Kevin & The 2am Steeple Chase

I hate it when I mutter prophetic words. It was Saturday, and I was working with a family adopting for the first time. They had a pre-teen daughter who was very excited about her new dog. They were taking home a Brittany spaniel who had been retired from breeder days. I knew that Whitey had led a quiet life on a farm. I cautioned them to make sure that they always knew where at their new dog was when doors were opened, and it would take at least 30 days or more to get them all in the routine of keeping Whitey safe. I explained that this day, day one, when they got home for the first time, is the most dangerous time. If she were to bolt, please call me immediately. That was at 5 PM. At 2 AM I found myself trudging up the short path to the kennel from the house, Luna in tow, and thinking about those words. Our transporter, Thad, had just gotten back in from a very long trip to Maryland to pick up five dogs that needed to come to rescue. One of them was a seven month old, 80 pound Bernese Mountain dog / standard poodle mix named Kevin. Kevin had also led a quiet and sheltered life, living on a beautiful marina near Annapolis. Kevin was coming to the farm because his owner’s health was not good. There was a lot of sadness in the goodbye and dogs know what we feel. I can only imagine what Kevin must’ve thought when he was bundled into a crate in a large van with other dogs, then driven over 10 hours well into the night with a stranger he had only met for a few minutes before having his leash handed over. Dognapping! Thad is an experienced dog handler. He understands canine behavior. But it was late. Very late. He had been on the road for two days. When construction held Thad up far past our normal shut down time, Thad graciously told caregivers waiting for him to go home. He had 5 dogs. He routinely handles many more. What could go wrong?

Thad finally rolled in the gate at the farm about 1 am and that was when the fun started. He and Kevin had taken several walks during the trip so Thad felt comfortable with Kevin and got him out first. When Thad got Kevin close to the fenced area around intake cottage, the dogs inside set up a greeting. Kevin spooked and jerked backwards, getting his leash out of Thad”s hands.

The gate was closed so Thad was not worried. Kevin was only a few steps away and while he would not come to Thad, he was not going far either. Thad got his 4 little dogs settled into our intake cottage and then turned his attention back to Kevin.

He tried all his tricks. He could get close but Kevin was NOT going anywhere near that building.

Thad‘s girlfriend, Meredith, who also works with us had been in touch with Thad. She called me at 2 am to fill me in. Now I sleep like the dead. We work hard and we play hard and we sleep hard around here. It is very rare to get me up at 2 o’clock in the morning even with a phone ringing repeatedly but this time I had been tossing and turning all night. I don’t know if I was too on edge from a busy day or if a weird sixth sense was at work. I was not worried about Thad. He is a great driver and a great dog handler. I knew the dogs were in good hands. But I couldn’t sleep and when Meredith called, I answered quickly. Meredith filled me in and within minutes I was grabbing whatever clothes I could find. Luna was sound asleep, legs straight up in the air the way she always sleeps so I put my hand gently on

her chest and whispered her name and told her I needed her. Luna is an experienced dog catcher also. I needed the back up. We walked up the hill and through the back gate, and I was struck with how beautiful the night was. You could hear a few dogs barking in the cottages wondering what was going on but for the most part, always still. It is crystal clear at the farm and you can see far into the heavens. The clover is blooming all around us and it was peaceful and still. That is until I got up to the parking lot. Here’s where I’m going to give Thad extra bonus points for creativity. I don’t know what kind of chase Kevin had let him through, but Thad had decided that the only way to catch a scared Bernadoodle puppy was going to be to figure out a way to corral him. He had positioned his car in an L shape immediately next to the van. Then he had blocked the small opening between the two vehicles with a lawn chair and around the back of the van he had set up more lawn chairs – every lawn chair in our yard was in use as a barrier. But it worked. The scene I walked into was Thad, holding Kevin‘s collar and grinning. “I got him.” He proclaimed. And indeed he had. However it wasn’t just catching that had to be done. Now we had to figure out a safe place for him to go so we could go get some sleep. Kevin flatly refused to move an inch towards intake and there is nothing more solid than a large dog with the brakes on.

Kevin was owned by an older couple but I think mom spent a great deal of time with him and besides that, he was now wary of the man who been chasing him for an hour. I put a leash on Kevin and started to walk towards my office. Thad had already explained that the dogs in intake were greeting Kevin quite happily and noisily and Kevin have decided that that was not a building he was ever going to go in. If you’ve never had a large dog put the brakes on you, then you really don’t understand how very much they can weigh when they don’t want to move. Kevin’s 80+ pounds had suddenly become 400. It was time to bring out the secret weapon. “Luna,” I called. “We need you.” Luna came around the corner of the van where she had been exploring the odd collection of chairs that were not where they were supposed to be and looked at Kevin. Kevin did not have a large companion dog in his home but a player knows one when he sees one and it’s hard to resist Luna. They sniffed noses and I could see his curiosity overcoming his fear. This one didn’t look scary at all. She was fun.

I pulled gently on the leash and after a few tags and Luna’s encouragement, he stepped forward a few paces and sat down. Luna came back to encourage him more and slowly we made our way inside the fenced in yard around my office. Finally, we had Kevin safely behind a second gate. Safe. Thad got the crate set up while Luna and I calmed the pup and finally we got him settled for the night.

Luna and I walked back down the hill together. The moon was bright. Everything but Luna and I was still and calm. Luna was in high spirits, knowing her mission was accomplished. Sure we had to get up in the middle of the night but it was worth it. I thought, not for the first time, how very lucky I am to live this life. To help those who need help, like Kevin and his previous owner who loved him but could not care for him. And to be partners with such an incredible dog as Luna.

PS – Kevin is now happily adopted and is now called Barkley. He is living life large in Virginia