It was nearly three years ago when I asked The Wildcat Sanctuary staff if I could work with Sophie and Sierra. The goal seemed easy enough – get them comfortable with people so they would go on leash or crate for vet visits with less fear.
I remember the staff telling me to give it a year. After all, these girls had no reason to trust anyone. In short they came from a puppy mill in Iowa. They spent their time in a small trailer without windows, hungry and flea infested. She was right. Trust can take a very long time to return, if it does at all.
During the first nine months, it was Sierra who was most curious about me and she would approach slowly and nuzzle or even lick me as long I as I was perfectly quiet and still. Sophie followed her lead.
I was always greeted at the door with the husky howl before they quickly moved to a safe distance. With patience, persistence and help from the staff, interns and other volunteers, by August of 2009, Sophie started asking to go for walks outside the compound. She walked next to the fence to start so Sierra could be with her.
Her favorite path was to see the lions and Donoma when he lived near the trailer. She even visited the trailer and had a fascination with Remoh, the domestic cat, who did not mind her sniffing and nosing him. She began to enjoy petting and playing with the staff dogs.
Her favorite game with me was playing fetch even though the other dogs got to the ball first. In time, she was known to jump up and place her front paws on an intern’s shoulder, follow the staff dogs into the double door so she could go with them and occasionally ask staff and interns for a walk.
Sierra was more cautious than Sophie. It took a year for Sierra to make eye contact. She walked inside the enclosure with me and Sophie. She allowed an occasional pet and was so brave as to walk into the double doors when invited. On a warm summer night or a cool winter evening, we often just lay next to each other and enjoyed the quiet.
That simple act was a difficult decision for Sierra. Often, we walked in the compound together for exercise, Sophie and Sierra nudging my hands and knees gently with their noses.
Through our time together, Sophie and Sierra taught me the true meaning of patience, respect and the ability to trust in spite of past disappointments and hardships. I found them to be smart and very much in love with play time, especially with the other dogs.
I will miss their gate greeting, the insistent attention seeking nose bops and their gentle spirits. Thank you for the gift of time with these two very special girls. Thank you to the other volunteers/DACs for enriching Sophie and Sierra’s life. They will be missed but not forgotten.
Barb Rein – TWS Volunteer