HARRISON – It was a seemingly ordinary day on Cranberry Lake until a fleeting moment of fear and an innate urge to bolt instantly changed the course of one dog’s life forever – and likely the lives of some very caring humans as well.
The dog is a 5-year-old Great Dane named Zaira, who was one-day new to her home on Cranberry Lake when left to her own devices chose to run. But with that bolt, she found herself in the lake, panicked, and swimming as her only option. Unfortunately, she chose a direction which landed her on a 13-acre sinking marsh “island.” Already a nervous, high-strung dog, that momentous landing was the beginning of what would be many weeks of cautious, fearful stepping and hiding from movements and noises made by other creatures, including the humans who sought to rescue her.
Rudi Hicks, director of Clare County Animal Control, said the shelter first received a call about the dog on Aug. 17, at which time the dog had already been stranded for about a week. She said Canine Rescue had been out there trying to capture the dog and providing food.
“But she’s emaciated, she still wasn’t eating,” Hicks said. “I mean not enough – she weighs 70 pounds and should weigh probably 110 at least.”
As the weeks wore on for the perpetually frightened dog whose ribs became ever more prominent, it was apparent that Zaira was wasting away.
The trapping cage set for her included a tethered bait, but Zaira had sidestepped the mechanism.
“She was so smart, she chewed the bottom off the bait bag without pulling on it,” Hicks said. “She just chewed the bottom off, so she never pulled it.”
It became time for a more sophisticated strategy. Hicks said another agency, which chooses not to be identified, had loaned some rather high-tech equipment. It included a laser beam which, when crossed, would trip monitoring cameras.
“So, we did this laser beam, with live feed cameras so we could watch her day and night,” Hicks said.
After week upon week of avoiding people and the tantalizingly baits, things finally changed. On the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 20 as Hicks and Dodson prepared to eat their lunch, Hicks said she saw on the camera that Zaira was going into the cage.
“She walked right over and tripped it, and I said a bad word and we ran out of here,” Hicks chuckled. At the time, she was assisting a man who was surrendering his dog and she apologized, explaining she had to leave. But he was not upset, he just said “Go, go!”
It seems everyone was rooting for this dog.
Hicks said that tremendous assistance was offered by resident Frank Johnson and his wife, Lisa, noting they had ferried people back and forth four times a day to check on the trap and food.
“He has waited on his boat at night at the end of the pallet bridge waiting for the trap to spring so he could get in there and make sure she couldn’t get back out,” Hicks said.
Thus it was that when Hicks and Dodson arrived Sept. 21, Johnson had already taken his boat out to the island to secure the dog in the cage. With no time to waste, Dodson grabbed a kayak and paddled over to the island – a kayak that Hicks said was riding ever lower and lower in the water. He returned with the boat to take Hicks over to the island.
“And there she was,” Hicks said. “Bob distracted her on one side while I slipped in the door real quick and shut it.”
It was a cautious, slow-motion approach to the dog as Hicks circled her, gradually getting close enough to put a leash on, and a solid grip to ensure she could not again bolt.
“Once we got the leash on her, all three of us burst into tears,” Hicks said. “It was like ‘Oh, my gosh!’ It’s been an ordeal. It was our biggest fear that she’d just disappear and we’d never see her again. People don’t understand that it is not an island, it is a sinking marsh; there’s not any solid ground on that island at all. I mean, any time you’re walking on that island, you could fall through and die. I hate this island.”
Hicks said that pallets provided by the lumber yard had been placed as makeshift walking path, but that the going was still treacherous as the pallets were tippy when stepped anywhere but their center.
“Bob carried her off the island across pallets that were sinking and flipping every other step,” she said. “He’s carrying a 70-pound dog and I’ve got a death grip on two leashes in case he dropped her – we didn’t want to lose her.”
Hicks said that at one point she was fairly dragging Dodson, who begged her to slow down lest he lose his footing and the dog. Hicks said that people who have seen the online photos of the rescue don’t understand the reason for their focused expressions.
“We are walking on a floating pallet bridge, so you’re trying not to tip them,” she said. “You’re going in, and if you do you’re going into black muck – and you’re never coming out.”
Hicks said it was sensitive teamwork to have one person step on the edge of a pallet while the other person stepped off onto the next. She was adamant that, while knowing they must return to retrieve their equipment, for her never again stepping onto that island would be too soon.
Hicks agreed that the dog’s emaciated state probably saved the dog, because if she had weighed more she could well have sunk through and drowned.
“And she is the kind of dog that is stressed to the max – always,” Hicks said. “It had to be so scary for her. When she got in the truck, we looked back and she was sound asleep. It was like she went ‘Oh thank you, finally!’ And she slept all the way to the vet’s and she laid there super calm while he examined her. We took her back and put her in the backseat of our car … she slept all the way back to the shelter.”
At the shelter, Zaira has been set up with a cozy, covered dog crate, a dog bed, fed as directed by the veterinarian, and has been sleeping well. In addition to the dog bed, commercial carpet mat has been placed as she dislikes walking on slippery floors. Zaira will stay in her own quiet room and be fed there without any curiosity visitors, until she is healthy and strong. Hicks said many people have called wanting to adopt the dog, but Zaira will not be adopted out due to her flight risk. One possible option would be going to Great Dane Rescue, but that remains to be determined.
Hicks said that as of Friday, Zaira was much more personable.
“Right now, she’s about as sweet as sweet,” she said. “She would let you do anything to her; she has not growled, nothing. She’s still pretty afraid, but she’s coming around a little bit.”
Hicks said the dog likes food, will eat out of a person’s hand, and is getting fed small amounts four to six times a day. That food is a prescription digestive called Canine I.D., which will be her diet for at least two weeks. Hicks said that about 10 times a day someone goes through her door and gives her a couple kibbles, generating a positive reward/relationship building pattern.
“Already we’re seeing progress,” Hicks said. “I opened the door a minute ago and said ‘Well, hello girl’ and she was lying on her bed, not in her crate. And she came right over, stayed back maybe 4 feet, but as soon as I shook the dog food, she was right there.”
As Hicks put it, this was “A happy ending indeed!”
The reality is that this happy ending was the result of the shelter’s mindset of ongoing, prevailing teamwork: something demonstrated by Dodson when admiringly addressed after the rescue as Mr. Dog Hero. He simply responded, “We all are.”
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