Brownie's Story

While I love pit bulls as much as I love all other dogs, I’ve never been in the trenches of those fighting to reverse the stigma from pit bulls. That wasn’t what made me so determined to rescue Brownie. In fact, I wasn’t completely sure at first why I felt so extraordinarily compelled to come to this dog’s aid. However, now that I look back, I truly believe I was destined to find her, and meant to help her, and perhaps to lend my voice to the “bully breed” cause.

To tell the story of how Brownie came into my life, I first have to go back in time a bit. Some years ago, my brother Michael died very tragically.  I was incredibly close with Michael, and I was devastated by his passing. One of the small comforts that I have always had after his loss is the belief that he still sends me messages, in real life and in dreams, and is still very much a presence in my life.

I know this may sound incredible to some. I’m not sure that I would believe it either. But the messages I feel my brother has sent me have always been so personal, so “him,” and so reflective of things that only he and I would know, that I simply can’t help but believe.  Like me, my brother was passionate about animals. His dogs were his life, and his world. There isn’t anything he wouldn’t have done for them.

On December 22rd, I had a dream about my brother. In the dream, I was walking through the woods, knowing that I was supposed to meet him at a specific place. When I arrived there, he had already left. However, he spoke to me somehow, and told me to look up in the sky, as he would be in a blue helicopter…and he would lead me home.

As I walked through the woods, I spotted a helicopter. It was yellow, not blue, but I decided to follow it anyway. I walked and walked through the woods. At first, it was a very pleasant walk; there were birds chirping, and I passed waterfalls, sunlit valleys, and quiet little lakes.

Eventually it occurred to me that, although I was trying to get home, I had been walking for a very long time. The trip to where I was supposed to meet my brother had only taken two hours, and I had been walking forever. It was also starting to get dark.

I was lost, frightened, and alone.  Night was approaching and I needed to find shelter. I found a road, which led me to the home of a nice family. They took me in and explained that I was very far off course. They gave me a place to sleep and I went to bed in their house, knowing somehow that my brother would be coming to get me.

I awoke the next morning from my dream feeling troubled. What did the dream mean? What was Michael trying to tell me?

Still stewing things over, I headed out for my hair appointment. I have been going to the same place for a year, and I always go the exact same way. For some reason that day, I decided to take a different road – one that I thought might have been a shortcut.

Immediately after I turned onto the street, I saw her - Brownie. I was on the right side of the road and she was on the left hand side, headed in the same direction I was. She was running away from me – no doubt frightened.

I don’t know what possessed her to do so, but she suddenly slowed down, turned around, and approached the car. She stopped and looked right at me. Right into my eyes. Just in that look I felt as though I knew her story. I could see into her heart, and into her past. I could sense all the fear, all the loneliness, all the sadness, all the desperation. I felt as though, with that look, she was begging me for help.

She looked like she had truly been through the wringer. I could see each of her ribs. She was filthy, and she was emaciated. Her tail, which was missing patches of fur, was tucked sadly between her legs. As I looked at her, her name came into my head. “Brownie.” Good, I thought. She deserves a name.  

After a moment, Brownie turned and ran up the embankment into the woods.  I got out of my car to search for her, but she was long gone.

I could not stop thinking about Brownie. I was literally up all night, tormented, worried about how she was doing. Was she hungry? Was she hurting? Had she found a spot warm enough? Finally at 5 am, my boyfriend John and I decided to go find her. We went searching through the woods, and while we didn’t find her, we did find a drainage pipe with part of a deer leg in it.  We suspect that she had dragged it in there, and was using the pipe for shelter.

After that first day, we went twice a day every day to find and take care of her. We left her food, water, and doggie vitamins.  After we left, she would show up, eat the food, drink the water, then leave.

To help her keep safe in the elements, we built her a shelter out of a hard-shell travel kennel. We insulated the shelter with yoga mats and waterproofed it with duct tape and garbage bags. We added a cozy Barbie comforter, and we put up some eaves to keep the rain out. It was a makeshift sort of thing, but we wanted to do something to get her out of the rain and frigid temperatures. We put chicken, steak and cheese inside, hoping she would be brave enough to go in, but she didn’t. Apparently she had her “spot,” and she wasn’t leaving it.

For the next three weeks we were out there rain or shine, walking through the woods, bringing food and water to Brownie, and making sure she was okay. In the meantime, we sought out ways to help her.

I wasn't sure what to do or who to call. I started with Animal Control, and spoke to a very nice officer. He was very compassionate, but at the same time helped me understand that getting Animal Control involved was not the best way to go. First of all, they’d have to set a trap for her, and to do that, they’d have to get written approval from the landowner. It was a wooded area, and not someone’s backyard, so we would have had to do some digging to find the owner.

More importantly, if Animal Control didn’t deem her adoptable, she’d be euthanized, and even if they did, the chances were very high that she’d be put down anyway. We offered to foster her, but the officer explained that if they didn’t deem her adoptable, they wouldn’t allow it. We just couldn’t leave her in a system where her fate was so completely out of our hands. It appeared that rescuing Brownie on our own was our best bet.

Next, we researched no fewer than 10 rescue groups in NC.  First we sought out pit bull rescues, then general breed rescues.  Just from reviewing the rescues’ websites, we realized that these rescues do not go out and rescue abandoned or stray dogs or accept stray dogs from the general public.   Most of the sites advised us to contact Animal Control.

We contacted the rescues anyway, just to ask for guidance and advice. We didn’t hear back from a single one. I am certain that their non-response was due to the volume of inquiries they receive regarding dogs in need.

Frustrated and distraught, I headed to the local Petsmart in Wake Forest. I knew they hosted rescue groups on weekends for adoption events.  I thought perhaps I could talk to someone face to face and tell them of our plight so that they could give me some guidance.  I was fortunate enough to meet Marli Midyette, the director of Love Mutts Rescue.
Marli suggested that we sit in the woods with really tasty, stinky foods and talk or read so that Brownie would get used to our smell and our voices, and perhaps be enticed by the food.

The next day we were out there with stinky food in hand. Brownie ventured about 60 feet from us, then ran away.  On day two we set up camp, and armed ourselves with a can of stinky tuna.

I tried to come up with ways to encourage her to trust us. Then I remembered my dog Tucker, and I got an idea.

Tucker is very shy. When I lived in Maine, my vet used to sing to the ABCs to him to ease his fears. It always worked. Out there in the middle of the woods, I suddenly started singing the ABCs. Then I moved on to “This Land is Your Land” and “Shoo Fly.” John thought I was nuts, and was pretty annoyed with me.

Then I started singing “My Brownie lies over the ocean, my Brownie lies over the sea . . .” and then, just like that, she appeared out of nowhere! John must have been impressed, because the next thing I knew, he was softly mumbling the words along with me.

Brownie spent the next hour and a half checking us out from different vantage points. Then she finally approached the food bowl, which was only about 4 feet away from us, and ate her tuna and kibble.   She put her nose up in the air to smell us, then quickly trotted away.

We knew that it would take some time to gain her trust so that we could leash her, and that we would have to be patient. But on day three, the polar vortex struck, and the temperature dropped  into the teens with a wicked wind chill. That day we bundled up in parkas and blankets and brought McDonalds cheeseburgers  and fries (those who know me know I haven’t set foot in one of those places in years, so you can imagine what a desperate state we were in).  We sang our songs, and she appeared, but she wouldn’t come up to eat the food.  She seemed afraid of our bulky appearance -- or maybe she’s health-conscious, too!

By 2 pm we were all but frozen, and we knew that she was too.  Although we really wanted to capture her by leashing her, we knew that possibility was a long, long way off.   So we packed up our things and went and bought a humane catch-and-release trap.  We came back and set it up, then parked across the street and watched the area with our binoculars.

Within 10 minutes we saw her. She tentatively went in the trap, with her back legs stretched out.  She was so, so smart – she would not step on the trigger plate that springs the trap door shut.  Instead, she stepped over it.  She went in and out of the trap, but never triggered it. We stayed until dark, then went and picked up the trap.  We didn’t want to leave it overnight. If she became trapped in it she would freeze.  She needed to seek shelter in her “spot”.

That night we jerry rigged the trap to camouflage the trigger plate and make it easier to trip. The next day we went back with a cut up rotisserie chicken. We set up the trap, parked across the street and watched. Within half hour she was caught.

We walked over to the trap, sat down beside her and sang to her.  She was not aggressive in any way. She was just afraid, and understandably so. As we sat, talking and singing, I heard noise up in the sky.  I looked up, and passing directly over us were 3 helicopters . . . a blue one in the lead, followed by a yellow one, then a silver.  They were heading north – towards our home.  Just like my dream.

After a trip to the vet and the groomers, we brought Brownie home, and she snuggled up in a warm cozy bed. John sang to her and slept with her at night. She falls right to sleep when you sing her the ABCs.

From the pieces of the puzzle we have been able to put together, we believe Brownie is about 1 ½ years old, and has been living alone in the woods for at least 8 months after being dumped off with other puppies. She has almost certainly had no human contact, and has experienced no kindness or love. The only thing she has ever known is fear, and the determination to survive. That was her objective every day, to just get up and survive somehow.

I believe that as I walked the woods in that dream, lost and frightened and far from home, I did so in Brownie’s footsteps.  I believe that my brother, Michael, led me to her, both to save her live, and to give my life added purpose and direction. I am overwhelmed with the sense that I can do more, and should do more, to help lost, distressed and abandoned dogs. I also believe that I need to do more to help correct misunderstandings about the so-called “bully breeds.”

Of course, I am starting with Brownie. We are working with Brownie to help her gain confidence and learn how to trust people.  Her best teachers are her new four-legged brothers, Tucker and Charlie.  They have taken her under their wings and she is making tremendous strides!

Brownie has found her forever home with us.  She is a sweet, gentle, and playful girl.  We absolutely adore her.  Brownie’s will to survive, forgiving nature, resiliance, and love of life inspires us.

She is a blessing…thank you, Michael.

Update:  We learned that Brownie has a brother that was rescued from the same woods 2 months earlier.  We found the family that save him and have since reunited Brownie with her brother, Max.  They have regular play dates. The family that saved Max fell in love and he is now part of their family.  She has another brother that was rescued as well prior to Max being found.  Brownie was the last to be saved.  I also learned that my female hairdresser's name is actually Michael.  She goes by Mikki.

If you are interested in helping animals that are in desperate need of shelter and a loving home, please contact your local rescue or shelter.  There are many ways you can help!