Australian Cattle Dog “#1960” first came into my life via a post on Facebook that said "90 Minutes to Live!" or "90 Minutes Left!", something like that. He actually had 24 hours and 90 minutes left, due to the Labor Day holiday, or he probably wouldn't be here today. His photo, taken from a few feet away, showed a reddish-blond dog who looked a bit like my girl Cayenne, and reminded me of a lion. A few of us from around the country who had never met in person decided that he deserved another chance, and came together to help him. He had a strong pull on me, as 8 State Kate had, and for some reason I knew that I was meant to help him. I sensed that he was just trying to find his place, a place where he would be loved and accepted for being himself. My role would be as a bridge, to get him where he needed to go to start a new and better life. With three dogs and a cat at home, I had my hands full already.
I had been calling him Aslan, like the lion. But once Hope, a woman in Georgia who helped with his rescue, named him Willis instead of #1960, I started saying, "Where there's a Willis, there's a way." I knew I couldn't help him all on my own, but every time a roadblock appeared, an angel appeared for Willis. One such angel, a Georgia man named Dale, was described to me as a "reliable donor". On what would have been Willis' last day, Dale offered to pay his initial veterinary and neutering costs, plus part of his boarding fees in Georgia. Other angels included the people who cared for Willis at the vet clinic, additional donors who helped cover his costs, the woman who drove him to the airport, and Pilots ‘N Paws volunteers who flew him from Georgia to a temporary foster home with angel Christina in Indiana, and then from Indiana to Minnesota.
We were told that Willis was found as a stray in Rome, Georgia. A kind woman intervened and rescued him when he was being attacked by other dogs. She couldn’t keep him, so she took him to animal control where he soon ended up on death row. Local rescuers got the word out about him via Facebook. At the urging of others, I spoke up for him and a group of us came together to get him off death row. What would have been his last day became the first day of his new adventure. He was taken to the local vet, where they cared for his wounds, which had been untreated for at least a week. He also received veterinary care, including vaccinations, deworming, neutering, a heartworm test (which was miraculously negative!), Frontline Plus, and heartworm preventative. He was boarded there for 2 ½ weeks.
On September 22nd, I arranged for Pilots ‘N Paws volunteer pilots to fly Willis form Georgia to a temporary foster home near Indianapolis, Indiana.
There Christina took care of him and we got the first clear look at the scars on his face. His tremendous spirit shines through his wonderful, intelligent eyes. He’s lucky he didn’t lose one of them!
When Willis arrived at Christina’s house, he had been cooped up for almost a month. She observed that he needed exercise, was a bit too interested in her cats, and needed plenty of confidence building.
Christina was concerned at first when she saw the extent of Willis’ scars, and watched him closely. She doesn’t usually take dogs with scars from dog fights because (in her words) they are usually bullies or just don’t mesh well with other dogs. She noted that Willis needs plenty of supervision when meeting other dogs. After being carefully introduced, he had a chance to interact with some of her dogs and got along with some of them. He got into a few scraps with one of her cattle dogs, so she kept them apart. She said that he is very “in your face” and uses a lot of body blocking with other dogs.
Christina noted that Willis would crate fight if crated next to another dog, as some of her dogs do, and he didn’t do well with dogs who challenged him. Some of her dogs ignored him when he got in their space, but he irritated her high drive female. The two dogs had a few “words” and Christina told them to knock it off and took the female inside. Christina commented that Willis is a big strong bossy male who needs a job and some self-control exercises. Most of her dogs weren’t very fond of him, but they all did fine. Christina also discovered that Willis loves water!
On September 29th, after a week with Christina, Willis was flown by another Pilots ‘N Paws volunteer to Owatonna, Minnesota and his foster home. We excitedly anticipated his arrival! Once the plane touched down, I finally got to meet Willis. As the pilot lifted the crate from the hatch and two of us reached up to help, Willis banged on the inside of the crate, eager to come out. Although I’d felt a strong connection to him before, I was very relieved to meet him, touch him, and look into his soulful eyes. When I crouched in front of him to meet him, he leaned into me, looked into my eyes, and put his paw on my chest, then walked over to meet each person waiting for him.
In Minnesota, we learned more about Willis, and unfortunately the planned foster home didn't work out. He needed his own space, more than they could give him, and I couldn't leave him there. I retrieved him within less than 24 hours and was able to find a place for him to stay for a week with someone I trusted. Given his own space, he calmed down and did well. He was underweight and ate voraciously. I visited him a few times to play with him and get to know him better. When the week was up, he had to be moved, and without another plan in place yet, I made space for him at my house, away from my other dogs (for the time being). Again, I asked for help and a small circle of friends is working with me on a new plan for Willis. We learn more about him every day.
I think Willis needs a fenced yard and exercise, including off leash running inside a fence. He seems to want to be with other dogs, but doesn’t necessarily know how to behave around them. He defends himself against dogs that get in his face. His facial scars indicate that he has had some bad experiences and likely has some triggers that we’re still learning about. I think he’s trying to find a place where he belongs and will be safe. He needs structure and a benevolent human leader who will give him boundaries and supervise interactions with other dogs. He will not likely be a dog someone can easily take to the dog park to interact with any dogs that come along. He needs a person he trusts to protect his space so he doesn’t have to take that on by himself.
Willis loves people and is very responsive to people. He travels well in a car or plane. He sometimes barks when left alone in a pen outside, but has not barked much when crated. He crates well when he is getting enough exercise. He doesn’t tear or shred blankets, but enjoys a bone or Kong to chew on. He’s attracted to moving objects, like cars and bikes, and would probably chase them. He also may chase cats if given the chance.
Willis is a beautiful dog and needs to have his brain stimulated. He is very smart and would probably make a good agility dog and maybe a good herding dog (although I haven’t seen him with livestock yet). He needs someone to channel his intelligence and energy into activities that are good for him. He needs NILIF (Nothing in Life is Free) training, but I don’t think he needs boot camp or anyone to get in his face or come down on him. He really wants to please, needs consistent rules, and responds well to people. He would probably do well with a person who can work with him and give him enough exercise, and possibly one or two other dogs he gets along with. I don’t think isolating him from other dogs long term is necessarily the best answer. He loved to run and play with some of Christina’s dogs.
Willis has a wonderful spirit. He loves people and in quiet moments is very gentle! If he can pass the tests, I think he will make a good therapy dog for people who have been bullied or disfigured.
I’m qualified to work with Willis, but already have my hands full right now. He most likely won’t get along with one or two of my dogs, and I can’t afford to have a fight or a lot of unrest in the house. I just started a new job with long hours away from home every day and am struggling to find a balance and get my dogs the time and exercise they need. I don’t feel like I currently have the set-up for Willis to be most successful or the time to adequately work with him. But I enjoy seeing him learn and come out of his shell, and I do feel responsible for him. I want him to succeed and be happy.
As I write this during the second week of October, my friend Kirsten has taken Willis on a road trip to the north shore of Lake Superior to give him individual attention and teach him how to live indoors. Kirsten reported from their big adventure that Willis is doing well! He’s enjoying hiking in some of Minnesota’s most beautiful state parks and receiving individual attention. Between hikes, he sleeps at Kirsten’s feet and sometimes tries to roughhouse with her, but she doesn’t encourage that because he’s still learning not to be too mouthy. She has increased his rations of high quality food and he sits nicely for each handful of food she puts in his bowl. Now that he’s well fed, he isn’t as anxious about food and will soon be at a healthier weight. He’s learning not to jump on Kirsten, especially while she’s eating. On a hike, he walked past a small dog (a Pomeranian) and a person and showed no reaction. He wants to meet people, and sat nicely for a little toddler to pet him with assistance from the child’s mother.
Since my original plan for Willis’ Minnesota foster home didn’t work out, a small circle of friends, including Kirsten, is helping him and will continue to assess him and determine what’s best. I don’t want to keep changing everything on him. I want him to be safe physically and emotionally. He needs his own special person in a safe foster or adoptive home, ideally someone who is home a lot.
We think Willis is about 2 or 3 years old. He knows how to sit, is food motivated, learns quickly, and is eager to please people. As mentioned earlier, he may be very interested and reactive around other dogs, probably due to some tough experiences as a stray and the stress of being lost and on the road. He has been neutered and fully vetted and will probably weigh about 55 pounds when he gets to a healthier weight. A home with a fenced yard and an adult who is dog savvy and can spend a lot of time with him would be great. He might be less stressed in a home without other dogs, and would have to be introduced to other dogs carefully. I think he would be good with older kids, but he has not had much exposure to small children or cats while in our care. I suspect he would try to herd both!
While Willis is at my house he will probably have to be kept separate from my other dogs and be crated most of the time. This is not the best long term solution for him. I have limited time to work with him, but will enjoy learning more about him. Due to my work commitments, he’s probably going to have to rotate between more than one place and I’ll depend on others to help take care of him. I can work on NILIF and manners with him and take him for a walk every day. I already miss him when he’s gone.
Willis has a great personality and is very sweet. He’s starting to get more comfortable and come out of his shell. He likes squeaky toys and plays with them like a silly boy, like the carefree goofy guy he can be. :-) I think he’s usually more high energy than I've seen so far. He was probably a farm dog, or at least a rural dog. He seems to have been an outside dog who likes to lie under the porch. He’s very interested when he hears a car go by, and seems to want to sit by the gate and watch over the place, like that was his job.
It’s hunting season here. Willis cowers when he hears a gunshot. He was also terrified by and turned away from a camera flash, so he probably doesn’t like thunder and lightning. He can be pushy with people’s space, and needs to learn to keep his feet on the ground and let a person go through the door first. He is responding to consistent, positive training methods, and needs a safe place to land with a person who will work with him positively and help him succeed.
Recently, in a training class at my new job, we were asked about our greatest accomplishments in life. Others mentioned getting a promotion, or a degree, or giving a big presentation. But I thought first about the lost and homeless dogs that I’ve helped learn to be comfortable in their own skin and their new environment and, ultimately, to thrive and be joyful. I have no doubt that these dogs are the greatest successes of my life.
Where there’s a Willis, there’s a way. I just know it! My house may be too crowded for Willis to thrive. Who will provide the best foster or adoptive home for him? If you want more information and think you can help, please contact me at Willis can be one of the greatest successes of your life. He is a great guy, and he deserves the best. Thank you.
Note: To help Willis become healthier and reach his ideal weight, I give him Omega Fields Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets.
I apologize for the patchwork feel of this story. Every day as I was writing, we learned more about Willis and I had to add and change information!