Birdie the Rescue Dog’s Far-Fetched Flight to Fargo
The burst of animal erupted out of the sliding side door of the van, black tail snapping like Jolly Roger ahead of a hurricane.
My wife, Cassi, and our son managed to get a leash connected to the dog’s collar while listening to instructions from the transporters. The instructions didn’t amount to much; basically all they could tell us was the dog they called “Birdie” hadn’t gone to the bathroom in hours and hadn’t eaten much or had anything to drink for hours before that. In a “You can see that, right?” tone, they said extra food and water just led to the need to stop more often. Right? Plus, with their van stacked floor-to-ceiling with pet crates, they didn’t want the dogs peeing on each others’ heads. You know?
Well, no, we didn’t, but we could clearly see the dogs raising a racket in the back of the van had nothing in their kennels to keep them warm in the February frigid of North Dakota, or even padding to lie on, and that the transporters wanted to hit the road again as quickly as possible.
After suggesting a couple of places to take the remaining dogs for a bathroom break (finally), and refraining from suggesting they go jump in a lake, we hustled the new member of our family into the house to warm her up, give her something to drink and food to eat.
We’d already decided to rename her “Echo.”*
Days from Death
One evening in late January 2022, Cassi saw Echo on Twitter along with a plea for someone to adopt her. She was at Corpus Christi (Texas) Animal Care Services and was scheduled for euthanization in less than 48 hours. An organization called Voice for Animals Rescue and Sanctuary was acting as sponsor to get her adopted, but it didn’t have any room to keep her in the meantime.
That’s around a 22-hour drive in the middle of summer with no breaks, and with work and kids’ schedules, there was no way we’d be able to do it in time.
We talked it over and Cassi messaged the Voice for Animals to say we’d take her, but we’d have to figure out a way to get her from Texas to North Dakota.
We had one other rescue dog at the time, Lucky, a black lab-spaniel mix who the vet thought was about five years old when we’d adopted him. In the previous two years, we’d lost three other dogs, two rescues and one more, to old age and disease. Even with Lucky around, the house felt pretty empty. And even if it hadn’t felt that way, we couldn’t let this innocent animal be killed.
We learned she was a Pit Bull-Labrador mix and that she was just a little over a year-and-a-half old. Aside from a few photographs and recent vet records, little information was available (but that’s typical of rescue dogs).
Voice for Animals jumped through a bunch of hoops, coordinated everything and shared an app we could use to follow our new dog’s progress from Texas to North Dakota. And just like that, we were about to be a two-dog household again.
What a Long, Strange (and unkind) Trip It Was
We assumed it would take a day or two in a straight shot north, three days at the outside. Like I said, it’s a 22-hour drive on a clear day; things can get rough up this way in the winter and cause delays.
You know what they say about assuming.
The day after the rescue let us know the transport had taken off, the little green dot on the app hadn’t moved from the city where she was picked up. We contacted the rescue and learned the transport company had decided to move several other dogs from the area at the same time.
One the third day the green dot finally started to move.
The wrong way.
Maybe there were some other dogs in east Texas to pick up, I thought, and kept watching the green dot for a northward turn. And I watched as the van drove through Louisiana, across Dixieland, up into the Carolinas and north all the way to New York.
We tried not to imagine what it was like for our new dog to be stuck in the back of a moving vehicle for days at a time. I contacted Voice for Animals again. The good people there said they were aware and weren’t any too happy about it, either, but there wasn’t much they could do at that point. We’d just have to wait. So we waited…
Finally the van turned west, and two or three more days later finally pulled into our driveway. It had been a full week since Echo had been picked up in Texas.
In addition to being incredibly thin and obviously dehydrated, she had open and bleeding sores on nearly every joint from being in that kennel with no padding for so long. It was better than her being put down, of course, but still.
We let the rescue operation know she’d finally arrived, and exactly what we thought of the transport conditions. They said they were never going to use that company again.
We introduced our new family member to the backyard and gave her food and water, which she lapped up in a good, long drink. After that Cassi coaxed her onto her lap in the living room, and Echo slept for several hours, the kind of sleep only someone who has been through a really hard time but who finally felt safe can sleep.
The Home Front
Awaiting Echo in Fargo was Lucky, the sweetest, kindest, most gentlemanly dog you’ll ever meet. We’d adopted him a year earlier, and he’d gotten on just fine with our other dogs, but in retrospect that might have only been because they were smaller than his big-ol’ 65-pound frame. Mostly he ignored them.
The only time we ever had an issue with Lucky was when we fostered a pair of larger dogs who were brother and sister. The two males got into a pissing match and went at each other so we had to keep them in separate parts of the house. Meanwhile, Lucky got along just fine with the sister. We figured it must have been an alpha-male kind of thing, so we weren’t too worried about Echo joining the family.
It’s always interesting to see how two dogs will react to one another. In the case of Lucky and Echo, it was dislike at first sight for him, and for her, frustration with the old guy who refused to play or even be nice.
During the first few weeks, as I gave her peanut-butter-slathered treats and extra chow every day to help her gain weight, the animosity escalated. A few times they tore into each other pretty hard, and I came away with canine punctures in my hands, scrapes across my fingers and blood trickling on the tile floor.
After that we kept them separated as much as possible, and I walked them individually every day, which I didn’t really have the time for. The rancor between them got so bad we contemplated returning Echo to a foster operation. We loathed the thought; it would be horrible for her, being bounced around yet again, and we would have to deal with the nagging realization that not only would we be failing her, but we’d be going back on our promise to take care of her.
I called a trainer instead.
For a couple of months Echo and I met with the trainer once a week for an hour, and things improved markedly. I learned about Echo, how to work with and be friends with her, and she learned to (mostly) listen to my commands. I and the rest of the family needed to discover a several things about her, what to do and not to do, in the same way and at the same time she was learning about us.
We realized how intelligent and loving she is, but also that it’s often on her own terms. For example, early on she absolutely hated being pet on the head, the result of someone being unkind in her past, perhaps. Now she seems to like it in small doses, but again, on her own terms. Meanwhile, she takes almost any physical interaction as an invitation to play, and at times goes at it a little too aggressively, but that’s changing as she grows, too.
Short story long, human-hound and hound-hound relations improved significantly. The dogs have learned enough tolerance to walk together well and be in the same room. Echo just wants to be friends and play with Lucky.
Lucky… well… he’s having none of it.
But that’s OK.
All In The Family
In fact, Echo’s become Lucky’s protector, in a way. If I leave him outside for too long, for example, she’ll come and nudge at me and whine until I finally get what she wants through my thick skull and let him in. Or it could be a power trip thing – dog psychologists, please let me know.
We quickly learned she’s terrified of people on wheeled vehicles like motorcycles, bicycles and rollerblades, to the point where she tries to attack them, so we take precautions when any approach during walks. Was she harmed by someone on wheels once? Or more than once? We don’t know. That’s part of fostering and adopting pets.
After several months of extra treats and food she finally looked healthy and I cut back on the peanut butter. She’ll eat just about anything, though, like most dogs, and wants as much as she can get any time she can get it.
Despite the old man’s cantankerousness and her overabundant energy, Echo has settled in; she simply ignores the regular stink-eyes Lucky throws her way from his daybed under my desk.
She loves to cuddle and give you full-body hugs across your neck whenever you allow it, and she’s always ready to give kisses. She loves to snuggle in with Cassi after I’ve gotten out of bed, crawling all the way into and under the covers, and she army crawls across the bed to get down. She still wants to play all the time and we oblige whenever we have enough energy. In the morning, especially, when I’m sitting down to eat breakfast or put on my shoes, she invites me to roughhouse, nudging me with one of her favored tug-o’-war toys. Same thing again in the evening when I finally get to sit down in the easy chair.
She mostly dozes in our bed upstairs when Cassi and the kids are out during the day, coming down once in a while for treats or to roust me from my desk to go outside or take our daily constitutional. From time to time she’ll curl up on the chair next to my desk, instead, and that’s just fine by me.
One of her favorite spots in the house is our mudroom opposite the door to the garage. That’s where she goes whenever I give her a new bone or Kong with peanut butter in it. She feels safe there, which apparently is not unusual for dogs; they often seek out cavelike spaces just as their ancestors did.
Whenever I remember Echo was within days of being put down, or that she spent a horrific week in a cage in the back of a dank, dark van to get to us, I shake the thought out of my head and focus instead on how she makes me smile with her constant begging to play, the coy, corner-of-the-eye look she gives me when we’re in the midst of keep-away and all the other ways she brings joy into my life.
Plus, every time she sees me her black tail snaps back and forth like Jolly Roger ahead of a hurricane.
I can’t imagine life without her.
Check Back Soon
- Lucky’s Story (coming soon)
- Zoey’s Story (coming soon)
- Dexter’s Story (coming soon)
* It’s O.K. to rename your rescue pet under the right circumstances –