Hope for Paws’ LA-based animal-rescue videos are de rigueur viewing chez MacGregor. As a longtime supporter of Eldad Hagar’s humble “hamburger fund,” I eagerly await the next installation of his riveting dogs-in-distress films.
Some day, I fantasize, perhaps he’ll rescue a dog meant for me. Since Angus MacDog sparked our lives for 17 years, the daydream was just a pleasant diversion. Now bereft of our beloved terrier for 16 long months, I’d begun contemplating a dog-filled life once again.
And then it happened. Hagar’s latest YouTube video popped up in my inbox the Friday before the Labor Day holiday and I watched as he and helper Lisa Chiarelli zeroed in on a small, petrified terrier slinking belly-down beneath the parked cars that defined his domicile for an unbelievable seven months. I saw his fuzzy face and was smitten.
I kept thinking of the plucky canine during the weekend Open Houses I hosted in Long Beach and decided to investigate the following day. Not even knowing who I was calling on a holiday, I was thrilled to receive the return call from Laura Chou of Smooch Pooch Rescue. Her rescue group is one of many affiliated with Hope for Paws and she’d personally nursed the dog—given the name “Aaron”—back to health for the past six weeks.
We arranged to meet at the Trump National Golf Course on the tip of Palos Verdes, LA’s southernmost enclave of woodsy, pricy real estate. When I finally showed up late and frazzled at the rendez-vous, Laura calmed me down and introduced me to the bashful dog hiding under the park bench.
The scarily raw, red chest—scourged from mange—now boasted a fuzz of white over pink, freckled skin. The little guy inspected me quite solemnly beneath Laura’s legs while the two of us began the interview dance.
I passed muster and Laura graciously acceded to my hesitant adoption request. On the way home, I excitedly bought a leash, bed, treats, and toys. Making it real.
I returned home to inform husband Kirk about the imminent four-legged addition to our family. As usual, he acquiesces calmly in the face of an immovable object!
Navigating the LA freeways on a sweltering day similar to our own Palm Springs area climes, Kirk and I rendez-vous at the animal shelter in San Pedro with Laura a few days later to formally adopt Aaron.
Promising to be exemplary pooch parents, we sign the paperwork, snap on the dog’s leash and usher the confused canine into the car. Where he immediately hunkers down amidst the clutter behind the driver’s seat instead of on Kirk’s lap in the happy drive-home scenario I’d naively envisioned.
Not off to a propitious start, things progress from stressful to even more stressful. An initial swing-by at a friend’s house comes to an abrupt halt when Kirk realizes the idling car is now blowing hot air on this 100° day. I’m now panicked with the oven-like temps inside the car. “Oh, my god, we’re going to kill the dog before we even get him home!” The recalcitrant vehicle finally, excruciatingly slowly, obliges with some cool air before we hit the 405 and I calm down.
Swinging onto the northbound 605, we arrive just minutes after a horrific three-car crash and I’m reminded, yet again, that I no longer miss living in tumultuous LA.
Petting the dog awkwardly with one hand and driving with the other, I think maybe it’s going to be OK. We decide to stop for lunch in Riverside at a shopping center sprouting an inviting patch of dog-worthy grass. Kirk unwisely pulls the dog from the car and all hell breaks loose. In an Eldad-worthy scene, Aaron writhes, screams, urinates, then wedges himself firmly under the rear wheel well on the bloody hot tarmac. Shaken, I intercede to coax the dog from this most untenable situation.
It's a good half hour before I give up and finally crawl under the car to slowly tug him out. Expecting to be bitten by the terrified dog, I pause to consider how many times even the experienced Eldad has expected the same.
Home at last in La Quinta—Aaron’s new desert home—I show the dog around the house and backyard. He is alert and inquisitive, looking up at the enclosing six-foot block wall enclosing our spacious yard—probably gauging its jumpability with his stubby legs. So far, so good.
I patiently sit next to him as he seeks reassurance from the solid fence, oblivious to the ants marching industriously over his feet. When he finally rises to continue exploration, I am elated. Until he scuttles behind the messy trash cans where he crouches in utter dejection mode.
Two hours, many treats and entreaties later, I finally resort to pulling him out by his collar. Neither of us is happy about the ignominious denouement.
We tuck his plush bed—a somber-hued tartan number befitting his old-Scottish-man visage—at the back of our closet to give him a quiet, enclosed nook.
Wake up the next morning to find a stricken face peering up at me from a thoroughly soaked bed. He was too afraid to move during the night. Poor baby.
Next morning, another soaked site and woeful dog face. I switch into deep-cleaning mode once again.
I can’t stand his stinky, bedraggled appearance one day longer and decree a bath whatever the emotional cost. Since we don’t have a flexible showerhead, bath-time finds me bent at a 90° angle inside the tub awkwardly pouring cups of warm water over a stiff but stoic dog clinging to the porcelain rim. I console myself with the thought that he most certainly feels better after the ordeal.
Next day, we offer him a rug under the coffee table in front of the TV—a spot he takes to instantly.
I’m pretty sure the close confines remind him of his cramped tenure in the parking lot.
For the first two weeks, he refuses to budge if it’s not his idea. A baleful, white-eyed glare prefaces the process. Kirk dares not approach. Slowly, cautiously the catatonic canine is extricated from his hidey-hole—limbs rigor-mortis stiff. It’s actually pretty humorous if it wasn’t so unnerving to the pooch.
All my animal-loving friends proffer advice:
“He needs a crate to feel secure.”
“He doesn’t sleep in the bedroom with you?”
“He should have a Martingale light-choke collar/harness collar/slip-lead collar/car-seat harness/regular collar.”
“Here’s a list of approved healthy dog-food brands.”
“I only feed my dogs Brand-X dry food and an occasional carrot.”
“My dogs eat Costco roast chicken mixed with their kibble.”
“Have you bought him any toys?”
“Why don’t you buy him an anti-anxiety jacket?”
“Has he been to the vet yet?” (Can just imagine the concomitant trauma with that—car ride, strange building, new vet, cold metal table, needle pricking.)
Slowly, ever so slowly, he adapts to his new digs and attendant humans—and our two curious cats, both of them mulling over this new resident. “Think they’re just dog-sitting again?”
Kirby, the insouciant master of the roost, is unperturbed with the newcomer and sprawls insolently in his path.
Aaron appears indifferent to the felines, careening off them like a bumper game when frantically bee-lining back to his bed. I suspect he’s narrowed his field-of-focus to just take in the essentials for survival in his new environs. His sleep-of-the-dead during the day reminds me of the huge effort needed for adjustment to yet a new chapter in his young, frazzled life.
Every day with us is a journey toward self-confidence. I’m reminded of a book I read as a teenager, the Caldecott-winning Up a Road Slowly.
Aaron’s own self-discovery journey toward belonging can easily be enumerated, courtesy of my daily journal:
First tentative tail wag (Day 3)
First real tail wag (Day 4)
First enthusiastic tail wag (Day 7)
First poop outside instead of on the carpet or rugs! (Day 6)
First walk down the block (Day 5)
First whimper—his form of vocalization (Day 8)
First self-assured bark (Day 12)
First real exploration of back yard (Day 11)
First cat chase of Maggie; first bonk on the head by Kirby—which sent him squealing back to his lair. Had to explain that Kirby is bereft of front claws and therefore poses minimal danger (Day 10)
With some setbacks—the blood-spotted diarrhea mishaps, the possible fever mitigated with wet towels, and the incident with the neighbors’ dogs—he trots purposefully on a daily path towards well-being.
Oh, the unfortunate dog incident? Turns out the two large dogs—one of them a pit bull—who appeared out of nowhere and streaked towards an already-quivering dog during one of his initial front-yard promenades, just wanted to inspect a new dog on the block. Unfortunately, we’d never even seen these two before they zoomed in on our walking party. Upon spotting the formidable pit, Kirk yelled for me to pick up the dog. I couldn’t manage that so threw myself down on top of the now-frantic dog, both us expecting the worst from the nuzzling snouts, while Kirk yelled at the frozen-in-place kid to corral his dogs. The unfortunate situation finally deescalated and both parents apologized for the imbroglio (well, the mother actually defended her feckless child while the father reassured us that his two rescue dogs are sweet and loving but did apologize sincerely for the scare).
We’re giving him a well-deserved respite from the wild and woolly rigors of the daunting front-yard world.
I was struck by our new adoptee’s similarity to the driving dog in Connie Townsend’s artwork—my first piece from the acclaimed Arizona artist. I’d instantly fallen in love with the carefree canine companions tootling along the countryside in the blazing red Mini—my favorite car!
We later commissioned a large canvas of our beloved Angus driving a ’55 British MG (right-side drive!) with his stalwart companions. Perhaps Aaron will one day find himself so immortalized.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly an animal can wiggle into your heart?
I adore his amber eyes and toffee-colored ears.
His utter solemnity.
His distinctive eyelashes that jut straight out.
The way he steadily holds my gaze.
His short bowed legs and sturdy chest—which form a perfect heart shape.
The click-click-click of his pale toenails on the tile floors.
The way he neatly folds his front legs under him like a contented cat.
His fascination with our pond and its inhabitants—two inquisitive turtles and a gaggle of goldfish.
His complete willingness to take us at our word that all will be well in this strange desert world of hot pavement and triple-digit temps.
I should call him Shadow since he’s become mine. Manifesting some separation anxiety, he toggles from living-room bed to office bed whenever I make a move. I find myself frozen in place for fear of disrupting his slumbers. Hard on someone with ants in her pants!
My friends are so happy for us, bestowing gracious commendations: “He couldn’t have found a better home.” “What a lucky dog.”
But it’s Julia (up in her lovely San Francisco aerie)—who herself adopted an abandoned cat from here in the desert—who said it best when she saw the staggering number of views his rescue video had logged. “And you’re the lucky one who got him!”
Laura mentioned that since the video has gone viral (as most of Hope for Paws stories do), she’s fielded more than 75 inquiries from around the country about the scruffy white dog with the Jack Russell DNA.
Today marks the third-week anniversary of his arrival in our desert home. He’s snoozing under my desk as I pen this story.
And we’ve named him Kobi.