Thursday, October 21, 2010

“Sassy…to be continued”

This is the first part of a blog entry about Sassy, a pretty 2 year old (we think) red and white girl, with a very interesting story. As you read, you’ll understand why this is just the first part of her story.

In June of 2009, Sassy sort of entered the rescue system when she arrived at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter. I’ve never found out how she got to the shelter, I only know that she was there. Normally, this shelter notifies me if they have a basenji come in, and allows BRAT to take possession of the dog for placement. For some unknown reason, this didn’t happen with Sassy. She was placed with an individual in OKC. Just a month (or less) later, Sassy escaped from this person. Sadly, this person did not notify the shelter that Sassy was gone, and apparently did not do anything to try to find her, as far as anyone involved in Sassy’s rescue can determine. The shelter folks told us we didn’t have to give her back, so I didn’t.

Early this year, a worker at the Oklahoma State Capitol spotted Sassy hanging out in the area, and after seeing her daily for a few weeks, contacted me to see if we could try to catch her (he had been unsuccessful on his own). I met with him, and he told me what he had observed. I drove around the area, but didn’t spot her on that trip. A week or so later, he reported that he was still seeing her, and I returned to the area, taking Junior, my intact (show dog) male with me, along with a pocket full of tasty and smelly treats. We spotted Sassy, and I got out with Junior, who was on a long flexi-leash. We followed Sassy for over half a mile (well, I limped along as fast as I could, with a recent hip replacement, and a knee replacement coming up soon).

She would stay 20 or 30 yards ahead of us, not running, but keeping a steady pace, and would occasionally stop and look back at us, but would never make any attempt to come and get to know Junior. She would eat the treats that I tossed to her (a huge “leftover” NY strip, medium rare, that my hubby never missed, cut into little pieces. Junior noticed, and wasn’t too happy with me throwing HIS steak away), but not until we backed off enough for her to feel comfortable. But, she wasn’t having any part of us getting close enough to her to touch, much less catch.

I talked to people at several state office buildings in the capitol complex, and lots had seen her, but none had ever seen her approach a person, nor let herself be approached. But, she was obviously getting enough to eat somewhere.

At that first sighting, we finally stopped following her when I watched her stop and check traffic before crossing the very busy street that runs through the state capitol complex. It was clear that she had become accustomed to crossing it, and was very traffic savvy.

Two or three days later, I went back, without Junior, and located her again. This time I had some dog food with me, and a hamburger (that I intended to eat myself). I located Sassy, and tried to follow her on foot. She went into a small, fenced parking lot next to an office building, and I followed. She got very agitated, and found a hole in the fence and got out. I followed her in my truck a bit farther, and when she stopped in the middle of the street, I tossed my hamburger to her. She finally came to get it, after I got back into my truck. I was able to snap a couple of photos on my phone, but that was all I had to show for my effort.

A few days later, I returned and put a trap out at a farm museum on the edge of the complex. Sassy had been sighted there daily, and I felt like I had the best chance of capturing her there, if at all. I had gotten the trap from the Oklahoma City Animal Control Division, and they were aware of the trap’s location and why I was using it. During the two weeks the trap was out, I checked it, museum personnel checked it, AC checked it, and the guy who had first alerted me to Sassy checked it. Sassy, or some creature, was eating the food in it, but not triggering the door to drop. I still don’t know how that was possible. I had adjusted the trip so that the slightest movement would drop the door. Yet the door was always still up, and the food gone whenever any of us checked it.

After two weeks, I had to return the trap, and pretty much gave up on catching this wily girl. Scott (the state employee) said that he would keep trying to gain her trust.

A month or so later, Scott called me and said that he had contacted another rescue group, and the lady that ran it had some experience in catching feral animals. They had acquired some tranquilizer from a veterinarian, and they were going to give it to her in some food, and watch her, so that when she went to sleep, they could catch her, and he wanted to know if I would take her. Well, uh, yes. I guessed so. So, that next weekend, I waited for Scott to call. He did finally call, but not to tell me he was bringing Sassy to me. He said that they had given her the tranquilizer, but it hadn’t had any effect on her, so they were going to give her a stronger dose the next weekend.

The next weekend rolled around, and late on Sunday, Scott called again. They had doubled the dose of tranquilizer, and the vet had assured them that it was more than sufficient for Sassy to lay down and go to sleep. Well, she had eaten it, and after about an hour, she got a little wobbly on her feet, but she never got so woozy that they could get close to her. This was one tough basenji girl!

The lady at the other rescue was not so willing to give up as I was. She put out some cameras at the same place I had set the trap (apparently I had at least gotten that part right), and observed her, so that she could see what type of trap would work best to capture Sassy. She devised her plan, and it was successful.

Finally, on September 20th, I got a call from Scott, again. They had finally caught Sassy! She was at the vet being checked out, given shots, and de-flea’d and de-ticked. She appeared to be healthy (and definitely not underweight), and was calm when they took her out of the trap and put her in a crate. She had not given them a bit of trouble at all. She had a small scar on a back thigh that Scott and I had both seen on earlier sightings, but it was only superficial, and she weighed a “healthy” 22 pounds.

They had gotten her brief history from OKC Animal Control, because she had a spay tattoo that the shelter uses on all of their female dogs when they are spayed.

So, that is how we know that Sassy had been running feral on the streets for over a year when she was captured in late September. What is even more astonishing (well, not really, if you are familiar with basenjis) is that she was over 11 miles from where she had escaped. She apparently liked the area when she stopped running, and settled into her own routine.

Scott said that he had begun to call her Sassy (that’s how she got her name), and she was responding, coming toward him when he called her, but would always stop 10 or 15 feet away.

So, when Sassy was captured, I went and picked her up. She has been living here since September 22nd. Socialization progress is going very slowly, and as much as I’d like it to be quicker, she can’t be rushed.

I don’t yet dare to put her out in my backyard, even with some of my other dogs. She is clearly frightened by them, and I am afraid that if I turn her loose in the yard, I would never be able to catch her again. My yard is too large, and she is still too afraid of people. But, when I carry her (which is often), she never struggles to get away. For now, she goes into a kennel runs so that she can get some outside time, and get to know the other dogs through the fence.

Otherwise, she is walked on a leash for exercise, and although she doesn’t pull on the leash, it is clear she isn’t too crazy about the arrangement. But, there are small signs that she is adjusting.

After about a week, she began to look directly at me more often. She wags her tail occasionally. She’s even given me a play bow a couple of times when I’ve gone out to bring her in from the kennel, and will stand up on her hind legs, paws against the fence, waiting for me to come get her.

When I feed all the dogs, she doesn’t wait anymore for me to leave the room before she eats. She dives right in, as soon as her bowl is in her crate and the door is closed, although she still shrinks back to the corner when I open the crate door to put her bowl inside.

She will sit quietly on the couch with me, front legs across my legs, and ever so gradually relax as I scratch her cheek. Until I cough, or the phone rings, or there’s a loud noise on the TV. Then, she jumps, and I can feel the terror in her body. She really is a tough little girl. Her mere survival has proven just how tough she can be.

Sassy reminds me of something I used to tell the nice little old ladies who always asked me, when I was a cop, if I wasn’t scared being out there by myself. And, I would tell them that yes, I was scared. But, being scared kept me safe, because it kept me alert to the dangers around me. Being scared has probably kept Sassy safe, too, because it made her very alert to the dangers around her.

The socialization of Sassy will take a while. I’m not expecting any lights to come on in her pretty little head overnight (although it would be a very pleasant surprise). No one knows what all she has been through in the two years of her life before we got her. We know that the last year wasn’t so terrific. Unfortunately, she can’t tell us. We can only guess, judging from her responses now.

Rehabilitation is a big part of many successful rescues, and I’ll keep you posted on how she’s coming along. After all, this is Sassy…and she is determined! 

…to be continued
Jacque Holdaway


  1. You say she had a horrible last year. I bet she escape because she knew she belongs elsewhere. Sassy would tell you that she had an adventure of a lifetime while on the lamb. Like a newly graduated teanager going on a trip around the world. She experienced freedom, new things,and probable was spoiled with treats by all that saw her. Who wouldn't feed that sweet adorable face? I can't wait to see what happens to Sassy next.

  2. Thanks Jacque for never giving up.

  3. She is a beautiful girl who has NO idea how lucky she is to be where she is right now! Good work, Jacque!

  4. What commendable and great work you did to capture and rescue here. I am originally from Oklahoma and know what a busy traffic area that is, and it's a miracle she survived. I look forward to her next "chapter".

  5. Wow. I'm very impressed! Whadda dog and way to go Jacque!

  6. You are right she is a very pretty girl, and clever and resourceful! I also look forwards to more updates on the taming of your Sassy girl!

  7. Awesome. Sassy is gorgeous. Thank you, Jac !!