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Paw-renthood

Figuring Out My Rescue Dog’s Life Story

@jonathans.journal

Like most rescue dogs, we didn’t know much about our hound mix’s life when we adopted him. It is a sad truth that with a rescue, you probably won’t know your dog’s actual birthday, how many siblings they had, or who the person was that left them behind. 

My partner and I adopted Jonathan in October 2019 from Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue: a rescue that transports dogs to New York City from high-risk situations in the South. All we knew about him was that he was about a year and a half old, rescued from Florida, and had a brother that was adopted by another couple in Brooklyn. We had him for only 5 months when COVID-19 hit the Big Apple, quickly shuttering every office and storefront in the five boroughs. As a relatively new dog mom, this was a secret dream come true that I got to have my dog with me the entire work day. Before COVID, I spent most of my office hours at my desk with my doggie cam streaming from my phone anyway!

I thought to myself how productive I’ll be now that I was able to work from home for the first time. Obviously, I was wrong, since the puppy eyes reached their full power just a few feet away from me. What I lacked in immediately answering emails, I made up for in finally being able to work on personal projects, cook real meals, and clean the apartment.

A few weeks into the city-wide quarantine, I picked up Jonathan’s collar and realized that there was a very old rabies tag still dangling from the ring. I had never noticed this one before since it blended in with the others, but this one was from a Tallahassee animal shelter. How’d he end up with that? Did he spend time there? Were they the ones that found him? My mind started racing with questions and possibilities. So began an obsessive search for my dog’s life story.

The Rabies Tag

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Like most millennial women, my internet research capabilities could put the FBI to shame. As if I were finding a dating-app match’s entire history with just his first name, this worn green metal tag had all of the information I needed to put this investigation into motion. 

“Seeking information on a previous resident at your shelter…” I typed into the subject line of an email to Tallahassee Animal Services. “About 6 months ago, I adopted a sweet hound dog from Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue. According to the info I have, he may have once occupied your shelter in Tallahassee. I recently realized that his old rabies tag from your shelter was still on his collar and I wanted to see if you had any additional information on him, as I’m curious about his story.” I attached a picture of the tag, a photo of Jonathan, and hit send, hoping for the best.

I was amazed when the shelter volunteer got back to me in less than ten minutes:

“I wish I had amazing and wonderful news for you, but I don’t ☹  Your sweet boy was in a group of 3 pups that the owner brought to one of our monthly rabies and microchip clinics.  The three boy hounds (yours was Jack [Daniels], the others were Hoodie and Jim [Beam]) were all vaccinated for rabies on 3/5/19.  Their birthday was listed as 7/5/18.  The person who had them has never received services from us before and lives over an hour away in Calhoun County, FL (they were very hard hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018).  They have no animal shelter there and it is a very rural county with few resources…”

While the volunteer claimed it wasn’t wonderful news, this was more information than I had ever expected. Just a few minutes before this, I didn’t know where in Florida he was from or that he was found in a hurricane’s aftermath. 

However, questions arose again. Who was “the person who had them”? Was it his previous owner? If Jonathan was Jack Daniels, his twin brother that lived in Brooklyn had to have been Jim Beam. Where is Hoodie?

I lived with those questions racing through my head for a few weeks, not knowing where to go from there, and ready to accept that this was all of the information I could scrape up. That was when I realized we had received old vet records from the rescue. When I had first looked at them months before, nothing seemed significant, but now they were a treasure map. The contact information for the person who brought Jonathan to Tallahassee for rabies shots was listed, and my investigation could carry on.

The Vet Records

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After some Googling of the address listed on the records, I was relieved to learn that Jonathan was brought to the Tallahassee clinic by a rescue organization. The rescue was essentially a family that took in and rehabilitated stray dogs in the rural Calhoun County. They were hard to find, having minimal social media and a website without an archive. Luckily, though, there was an email address.

Like the message to the Tallahassee shelter, I wrote about a “possible previous resident at the rescue,” attached vet records and photos, hit send, and waited. About a week later, I got a response.

“We live in the area that was deeply hit by Hurricane Michael in 10/18,” the woman in charge wrote. “[Your dog] had a few siblings that were found after the hurricane. Good Samaritans took them in and kept them until we could get them to rescue. We have a rescue too. But, when you are impacted by a hurricane people don’t adopt locally…”

Whoa — “a few siblings”? This was the breakthrough I didn’t know I needed. She was saying there were more Jonathans in the world? I rapidly replied with questions and requests for photos, and we exchanged a thread of emails that day.

She went on to tell me that Jonathan had two brothers and two sisters, including the brother we know. She did foster them for a bit, but she knew that if they were going to get a second chance at life, they had to go up north to get adopted. The area was devastated by the hurricane, and shelters were overrun. Her rescue had a partner in Maine, and she had done a lot of work with Badass Brooklyn. These groups were their ticket out. 

It was when she sent photos that it hit me what my dog had gone through. I still am not entirely sure whether the photos were taken immediately after the pups were found stray or when the Florida rescue took them in. Lanky, pre-teen hound dogs, stick thin and soaking wet from the Florida rain, being held and protected for the very first time.

To this day, the timeline of their lives still stumps me, especially since they were allegedly born around July and found sometime after October 2018. By that time frame, they should have been 3-4 months old, but the photos show puppies that look nearly fully grown. I don’t know the exact time the pups were found stray in the Florida woods, which means I don’t know how long they were alone in the woods trying to survive.

Finding the Siblings

The family resemblance in the photos was uncanny; there was no denying they were littermates. The third brother looked like a cocktail of Jonathan and his brother in Brooklyn. One sister had one blue eye and a stark white face, but the markings on her back looked like the brothers’. Then there was the other sister who was a spitting image of my Jonathan: extra long ears, the same big puppy eyes, and a tail in constant motion.

While the Florida rescue claimed that Jonathan’s NYC rescue took the third brother, I got conflicting information when the NYC organization said they never had him, even saying that they wanted to take him. After some prying, it was concluded that the brother was adopted locally before Badass Brooklyn could bring him to the city. That was where the story ended for tracking down Jonathan’s long lost brother. 

Treeva

I learned that Jonathan’s two sisters went all the way to Maine to get adopted. Knowing the name of the rescue, I scrolled through their social media, almost back an entire year to see if I could find an adoption posting. I eventually found her: Treeva, nearly identical to her brother. Treeva was featured on a local television network’s Adoptable Dogs features. She was a bundle of energy in the videos, sniffing every corner of the TV’s green room, tail fluttering and ears nearly dragging on the carpet. She jumped on the videographer’s lab, nose covering the entire screen, with those sweet Jonathan-esque eyes peeking above the snout. The resemblance was mind-boggling and I was in love. I had to find her and show her adoptive parents’ her twin. 

Things took a sad turn here. The rescue in Maine let me know that, unfortunately, Treeva had passed away in a boarding accident.

Many would think I’m crazy for shedding tears over a dog I had never met. I think it was the emotional whiplash that really hit me — the elation of learning about all the littermates my dog had, the magical surprise of photos to see how alike they looked, but then learning a sister was lost before she was even a year old. The best thing about dogs, though, is that they know when you’re sad, and Jonathan rested his chin on my lap to let me know that everything was okay. 

The final blue-eyed sister remains a mystery. While I assumed she went to the same rescue as Treeva, they did not seem to have any information on her. I wish I knew her whereabouts and if she had a happy end to her adoption story. Hopefully she is living a happy hound dog life with all of the sights and smells in Maine.

What I Learned

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Jonathan was one of the lucky ones. 

Hundreds, if not thousands, of scent hound breeds are abandoned in the woods — typically around hunting seasons. There is a culture by some old-school hunters that see these dogs as property or tools for their game; they aren’t beloved family pets like they are to us. If a dog isn’t a good hunter or past its prime, they’ll get left in the woods to die. For some reason, it is especially common in the South, which is something I am continually trying to unpack and understand why. 

It is extremely likely that Jonathan and his four siblings were bred to be hunting dogs and nothing else. The tell-tale sign of this is that they were left behind when people evacuated the area for the devastation that was Hurricane Michael. How these puppies survived is something I try not to think about, but I can’t help it. Signs of Jonathan’s past life showed themselves in the early months of our adoption: he would constantly try to eat leaves and acorns off of the sidewalk as if they were his last meal. He’s a terrible hunter, definitely having more interest in making friends with a squirrel than chasing it down for prey. Sometimes his nose won’t even recognize that I dropped food on the floor. But, all of those things are what make him entirely unique — things that make him the regal yet goofy “Jonathan.”

I thank the universe every day that those good samaritans found him and that the Florida rescue knew that sending him up North would give him a new life. Uncovering his story made me feel more connected to him and to “understand” him better. Funny enough, I don’t think he remembers any of it. He acts like every day is another big adventure different than the last. He acts like we’re the only people he has ever had, and that he has only ever lived in New York City. If only humans took after dogs — forgiving, moving on, and taking it one day at a time. 

Would I have gone out of my way to find out all of this information if we weren’t in a global pandemic? Probably, yes. I just would’ve done it in an office on company time.

Do you have an interesting rescue story of Your Dog? If so, share in the comments below.

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