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Dixon – From Rags to Love – The Life of a Street Dog

Dixon came into my life quite unexpectedly. Rescues always do, don’t they, despite the knowledge that there are so many dogs and cats out there who desperately need homes, need saving, need love, compassion, protection … things that many of us take for granted.

I had five dogs when Dixon and his lifelong friend Shelley were brought to my house in the summer of 2015. At the time I was running a sanctuary/shelter for dogs and cats, and besides my own animals, I had several fosters I was looking after. Isabelle and Nayeli, two fellow rescuers and friends, asked me to foster Dixon and Shelley. They were desperate for a place for them. Both dogs had spent years on the street, and it had taken them a long time to catch them. Now that they were finally off the street, they needed a safe place to stay.

dogs-Shelley-Dixon

Arrival at the Shelter

When they arrived, both dogs were terrified. They shivered in fear and looked at their new surroundings with wary eyes. They weren’t sure that they were safe, because they were surrounded by three humans, a species they had learned to fear during their long time on the street. Nayeli told me that it had taken them months to get them. People had abused them, thrown rocks at him, chased them away, and a large dog had tried to kill Dixon. Nayeli’s mom saved him from that dog. They didn’t trust people at all.

Trauma, danger, fear, and distrust had ruled their lives for so long. Shelley was all Dixon had, and vice versa. Each was a pillar of strength to the other, they were very good friends, and – as Nayeli told me – they had been inseparable on the street.

Dixon

Dixon-ShelleyAt my shelter, I placed them in a large kennel where they would feel safe, and since the gate was closed, none of my dogs could come in, and I was also at a distance which would make them feel safer. My dogs and other rescues were curious and approached the kennel, but Shelley and Dixon huddled in the corner, finding comfort in each other.

Learning to Trust Again

It took me six months to gain their trust and another two to three months for them to fully open up to me. It had never taken me so long to earn a dog’s trust, but Dixon and Shelley had spent most of their lives on the street and they had been exposed to too many dangers, hurricanes, heat, cold, lack of food, and the biggest peril of all: humans …

Shelley was only four, she was still young; but poor Dixon was an old boy, around eight or nine years old, when he was brought to me. Imagine spending so many years exposed to the elements and to danger, never knowing the safety and comforts of a home … never experiencing the love of a guardian or a family …

Dixon-Shelley

In December 2015, as usual before and during Christmas, children began to throw fire crackers. My dogs don’t like it, but Shelley and Dixon were absolutely terrified. So, I went outside and I sat with them in their kennel. They approached me, looking for safety. Dixon lay down behind me and I petted him and covered his ears to block out the noise. Shelley also hesitantly came closer. It was a terrible ordeal for them, but they now knew that I protected them, and that night changed our relationship.

Now, Shelley and Dixon knew that they were safe with me, and slowly they began to trust me, wag their tails more often, and they didn’t cringe when I petted them. Shelley opened up beautifully, she even licked my hand from time to time. Although Dixon now felt safer with me and seemed OK with my presence, he was still wary sometimes. But I was grateful for the progress we were making.

Friendship

After living in that kennel for a month, I sometimes opened the door to let them out. Peering at all sides and always being careful, they ventured out of their safety area and into the large backyard. At first, I left my dogs inside when I did that, but a few weeks later, I let some of my dogs out, so that they could interact with Shelley and Dixon. And soon after, they had forged a friendship with my dogs, especially Shelley who was young and active.

Shelley

Slowly, Shelley was introduced to fun and games, courtesy of my dogs, and she went for it with enthusiasm, lapping it all up. She played with my foster puppies and with some of my younger dogs, and she absolutely loved it. I often watched her, racing around the yard, being pursued by Jerry, a wonderful sweet Pit Bull I had rescued, or chasing after him or other dogs. Seeing her so happy warmed my heart, but when I attempted to take pictures, she shied away, afraid of the camera.

No Longer Afraid to Bark

I think that Dixon finally opened up after a year. One day I was putting the dogs’ food in their respective bowls and Dixon – knowing that it was time to eat – suddenly started barking excitedly, jumping up and down with his short front paws. In all that time I had not once heard him bark, so you can imagine my surprise. I was so happy to hear him, and to see how his confidence had returned.

I didn’t discourage him from barking. It would have been wrong. How many years of his life had he been too scared to bark, to be who he was, to express himself? And now that he was finally being his lovely self, I would not take that away from him. So, I let him.

My dogs didn’t use to bark for their food, so one of them picked up that habit after a few months 😉 But well, each barking session only lasted for a few minutes and I thought, “Let Dixon bark, Just let him.” Suddenly, he was such a happy dog. And that was a beautiful achievement.

Dixon-on-bed

Knowing Love

Shelley and Dixon opened up completely and they finally knew love, for the first time in their lives. Shelley just loved to play and race around the yard. Dixon, who was a little older and who walked with some difficulty, was content taking siestas in the shade, watching my dogs and cats, and getting ready for breakfast and dinner time. Oh man, did he get excited when it was time to eat. 🙂 He was such a cute little boy.

Dixie

Isabelle, Nayeli, and I had long agreed that these two could not be given up for adoption. It had taken me so long to gain their love and trust, and we knew that few adopters would want to put in such an effort. Who would want to wait for a year before their adopted dog opened up to them? And even though Dixon now trusted me, he sometimes still ran from me if I came up from behind him, and he didn’t always want to be petted – except when he was lying down.

We knew that they were difficult adoptions and that we would have a hard time finding someone who would want to give them a home and be so patient with them. Then there was also the matter that these two had to be adopted together. They could not be separated. So, I offered to keep them. Nayeli was over the moon, and in the end Isabelle also agreed.

So, finally, Shelley and Dixon had a family.

Dixon-Shelley-bed

Good Times

Shelley and Dixon became part of the furry gang and they were good friends with my dogs. I still couldn’t take photos of Shelley playing, unless I filmed it from a long distance. The camera really frightened her. It took her two years to get over that fear. Now I can film her and take pictures and she’s OK with it.

Shelley-walk

In July 2017 we moved to my land. I had bought a large piece of land, at 3 kilometers from the beach. Although I had to drive down to go to the beach, I could see the Pacific Ocean from my lot. Shelley and Dixon got to know the layout of the land and I gave them their own little area which soon turned into the dogs’ playing area 😉 All the dogs went there to play and it was there where I would often find their toys stacked away, ripped up dog beds, and a few of my socks that had gone missing. My socks always turned up in that play doggie place 😉

Their play area even had an old, wooden bed frame of mine which I covered with blankets and dog beds, but those comforts usually didn’t last long and I would find their fluffy remains shredded over the ground. I had adopted a Pit Bull puppy, Tommeeh, and he became great friends with Shelley. Jerry had already gone to Canada and he has the best home ever.

Dixon often rested below the bed frame, because it was nice and cool down there. Sometimes Shelley joined him, but she played a lot with my dogs, especially Tommeeh. It was beautiful to see her so carefree and happy. After Dixon knew my land better, he also moved around and took his siestas in different places, under a tall, wild cherry tree, or in the shade of the constructed walls of my kitchen (I am still building it).

Shelley-building

When it was time to eat, Dixon ran up to me with his short legs, barking excitedly; and while I filled everyone’s bowls he sometimes nudged me lovingly on my legs and even gave me a little lick. That little boy loved me now 🙂

Getting Much Closer

Over the last months, Dixon began to show his age. He had to be thirteen of fourteen now. He had a great appetite, but he wasn’t as rotund as he used to be, and he walked with more difficulty. It was in that time that he and I grew a lot closer. Dixon finally allowed me to pet him when he was eating. He licked me on my calves more often, and he didn’t run from me anymore when I came up from behind him. He usually came running, barking, and wagging his tail when I called his name, so he would come eat his breakfast or dinner. However, when he was taking a nap, then it could be awhile before he reacted 😉

He was my little buddy, finally, and I am so very grateful that we got there at last.

So Sudden

I don’t know which is worse when the end comes … to know it is lurking and giving you time to prepare for one last goodbye or the abrupt kind of death that rips someone from your life when you the least expect it.

Dixon was ripped from my life … by a rattlesnake …

On Wednesday, 10 July 2019 I came home from work, and greeted my dogs and cats as usual. Shelley also came running to say hi. She always does, my little princess. You should see her now. I can take her for long walks and she always has that happy grin on her face.

I dropped my handbag on the table and I heard the telltale noise … the rattle … How I hate to hear that … Fortunately, my dogs are aware of the danger of a rattlesnake, and they stay away – except for one – but even so, I have to be careful. Dixon was under the wooden bed frame in the play area. I went looking for the snake in that area, because I had heard the noise there, but I could not find it. It was quiet now.

I wondered if it had left, but that is not always their usual behavior. It wasn’t the first time I had dealt with a rattlesnake on my land. I always tried to make them leave, but this time I was not sure what to expect. It had just stopped shaking its rattle, not wanting me to know its location. That was unusual too … in my little experience with rattlesnakes. Since I couldn’t find it, I decided to feed my dogs, while still hoping the snake had gone.

Dixon didn’t come barking …

It had been very hot over the last days, and sometimes he had hardly moved because of the heat. I had fed him under the wooden bed frame a few times now, and so I didn’t think of any other reason for his absense. I carried his bowl over to the dog play area and called his name. He crawled out from under the bed frame to get his dinner, and that’s when I saw the inflammation on his throat and mouth. And I knew …

Time to Let Go …

I suspected the rattlesnake to hide under the bed frame, and so I lifted it. And indeed, there it was, its tongue flicking threateningly and shaking its rattle. It was a long snake, about four years old and over a meter (40 inches) long. It was very aggressive … more aggressive than I had previously seen. I knew that Dixon had not provoked it, because that’s not how he was, and he knew about their danger. I believe that that rattlesnake had attacked him, unprovoked …

Dixon-rattlesnake-bite

Of course, these things always happen in the evening or during the weekend when everything is closed, and in this case, it also did. I called two vets I knew and asked them what to do. They recommended me some medicine to lower the inflammation. I rushed to the pharmacy to get those meds, and they helped a little. In the morning I took Dixon to the vet. He got another injection and he was put on an IV. I took him home and placed him in a separate recovery area.

A little later, I noticed that he had trouble breathing, and I was afraid that the inflammation was pushing against his trachea, blocking the flow of oxygen … He passed yesterday afternoon, Friday, 11 July, 2019.

My sweet little boy, a life on the street, he had been through so much, but he had four happy years with me. I am grateful that he had his beautiful pension in my home, that he knew love, friendship, and safety in the last years of his life. And I’m writing this, for him, and for all other dogs (and also cats) out there on the street, who are in desperate need of homes, who need to be rescued, who need to know love and safety like we all deserve.

Sweet, precious Dixon, may you rest in peace …

Lila C Duville

10 Comments

  1. I loved the story about Shelly and Dixon but wasn’t prepared for the ending. You got me quite upset and it took me a while to settle down.

    Such a Happy and Sad story all in one. The only thought of comfort for me that was Dixon had again known what it feels like to be loved and cared for…

    I betcha, like you, Shelly is missing Dixon so much and the best thing to come out of Dixon’s vicious unprovoked attack is that you both got to share those very precious moments in his life.

    • I am sorry if I upset you … It was also very hard for me to lose Dixon. He had spent so many years on the street … But I also see the four years he got to spend with me and my dogs and cats. He was such a happy boy. I am grateful that he knew love and home for his last four years.

  2. It’s people like you that the world needs more of. For you to take in 2 stray dogs that you didn’t know gives me a new love for people and their affection to animals

    A black lab wandered into my garden one day and it looked like he hadn’t eaten for days so I fed him, give him a drink and bathed him as he looked like he had been out on his own for weeks

    I would have loved to have kept him myself but I couldn’t afford to keep a dog so I phoned the RSPCA and they came right out to get him

    From what I have heard, the owners never cm forward but he is with a lovely family with a huge garden and a couple of young children

    I wish there were more caring people in the world and less people just getting a dog just for the sake of it

    • Thanks to you, that Lab now has a beautiful home 🙂 You saved his life. 

      It is true that many people get a dog just for the sake of it, not realizing the responsibilities that come with it. And then, when the vet bills come, shredded toys, and what-have-you, it is suddenly decided that the dog was not what they wanted after all … And they end up in shelters and on the street.

      More people are becoming aware of the issue now, and although I have seen many cruelties I have also seen many positive changes and people who help animals or who adopt instead of buying a dog or cat. 

  3. What a beautiful story — it is so sad about Dixon, but, as you say, he had those four happy years.  You are doing great work, by helping these animals.  I wish I were in the position to be able to do such a thing.

    I love dogs, but am more of a cat person.  Three months ago, I adopted a 14-year old cat from a shelter.  I’d known the cat for some time, but 7 months before, his owners had put him in the shelter.  I took him home, and he was so grateful that, for the first day, he followed me everywhere and sat beside me and purred.

    He had pulled out most of the fur on his stomach; his ears were rubbed down to parchment, and he had little tracks down his legs where he’d pulled out fur. He was always a skittish cat, and being in that shelter, where the noise of barking dogs was a constant, must have stressed him terribly.

    Now, his fur is all growing back and he is responding, but is still skittish.  His first response is to run; then he comes back to investigate.  It warms my heart to see him returning to health.  Pets need love and caring.  You are providing such a wonderful service.

    • I love cats too. I have three cats, two of them were feral and are now domesticated. Cats are wonderful and I love my kitties too. It’s so wonderful that you gave that cat a second chance in life. It is so hard for them to find homes, especially in old age. I can just imagine how happy and grateful he is.

  4. Oh no its painful, I really appreciate you for the type of person that you are, you really have patience to gain the trust of the dogs, sorry about the loss you have invested a lot of time to gain the trust of the dogs and loss it. Assumingbthe dog didn’t pass away those type of dogs have more loyalty.

    your attitude towards pet means a lot to me when I was reading the story line of the post its interesting I love dogs too for their loyalty.

    this post teaches me that the reaction of any animal means something, what I need is to understand what its means, like you observed taking pictures scare the dog I wouldn’t have think like that.

    • Thank you. Yes, their reactions always mean something. I wonder why Shelley had such a fear of cameras, for years …

  5. I must say I am really touched by the sudden passing away of your sweet Dixon, it hurts to loose a pet after lots of bonding and getting to love each other, I can say that because i have also been in such situations so years back and it took me a long time to bear the lost, may his soul rest in perfect peace. 

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