Monday, August 26, 2013

For Love of Dogs: Once Homeless

The first time that I saw Ozark he was at the end of a rope leash trotting along side of his owner’s bicycle in the mid-afternoon south Florida sun.  I was interested in finding a dog that would be more intimidating to a home intruder than our lovable Springer Spaniel was at the time.  The owner of a hot dog stand that I occasionally visited on my way home from work told me that she knew of a dog that would fit my needs and he needed new home.
A bicyclist and the dog entered the parking lot and passed the hot dog stand.  They cut a couple figure eights on the hot asphalt and then Jeannie, the owner of the hot dog stand, called out to the rider in an authoritative tone.

“Get that dog over here so that I can give him some water!  It’s too hot to be dragging him all over the parking lot.”

The dog’s ribs showed under his reddish brown, brindle-marked coat.  His head appeared too large for his under-nourished body.  His face and forelegs were heavily scarred.  One ear stood up while the other drooped.  Large dark brown eyes mirrored acquiescence for his situation.  White hair around the dog’s mouth gave him to be about seven-years-old.

Jeannie cooed over the dog and lavished affection upon him.  She poured water from a jug into one dish and dog food from a bag into another.  The gaunt dog slaked his thirst and then his hunger.  Afterward, she treated him to a few hot dogs from the cart.  Ozark didn’t hesitate.

The dog’s owner often stopped by the stand near closing time.  Jeannie would feed him, as well as the dog, so long as he didn’t make himself conspicuous when customers were around.

Bruce sat down beside me and we introduced ourselves to each other.  He was fairly well kept and a pleasant enough man to talk with.  He hadn’t worked for some time.  He told of being fired from one of the local labor pools and of his perception of the unfairness of losing the job.  With the dog taken care of Jeannie put another hot dog into a bun and handed it to Bruce.

Bruce called the dog Ozark but his full name was Ozark Mountain Coon Hound.  He looked more like a lab mix than a hound.  According to him the dog was not aggressive toward children.  This was a concern to me because of our grandchildren.

Bruce insisted that the dog was only two or three years old despite my observation of his white hair about the mouth.  I shrugged this off and continued to ask about the dog’s behavior and personality.  Apparently unaware of my intentions until I began asking questions, Bruce became defensive.

“What’s going on?  This is the second person asking questions about my dog.”  Bruce was looking straight at Jeannie.

“I told you that I was going to find a good home for that dog.  You don’t take care of him.”

As it turned out, Bruce had no intention of giving up his dog.  Jeannie, on the other hand, was determined to adopt out the dog with or without the consent his owner.

I redirected the conversation to a more casual content and tone.  Then after a few minutes, I was able to gracefully excuse myself.  I told Jeannie that I would see her in a day or two.  My position on this was simple.

The dog belonged to Bruce.  He didn’t want to give him up.  The dog was everything that he had as far as I could see.  His possessiveness was understandable.

Furthermore, because of the way that Bruce lived, the dog was likely to have any number of medical problems.  Of my biggest concern was the probability of heartworm.  Without regular heartworm preventative medication, the probability, in a Florida dog that is living outdoors, is very high.  Cost of treatment for heartworm was about $1500 at the time.  In addition, there is a possibility that the dog will not survive the heartworm treatment.

A few months later J
eannie called me.  Bruce had been hit by car and died at the scene as result of the injuries.  Ozark was trying to pull his dying companion off of the street when the police arrived.  He was taken to the county animal shelter.

The shelter policy at the time allowed for a minimum of three days in the shelter before an animal’s fate was decided.  Jeannie was more than anxious for me to rescue the dog. However, I still had the same health apprehensions as when I first met Bruce.  Heartworm was on top of the list.

As it turned out the county would do heartworm treatment for a small fraction of what the local veterinarians charged.  My wife and I decided, at least, to visit the dog at the shelter.  In order to satisfy my second apprehension we took our granddaughters with us.

We walked the kennels until we found Ozark.  Unlike his excited shelter-mates he was lying quietly in the corner of his assigned kennel.  He showed no interest in us.  Jeannie had visited him the day before and reported that he became very excited to see her.  But then, he knew her.

Ozark was brought out to another room where we could interact with him.  His behavior didn’t change from what we saw in the kennel.  He was quiet almost to the point of lethargic.

Our four-year-old granddaughter fell in love with Ozark.  She hugged him, petted him and lavished him with comforting words of affection.  The thirteen-year-old was okay with him but her true affection was for our Spaniel who had been her lifelong pal.

We paid the adoption and heartworm treatment fees.  We couldn’t take Ozark home that day as he was to be neutered first.  This was required on all adoptions.

Heartworm treatment has a two to three day recovery period for a dog.  It sickens them to the point that they’re lethargic for a few days.  Upon recovery, though, we found that Ozark needed to be watched when he went outside.

When he was let out the front door he would follow the front walk to the driveway, follow the driveway to the street and then methodically trot down the street as if he had somewhere else to be.  He did not heed a call to return and would have to be brought back.

It is easy to attach human emotions to animals.  How accurate that is, is open to debate.  However, my guess is that Ozark was trying to leave to find the Bruce.  Had he known that Bruce was deceased then he might have let go.  Unfortunately, however, it is possible that they were separated before Bruce passed.

It took week or two for Ozark to start responding to my gestures of affection toward him.  He finally bonded and, everyday, when I arrived home from work he wanted to romp and play with me in the yard.  He was clearly excited to see me.  Likewise, he enjoyed the companionship of Mindi, our Springer Spaniel.

I imagined in terms of human comprehension that it must have finally occurred to Ozark the good life that he had fallen into.  He now had daily feeding, fresh water and a shelter with warmth when it was cold and air conditioning when it was hot.

It is amusing to watch Ozark’s reaction to the weather since he now has permanent shelter.  On hot afternoons he wastes no time in relieving himself and heading back to the door to be let in.  If it is raining he simply will not go outside unless I insist.  I call him Sugar Bear when it rains as if he might melt.

He established himself as the alpha pet and was extremely jealous of any attention that I gave to my cat.  The cat and I had a daily ritual just before I left for work.  The cat would always grasp at my boot laces as I put on the boots.   This usually evolved into some rough but harmless playing for a few minutes.  Ozark would sit back whine with jealousy.

It’s going on six years now that Ozark has been with us.  The Springer Spaniel was in her twilight when he came and has since had to be put down.  Ozark’s white hair now covers his face past his eyebrows.  His previous gaunt fifty-two pounds is an overweight eighty-three pounds now.

He stepped down a notch in the pack order when we adopted another dog.  The younger dog wasted no time in redefining the pack hierarchy with Ozark.  Yet, he seems happy.  He is always eager for his daily walk and moves straight to the door when he sees the leashes coming out.  Life is good for the Ozark Mountain Coon Hound.


  1. Replies
    1. Yeah, #NationalDogDay is trending on Twitter so I dredged these up off of the old I think that I have a couple more bird dog stories but they'll keep until pheasant season.

      I miss those days of tromping fields and reading the dog when she hot on scent.

      Thanks for the read and comments!