just gotten that day for 'some' reason). I could hardly bear to return him the next morning so asked if he could stay for another night which was ok'd (my friends at Lucy's had known me for a long time and also knew how desperately Grey Bear needed a safe and loving forever-home...and I think they knew before I did that it was going to be mine). Thrilled to have him for another 24 hours, I leashed him up and we set out for a walk on a very frigid December morning. I started across the large field at the farm and decided to double-check his leash, wanting to make sure I had it tightly clasped. During the split second that I had the hook in my hand, he broke away and bolted like a deer into the woods (his coloring is identical to one, btw). I was in utter shock but immediately began searching for him, frantically...I combed the woods until dark, frozen to the bone, and could only imagine how cold that poor, short-haired dog must have been. Not a sign of him until around 9 that night---as I was taking my two dogs out, he charged past me along the driveway, ripped up the hill behind the house and barns; he was a total blur, he was so fast. Needless to say, I never went to sleep that night...I heated food and water and brought it up to a feeding station that I'd created (out of a large, retired doghouse that was a few hundred feet behind the farmhouse, up on a hill) every few hours, softly talking to him. Not a sign. The next morning, I made a poster and tacked it to every possible surface in the area and left one with every neighbor, store owner and UPS/FedEx guys. The 34-day quest began...
The farm is in a quiet and rural area, set back from the road quite a ways, and well-enclosed with fencing, but I had no idea how this dog would think or even be able to navigate in a real-world setting. I could hardly bare to even get into my car, thinking I would find him on the side of the road. Grey Bear had never been loose in his life and had no sense of 'going home'. Also, it was still hunting season so every time I heard a gun shot, I would just freeze with fear. I had to force myself to stay hopeful and pray every time the fear began to creep in, which it often did. How could this precious animal go thru such an ordeal after everything else he'd endured?? The wonderful women from Lucy's came each day, even through sleet and sub zero temps, with his dog-buddies from the shelter, to spread their scent around the area where we were quite sure he was hanging out. Though not a meat-eater, I began preparing elaborate meals each day, trying to think of the most alluring entrees possible...a friend suggested that I fire up the grill each night to cause that fabulous smell to waft through the woods which I did. I used plastic bowls for his food and hot water so his lips wouldn't stick to stainless steel or ceramic...all of which I refilled every few hours, even throughout the night. The bowls would be empty nearly every time I went up to replenish them; I could only hope the food was being eaten by him...there were never raccoons, cats or other animals looming about the farm since large dogs and alpacas live there so I was quite certain that Grey Bear was my loyal customer. It was getting close to Christmas and very cold and he'd been missing for nearly two weeks at this point...but amazingly, the neighbor began calling nearly each day to report a sighting of him as she left for work at the crack of dawn. She lives up behind the farm a ways so this told me that he wasn't leaving the hood...I had a new surge of hope! We hadn't had a snowfall since that dusting (the day of the fateful paw-print photo) until one particular morning...we only got about an inch but I was thrilled to think I might be able to track him. I did find prints up by the doghouse and sure enough, they matched the photo's, but I couldn't discern their origin or destination, the snow just wasn't consistently deep enough; those that I saw had some blood in them which broke my heart even further, of course...he had probably lacerated his foot on some ice or was suffering from frostbite (I still can't tell this story without tears coming down). I was grateful to know without a doubt that he was eating regularly but I had no idea where he was sleeping...I knew it wasn't in the doghouse which even I wouldn't have minded sleeping in, it was toasty and plush! I kept the blankets smoothed out so I could tell if he'd walked onto them but nope...I combed the area multiple times a day but never found a single clue to his campsite.
My office was on the second floor where I kept vigil with binoculars...I could see the doghouse very clearly from there. All I wanted for Christmas was to have this precious dog next to the tree with me...but Christmas passed and still no sighting of my own. But right around New Year's, I was in my office and sure enough, I spotted him through the binoculars...he was coming down for his late afternoon snack, looking completely emaciated. I could hardly bear it. I couldn't bear it. All those gourmet meals were being used as fuel to stay warm but thank God he was at least getting what he was. I was elated yet realized that something much more had to be done...through big sobs, I just begged God for wisdom for SOMETHING new to try. There was a six-foot trap set and camouflaged next to the dog house with goopy marrow bones strung to the back of it...and again, I kept the fleece blankets smoothed out in there so I could see if he'd attempted to go in but he never did (I, however, locked myself into it one night while testing it out! Thank goodness, I understood how the mechanism worked well enough to release myself!) Well, that night, my dear friend Lesley had watched a show on Animal Planet on how to capture an elusive dog...she came into the house and just very quietly said "I know how we're gonna catch him". She had been fully involved in his return, too, and wanted nothing more than to bring him home safely (she actually met Grey Bear first while doing her internship at Lucy's to become an animal massage therapist and was completely smitten with him...she caused an enormous transition in him; his fearful eyes and curling-up-into-a-ball behavior began to lessen with each visit...he began to learn to trust, thanks to her. Lesley kept urging me to go and meet this incredible dog but I resisted, not wanting to fall in love with what would be a third dog in the house (anyone who knows me is chuckling at this point of the story).
So...here's what we did: Using pliable deer fencing, chain link gates, 4x4's and zip ties (all generously donated by wonderful, dog-loving companies), we created a 100' or so long 'catch pen' up the hill, in the area of the doghouse. The gates were set up at the top with a 300 foot rope attached to one of them...the other end of was fed through the closed end of the 'pen'. The doghouse was in the lower 1/3 third of the enclosure. It took us about 8 hours to erect all of this (and just as we finished at 4:45, it was nearly dark, Grey Bear made an appearance at the top of the hill, looking for his supper!...but bolted as soon as he saw us. I had purposefully not fed him since that morning so he'd be extra hungry that evening). The brilliant plan: To have a fabulous supper placed beside the doghouse (he always ate right next to it but if I set a bowl even just a few inches inside the opening, he wouldn't touch it)...the baby monitor was placed near the bowl (which, at the last minute, I realized should be something much heavier than Tupperware in case he was still able to bolt back out through the gate before it was popped shut (WHICH after multiple run-throughs of pulling the rope from the closed end, only took about a second). The gate was propped open by a flat rock that kept it open but could slide closed over easily only took about one second; there was really no way he could escape this. I was perched inside the living room window, in the dark, with the other half of the baby monitor and a flashlight...Lesley was out in the driveway, wrapped in a down sleeping bag (it was 3 degrees), clutching the end of that 300 foot rope. The baby monitor could pick up the sound of the train whistle five miles away so we knew it would detect Grey Bear really well! So...I had just baked a fresh meatloaf for him and realized I had to put his dinner into something heavier than a yogurt container so he couldn't hoist it...I used a terracotta baking dish and then placed that into one of those big, black and white speckled turkey pans so I could hear his dog tags clanging against it. Stage was set.
It was 6 p.m...my heart was pounding, I swear I could hear it; I just KNEW I was going to have that dog in my arms that night, I just KNEW. We took our positions and about ten minutes later, we heard some crackling through the leaves...I flashed the flashlight, Lesley popped the gate shut...but it was a false run (he was probably walking quite a distance that even from the gate opening, the monitor could still pick up). Stage reset, hearts pounding even harder. We waited about half an hour and sure enough, along came some paw-steps...louder and louder., crunching over the ice-crusted leaves...and I then I heard the dog tags rather wildly slapping against the metal pan! I flashed my light and ran outside (didn't even put my coat on, I was so beside myself) to take over the rope-holding while Lesley went into the pen (she had a section already cut that was tied shut for easy access, not wanting to risk opening the gate, of course). I could honestly hear my heart slamming in my chest and when she quietly said the words "I got him", I don't think I ever cried such tears of thankfulness, relief and joy. That sweet boy was so ready to be 'gotten'...he just stood there and let her attach his leash and politely walked down the hill and into the house. I just wrapped myself around him, still sobbing, in disbelief that I was actually seeing and feeling him again, I can't begin to describe how happy I was...and he seemed so grateful, too! The poor guy was practically skeletal , he was covered with frozen ticks and most of his nose and mouth were filled with old porcupine quills...his muzzle was twice its normal size, clearly from infection. We safely removed the ones that we could but knew, of course, that he had to go to the vet first thing in the morning...and the doctor made time for him, knowing Grey Bear's unbelievable travails. I had a warm and fluffy bed all ready and waiting next to the wood stove, separate from the rest of the animals (I kept him quarantined for about three weeks until he'd completed several rounds of antibiotics, wormers and had several vet-checks). He devoured his man-dinner and kept looking up at me in between bites as though he was saying thank you...I will never forget a single moment of that night. I curled up next to him on his bed and stayed there til it got light outside. (To this day, he sleeps right alongside me). I took him to the vet the next morning and had all of the quills removed, he got complete overhaul, and weighed in at only 66.4 lbs. Today he's at about 105, his coat is shiny, he's in excellent shape and one of the best companions I've ever had...and the love and respect that have for him, well, words could never be enough. It will be three years ago this December since that foster sleepover...the change in this beautiful beast is staggering. He is still shy when someone new comes to visit but once he knows you're ok (which all of my friends and family are!), he'll sit with ya on the couch! He was trained by a sweet young man, Quincey, during his year at the shelter so knew all of the commands very well when I met him; Grey Bear is a total gentleman, so dignified, patient, gentle and kind (and a total CARD in the morning...you will see lots of hilarious wake-up smiles posted here...he's a clown when he first wakes up...he just started doing this funny thing as soon as my eyes opened, a couple of months later, out of nowhere. I made such a fuss out of this comedy act that he honestly does it on command now before I can even think of getting out of bed). He lives with Otis, a Landseer Newfoundland and two fat cats, Bevis and Chuck...and me, his ever-loving momma.
I wanted to share this story to bring hope to anyone who is missing their dog, kitty, any precious best friend...the method we used is truly fool-proof. Again, you must wake up each day and believe "today is going to be the day that I will find my beloved companion"! And I especially want to encourage people to really give an animal at a shelter a chance...a dog or cat that might appear aggressive, unresponsive or incompatible might simply be riddled with fear yet so in need of safety and love. Grey Bear is such a gentle giant but as you can see in this photo, he had very scared eyes, and could make himself unbelievably small on his little kennel bed, he'd retreat like a frightened turtle when I'd first walk in...he was a bit intimidating. I admit to being a little tentative when I first met him (which one should be with any unknown animal, I want to emphasize) but after our first one on one, I knew he was an incredibly sweet, gentle giant. I wish everyone could meet this precious dog...oh what he has taught me. I can only thank God for bringing Grey Bear home...and for using all of the many amazing people as a part of his miraculous return for which I will always be humbly grateful.