I suddenly lost my dog a few months ago, a wonderful rescued Walker coonhound that was with me for far too short a time, and so for the last week I’ve been casually looking at dogs and dog rescue sites on the web since I needed a bit of a dog fix. I wasn’t really ready to get another dog, I just wanted to take a look around.
So I happened to be on a local Labrador Retriever Rescue web site where there was a side nav-bar that showed an older Shepard mix pup that was captioned, “This isn’t a Lab, but he’s really cute. He’s at X, a small rural shelter in XX.” I clicked on the image and was taken to the shelter’s Facebook page where they had pictures of the dogs that were available for adoption. I paged through a bunch of really wonderful dogs; a pair of small fuzzy guys that were found together, way too many abandoned puppies, some young dogs, a few older ones given up by their owners due to various circumstances and then I ran across a couple of images of a rough-looking, almost white, female Lab who looked so sad and beaten down by her experiences that I just couldn’t get her off my mind. See looked like she needed a little help. After a couple of days of checking the site, hoping for some indication that someone had adopted her, I decided to send an email to the shelter asking about the dog. A few days later, I got a reply answering some of my questions. “Yes, she gets along well with other dogs. No, no food aggression, fence fighting or really any aggression issues at all. Cats? Not sure but we can try her with them.”
The next day I called and talked to Mary, the shelter manager, to get a little information on the dog. Apparently Mary had found the Lab after the dog spent a couple of nights lying next to one of Mary’s own dogs that was at her home in an outside kennel run. She just snuggled up tight to the fence right next to Mary’s dog. Mary tried a few times to get a lead on the Lab but wasn’t successful and the Lab escaped into the night only to reappear several hours later in the same place next to her dog at the kennel fence. Mary eventually did get a lead on her and brought her to the shelter. The Lab had been at the shelter for a while but no one called about or came looking for her. She was a “brood-bitch” from a puppy mill, really frightened, emotionally shut down and just needed some TLC and a second chance. She wasn’t scheduled to be put down soon but I was going out-of-town for a few days on business, so I told her I would come by on the following Tuesday to have a look at her … if she wasn’t already adopted.
On Tuesday I drove the 3 hour trip to the rural shelter that was situated between the county incinerator, the dump and the county recycling center on the outskirts of town. How sadly appropriate. Several people were eating lunch in front of the shelter and as I introduced myself one of them said, “Your here to see. the Lab, right?”
“Mary?” I asked.
“Yup” she said, as we walked into the office we chatted about the Lab. “We haven’t named her and she’s not very good on a leash” [editor’s note: That’s an extreme understatement, and she’s terrified of being outside]. “She’s a very sweet girl.” “She’s very quiet.” “We put her in the cat area and the cats mostly hissed at her while she just stood there, in the middle of the room, with her tail tucked up tightly to her belly, but ignored them all.”
As I followed one of the workers into the back of the kennel area, to see the purpose of my trip, the other dogs in the kennels started barking and whining uncontrollably – making a deafening ruckus. About half way down the center aisle on the left, I found the Lab who was huddled in a corner, obviously upset by the racket and not wanting to come out of the kennel. The assistant slipped a lead on her and she slowly, very reluctantly and cautiously came along into the main kennel aisle, with her tail tucked up. Out of the cage and in the main aisle, she walked a few feet then collapse in a heap, leaning up tight against the chain-link front of the adjoining cage. As the occupants of the respective cages barked, whined and growled at her, she just looked straight down at the floor and tried to ignore them. The experience was just too much for her.
Once outside, in a quieter open area at the back of the shelter, I’d like to say that she brightened up, licked my face, ran around and had just a great time. But she didn’t. She collapsed on the ground and just stared straight ahead, trying to tune-out everything around her, hoping it would all go away … including us. Mary let out a couple other dogs that the Lab got along well with, one a little rambunctious female Cattle Dog mix who never stopped wiggling, the other the Shepard mix male I had seen on the shelter’s website who, as I sat on the ground, came up very close to my face to look me directly in the eye with a friendly but intense stare. Mary had hopes these two would get the Lab to relax a bit and put on a better showing for the potential adopter. The Lab brightened just a very little when the other dogs came out and her assistant brought out some lunch leftovers which consisted of a couple cold hot dogs and some old french fries. All of which were quickly consumed by the three. After the other dogs ran off to play, the Lab cautiously rose and slowly walked around the back of the shelter to the other side and lay down again, out of our sight, and more importantly for her, we out of hers. Mary nervously chatted about how sweet the dog was and how she just needed some time. I told her I wasn’t bothered by the dog’s reaction or lack there of. Given her circumstances, it’s understandable. She’d been through a lot but I thought I could see a great dog under all that stress and abuse.
“You mean we can breathe again?” she said as the other two dogs ran up to us looking for more attention. “Yeah, no worries” I said, “what’s involved with the adoption process.”
I went out to my car to get an old collar for her and noticed on the right side of the shelter the other two dogs were watching me at the chain-linked fence. I had a few dog biscuits in my jacket pocket and broke them into pieces and alternately gave them to each dog. Forty feet in back of the dogs at the fence and to the right, stood the Lab, facing slightly away, watching the other two over her shoulder, with just the tip of her low held tail wagging quickly. She cautiously watched the two at the fence but stayed her distance. She continued to quickly wag that tip of her tail until she saw a couple of the male shelter workers come around the back of the shelter building where upon she tucked her tail tightly up under her, turned slightly away and lay down.
I used a dog ramp to load her into the back of my SUV (which she took to on the first try) and we headed south towards home. A few miles down the road, we passed a huge cotton field. All that white, acre after acre. The term “…in tall or high cotton” came to mind and I thought about how it meant different things to the folks historically involved with cotton production. To the landowner of the cotton-field it meant a time of plenty, high profits, easy street. To the people working the field, it meant easier work since they didn’t have to bend over all day long but could pick it standing upright. Making a terribly punishing job slightly less so … at least on their backs.
As we continued towards Charleston, I rolled that phrase over in my mind and the circumstances of the poor unwanted dogs I had just been around most of the afternoon and how much better the upcoming life would be for the one I had in the back of my truck. “In tall cotton” … well, this one certainly was. All white dog, in a lot better place now. “Cotton” … seems like the perfect name.
I stopped at a McDonald’s on our way south and we shared a bag of warm french fries as we headed to the Vet and home.