The Choctaw Indians were a Native American tribe inhabiting what is now Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Given that their hunting grounds frequently consisted of swamps and their quarry was often feral hogs and other large animals, they bred a fierce, yet intelligent animal known today as the Catahoula Leopard dog. These same dogs were also taken into battle. The French reported the natives as hunting the swamps with a “haunting” creature with glass eyes.
“Enli”- In the Choctaw language means, “I saw a dog”.
The year after my wife and I were married, Christa took up the habit of running in the woods of the Croom tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. It made me furious that she was going there with no cell phone, no gun, and no means of protecting herself. Her excuse was that it was too heavy to carry anything with her. It led to many arguments. One of my solutions was to get her a dog. She adamantly told me, “NO WAY!”. So I didn’t. I got her two dogs.
Back then I owned a lawn and landscape business which meant that I frequently went to the county dump to dispose of yard debris and clippings. On one such trip I saw a sign near the dump that said free puppies. I had a part time employee who was also one of Christa’s high school students working for me and so we went to look at the free puppies. We pulled up in the yard of a very impoverished mobile home. Upon the door opening we could see there were plywood sheets laid down over holes in the floor. The owner pointed out the puppies telling us we could have as many as we wanted. I picked out a small black and tan furball. Billy picked out a small gray and black furball. Home we went to face the wrath of Christa.
I knew Christa was going to be furious so I needed to make the best impression I could. Billy and I took the two flea ridden puppies into the bathroom and proceeded to bathe them. My timing couldn’t have been worse. My wife arrived home to find our two adult dogs, Ginger and Bryndle, cowering in a corner and heard two grown men splashing water and giggling in the bathroom. I know that sounds bad, but that is what Christa came home to. She entered the bathroom to find mud and fleas dripping down the walls from two rambunctious puppies. Have you ever seen a conniption? It isn’t pretty. We were having a good time though and Christa settled down after we brought them out all worn out and puffed up from their baths. They were placed on either side of Christa in her chair where they promptly fell asleep.
Billy named the gray and black one Storm after a dog he previously had and I named the tan and black one Shadow because of the black rings around her eyes.
That evening Billy called his grandparents who he lived with to say “guess what I got?”. Their reply was, “guess what you don’t got?”. Billy missed out. Not only on a great dog, but by the next day I think Christa would have sold every possession between the two of us to pay Billy for Storm. Instead, Storm was ours as Billy was forced to relinquish ownership. These two dogs, Shadow and Storm, were our introduction to a breed we had never heard of before, Catahoula Leopards.
We then seemed to start an avalanche of collecting dogs. Dogs in desperate need of a home seemed to find us. Pearl was discovered soon after in a construction site with her ears cut off and tail ripped off. Infection had set in after the trauma. Our vet was wonderful in fixing it all. Pearl gave us many happy years. Two hound dogs, Rookie and Belle, found us in a tropical storm having been abandoned in the woods. Jake was a rescued fighting pit bull. Scout almost got run over as he stumbled down a rural highway in the middle of a cold February night. He was about 15 years old and full of heartworms. Our vet bought him three more years with skillful care. Ladee and Gintu were both rescued from bad situations. Dingo was abandoned at a drug dealer’s home when the owner was evicted. We have had fifteen dogs and two cats in the last 14 years grace our home. Not all at once of course. The most at one time was nine. They have left quite a few good memories even if it meant a lighter wallet. I wouldn’t change a thing.
In the next twelve and a half years Storm became Christa’s protector and friend. He dominated as the gentle alpha of the pack. Most of the children in our family learned to walk by grabbing fists full of hair and leaning on him. Threaten Christa though and he would bare the largest fangs of any dog shy of a wolf that I have ever seen, his hair would stand up in a menacing ridge, and his rumbling growl alone would tell you he was serious. He became Christa’s running partner and I never worried about her safety since.
I could fill volumes about the adventurous stories of Christa and Storm. The downside to companionship with dogs though, is God did not give them long life spans. In the dark early morning hours of Easter 2012, Storm had a stroke and died in Christa’s arms. There has been a void in our lives ever since. With Storm’s passing we were down to three dogs: Rastus, the chihuahua who we inherited from Christa’s mother at her death, Dingo, who we rescued from the abandoned home of a drug dealer, and Shadow, Storm’s sister.
A few months ago Christa started making noises about wanting another dog. This time it was my turn to say absolutely not. It crushes me every time we lose one of our companions. The simple answer to not experiencing that pain is to not have them in the first place. I played along with her small talk, but always made it clear we were not getting another dog. She would talk about a breed or a breeder and then change her mind to talk about another breed. All along I knew we were never going to find another dog that could match Storm.
One day her car broke down. I drove her to work. She started in with the small talk by saying, “Chris, I saw a dog”, and I dutifully went through the motions again of entertaining her notions. On the way she asked me to look at a picture of him on her cell phone. I told her no. My anger was rising. She persisted. I looked over to see a Catahoula dog that looked like Storm. That really upset me. Above all else, I did not want a dog to replace Storm. I became more irate about the subject. I was adamant we were not getting another dog. Upon arriving at her work she got out of the truck shedding tears. Crying was something she had never done before over any of the dogs she talked about.
On the way back home I saw a friend laying out sod at our church so I stopped to help. While throwing sod I vented a little. Like a good friend he backed me telling me I was right. Deep down though I could not bear to know my wife was that hurt. I knew she missed Storm and so did I. Two days later I asked her about the picture she had shown me. She immediately pulled out the photo again and told me that this particular dog was scheduled to be euthanized in six days. In questioning her I came to realize this time it wasn’t just small talk. My wife had done her research. She said something about this dog touched her. He had to come home.
Then she dropped the bomb… This particular creature that touched her so much through a grainy cell phone picture she really knew nothing about, RESIDED IN KENTUCKY!!! 800 MILES AWAY!!!! I have a temper and that set it off again. There was no way we were driving 1600 miles round trip to get a dog that we knew nothing about. We didn’t know if it had any diseases, heartworms, parvo, or anything else. We didn’t know how it would behave around other dogs, people, or our chihuahua. That is a huge gamble for a dog from an animal control when we could instead rescue one locally.
The next day I went in to work still angry. I told her if she could get it home then to go for it, but I wanted nothing to do with it. This time I vented to my coworkers at the fire station. Instead of getting the response that I expected from them, they whipped out their laptops and began checking airlines and rescue groups for the cheapest and easiest way to get that dog down here. Next time I think I will stick to my friend from church instead of my coworkers!
Christa contacted the high kill animal control facility in Kentucky and got in touch with a volunteer named Ellen. Ellen agreed to pay the adoption fee on our behalf and find a foster home until we could make arrangements for transportation.
The next day was a set back for Christa. A Catahoula rescue group had not been interested in this particular dog until they found out someone from out of state wanted him. They decreed that Christa could not have him. He would go to a local foster home because they could not inspect or approve our home from 800 miles away. Apparently it is also not uncommon for someone to call long distance asking for a dog to be placed on hold status to prevent its euthanasia for a few more days in the hopes that someone else will come along to adopt it. The callers never have intentions of adopting. In my mind, both were reasonable reasons for a rescue group to impede an out of state adoption. They just didn’t know my wife. Tenacious and determined are two of her more prominent attributes.
I was changing my mind about the rescuing of this dog my wife fell in love with. My wife has had a very tough year. Three of our dogs passed away in the span of a little more than a year and our adopted daughter walked out of our lives. Furthermore, she was recently passed over for a promotion she had worked hard to get. She really needed something positive in her life.
Given the go ahead, Christa became a blaze of fury dealing with the Catahoula rescue group, and the animal control facility itself. The Catahoula Rescue representative sent Christa a very tersely worded email in essence questioning her motives. In reply Christa told them to google “Storm Harbig”. Fifteen minutes later she received another email saying how wonderful it is that “Reilley” had found a home. Even with the rescue group stepping aside and Ellen working hard on her end, Christa still had the problem of transporting him back to Florida.
In researching the county shelter he was in, I found some horrific information. He was housed at an infamous animal control facility. They receive from five counties and have been sued multiple times in attempts to bring the conditions there to more humane levels. My wife is going to read this and I asked her not to look any further into that shelter so I won’t elaborate any more, but suffice it to say, euthanasia can be a blessing to the animals housed there. It became a race to get him out of that place as quickly as possible. The volunteer Christa was working with confirmed what I found online.
We have never paid for a dog, but this guy was going to add up very quickly. His adoption fee may have been a nominal $28, but everything else was going to cost a lot. I drive an F350 dually. The fuel alone was over $600 for a round trip. Then there were expenses for hotels, food, vet bills, foster home fees, and more. I looked into airlines and found I was not comfortable with their animal shipping policies or safety record. We looked into using rescue organizations to shuttle him down, but they typically will only travel 50 miles at most. We looked into Paws and Planes. We looked at truckers who assist in rescuing dogs. Nothing seemed to fall into place.
I was seeing this was not a lark on my wife’s behalf. Saving this particular dog meant something to her. She was on a mission. Sometimes I get hard headed, hot tempered, and selfish. I love my wife dearly and don’t always show it like I should. It was time to make up for that. She had nearly exhausted her options for transporting this dog home, so I called her from work to tell her I would be willing to drive up to get him. I had some time off anyhow. A few quick phone calls and some simple math showed it was cheaper to rent an economy car than to drive my fuel hog truck to Kentucky. To my surprise, my dog allergic sister-in-law, Joanne, volunteered to go and keep me company. Things began to quickly fall into place.
A Tuesday morning found us at the car rental and before long my sister-in-law and I were soon north bound. Twelve and a half hours later, we were in a hotel in Richmond, Kentucky. I don’t know what is so popular about Richmond, Kentucky on a Tuesday night, but every hotel room was booked. We ended up finding a hotel that if I had seen the ratings for it before I paid, we would have slept in the car. The things I do for my wife.
The next morning after eating at the anemic continental breakfast and finding a flat tire on the rental, our volunteer Ellen showed up with Reilley. Ellen, it turns out is a hardcore animal lover. She runs a rescue group called “For the Love and Protection of Schnauzers”. Her husband is struggling with heart failure so she has her own burden to bear, but when she talks about what goes on in that shelter there is fire in her eyes. It is obvious she works hard to save as many as she can. I am thankful for her trust in us. If we had been one of those people that call in an attempt to forestall a euthanasia, Ellen would have been on the hook for the adoption fees, fostering fees, vet bills, and finding him a home.
After our introductions she pulled a rather smelly Catahoula Leopard out of her car. (Remember that and my temper for later). This dog was extremely playful and very much an exuberant puppy at 55 pounds. Ellen talked with us for probably an hour. Mostly she was trying to get us to take more dogs home with us. I commend her for trying, but I was there for only one dog. In that time it became very apparent that Reilley was very attached to Ellen. I was not looking forward to what I knew was coming next. I took him for a walk and while I did so, Ellen left with tears streaming down her face. The attachment was obviously mutual. It took a little while, but eventually this poor puppy that had been surrendered by his owner to a hellish shelter then removed to the safety Ellen provided, realized that he had been left again. I could see him just utterly deflate. The light went out of his eyes as he lost all interest in our walk or the treats that I had brought along. I had to pick him up to put him in the car.
Our first impression of him was he is a good traveler. He sat in the back seat and didn’t make a sound. His coat is a beautiful merle. He is a quadcoat as he has four colors mixed to create his unique appearance. It appears he is mostly Catahoula if not pure. He also has a cracked eye. In Catahoulas that means one or both eyes are ice blue. This is the “haunting” glass eye feature that the early french settlers were referring to. In his case he has one ice blue eye with a brown vertical streak down the middle of it and the left eye is a light golden hue. Personally, I think it looks a little demonic.
His eyes don’t photograph well and in person they give you the shivers when he stares at you. Catahoulas can have a wide range of appearances as they were bred primarily to perform a job and not for a particular “look”. He falls well within the accepted conformation for Catahoulas. It wasn’t long before we discovered he had another trait that I haven’t had in a dog since my pit bull Jake. He has the most horrendous gas that even surpassed Jake’s. This dog could turn water into mustard gas. His emissions are eye watering. At first, I thought maybe it was my sister-in-law Joanne who did it, but when I looked over her way I noticed she had a look on her face like she was about to ask me if I did that. While I have been known to drop a raunchy one now and then, my brand can’t touch what this dog could dish out. We rolled the windows down a lot on the way home.
About an hour or so south of Kentucky we were getting hungry and stopped at an exit with a sign for food. As we came over the bridge into a little town called Carryville in Tennessee we saw a diner straight out of the fifties. It wasn’t a hard call to make Scotty’s Diner our destination. The weather was cool so we left the windows down for Reilley and ate inside. Upon entering we noticed two men in there who looked like they were related to Snuffy Smith. There were little red swivel stools lining a long counter as the only place to sit down. The decor was Coca-cola from floor to ceiling and from one end to the other. We ordered up some cheeseburgers, onion rings and of course what else? A coke to drink. It has been a long time since I had a burger that good. The lady running the place was friendly and talkative as we were the only diners there other than the two locals . After eating I asked if it was ok to walk our dog across the street in the field. We were told that was not a problem.
Leashing Reilley, we walked across the street for his first bathroom break. He was absolutely not interested in any treats, but was warming up some to affection. Opening a rusty chain link gate we walked into the middle of the field where I quickly realized we were standing in the middle of an abandoned baseball field. Abandoned anything always has my attention. The backstop was leaning over, the concrete bleachers were overgrown with tall weeds and vines growing up the sides and through the middle. The concession stand had an old wooden door that hung on rusty hinges. Peering in it was now home to rodents and rotting furniture. It appears to have been a very long time since anyone played a game here. Looking over the hill I could make out a street sign that said “School Street”.
After I was satisfied Reilley wasn’t going to have an accident in the car we headed back across the street where one of the, -ahem-, country fellows, greeted me and asked about my dog. He was very friendly, but I am still convinced Snuffy Smith was his first cousin. He was an older gentleman wearing coveralls and an old faded hat. I was a little surprised to even see shoes on his feet. I told him the truth about being from Florida and traveling up to get this dog for my wife. I expected him to laugh, but instead he started reminiscing about the dogs he has loved through his life and telling me about the dog he currently has. We spent about twenty minutes chatting when Reilley barked for the first time. I will say this tactfully. There was an individual walking our way who appeared to have over indulged in alcoholic beverages. My new dog it turns out, can’t stand a drunk and wasn’t shy letting this guy know. Taking our leave as these two men seemed to know one another we loaded back up and left Scotty’s Diner.
We were in a rush to get to Kentucky so we could get Reilley out of the shelter as quickly as possible. Going home was another matter. I have a bad habit of wandering and exploring… and sometimes getting lost. Having seen the abandoned school baseball field and the sign, I wanted to find the school. Perhaps it was abandoned as well. We never did find the school. It wasn’t until after we got home I was able to check google earth. I was able to see that it had been demolished sometime in the last two years. (Google earth has a time lapse feature.) What we did find though were homes of very old architectural styles. We wandered through the town past old churches, an abandoned movie theatre built in the forties or fifties, and the foundation of an old train station. As we went further away from I-75 we went deeper into this anachronism of a town and higher up a mountain. Next thing we knew the pavement gave way to dirt and gravel while the homes spread out until there weren’t anymore.
I enjoy scaring the poo out of my sister-in-law and she makes it way too easy by being afraid of heights. Rental car, check. Gravel road I can slide on, check. Really high mountain side with no guard rail, check. No traffic, cell signal, or any means of getting help, check. I drove that car through the switch backs as hard as I could until I could smell the transmission overheating. Or maybe that was fear scent from Joanne :). She screamed and shut her eyes while calling me bad names. I had a good time. Every time we thought we were near the top of the ascent we would round a bend or a switch back and be passed off to the next mountain ridge that went even higher in altitude. Eventually we made it to the top and started seeing signs for Caryville Wildlife Management Area. There were gravel roads that looked real inviting. I was regretting not coming up in any of our own vehicles. My truck is a four wheel drive dually, Christa has a four wheel drive Land Rover Discovery, and my motorcycle is a dual sport. All of which would have been perfect for exploring the gravel hunting trails. By the end of the detour I was promising myself I would be back with the motorcycle to explore this area some more.
Anyhow, we started to descend into a valley and came across bridges with crystal clear water flowing underneath. I stopped for some photos. We soon came into a stretch with old homes, abandoned dilapidated barns, and trucks that were rusted through. This was a town well into the last of its death throes. There were homes that looked like people lived in them, but we didn’t see a soul. Another hour of driving and it was all the same. Structures stood that would be condemned anywhere else. Pasture land with horses and cattle separated the houses. At one point we passed a small wooden shack with a hand painted sign reading “PRODUCE”. The front wall was made from a combination of stacked cement blocks and milk crates.
As we drove along we also noticed an abandoned railroad track that seemed to run through pastures where trees grew up between the rails and fences crossed it. There is definitely history in this little hidden valley town. We also found an abandoned brick school with an equally neglected fire station. I was beginning to check the fuel gauge a little more often and calculate how far we could go before we had to turn around. All kidding aside, the rental car did not handle the mountain very well and I had serious concerns about the transmission’s ability to get back over a second time. Eventually we came upon a pick-up traveling the other way. I waved down the driver to find a very amiable fellow who said that we just needed to travel another fifteen to twenty minutes to get to black top and if we stayed on that road we would be back to I-75 in no time. I expressed my concern about the car’s struggle over the mountain and asked which way out was best. He told me that the way we came in was faster, but continuing straight would be easier on the car. We soon found out two and a half hours later that no matter who you asked it was always fifteen minutes to get out. I think that is the mountain joke on us flatlanders.
Since he seemed interested in conversation I asked him about the area. It turns out it was a mining town in the forties. The mines played out in the fifties and the only ones left are retirees. He was very blunt stating in another 10 to 20 years when they all die off there will be nothing left. There are no jobs and no industry in the area. The town follows the old railroad at the bottom of the valley. We had also at some point picked up a paralleling river. This gentleman told us the river is called the New River. It made for a beautiful backdrop. We parted ways to continue our little trip back in time through this linear town. Another little quirk we noticed was that all the dogs looked the same. Nobody chained or fenced their dogs. They would run beside the car until you reached the next one who would run beside you and so on. We had our own canine escort.
Traveling on we came up on a side road called Cemetery Lane. I can’t resist a road by that name so we turned left down a rutted gravel road to find a stream with a new concrete bridge with pipes underneath to allow water flow. The top was curved down on both sides to allow overflow flooding to pass over the top. We got out for some pictures and to give Reilley another bathroom break. Continuing, the road took a steep angle up and then switched back to the right revealing another incline which looked impossibly steep for the rental car. While attempting that would be fun and doable in any of my other vehicles, the little rental didn’t have a hope of accomplishing that. Exploration of this trail will have to wait for another day.
Several miles later we happened upon another cemetery occupying the top of a very circular hill. Some of the headstones were so old and weathered as to be unable to read the inscriptions. Another section held some markers of very recent addition. On the way out we pulled over to get a laugh at the outhouses only to see that they were functioning outhouses complete with inch wide gaps in the pine wood slats. Imagine that in a snowy winter. It was only after that we realized many of the homes still had outhouses. These people are beyond poor.
Have you ever seen those movies where a stranger walks into a bar and the entire bar goes quiet leading the character to realize they stepped into somewhere they shouldn’t have? Welcome to Hembree’s store. We found a little general store in the middle of this Stephen King town and decided to stop to stretch our legs and grab something to drink. I also wanted to confirm we were still on the way out of there as we were well over the fifteen minutes we were told it would take to get out of there, by at least an hour. Soooo, we walked in and the conversation stopped dead right there and everyone stared. Uh oh. As I looked around I saw an antique scale and cash register. There were signs that looked like something the Antique Archaeologist from the Discovery channel would go nuts over. There was a guy in the back slicing meat. He asked us if we wanted anything in the same way the creepy guy at the haunted house asks if you want a piece of flesh he just cut off a cold corpse. I grabbed a cold coke from the cooler and made my way to the register. The whole time nobody spoke and they all stared. I placed my soda on the counter. The guy behind the antique register, who looked to be about a hundred and ten years old, told me in the most drawn out southern accent with way too many syllables inserted, “that will be a dollar fifty”. I told him I am also paying for Joanne’s. He replied, “then that will be two dollars”. Now I know I am a product of the public school system, but two sodas at a buck and a half a piece sure seems to me to come out to three dollars. So what I gave the man was three dollars. He in turn, gave me a dirty look repeating himself, “I said that will be two dollars”, again in that deep southern accent, drawing out every syllable. He handed me back the extra dollar. With that transaction completed I still needed to know how much further we had to travel to get out of the valley.
I figured humility and a bit of self deprecation was the way to go here. I let the guy sitting on the stool closest to me know we were a couple of lost Floridians just wanting to get back to I-75 and that the car we are in wouldn’t likely make it back over the mountain to Caryville. That seemed to change the situation. They laughed at us as expected and started talking. We heard for the second time today that we were NOW only fifteen minutes away. I asked about the area again and got a similar story about it being an abandoned mining town. I asked about camping in the area letting him know that I would like to come back and explore with my dual sport motorcycle. I don’t know what it is about motorcycles, but bikes seem to really open people up. We started chatting about motorcycles and one of the men talked about an old Yamaha he had. He told me that if I wanted to camp then all I needed to do was talk to Miss Lori Ward up the road and that she would let me camp on her property any time.
He also asked if we had ever been to the Florida Keys. We have and he wanted to know all about it. Visiting the Keys is on his bucket list. He then started telling us all about his trips. He told us about visiting Richmond “back in O’ five”. I assumed he meant Richmond, Virginia the way he described it as a long distance trip. Nope, Richmond Kentucky, where we had just come from. Next he described how he once went to Huntsville. I only know about Huntsville, Alabama. Again, I was wrong. He traveled to Huntsville, Tennessee. This man has lived his entire life in this valley and has traveled less than a hundred mile radius from his home.
He wished us well, the others said good bye and we were back on our way. Somewhere along the way we started seeing signs identifying the area as Stony Fork. We traveled back up a mountain and came to a trail head denoting it as the Cumberland Gap trail. An abandoned mining town, a historic hiking trail, old cemeteries, abandoned schools, barns, and buildings, a beautiful river, twisting gravel roads, logging roads, mining roads, and a wildlife management area to explore by motorcycle. Yup, this is definitely somewhere I am coming back to explore.
Speaking of twisting roads. I haven’t mentioned Reilley lately because he slept the whole time. We were enjoying the scenery of Americana with the fifties architecture when we heard a rather disturbing sound from the back seat. Reilley threw up. There was no way I could get to an area to pull off the narrow, winding road fast enough. I couldn’t blame the poor guy. While we were enjoying the twists and turns with the quick elevation changes, he was very quietly getting car sick. He was obviously upset about it when we pulled over. He also managed to get some vomit on the leash we were using to seat belt him in the car. I made the mistake of slapping it against a tree to knock the puke off of it. Reilley immediately tucked his tail, dropped down, and shook.
Sometimes I really hate people. Some jerk probably beat him with a leash and now he was clearly terrified of it. We cleaned him up then gave him some time to recover. This time, however, we really were only fifteen minutes from the highway. After three hours of twisting road he would have been clear in fifteen more minutes. Oh well. That’s why we put blankets down and brought more. I gave him a benadryl to settle him down. A few hours later I was worried I overdosed him. He couldn’t be shaken awake. We pulled over and were finally able to wake him. It seemed he needed that deep rest. When we picked him up, Ellen had told us how loud the facility was and how the animals there are terrified. I didn’t really realize it at first, but his eyes had been blood shot and his lower eyelids had been sagging. After that deep sleep, his eyes were bright and shiny.
We stopped somewhere in North Georgia for the night. Joanne stayed with Reilley while I went out to find dinner. The only place open eleven o’clock at night was a Waffle House. I had my dinner then asked for a chicken sandwich minus the bun to go. I was hoping to perk Reilley up with some hot meat. He was refusing to eat before I left. That of course brought the question from the waitress what it was for. I told her about going to Kentucky to rescue a dog for my wife. Big mistake. Everyone in that restaurant had a dog rescue story they wanted to tell. I couldn’t leave without hearing all their stories. Not that I mind friendly people, but I was tired and wanted to go to bed.
I told you to remember the stinky dog and my temper. My wife had been bugging, harassing, ordering, (whatever word you want there), me to give the dog a bath before we got home. She didn’t want him carrying any diseases into the house from the shelter to any of our other dogs. If there is any question about my love for my wife, that moment settled it. I washed a one year old hyper dog that hates water at midnight in a hotel room shower after having been on the road all day. The mud, hair, and fleas went everywhere. The difference this time versus when I brought Storm and Shadow home was about fifty pounds of pure muscle. I ended up wrestling this dog to keep him from tearing me apart while he was trying to escape his ordered cleansing. It also settled the question of whether he is aggressive. My head was next to his mouth where he could have easily bitten me. He didn’t even growl. With Reilley washed and dried I spent the next thirty minutes trying to clean that bathroom of all the hair. I really felt bad for the cleaning lady. I did my best, but I know I left her a mess. Christa then got a phone call where I vented my frustrations.
The next morning he still refused to eat. He never ate the chicken or the dog food, and now was throwing up bile. Fortunately, we kept it off the carpet. (After we got home, we determined it was the medication he was receiving for deworming that was making him sick). I tried to walk him, but he hated the cold rain and refused to pee. Back upstairs to pack and then back downstairs to leave.
The rest of the trip home was fairly uneventful. We made one stop for lunch, one more at Gander Mountain where we bought some way overpriced ammo, and a few bathroom breaks.
We made it back to my sister-in-law’s home around four in the afternoon. My ten year old nephew came home from school just as we arrived. He bounded out of his mother’s car before it stopped and got hollered at for doing so. He ignored his mother while running straight to Reilley. I saw magic happen. The dog who had been reserved and shy, opened up showing more personality in that one moment than he had all the way home. I now firmly believe he had belonged to a little boy. My nephew, of course, went with us to return the rental car. On the way back we stopped at Dairy Queen. I did not know that Dairy Queen offers doggy ice cream until my nephew asked for one from the employees. Reilley’s appetite was back with a vengeance. After Robert fed him the ice cream we treated him to some chicken strips which disappeared fast. While sitting outside by the drive through, Reilley continued to open up to my nephew. He even exchanged some very menacingly deep barks with dogs going through the drive through. I noticed though, that it was only AFTER the other dog started it. It also surprised me how many people went through the drive through ordering only ice cream for their dogs.
My wife is a nurse who works until late night. She got to my sister-in-law’s house around eleven that night to finally greet the dog in person that she had connected with from only a single poor quality photograph. That moment made the trip worth it to me. My wife smiled and was genuinely happy.
Christa had one more thing she wanted. She wanted to change his name to Enli. It seemed fitting that a Louisiana cur dog bred by Choctaw Indians would receive a Choctaw name that bears the same meaning as the words my wife used to open the conversation bringing him home: “I saw a dog”.
Enli has now been home with us for almost three months. While I know Storm can never be replaced. Enli is helping to fill the void Storm left. I see a bright future where I can trust my wife to be protected again wherever she goes. More importantly she is happy again. So is Enli.
Christa worked at a nursing home and rehab facility at the time we adopted Enli. Even though he wasn’t certified to do it, the facility allowed Christa to bring him to work and do therapy work with the residents. Storm was therapy certified, so Christa knew what was expected of Enli. Christa had a stroke patient under her care there who as far as anyone knew was unable to speak. Until Enli arrived that is. She took note of him immediately. Her first word in quite some time was “Dog”. She would stroke Enli’s hair and speak softly to him. Not all her words were understood, but the point is she was trying. Enli reciprocated with kisses. When Enli wasn’t there she would roll her wheelchair up to the nurses station and ask “doggie?”. Some patients refused to interact with other people, but with Enli they became animated again interacting with him. Christa’s CNA’s and staff were more productive when Enli was there. They even got him his own “work” food and water bowls. He lifted the morale of both patients and staff. He has helped a lot of people in need in a short amount of time. Not bad for a throw away dog from Kentucky. I am certain that at some point in the near future we will have him officially certified in therapy work.
In a few more weeks Enli will start obedience training. He will go on to do agility training in the fall when it gets cooler. The hope is that he will then do training in tracking as he has an aptitude for it. Even if he isn’t successful in the more advanced training he has already made a positive impact in many peoples lives and will continue to do so.
His personality has really come out. The once shy, terrified creature we met in Kentucky has become a friendly, playful, and confident companion. He loves the lake at the dog park and the river where we go canoeing and swimming. He loves people and other dogs. Our fears of how he would get along with our other dogs were completely unfounded.
Enli came to us with almost every parasite known to infect dogs including a good case of demodex mange beginning with a large bald patch on his back. Good nutrition, good vet care, and a lot of love have cleaned up his health. His fur coat is shiny and healthy now. I truly do not understand why anyone would voluntarily surrender such a beautiful creature with so many wonderful qualities. All I know is their poor decision has given us a blessing and Enli a new opportunity at life.