Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rez Dogs

Meghan and Protector
If you are an animal lover, the Pine Ridge Reservation can be a tough place to be. Dogs by themselves and in packs are a common sight. In the summer they are hot, hungry, and scared. And in the winter they are cold, hungry, and scared. There is no shelter, no spay and neuter program and animal control is an occasional rounding-up of strays, who are then taken out to the dump and shot. The dump is also where unwanted dogs and puppies are...well...dumped. Hundreds and hundreds of animals do not survive their first year on the Rez.

But thanks to dedicated Lakota animal lovers on Pine Ridge, a wonderful Native man who works at the dump, and a white rancher from nearby Gordon named Miss Jean, hundreds, if not thousands of Rez dogs have been saved and are living in homes all across America - including mine. Miss Jean has been known to race the 50 miles to the Rez, when she gets wind of an impending “sweep” of the strays and fills up her truck with as many dogs as she can get her hands on. Sometimes going many miles into the heart of the reservation to find the “lost ones”...those who are wandering in the middle of nowhere far from any handouts or trash cans. It was in one such remote location that my friend Charlie Yellowbird and I were driving one day, when we had to slow down as 2 skinny dogs crossed the road in the middle of nowhere.

Charlie spoke under his breath more to himself than to me.

“Survivors”, he whispered, never taking his eyes off the dogs. He was honoring them with the word; perhaps he recognized himself as the third member of the pack. Survivors all.

 But nowhere on the Rez is this word more appropriate than for the dogs and the humans who live on the streets of Whiteclay. A mere 1000 yards off the Rez, Whiteclay, Nebraska is home to 14 permanent residents who have roofs over their heads.  It is also home to 50 or so who call the streets and the abandoned houses that dot the two-block-long town...home. At any given time there are 10 adult dogs and an assortment of puppies trying to survive the summer, but most won't survive the winter. The Rising Warriors of the streets are family we know and love, and to many of them the street dogs are their family. They share their food with the strays, name them, sleep with them and on more than once occasion have covered the dead body of a dog with the one blanket they possess.
The streets of Whiteclay are dark and violent for man, woman and dog. For every dog who has someone who loves them, there are two dogs who are chased off, kicked, punched and cussed at; dogs who will not know a gentle touch unless someone places a blanket over them when their street hell is over.

Protector
But one four legged girl has it better than most. She is loved by he Rising Warriors...even
revered. They call her “Protector”.  Rumor has it, that when bad spirits try to get into the abandoned house where they sleep, Protector will bark and scare them off.  Many know her, some love her, but to Robert Little Crow, a beautiful soul whose address has been the streets of Whiteclay for 15 years...she is his best friend.  A former radical member of the oft-violent American Indian Movement, Robert these days is more likely to be found being sure Protector is free from ticks and is often seen limping across the street with an empty broken dish of some sort or another filled with water for "his girl." Feed Robert and you will be feeding Protector.

More than once, we have rescued a dog from the Rez streets and taken them out to Miss Jean's ranch, but it has never crossed my mind to grab Protector; she belongs to Robert- she is his guardian angel. But the week before Thanksgiving, myself, my niece Meghan and my nephew Robert decided we were going to pluck a little black and white  mutt named “Oreo” off the streets before we headed back home. Simple enough? Not so much.

Oreo
Oreo had hung out all day long in front of our building, but now that it was time to dog-nap her she was nowhere in sight. Neither was the other pup, Essie, we had decided needed to get off the streets, who seemed to have gotten wind of an ensuing liberation and stuck by our side all day.

My nephew came in and said. “We have to go if we are gonna get out to the ranch before dark, but the dogs aren’t here.”

Not only were the two we wanted not there...there was not a stray in sight. I had never seen that before.  Streets completely void of dogs. “Let’s pray ‘ em in!” I said with a laugh, but began to do just that. All of a sudden dogs appeared from behind buildings, from under cars and the two we wanted, walked right up to us. What happened next was just a little extra “God thing” thrown in to remind us who was in charge of the rescuing around here.

Robert Little Crow
Robert Little Crow hurried across the street as fast as his two bad legs would let him, “KC- wait!” he shouted. The three of us turned around, concerned by the urgency in his voice.

“Take my girl! Please! Take my girl!  She’s gonna have puppies. The last litter froze to death.” He had tears in his eyes. “Please get her out of here. We’ve spent two winters together in that basement over there. But she needs a better life than this.” So do you, I thought to myself.

“Are you sure?” I asked, not knowing if she would come to us, let alone allow us to pick her up to put her in the truck.  Robert seemed to read my mind and he started to call her name. She appeared in seconds, answering the call of her trusted friend.
 
Robert knelt beside her hugging her. “I’ll miss her, I’ll miss her.” He kept repeating, tears streaming down his face.  Now you have to understand...when you live on the streets of Whiteclay you pretty much own nothing. Maybe you’ve been able to keep a backpack with a handful of this and that from being stolen while you were passed out drunk. Everything Robert owned and loved-he was hugging.

Without saying another word, he lifted Protector and put her in the truck. Just like that her new llife had begun...and just like that Robert Little Crow became my hero.

Meghan and Essie on her rescue ride
 Miss Jean’s ranch is miles off the main highway and then miles more into the center of the vast ranchlands outside Gordon, NE. In the back of the van we were using were 3 dogs who had never been in a vehicle in their lives, who had never been put in a small space with other dogs and the sometimes-to-be-feared humans. My nephew, Robert crawled in the back with two of them and Meghan held one in her lap. Protector took quite awhile before she relaxed enough to lay down. An hour and many miles on gravel roads later, we delivered the comandeered canines to Miss Jean’s RezQ Ranch where they were sure to spend this night safe, fed and warm for the first time in their lives.  







I couldn’t wait to tell Robert Little Crow how content Protector seemed and to be and thank him again for what he had done for her and her unborn litter. But what could wait was my telling him two days later...with temps in the single digits at night...that Protector had vanished; in the dark and the cold, more in the middle of nowhere than ever. Was she looking for Robert? Who knows. She was just gone.

 Miss Jean looked for her for days; hours every day, she was so distraught. Never in 25 years of rescuing dogs had she had a “non-feral” dog just vanish. All I could think about was how Protector would not have had any way of knowing how remote of an area she was in. I imagined her hungry, cold, very pregnant and lost wandering the vast plains until she couldn’t. I prayed for God to keep her safe, I placed angels around her (I do that alot) and I asked Him not to let her suffer. I knew we had done the right thing, but I still felt guilty.

 A week later Jean stopped looking and I stopped praying. Protector was gone. God was in charge, as He always is. He knew where she was and he had not let her suffer. I was sure of it. He had protected Protector.

Two days ago it had been exactly a month since Protector had vanished into thin air. Robert, Meghan and I have been back in Colorado this whole time and I have not seen Robert Little Crow. He did not know that we had lost “his girl.” At night in my prayers, when I placed angels around Robert (and Eli and Donovan and Granny Back Pack “etc.) I prayed that God would give me the right words to tell him when the moment came.
 
But thanks to Miss Jean's words on the other end of the phone...those words would not be necessary.

“You’ll never guess who is in my living room!” I knew immediately.

“What the heck!” was all I could say.
 
A friend of Miss Jean’s had been feeding a stray at the hospital for over a week, thinking it belonged to one of his employees. Earlier that day when he saw the guy he pointed to the dog and told him he shouldn’t let his dog run loose like that.

His employee said “That’s not my dog.”  I'd like to think God then commented, “No... that’s my dog.”

Jean’s friend immediately scooped up the cold, hungry dog and took her to the only place to take a dog... Miss Jeans house.
 
“I can’t imagine what she must have been through.” Jean just kept saying over and over again. “It was so cold the first few nights after she disappeared. And Gordon is over 15 miles away!”

After examing Protector, Jean concluded that she was no longer pregnant and we had to assume the puppies hadn’t survived, as it didn’t appear Mama Dog was nursing. But Mama Dog was alive. Robert’s girl was alive. What an amazing end to an amazing story we all kept saying. Amazing? Yes. The end? Not so much.

 Protector slept in front of the fireplace for several hours, seemingly exhausted and not anxious in the least...at first. But suddenly she was up, pacing by the door, unable to settle back down. On a hunch born of rescuing thousands of dogs, Jean examined Protector again.

Milk. She was producing milk.


 She quickly called her friend back at the hospital. “Can you show me exactly where you have seen this dog over the past week?”

  “Sure- why?” he asked.

  “I believe there are puppies out there.” She answered before racing out the door...Mama Dog on her heels. Over gravel roads the 15 miles to Gordon will take you a half an hour.

When Jean parked the car in front of the small hospital and opened the car door, Protector took off down the street. So did Jean, on foot...on a mission.
 
For well over an hour, she tried to keep up with Protector as she ran through backyards, up streets, down streets, sniffing out front porches, almost loosing sight of her several times. Finally, they turned a corner and Protector raced toward an abandoned house. Jean grabbed her hind quarters as she tried to get under the house in a small dug-out opening. Jean held onto Protector afraid that if she got inside the house she might refuse to come out. A phone call to the man who had returned Protector, brought him on the run, along with a thin, young man he worked with...who could fit in the opening.

 “Are you sitting down?” said a voice on the other end of the phone. “Seriously. Sit down.”

 “Ok”, I said, pulling up a stool in the kitchen.

“There are five of them.” She laughed.

“Five what?” I asked, even as I knew what she was going to say.

“Five puppies! Protector has 5 fat, healthy puppies!”

Five. The number of grace.



Protector.
Robert's girl.
Mama Dog.
Surrounded by angels...
by prayers...
by people who care.
Protector.
Protected.

Whisper out loud with me...“Survivor.”












Epilogue:
As we speak...Protector and her Pups are safe and sound at Miss Jean's Ranch...part of our ministry's Pine Ridge Animal RezQ. If you would like to help us help the dogs on the Rez, you may donate through LightShine Pine Ridge/Miracle Center here.


Protector and her puppies all need good homes. If you would like to adopt one of these precious pups please contact us at lightshinelakota@yahoo.com....and of course we are expecting Protector to find a home that will give her a magnificent life and love her for Robert Little Crow too. She is a special, special dog. Please share her story.

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