By David Knopf, News Editor
Dozer, a dog dumped in late May at an Orrick convenience store, is no longer at the Crosssroads – figuratively or literally.
Now about a year old, the German shepherd mix lived outside the store, feeding on customers’ handouts and taking shelter in a culvert to avoid the heat.
He would come close enough to take food tossed in his direction, but shied away if anyone tried to touch him.
Then Debbie Clark, a clerk at the store, and Gowing Funeral Home director Larry Thompson stepped in.
Dog lovers, Clark and Thompson spent three months feeding Dozer and gaining his trust. They’d attempted to corral him with a dog crate and small doses of Benedryl, an over-the-counter allergy medicine intended to make him drowsy, but the dog outsmarted those attempts.
“We’d spend two to three hours a night after Crossroads closed, worked three months steady and made no progress,” said Thompson. “He’d come up about three feet from you and then if you went to touch him, he’d run away.”
But Thompson and Clark offered Dozer more than food, water and persistence. They were patient and waited, letting the dog make the next move.
“Like Larry said, we had to gain his trust,” said Debbie.
They asked Larry Easley, owner of the salvage yard across the road, if they could feed Dozer on his property after the convenience store closed.
It was a quiet, fairly well-lit spot with few distractions and no traffic, other than police who’d come by to stop and visit.
“Two weeks ago this last Sunday, I think it was Aug. 4, we were standing there that night and had been doing it a while,” said Thompson.
Just an ordinary night in their long vigil.
“I was standing with my hands down (by her side),” Clark said, when the unexpected happened.
“He come up and bumped Deb’s hand,” said Thompson.
Thompson suggested that Clark try to scratch the dog on the snout, which she did. Most importantly, Dozer let her do it.
Later that night, the dog circled around and repeated the process, nudging Thompson with his nose and having his head rubbed.
“This rescue was on his terms, not ours,” said Thompson, who with his wife Vickie cares for several other dogs, all of whom were rescued or adopted. Pets are often dumped along their rural road.
Clark lives in town but is also a pet person, keeping two dogs and a pair of kittens indoors, and several outdoor cats.
“A few nights after we touched him, I sat on the ground Indian style and he come up and sat on my lap,” Thompson said.
“What a sight that was,” Clark said.
Thompson said he and Clark were still unsure how to provide a more suitable home than the grounds of a convenience store, a salvage yard and the corn fields behind them.
“We both prayed God would help us get this dog,” said Thompson, who never wavered in his patient approach. “The night before we captured him, Deb prayed it would happen.”
The word “capture” is a bit strong. If there was a capture that occurred, it was mutually decided – all without force and with an abundance of affection and trust on both sides.
Sometime around Aug. 7, Thompson said he brought food outside to his other dogs – Blackie, a Labrador retriever, Princess, a boxer mix, and Fuzzy Red Dog, a smaller dog who adopted the Thompsons five years ago. The sweet little dog wags its tail, but has never let Larry, Vickie or anyone else touch him.
“All my dog psychology won’t work on that one,” Larry said.
While he was feeding the other dogs, Thompson could hear Dozer howling outside Easley’s. His natural response was to drive there to see if anything was wrong.
“I turned off and there was no sign of him,” said Thompson, who continued down the gravel road and spotted the dog by the road. “I said, ‘Dozer, where are you going?’ I shut the door and dangled my hand out and we drove real slow. He followed me here and he’s been here ever since.”
Clark said Dozer had been named before she and Thompson began their vigil. Brandon Gallo, grandson of the Crossroads owner, gave him a name that stuck.
“He’s the one who wanted him first,” Clark said. “We liked the name so we kept it.”
Thompson said he hopes to eventually gain enough trust so Dozer will hop in his truck without being forced. The plan is to take him to Richmond to have him neutered, vaccinated and treated for fleas.
Thompson and Clark say they agreed in advance that using devices like a hook or live trap to restrain Dozer would be counterproductive to winning his trust.
“The three things we wanted was to have him here, to not have him tied up or penned,” said Thompson, whose wife shares his affection for dogs. “We would not have a very good relationship if she didn’t like dogs. We just have a warm spot in our hearts for him.”
A warm feeling is precisely what Clark experienced when Thompson sent her a text simply saying, “Dozer’s here.”
“I’m so thrilled,” she said. “I just didn’t know what to do because we’d tried everything.”
Dozer not only gets along with the couple’s other dogs, but sleeps next to Thompson’s bed. When people come to visit, he warms up to them quickly and lets himself be petted.
“It’s just amazing how he’s turned around in just two weeks,” said Thompson.