Rescue dogs are the best dogs, loving, grateful, and wise having triumphed over adversity. There is also magic to some of their rescue stories, a strange sequence of events and timing that makes one think divine guidance is behind them. It was July 2, 2010, a Friday evening around 4:00 pm when Pat Bonham called me. I was an independent rescuer at that time. Pat, a fellow rescuer, was driving to Devore, a bleak high-kill San Bernardino County Shelter, to save a 6 month old black lab puppy due to be euthanized at 5:00 pm. Would I help find a foster home or adopter? In a curious coincidence, I recalled seeing the same black dog several days earlier. He was in the same kennel where I found and rescued my own dog, a Maltipoo later named Enzo Ferrari. I locked eyes with the black lab for a few quick moments, and as always wished I could take more dogs.
I started making calls frantically to contacts in that area. My brother Wayne was not home. My friend Larry who was in the market for a dog answered the call but was out of town. More dead ends. Then I called my friend Jackie Klof who lives with her fiance’ Steve in a home with a large back yard. Jackie is a dog lover and they have two large dogs. Jackie responded, “I’m up on a ladder painting right now and we really don’t want another dog”. I didn’t tell her the lab had less than an hour to live, although she sensed the urgency in my voice. Meanwhile, Pat called ahead to Devore to let them know she was on her way to rescue the dog. The shelter staff person told Pat the dog had already been euthanized. For some unexplicable reason, Pat didn’t believe her and called back to speak to a supervisor. The lab was still alive, but next in line to enter the euthanasia room. Pat kept driving, still unsure where she would take such a large sized animal even if she got there in time. It was 10 minutes to 5:00 pm, the clock was ticking away, and the tears streamed down my face .
Meanwhile Steve arrived home from work. Jackie and Steve’s household was in chaos as she later described it, “We had guests here, my Dad who was seriously ill and his caregiver were staying here, and I had just been bitten by a bee while painting. I told Steve about Janet’s call, and he said ‘They’re going to kill that dog’! That did it, we called Janet back to see if the dog was a male and a good match for our two female dogs”. Thankfully, the answer was “Yes!”. We had a home! It was now 4:55 pm and with only 5 minutes to go the young black lab was taken out of the holding area and wisked into the warmth and safety of Pat’s car.
We thought we were “home free”, but more challenges were ahead. Once Pat arrived at Steve and Jackie’s home, Steve thought the dog looked sick and they didn’t want to expose their other dogs to a contagious illness. It is an unwritten but understood rule of rescue that once we pull a dog from a public shelter we don’t return them, no matter what obstacles or medical concerns arise. Jackie called their vet, and he reopened his clinic to examine the dog. Thankfully, Calvin had a minor case of kennel cough, but the dog was now homeless and was boarded overnight at the vet clinic. Around 11:00 am on Saturday, my phone rang and it was Jackie, “Don’t ever phone me with a message like that again. The dog’s name is Calvin, and I’m on my way to pick him up right now”. Great news! Jackie explained, “I barely slept last night thinking of that dog’s face. I talked to Steve and he agreed we would keep him”.
They had to carry Calvin into the house, and when he arrived in his “doggy proof” room the young dog laid spread eagle on the floor, flat lined and unresponsive. He remained that way for the next seven days, eating when hand fed, but “flat lined” in his room and outside when they carried him out for potty breaks. Their dogs Kailey and Kelli gently sniffed at the newcomer though he failed to acknowledge them. One time they checked in on Calvin to find him staring curiously at himself in the closet mirror, and Jackie joked, “He’s a bit of a narcissist!” Jackie went away for the weekend, and received an excited phone call from Steve, “Wait till you see Calvin when you come back!” . Steve patiently worked with dog, getting him to walk into the back yard on a leash for the first time. Hot dogs did the trick! Soon all 3 animals were romping merrily after the flying hot dogs.
Calvin overcame his past of abuse and neglect, and blossomed into a happy joyful adult dog. Jackie later explained that Calvin looks a lot like a dog she had decades ago, a black lab with a touch of Rottweiler, a dog she dreamed about having again. “It was meant to be” is an overused phrase, but there was a magical higher power at work in Calvin’s rescue. I believe we rescuers are doing God’s work. The Bible calls on us to care for other living creatures. God never intended that we would round up and execute stray animals whose only crime is they are homeless.
Black rescue dogs have a hard getting homes. Large dogs have a harder time getting out of shelters. Calvin is one of the lucky ones, a miracle dog who seemed to orchestrate his own rescue, arranging the timing of the events that would save his life, ensuring that the members of his rescue team met each deadline. Over a year later, I got to meet up again with the adult dog Calvin and was flattered when Jackie said he was “mesmerized” by me. Jackie reports that Calvin’s life today is full of happiness. The dog they believe was never before petted by human hands, now comes running for his share when Kailey and Kelli get attention from their humans. Jackie describes their experience with Calvin, “He loves his home, adores Steve and I and our other two dogs. He loves to play with Buck, his special buddy next door, a Brittney Spaniel. Calvin is even more special because of how we saved him. We are so blessed to have him”.