Smokey, the River, and the Shoe | Ron (Update: Adopted)

It's tough to imagine the amount of joy found in a single lonely sneaker floating in the American River.

Smokey, a portly black pit mix with a graying snout, was the lucky recipient of said joy. He continually dropped the sneaker in a small divot of mud, then chased it with glee as we hurled the abandoned shoe back into the water.

Smokey & the Shoe
This was one happy pooch, free from the confines of the shelter for a few glorious hours.

But wait, let's back up a bit.

We had decided that we wanted to do a road trip with one of the shelter dogs instead of our usual routine. Walking dogs around the facility is a great way to get them out and about, but it doesn't seem as invigorating as a get-in-the-car, find-a-fun-place, and let-them-romp destination.

Smokey, a 10-year-old who was recently surrendered by his owner, was our first test subject. The American River parkway was our destination. We weren't sure how he would react.

Would he be scared? Would he feel comfortable? Would he like the water?

The answers to those questions? No. Yes. Hell yes.

We entered the The American River Parkway from an entry just off American River Drive near Rio Americano High School.  I've been to the American River plenty of times, but this area is incredibly inviting. Biking trails, jogging trails, and shady wooded trails that lead you on a journey along the tranquil waters.

There are wild flowers, rocky bluffs, and amazing views that have you believing you are far from civilization.

Ten minutes into our walk and we were at a small beach along the river. Smokey wasted no time, prancing into the water and exploring.  He struck gold immediately in the form a single white sneaker. And the fetching was on.

You could gauge his sheer pleasure by the crooked look he gave us every time he dropped the sneaker at our feet. "Throw the damn thing," his eyes said. "I don't have all day here."

He didn't have all day. But we gave him a few hours. And he devoured every minute of it, tugging us down winding dirt trails and chasing sticks at the river's edge.

At one point, Smokey found a rather large stick in the water. Maybe stick isn't the right word. It was like a small tree. He gathered it in his jaw and yanked it right out of the water. Damn impressive.

Our road trip was a tremendous success. And we gave Smokey a joyful respite from his situation.

Great scenery. Great dog.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.

(If you can't see the video below, please view it HERE.)

Update: Happily, Smokey has been adopted after a terrific foster family took him in and gave him the time he needed to find his family.



On Shelter Dogs and Luck | Chandra

It happens to all of us dog people...you are out for a walk and you see him. You look around hopefully for someone, anyone, who might just be the owner. Maybe he's just off leash and his owner is here, somewhere, please. You approach the dog, hoping for a collar, crossing your fingers for a tag with a working phone number. And sometimes you luck out, the collar is there, the dog lets you approach and you can actually read the tag. The address is somewhere nearby and you take the dog home to nice people who answer the door and are completely stunned that their loved dog has somehow gotten out. They are grateful and you leave with a smile.

But mostly, that's not how it happens. Usually, there isn't such an easy ending. The dog won't let you near it, there is a collar but no tags, or the phone number rings and rings. And sometimes there's this...

Last night, while out for a walk with a friend in my decidedly upscale neighborhood, I spotted a skinny black and white dog at the edge of the lake. I thought it belonged to some people fishing but when I asked them they said "No, we always keep our dogs on leashes." I tried to get close to the timid boy, but he wouldn't let me anywhere near him and ran across the street to some houses. He went to first one porch and then another so I hoped that he lived in one of these houses. At one of the doors, a sweet lady answered and said that maybe that was Molly, who lived next door. When I rang, no one answered the doorbell, and I walked around to see if maybe their gate was open. Sure enough, no latch and Molly had nosed her way back into the yard. In front of the gate there was an old tire half buried in the dirt and lots of empty bottles on the ground. Molly was slinking, tail between her legs, barking at me, extremely skinny and not very healthy looking.

When I came back around, three boys were standing in the open front door, just in shorts, no shirts. All of them looked a little uncared for themselves and when I asked them about Molly being so skinny, the oldest boy told me that Molly was just old. I let them know the latch on the gate wasn't working and went back to my friend and our walk. She told me that when she's seen that garage door open, it looks like a hoarder's house, and I imagine that might be the case. Those three boys had a hungry look about them underneath their freckles, not that happy healthy look you hope for.

When I tell people I volunteer at the shelter, the most common response I get is "I could never do that. I'd feel so sorry for all the dogs and want to take them all home." I usually respond with something like, "Well, you get used to it and shelters are much better these days with lots of great people working to make it good for the dogs."

But really, that's not the whole truth. The truth is that I firmly believe that the dogs in our shelter are much better off than a great many dogs that are in homes.

I spent time with a tan pit bull with cute triangle ears named Katy last weekend. She's a confiscate dog who came from a dog fighting case and has spent nearly all of her two years in the shelter after arriving at just eight weeks old. Katy hasn't ever been in a home or taken a trip to the river or slept with her human in a bed. She's never had a person of her very own to love. She hasn't had a lot of things. It's very easy to feel sorry for Katy.

But like most everything in this world, there is another side to the story if you look a little deeper. Katy has a whole crew of people who love her and take care of her. Katy has a warm, dry place to sleep with a raised bed and a clean blanket every day. She has an outdoor area where the volunteers can play with her and she can hang out with her stuffed toy and her tennis ball and things to sniff and other dogs to watch walk by. She has her brother Odin to wrestle with. She gets walks most days and a caring human to pet her and snuggle with her and tell her she's beautiful. Katy knows how to sit and stay and lay down and walk nicely on a leash and how to fetch a tennis ball. She regularly gets a Kong stuffed with peanut butter and a bath to keep her coat shiny and soft. Katy gets her shots and is strong and healthy and eats good food. The volunteers know that Katy likes a lap to cuddle in and are happy to oblige her. Katy is loved.

I'm pretty sure that Katy has a much better life than Molly does. I know she has it much better than the two dogs who used to live next door to us and almost never got out of their small cement dog run. When their owners moved, they dropped them off at the shelter before they went and I'm pretty sure their consciences were clear. I know she has it better than Lola, a pretty husky who lives all her hours behind a chain link fence, who one of the PB Soc volunteers writes about on Facebook.

So next time someone asks me that question, that "How can you do it?" question, I'm going to answer differently. I'm going to say, "You know what? These dogs, these wonderful shelter dogs, they aren't the ones you need to feel sorry for. They've got a second chance and most of them will find new homes after they've spent some time being taken care of by people who truly do care. Their worst days are behind them."

Our shelter dogs really are the lucky ones. They have a chance for a wonderful life and a safe place to wait for their forever families to find them. The few who don't make it out will at least exit this world with a kind word and a gentle touch. And I am lucky too. Lucky to be able to play a little part in making their wait a good one.

Giving Katy some kisses.
Katy's Glamour Shot | Photo by Shannon Skalisky
If you are interested in learning more about Katy, or any of the other wonderful dogs looking for homes, please visit SacCountyDogs.com. Sweet Katy even has her own Webpage.