Beck’s Story

Written by: Natalie Gaanderse

I am writing this story, not because I want attention, but because this is a story that deserves attention.  It is one of hope and determination, and how a compassionate group of dog lovers came together with one goal in mind.  Above all, however, it is a story about the tenacity and spirit of a brave little dog who became known as Becky of Hwy 29.

This is what I know of Becky's history.  An Australian Shepherd, she spent the first year and a half of her life at a breeding facility.  Destined to be used as a breeding female, she was confined in a horse stall with other breeding females, with minimal human contact.  What human contact she did receive was less than stellar.  A submissive girl, she was bullied by the other dogs.  When she failed to produce pups, the breeder sold her to a family who lived on a farm towards the end of October, 2012.  They reported to me that Becky was immensely fearful, cowering if they even dropped a piece of paper.  Becky lived with them a week before fear overtook, and she escaped.  This was early November, and little did Becky know, but she would be spending a very long, and very cold Eastern Ontario winter on her own.

I first saw a lost dog poster for Becky in December, when I was at my vet clinic picking up medication for my horse (who is a whole other rescue story!). I read it, took mental note, and allowed my heart to ache both for the owners who lost their pet, and this scared dog out on her own.  That was the last I heard about Becky until driving down Hwy 29 one night.  A little background here:  Hwy 29 runs from Carleton Place to Arnprior.  The stretch I drove on a regular basis was between Arnprior and Clayton Road, near Almonte, where I keep my horse.  I was approaching the Indian River Bridge, and saw a figure on the side of the road.  I realized it was a dog, Becky to be exact, and hit the brakes.  I got out and called to her, but she had already taken off.  I got on my phone, and goggled the information I remembered was on the poster, and found the owner's phone number.  I called, all excited to tell them I had seen their dog.  I spoke with the husband, and to my dismay, he told me that they had given up trying to catch Becky.  She was too fearful and too smart to be outwitted by a live trap.  She would bolt if a car pulled over, and would not go anywhere near a human.  She was apparently spending time at the municipal garage where deer road kill was dumped. He also said that if someone did succeed in catching her, they did not want Becky back.  They did not feel that they could handle her special needs, due in part to their own physical limitations and other personal circumstances.  I was pretty deflated, but what more could I do?

I saw Becky several more times on my travels back and forth to the stable.  And I wondered, why has nobody done anything to help her?  Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine shared a post on Facebook about a "Becky sighting".  This post was on the Ottawa and Valley Lost Pet Network (OVLPN) facebook page.  In fact, there had been many reported sightings.  I added a comment that I often saw Becky, and after a few more comments back and forth, I said my famous last words..."I'll see if I can get more information".  To keep a very long story somewhat shorter, suffice it to say that I dropped in at the municipal garage, left a note to contact me pinned to a tree where I was told someone was feeding her, as well as in the salt shed itself.  (the woman feeding Becky did call me, but did not know much more than I did, as she only dropped food off twice a week on her way into town).  Through Gisele Villeneuve, the wonderful lady who runs the OVLPN page, I was put into contact with Linda, who has fostered numerous dogs taken out of Becky's breeder's facility.  I also met Sue and Louise, two women who were instrumental in giving ideas and advice on how we could catch Becky.  When Gisele sent me a message she had received from Alyssa Toshack, the ball started rolling.  Alyssa informed us that her in-laws saw Becky at their place every day.  Their house was just down the road from the municipal garages, had a hill on one side where Becky liked to lookout from, a running creek that did not freeze in the winter, and several outbuildings.  Linda and I stopped in, armed with dog food and a note, since nobody was home. 

Now we just had to wait for them to call, and hope that they would help us out.

Help us they did.  Allan and Cathy Toshack, and their son Mark were more than happy to assist us in whatever way they could.  They fed Becky for us twice everyday at the same time, and were careful to ignore her, not speaking or making eye contact.  Anything of that sort would cause her to bolt.  Our aim was to narrow down Becky's perimeter, to keep her from travelling up and down the highway.  Linda had distributed posters to all the people from Blakeny to Clayton Road, telling them there was a plan in progress to rescue Becky.  We also informed several local vet clinics, and the OPP (who were beginning to want to take the matter of Becky into their own hands, if you catch my drift).  This bought us a bit more time.  Linda, Louise, Sue and I brainstormed many ideas to catch Becky.  We finally settled on this: set up a large and airy 10x10x6 dog pen near where Becky was eating at the Toshack's, with the top covered in chain link in case once caught she tried to climb out.  Have Allan continue to feed Becky next to the pen, and gradually move the food bowl closer to, and eventually into the pen.  Seemed simple enough, but we had to figure out a way to shut the pen's gate without Becky noticing!  Well, here comes the "it must have been meant to be" moment...the Toshack's had a sunporch, with tinted windows and screens.  One screen had a small tear in it near the floor...perfect to pass a rope through that we attached to the pen's gate.  Linda and I planned to hide in the sunporch, wait for Becky to enter the pen to eat, then pull the rope, shutting the gate and trapping Becky inside.  Would our plan actually work?  We didn't even know if Becky would be spooked by the mere presence of the pen.  But we felt this was our best option, so we gave it a go.

Becky was eating at the Toshack's for just over a week when, Linda, her boyfriend Dave, and myself went to set up the pen.  That was a Tuesday afternoon.  Allan and Cathy called us with daily "Becky reports", and by Thursday evening, she had entered the pen with her front legs.  By Saturday evening, Becky was eating all the way inside the pen, and was hanging around closer and closer to the house, not bothering to move if the Toshack's came outside.  Progress was being made in a big way!  Linda and I decided that Monday morning, Easter Monday, we would try to catch Becky.  All the while, I was keeping all the Becky fans on the OVLPN page updated on our progress, and so many people offered words of support and encouragement.  Some even offered to help with vet bills once we caught her (as we are not affiliated with a rescue group, Linda and I are footing the medical expenses ourselves).  Monday morning, Linda, Dave and I met at Louise's house, and she dropped us off at the Toshack's.  We did not want to have our cars there, as Becky might have gotten spooked by the sudden arrival of unfamiliar vehicles.  We waited with Allan and Cathy until feeding time.  Becky was already waiting for her breakfast, as Allan had only fed her half her dinner the night before.  She was good and hungry!  We took our positions in the sunporch, Allan went out to feed her, and it was less then 10 seconds before Becky went into the pen.  Heart pounding in my head, I yanked on the rope and shut the gate.  We had her!

Linda and Dave sprang into action.  Dave blocked the gate while Linda entered the pen.  None of us were sure how Becky was going to react, but Linda had told us that all the dogs she had fostered from Becky's breeder had good temperaments.  Becky stopped running in circles when Linda knelt down and took her gently on both sides of the neck.  Becky let Linda sooth her, pet her and put a harness and leash on.  I entered the pen, knelt down, and finally got to hold the brave dog that had survived an entire winter out on her own.  It was surreal!  We took pictures and loaded her into the truck.  I sat with Becky while the pen was taken down.  She was timid, but at the same time, seemed relieved that her ordeal was finally over.  Linda and I had commented several times during the planning stages that Becky had a soft look to her, not wild.  It was as if she had wanted to be rescued, but just wasn't sure how to let people in.  I took a picture of her in the front seat of the truck, and in it she appears to be smiling.  That was all I needed to see to let me know how Becky felt.  We were all elated as we headed back to Louise's to get our cars.  Louise and her husband were thrilled to meet Becky too!  It was pretty emotional, but it wasn't until I called my husband on my way home that I cried.

Becky went home with Linda that day, who has been working wonders as her foster mom.  We also gave Becky a new name, as she seemed fearful when she heard "Becky".  She likely associated it with the breeder, and being chased by multiple strangers during her 5 months on the loose.  We named her April, as she was rescued April 1st. That day was a new beginning for her, and like spring, full of renewal.  April has been to a wonderful groomer named Marie Josee Spurrell, who generously donated a grooming, 2 flea baths and a lovely new harness.  She has also been to the vet for a physical, bloodwork, fecal test, and first round of vaccines.  April still needs her second boosters, and needs to be spayed.  According to Linda, she is shy, but gaining confidence daily.  She is also very affectionate!  Although we were told she is extremely fearful of men, those she has met she has really liked!  She goes on pack walks, and today came to my house to visit my family and dogs. 

She will no doubt blossom into the dog she was meant to be from the start.  April has a quiet spirit and a gentle can see it in her warm brown eyes.  Which, by the way, have a habit of melting one's heart.  I am already working on my husband...what's one more dog in the grand scheme of things? ;)

Side note: A huge thank you, a hundred times over, to all the wonderful people I met during April's rescue operation.  Without your kind words of support and guidance, online and in person, this undoubtedly would not have been as successful.  I dropped by the Toshack's to give them an update, and we reminisced while eating cake!  What wonderful folks!  And to Linda (and her pack), a special thank you for taking in April.  We will slowly but surely break my husband's only a matter of time before April comes home for good :)

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