Trying to convince a dog who’s been left to fend for himself for the last year-and-a-half that you’re trying to help him is never easy.
For the volunteers from the Redland Rockpit Abandoned Dog Project, it had taken months to persuade Bear that humans didn’t mean him any harm.
And it seemed to be working.
Bear, a shambling black dog who had been walking a thin line between survival and starvation in a desolate area near Homestead, Florida, was edging closer and closer to civilization every day.
“They’re in survival mode. They’re just trying to survive. It’s amazing that all this time went by that he was able to make it.” Jessie Pena, vice president of the Redland Rockpit Abandoned Dog Project, tells iHeartDogs.
Then something happened that reminded Bear that some humans do, in fact, mean harm.
The dog had gotten so used to friendly hands feeding him, he approached a local man with his tail wagging.
“Last month, one of our volunteers actually saw one of the people who live in a house kick him,” Pena says. “They pulled in and he was so happy to see him. He came close to the guy and as he came close, the guy kicked him.”
But the road to rescue is often paved in patience. And, sometimes, sausage.
The Redland volunteers kept coming back, armed with snacks: chicken, sausage and all kinds of treats.
Bear would creep close enough to scarf down the food, but always keep just out of reach of hands and leashes.
This week, Pena, along with volunteer Kristen McLeroy, made a breakthrough. McLeroy had been sitting with Bear for about half an hour, feeding him his favorite sausages. At one point, Bear was even eating out of her hand.
Pena circled back to the car to get the snare — a looping trap that she baited with treats.
Bear was still anxious. But … sausages.
Another half an hour or so and Bear was snared.
“He pulled back, I pulled forward,” Pena recalls. “And then he just pancaked. He went flat on the ground. “I started petting him. I touched his face, his eyes. And he didn’t do anything.”
In fact, for a dog living in the wilds of southern Florida, Bear proved remarkably refined.
“We thought he would need more training and more work because he’s been out there all this time,” Pena says. “But he was amazing.”
Civilization seemed to agree with him. Rescuers picked up the dog and carried him into the car. That’s where Bear discovered another miracle of civilization — something to rival even sausages.
“As soon as he was inside the car and the AC was in his face he was like, ‘I’m in heaven,’” Pena recalls with a laugh. “He forgot about everything else and he was like a normal dog.”
Bear spent a night in foster care. The morning, Pena returned to offer his world-weary bones another tender comfort: a warm bath.
“He behaved so well,” she says. “He was really good.”
And for Bear, it’s only the beginning of the sweet life he was meant to live. One of Pena’s friends is already so charmed by the sweet, grateful dog, she’s offered to foster him — and maybe even keep him forever.
You can get updates on Bear’s journey to a new life on the group’s Facebook page.
And remember, at this very moment there are dozens more dogs roaming the Homestead area — seemingly a popular dumping ground for people looking to rid themselves of their pets. And each and every one of those straggly, heartbroken dogs, are just waiting for a hand to reach out and offer hope, and maybe a sausage or two.