“I started crying just now thinking about how hard I was crying that day, at that moment. I have never felt like a hero to anyone or anything until that day. Scooping her into that blanket and placing her in the car was the best thing I have ever done as a human.” — Brian Behrens
Brian is on our Advisory Board and helps with everything that has a design on it—our website, all of our marketing, our shirts and gear, literally everything that’s pretty. But he’s more than just a whiz at graphic design and website programming—he’s got a big heart for animals in need and he always does the right thing. He’s also my partner in crime and so he gets vacuumed into everything I’m involved in as well—BAPBR, a farm animal sanctuary, other animal organizations, fostering dogs—the answer is yes.
While we were traveling on our annual road trip vacation to Best Friends Animal Society, in July of 2010, we thought we’d take the long way from Moab, UT and detour through Four Corners and up to Monument National Park. But first, food—hungry! Thirsty! On that fateful day, we met a dog who had been through some recent trauma and was not long for this world.
We stopped in Kayenta, AZ, on the Navajo Reservation, at the only thing resembling a town structure—a tiny little “strip mall” that had a pizza parlor and a grocery outlet. It was about 110 degrees out. There were people everywhere, doing their shopping, hanging out, and getting pizza. And everyone one of them was stepping over an injured black dog, who lay panting on the pavement—walking over her like she was a piece of trash to be avoided.
We quickly went into action—we went into the pizza parlor and picked up a Styrofoam bowl, ordered our pizza to go, filled up with water and headed outside to give the poor dog a drink. Who knows how long she’d been without water in that heat? She sucked down the water in the blink of an eye, all without moving her body—just raising her head. We knew something was seriously wrong with her. She’d also recently had a litter of puppies—but we looked around and couldn’t see any, although, if you’ve ever been on a reservation, you may know how many packs of totally normal-looking “house” dogs there are roaming everywhere. In our experience, it’s a common sight to see dogs that you’d normally see in people’s homes as their pets, running loose on the reservations.
We went back for more water, picked up our pizza and came out to feed her and give her more hydration. The expressions on the town-folk made us feel as if we were the crazy ones. Let them think that! She wolfed down the pizza and drank the next bowl of water. We discussed what to do, but felt we were not in the best position to bring home another dog, and we were only mid-way through our vacation. We filled up another bowl of water, left another slice of pizza for her, and regretfully, we left.
Our car was filled with mountain bikes, suitcases and the general amassing of things you end up with on a long road trip…but, we did have an empty bike rack on top. Silently driving away, each with our own sad thoughts, we suddenly were pulling onto the shoulder of the road. I looked over at Brian and here I observed the incident that brought out the quote that starts this tale. Ladies, I’m sure you know that feeling, when you see a grown man silently sobbing their eyes out…sort of makes you start crying instantly?
I got out of the car and started moving bikes out to be mounted on the rack, while Brian moved suitcases and pulled out towels to make a bed. We made a nice spot in the car together—no words exchanged, no discussion—both knowing we had to do the right thing for this dog. We drove back for her.
We pulled right up, scooped her up into a towel—she made just a small whimper of pain, but otherwise accepted her new fate, whatever it was. Now fed and watered, we proceeded to tour Monument National Park at record speed since we were right there—and this new dog in our car got to see the beauties of the desert with us.
We arrived at Best Friends late that night and checked in to our pet- friendly cottage. We found that this girl, who we named Willow, could stand, but not really walk. She was clearly hurting. We could not get her to go to the bathroom once. The next morning, we visited the town vet in Kanab, UT. Willow spent the whole day getting exams, x-rays, vaccines and various check-ups—and the big concern was that she might actually be pregnant again because her x-rays showed something big was going on inside. Throughout the day at the vet, we were on the phone with a coordinator at Best Friends seeing if we could take her to a Best Friends vet at their clinic that week, since they have such state-of-the-art equipment. The town vet recommended that Wills get an ultra-sound to confirm the pregnancy. Gulp. Did we just rescue more than one dog?
The day after that, we received the call to bring Miss Willow up to the Best Friends vet after our day of volunteering. Are you keeping track of the days and timeframe? This is the end of the second day since we picked Willow up and put her in our car. Still no bathroom breaks to be had. As it turned out, Willow had an incredibly full, full, FULL bladder that she was having a painful time expressing—and so it looked like a bellyful of puppies. We were so happy to hear the news and know that there was an easy remedy for that—she just needed some pain pills in her system to get her to comfortably relieve herself. She also appeared to have been hit by a car—she had a lot of road rash and a broken coccyx (tail bone). She was severely dehydrated, underweight, had a bladder infection, was a recent mother (though she appeared to be only about a year old) and the cherry on top was the BB shot lodged in her rib cage and seen on the x-rays.
Once she was more comfortable on her pain pills and antibiotics, Willow became a snuggle monster. She showed her extremely sharp intelligence—and everyone at Best Friends and in Kanab made the same comment over and over, “Res(ervations) dogs make the very best dogs you can adopt—if they live past a year, they are very smart, very socialized to other dogs, very social to people—they have to be to survive on their own”. Through all of the hundreds of dogs we’ve worked with and fostered over the years, it’s quite possible that Willow may be the most grateful dog of all—the bright look in her eye always glints with appreciation and humor. She is one of those dogs that always thanks you with a look.
Willow recuperated in our cottage for the rest of our trip and made the long drive home to Oregon the following week. She met and integrated into our own pack of 5 dogs. To this day, several of our girls consider Willow to be their best girlfriend and just die with excitement when she comes to visit. We swear they are catching up on gossip and girlfriend secrets! Our dear friend and regular and fantastic pet sitter, Eric, adopted Willow 5 months later and took her to his home in California. Ironically, I called him the day we found Willow while he was watching our family at home to announce to him that I’d found him his next dog. I was half-joking at the time, but not really… Another irony? We later learned that the word “Kanab” (the name of the town where Willow started her path to recovery) actually means “willow” in Paiute Indian…strange coincidence, don’t you think?
Two years later, Willow is a healthy, happy-go-lucky, hilarious girl who is just glued to her dad, who absolutely dotes on her! She has had uncountable adventures that any dog would be lucky to share just a portion of—she is loved to the nth degree. Makes you think of how many things fell into place to end up here today—all because we were hungry.
We wanted to share this story with you in honor of Willow’s “rescue anniversary”. Animal lovers like yourselves can probably relate to this with many stories of your own—different dogs, but all with the end result. You didn’t turn away from them; you did the right thing for them. And if you’ve just read this and have not had the opportunity yet to intervene for someone in need—it will come. And maybe you’ll be inspired to action by this true story. Willow hopes so!
-Julie Honse, Board President