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Fred’s Story

By: Eleanor Kedney Schaffer & Peter Schaffer

A semi-feral dog lived at a Tucson Airport parking lot for approximately four years, dumped there when he was young. He was afraid of touch and getting too close to humans. One might see him lying on the asphalt, standing around the front of the lot as the buses pulled in and out, or resting in the shade of covered parking. He kept his distance, but seemed to want the company of people. The shuttle bus drivers fed him, provided water, and made him a make-shift shelter. His name is Fred.

Every time Eleanor and Peter traveled and parked at the lot, they would ask how Fred was doing. On a trip in January 2018, a concerned bus driver said that the owner of the lot wanted Fred gone, by any means necessary, next Monday morning. This was alarming news. While traveling in New Mexico, Eleanor kept wondering what would happen to Fred if she did not get him to a safe place. She hired a trapper, got permission from the manager for his entry into the lot, and Fred was caught. This was a bit traumatic.  His eyes bulged and became bloodshot from choking in the trap, and he bit his tongue, which resulted in some bleeding. The trapper took him to a vet where he was sedated, had a brief checkup, and received a rabies shot. He was then transported to an outdoor kennel owned by someone willing to let him stay a few days.

Eleanor had promised the bus drivers that Fred would go to a rescue group or a foster home. She kept reaching out to rescue organizations, but they were full and Fred’s ability to be with other dogs or in a home was unknown. Eleanor and Peter’s dog Charlie was elderly and had cancer. They couldn’t take Fred with the kind of daily care Charlie needed. She hoped to find a place for him and was running out of time. An online networking group suggested contacting Rachel at Sol Dog. Rachel said yes! This was a life-saving and life-changing YES for Fred, and, as it turned out, for Eleanor and Peter, too.

When Fred was brought to Sol Dog, he pancaked on the floor with panic and fear. However, despite all he went through, he never growled or acted aggressively. After spending almost three months at Sol Dog gaining trust and learning basic skills—allowing touch, walking on a leash, going in a car—Fred was ready for placement in an appropriate home. Eleanor tried and tried, but couldn’t find a foster home for Fred, so she and Peter brought Charlie to meet Fred at Sol Dog. Rachel confirmed that the two would be OK with each other and Fred left Sol Dog for a trial long weekend.  Eleanor kept searching for a home for Fred but had no luck. She and Peter took him home again. When he was standing in the backyard, and it was clear that Charlie was going to cross over the rainbow bridge soon, Eleanor said to Peter she wanted Charlie to know he had a brother, and for Fred to know he had a home. He agreed. They let Rachel know they were going to adopt Fred. She was so excited!

The bus drivers who knew Fred felt he would never be able to live in a home, walk on a leash, allow touch, and become someone’s dog. Fred would prove them wrong. How did the transformation happen? It was Fred’s gentle soul and Rachel’s commitment to help him. She had the knowledge and skills to bring him out of his fear and build a bond with humans. In time, he was able to forge such a bond with Eleanor and Peter, and he learned to trust others.

Eleanor believes that every dog that comes into our lives is here to teach us something. She knew her lesson was to practice patience with Fred and not have expectations. He wasn’t like other dogs she owned—he was special. He was Fred. There were so many “firsts” to celebrate: the first time he wagged his tail, the first time he leaned into Eleanor’s leg with a “hug,” the first time he gave a kiss, his first funny-looking toothy smile when receiving a belly rub, his first excited cry when anticipating a walk. He still has a distance to go—the new experiences of joy, play, and fun can make him anxious. The answer is in the lesson—all things in their own time. That’s love.

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