Almost a year has passed since Panda became a part of the Wellston family, but Papa Matt, the head of the Golden Joy Ranch, can’t wait any longer for her to grow up and earn her keep.
“We’ve got to do something about this red fox,” he tells his daughter, Jessica. “This is the ninth hen she’s gotten since Bandit was killed.” He looks around at the feathers scattered in the henhouse knowing this is the work of a red fox vixen that lives in the South Cove.
Jessica looks at her dad with a pitiful expression on her face, reminiscing about her dog Bandit that was killed during the rescue of ol’ Shep. Even though it happened nearly a year ago, the entire story is still very fresh in her mind, etched in her memory forever, and her emotions are still very raw. The thought of losing another Jack Russell is too much to bear.
Matt walks around the henhouse, looking where the fox had gotten in, muttering to himself, “This would never have happened when Bandit was alive.” Matt looks at Jessica, seeing her sad face and tells her, “Panda has to earn her keep and keep this fox out of the henhouse!”
“But Daddy, she’s only a year old,” she reminds him. “How can she keep a full grown fox out of here when she’s too small to fight?”
“I know she’s only knee high to a grasshopper, but at least she could bark to alert the other dogs,” her dad says, looking around the barnyard at the Wellston dog pack. Ol’ Shep, General Jerry, Dingo, and Miss Belva are asleep in the shade of the porch as they usually do on hot days while Panda and Max are play-fighting in the yard—their daily routine of tug-a-war.
“With this horde of dogs, I’m amazed that a fox can get in and out of the henhouse without being noticed,” he says to her. “Maybe that’s where the old saying came from—‘sly as a fox.’”
Jessica knows her dad is upset at the loss of his chickens, so she decides to take it upon herself to train Panda to earn her keep. She walks over to Panda, picks her up, and takes her over to the henhouse to see the flurry of feathers everywhere.
“This is your job, Panda, to protect this henhouse from the red fox,” she tries to explain to her puppy. Panda responds by licking her in the face and wagging her tail, obviously unaware of her serious training lesson. She puts Panda down on the ground to pick up the fox’s scent, but Panda would rather play with Jessica, running around her while barking.
It’s obvious to Jessica that Panda is still too young to know her breed is designed to keep foxes away, so she lets her run back to Max to resume their tug-a-war, still wondering how she can help her dad solve this problem about the fox raiding the henhouse.
General Jerry overhears the conversation between Matt and Jessica and, as head of the dog clan, he asks, “What can we do to help Papa Matt?”
“We could rotate shifts like in the army,” the Aussie Cattle Dog, Dingo, suggests. “This fox is as cunning as a Dunny rat.”
“We could go fox hunting,” Miss Belva says.
“Or we could teach Panda what she’s meant to do,” says ol’ Shep. “It’s time she grows up and stops playing all day long. Either she’s asleep or playing, so it’s time to teach her to work,” he says as a guard dog who is use to working, not playing.
The other dogs break into laughter at Shep’s response because teaching Panda to do anything is next to impossible. She is the stubborn one who thinks she rules the roost, always growling playfully at the older dogs as if she’s the top dog in control.
“As Papa Matt always says,” explains General Jerry, “‘Jack Russell terriers prove it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.’”
“Well, it’s time for this little dog to learn to track the right fox,” Miss Belva tells them. “Let me give her a few lessons since tracking rabbits is my game.”
She walks over to Panda and says, “Panda, it’s time for you to grow up and earn your keep. I’m going to teach you that there’s more to life than just sleeping and playing.”
Panda looks at her with the typical tilted head look that means she has no idea what you’re saying. “What do you mean? You want me to work?”
“Yes, Panda dear, you have to earn your keep on this farm or else…well, we don’t want to go there since it’s very unpleasant,” Miss Belva says, knowing this statement is an empty threat.
“You’re not making a quid, Panda,” Dingo warns her.
She looks at him with her head tilted in a very confused look, “What do you mean, Dingo?” She doesn’t understand his Aussie slang like the other dogs.
“Right now you’re as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike,” he tells her. Again she is confused, so he re-phrases his sentiments in American dialect.
“Look, Panda,” Dingo tells her as nicely as he can. “It’s time for you to grow up, so follow Miss Belva and do as she says.”
Dingo has seen the results of the red fox too often in the pasture when he and Papa Matt found a dead calf that was killed by a fox. Fox will usually kill small livestock by repeatedly biting them in the neck and back, which is usually the result from young animals being caught while lying down as they sleep.
Still thinking it’s a game, Panda follows Miss Belva down the path to the lake where she will give Panda her first lesson on scents. The other dogs follow them, expecting a good show too. Even Callie the calico cat follows along, willing to add her opinion.
“Come over here and tell me what you smell,” the Beagle says to Panda.
Panda walks up to the lakeside and takes a sniff of all the potpourri of smells—flowers, pollen, trees, birds, dogs, swans, ducks, geese, and the fishy odor around the lake.
“I smell everything,” she says to her mentor.
“Forget about everything except the smell of the fox,” the beagle explains.
“But which one is that?” Panda asks. She smells a lot of things, but she has no idea which one is the scent of the fox.
None of the other dogs can offer an answer to this paradox. Until Panda knows the right scent, it will be impossible for her to learn how to tract the elusive fox.
Always the resourceful one, Callie comes to the rescue. While perched in her favorite tree near the gazebo on the lake, she knows the fox’s trail to its den, often watching as the red fox vixen comes to and fro to hunt and return with food for her kits. Her common prey includes rodents such as mice and voles, rabbits, birds, eggs, amphibians, crayfish, small reptiles and fish, and sometimes she has been known to kill fawns. Her favorite, of course, is a chicken from the coop.
“Follow me,” Callie tells the dog pack, “and you can get a good whiff of its scent.” As she walks along the trail, the dogs are dumbfounded, not knowing if she is pulling their legs or telling the truth.
She walks a few yards before she notices they aren’t following her. “Come on,” I said. “I’ll show you where the fox lives.” General Jerry immediately falls in line and orders the rest to follow too. “All right, y’all, get in step and follow Callie.” They all immediately do as they are told and march down the path behind General Jerry and Callie.
Callie has long been curious about the red fox ever since she saw one closely. Its eyes are gold to yellow and have distinctive vertically slit pupils, similar to those of a cat. When she first saw the red fox, she didn’t know if it was a giant cat or a small dog since its eyes were not round like a normal dog’s. Fox’s eyesight is also as sharp as that of a cat, and combined with their extreme agility for a member of the dog family, the red fox has been referred to as the cat-like dog.
Callie and the dogs walk about a quarter of mile along the lakeside path until they come to an old oak tree, the same one that the beagle had treed a raccoon the night Bandit died. All the dogs smell the many scents left on that tree stump by the various varmints in the woods—from other dogs, fox, as well as bucks that often sharpen their antlers on this old tree.
Callie knows the red fox lives in the upper end of South Cove on Blue Heron Lake and she leaves the main lakeside path and walks up a small but well-worn trail until she comes to the side of a small hill where the fox’s den is located. They can hear the kits in the den barking and play-fighting, but the vixen must be hunting because she isn’t there, or else they would certainly know by her warning scream.
“Go ahead and knock yourselves out,” Callie says to her canine friends.
“Thanks, Callie,” Miss Belva replies. “Take a good whiff of this scent, Panda, and never forget it because sooner or later you’ll come across it again, and lives will depend upon it—either the lives of the chickens or your own life if this fox ever finds you alone.”
Panda takes in a long inhalation of the scent of the fox den. The longer she smells it, something inside her seems to come alive, and she instinctively becomes excited by the scent, but she still doesn’t know what to make of it because she is still a puppy herself. Someday soon, she will know what to do since she is bred to track and fight her natural nemesis, the red fox.
Suddenly behind them, the dogs and Callie hear a shocking shriek reminiscent of a woman screaming from being extremely frightened.
“What is that?” Panda asks, shaking from the fear of the dreaded scream.
“It’s the fox vixen warning us to leave her den alone,” the General replies. Since the fox can lay unseen in the high grass and brush, they have no idea where she may be lying in wait. “We’ve accomplished our goal to teach Panda the scent of the red fox, so let’s go back home.”
Back in the barnyard, the puppy in Panda is as strong as ever as she runs circles around the older dogs, yipping and biting at them in mock battles. General Jerry watches her mischief, wishing he had her youthful vigor. The beagle watches her wondering where she gets all her energy and Dingo watches in amazement, wishing she would save her energy for more useful purposes—like catching the red fox.
“Bite ya bum,” Dingo calls out to her, but she continues playing and barking because she has no idea what he means. “I guess that Sheila won’t quit until she’s completely zonked.”
As she washes her face on her perch in a nearby tree, Callie watches Panda play in the yard and says to herself, “What a stupid dog. Why doesn’t she just lie down and relax like me?”
Going to School
Learning to be a guard dog is tough for young Panda who only wants to sleep, eat or play, much to the dismay of the other dogs and Papa Matt. Another raid on the chicken coop makes him madder than a wet hornet. “Something must change or else I’ll get a new dog to keep this fox away,” he tells his daughter.
Jessica worries that her dad might find another home for Panda if she doesn’t learn to keep the fox away, so she decides to help her puppy grow up by giving her obedience lessons. She remembers that her dad often says, “There’s no place on a farm for a dumb dog or a lazy one, either.”
The first time she places a collar on Panda, the poor puppy bucks and pulls away, only adding to the pressure on her neck from the choke chain. “Panda, quiet down and quit pulling,” Jessica tells her. But Panda continues to buck like a wild horse, never being constrained before. This is a tough lesson all dogs must learn—a leash is to be obeyed whether they like it or not.
The other dogs watch Jessica walk around the barnyard with Panda; even Callie enjoys this lesson from her perch. Callie knows it’s best for Panda to learn how to get along with humans, even if she’s never been taught to heel herself since no one can tell a cat what to do. Since all the dogs were taught to heel before they were trained to do their jobs, they know what Panda is going through.
“Good dogs heel,” Jessica repeats to Panda to calm her down. “Good dogs heel,” she says over and over again to reassure Panda that it’s good to obey. “Nobody wants a dumb dog, and the sooner you learn that, the better off we’ll all be,” she tells her puppy.
After a few laps around the barnyard, Panda quits resisting the leash and decides to follow alongside Jessica. “Good dog, Panda,” she tells her. “Good dogs heel!” Panda is proud of herself when she gets praise from Jessica. She beams with pride as she prances alongside her mistress, looking at her with one eye as she glances at her admiring dog-friends with her other eye. Never before has she been in the spotlight like this.
Every day for the next few weeks Jessica trains Panda to be obedient—to heel, sit, come and stay. Once Panda understands what Jessica wants her to do, she’s an eager student who wants to please her mistress. Jack Russell terriers are very smart dogs, but someone needs to teach them since they cannot learn on their own just like students need a teacher in school.
The other dogs are also proud of Panda as they watch her mature into an adult dog. She still play-fights with Max, and she still runs around the barnyard as if her tail is on fire, but she’s much more obedient to Jessica and to the other dogs.
“Panda, now that you’re smarter, it’s time we teach you about your job to keep the fox away,” General Jerry tells her after her school lessons with Jessica are over for the day.
“Some folks think a fox is the smartest of all the wild creatures. With their slit eyes, they look like a cat and are just as sly, but they have the strength of a dog. They can lie in wait, hiding for hours in the tall grass for their prey. With their pointy ears, they can hone in on the movement of a mouse to within just one degree. They are smart, quick, and relentless. They don’t scare off easily—either you get rid of them or they’ll come back for more food. And, most of all, they work at night when we dogs are asleep.”
“But how can I stop such an animal?” Panda asks the General. “I’m just a small terrier, not a fighting dog like ol’ Shep or a strong cattle dog like Dingo. And I’m certainly not as smart as you or Miss Belva.”
“It’s in your blood, Panda, and when you need the courage and cunning, you will draw upon the strength of your ancestors like Bandit to find the will to win.”
Although Panda never knew Bandit, she’s heard of his legend from all the barnyard dogs. “If I can be just half the dog he was, I’ll be happy,” she thinks to herself.
That night is exceptionally warm for an autumn day—an Indian summer as the locals say. The dogs are asleep on the porch, enjoying the sounds of nature—the rhythmic harmony of chirping crickets and croaking bullfrogs down by the lakeside, only a few dozen yards downhill from the ranch house. Occasionally they hear the owl hoot. Tonight they hear the Southern Railway train whistle and the wheels going clankity-clank as it passes through Fox Valley on its nightly trip.
Panda rests in the lap of Papa Matt as he sits in the rocker on the porch. He and his wife, Mary Beth, enjoy the sounds and sights as they talk about the day’s events. Callie is nestled in Mary Beth’s lap, purring as Mary Beth rocks back and forth listening to the wind chimes sing in the air. It’s a nightly routine for Callie to connect with her mistress who feeds her, so Callie loves on her in return. As Panda sleeps in his lap, Matt constantly strokes her head and back petting her with his large, strong, calloused hands. Panda looks so small beneath Matt’s big cowboy hands. While Jessica may be Panda’s best friend who trains and plays with her, Papa Matt is the love of her life.
As the preacher teaches at Sunday school that “man can’t live on bread alone,” the same can be said about pets—they need love as well as food to be happy and healthy. Sadly, too many pets are neglected emotionally even though they may be well-fed. Jessica, Papa Matt and Mary Beth make sure that all their pets are loved and healthy since they are as much a part of their family as the people. Jessica knows her dad is just joking about giving Panda to a new owner!
Later, In the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep, Panda is awakened by a noise near the chicken coop. The other dogs are still sleeping, but she hears another sound from the coop, so she slowly walks down the porch stairs and sits as she quietly listens some more, not sure what’s happening. She thinks to herself it might just be a squirrel or Callie chasing a mouse in the barnyard, when suddenly she sees the red fox near the coop. Finally, Panda sees her natural foe.
Her heart pounds faster than it ever has before as she watches the fox as it tries to find a way into the coop. The chickens are still asleep as the vixen paces along the wire fence looking for a hole to crawl under or a crack in the fence to slide through. This fox is determined to find dinner for her kits, and this chicken coop has been a good source of food for a long time now.
Panda slowly walks toward the coop from the porch when she suddenly gets a whiff of the fox’s scent—the same smell she found at the fox’s den. Her heart pounds faster as she walks toward the coop, and her mind is at an all-time state of alertness. She now understands what General Jerry meant when he told her that her natural instincts would appear when she finally encounters her destiny to fight a fox.
Her terrier instincts make Panda continue toward the fox, yet she’s more scared than she’s ever been in her short life. As she slowly walks toward the coop, she sees the agitated fox pacing faster and faster along the fence that is keeping her from her food—those juicy chickens she and her kits love to eat.
Panda continues to stalk and slowly walks toward the coop as she watches the fox pacing. The closer she gets to the fox, the faster her heart pounds. Even though she’s scared to death, her natural instincts guide her toward her natural enemy. Finally, the fox sees Panda and screams like only a vixen can do—an incredibly loud shriek that wakens the entire Wellston household.
Panda is shocked by the vixen’s scream, but she stands her ground. The fox takes a long look at her new nemesis just before she runs back toward the lake. Just as quickly as it begins, the confrontation ends.
The loud scream awakens the other dogs who immediately bark in chorus. They run off the porch toward the chicken coop expecting to find evidence of the fox’s latest kill with feathers everywhere. Instead, they find a shaking Panda standing alone with no feathers in sight.
“You did it, Panda,” General Jerry yells. “You saved the chickens from the fox!”
“I’m proud of you,” Miss Belva says as she gives Panda a big lick.
Slowly ol’ Shep walks up to her and says, “I knew you could do it.”
“Good onya, little Sheila,” Dingo says in disbelief, not thinking a little terrier could scare off a full grown fox.
“No worries,” she says to Dingo, although in reality, she was very worried. All the other dogs laugh at Panda using Dingo’s Aussie slang. Maybe this event is a sign that Panda is finally growing up and earning her keep.
A few minutes later, Jessica and Papa Matt come running from the house to the coop, expecting to find more damage from the vixen. To their surprise, the chickens were all safe and accounted for.
“Well, I guess little Panda has finally earned her keep,” Papa Matt tells Jessica.
“I knew she could do it with a little training and encouragement,” she replies.
Panda seems overwhelmed by all this attention from her family and appreciatively licks Jessica’s face. She’s still shaking with fright from the encounter, knowing she actually did very little. Luckily the vixen didn’t realize Panda is still a puppy, or else she might have had a fight on her paws.
While this may be the first encounter Panda has with the red fox, but it won’t be her last.
The Real Encounter
By the next morning, Panda is the new hero of the barnyard. After a year of raids on the chicken coop, the red fox is finally thwarted by the new Jack Russell terrier. Panda has never felt so proud of herself even if she really didn’t do that much. She finally feels like a big dog instead of the little puppy.
Little Max sleeps inside and missed the commotion from the night before, but Jessica tells him about Panda’s feat. “You will never guess, Max! Panda actually chased the fox away from the coop.” When he finally goes outside to play the next morning with Panda, he jumps for joy.
“I’m so happy you weren’t hurt last night,” he says to his playmate. “What would I do if you were hurt by that fox?”
“Oh, Max, it was really nothing,” she replies shyly. “I didn’t do anything, actually. The fox saw me then screamed and ran off. That’s all.”
“But you’re the new hero of the barnyard,” he tells her.
“No, I’m not,” she replies somewhat embarrassed. “I didn’t do a thing.” She knows that the Great Rescue was a real adventure and Bandit was a real hero, unlike her brief encounter with the vixen.
“I betcha our tug-a-war was the reason you’re so strong, so let’s keep fighting,” Max tells Panda, as he runs to find the rope they play with. “I want to get strong just in case I meet up with that fox someday.”
Panda is happy to play-fight with Max in the barnyard, but she continues to worry that she’s no match for the bigger, faster, and smarter vixen she met last night.
After an uneventful day, the dogs settle down on the porch to sleep, but Panda’s nap is interrupted by nightmares of the encounter the night before. In her dream, she actually fights the fox in a heated battle. She barks as she sleeps dreaming of the fight as if it really happened until she finally wakes herself up.
As dawn approaches, Panda feels compelled to walk down to the lakeside by herself, still wondering about the vixen. She sneaks away from the others and quickly picks up the fox’s scent, still fresh from the night before. The closer she gets to the den, the stronger the scent becomes and the more excited Panda feels about her natural instinct. Every step she takes is slow and deliberate, listening intently to the sounds around the lake, not knowing if she’s being watched by the vixen.
She reaches the oak tree where the trail departs leading to the fox den. Because the scent is stronger, Panda knows the vixen has been on the trail shortly before, no doubt hunting for more food for her kits. As she walks down the path, Panda hears crickets chirping among the tall grass and cat-o’-nine-tails and bees buzzing from flower to flower searching for pollen. Other than the insects, it’s very quiet on the path. Panda is motionless and suddenly finds herself looking straight at the vixen standing only a few feet in front of her.
“Well, we meet again so soon,” the red fox says after she appears from the tall grass.
Panda is paralyzed with fear as she looks at the vixen in her path. She stares at the vixen’s golden slit eyes and trembles with fright, not knowing what to do next.
“What’s wrong—cat got your tongue?”
“No,” Panda says shyly. “I’m just really scared of you.”
“That’s nice to hear, little terrier, since we’re natural enemies and you’re standing between me and a good source of food for my kits.”
The red fox begins to circle Panda, sizing up her new prey. Panda is only half her size and not as quick as this fox, so it would take little time to mortally wound this small dog.
Panda is very scared, but her instinct to survive emerges as she begins to growl, knowing a battle will begin soon. Although she growls while play-fighting with Max, she knows this isn’t play; it is for real—life or death.
Panda suddenly lunges at the vixen with her teeth bared, hoping to latch onto her neck. But the fox is too quick and jumps away out of her reach.
“Oh, so you want to fight?” the vixen asks, knowing this young pup doesn’t stand a chance.
Panda begins barking and growling at the fox, wondering what to do next. “You may be bigger than me, but I’m not afraid of you. I’m a Jack Russell terrier and we’re bred to deal with the likes of you.”
The fox slowly circles the poor puppy, deciding her next move. She suddenly lunges at Panda and nips at her rear legs. Panda is quick enough to move away, just as she learned while play-fighting with Max.
“So, you think you can out-fox a fox?” the vixen says with laughter in her voice.
Again she lunges at Panda and sinks her teeth into Panda’s front left leg, drawing blood. Panda snaps back at the vixen and grabs hold of her right ear, making the fox let go.
It is the first time Panda has really fought an opponent when her life depended upon it, unlike the play-fighting she’s done in the past with her barnyard friends. The vixen is stunned from the bite and takes a step backward for a brief moment, which gives Panda a chance to escape.
Panda yelps in pain as she runs down the lakeside path back to the ranch. The vixen follows in stride, teasingly nipping at Panda’s heels, knowing it’s just a matter of time before she kills this small prey.
As Panda runs back toward the barnyard, she’s barking as loudly as she can, hoping someone hears her. Suddenly Dingo comes to her rescue. He heard her barking from the barnyard and knows Panda might be in trouble, so he followed her scent to the lakeside path. Just as Dingo keeps track of the cattle herd, he does the same for his barnyard mates.
Dingo sees the dangerous situation as Panda runs toward him with the fox on her heels. He charges down the path and jumps over Panda to attack the fox, knocking her down just before she tries to bite Panda again.
Dingo challenges the fox. “Give the bloke a fair go.”
“What does that mean?” the fox asks, confused by his slang.
“Why don’t you fight someone your own size, mate?”
“Why would I want to do that?” the vixen replies.
Dingo snarls and growls as he walks toward the vixen, giving her a chance to retreat before he takes her on again. Panda stands behind Dingo, trembling with fright from her brush with death.
“I’m giving you a chance to leave this puppy alone, so if you don’t rack off now, I have no problem breaking your leg with my jaws,” Dingo threatens the fox. Compared to the size of cattle, this fox is a small critter Dingo would have no problem tearing apart. Being the clever one, the vixen takes his advice and turns around, running down the path back to her den.
“Are you okay, little Sheila?” He examines Panda and notices the bite marks on her front leg, but other than that, she appears more frightened than hurt.
“Yes, I think I’m okay,” she says trembling still. “Can we go home now?”
“No problem, mate, but let this be a life lesson for you—there are wild critters out here that would just love to harm you. You’re lucky I heard you or else you’d be food for her kits right now.”
“Thanks, Dingo, I owe you a big one,” she says as she gives him a big lick, then they trot back home.
Back at the barnyard, Panda’s peril with the vixen makes the older dogs recall other encounters they’ve had with the fox, although none of the dogs has ever had such a close encounter that was life threatening. They agree that Dingo is the hero this time and that Panda has learned a much needed lesson, yet they also are concerned about the future.
“Maybe now she’ll take her training much more seriously,” Miss Belva tells General Jerry.
Panda is exhausted and limping from the bite wound. She walks up the porch steps and scratches on the door, hoping to be let in. Jessica hears her puppy whining at the door and when she sees blood on poor little Panda, she cries out, “What happened to you?”
Jessica picks up Panda and immediately takes her to the kitchen sink to wash the blood off her coat when she notices the bite wound on her front leg. She also notices some red hair around Panda’s mouth and knows this didn’t come from any of the barnyard playmates. Jessica can only guess that Panda had a scrape with a wild critter, possible the red fox, but she’ll never know for certain.
“Dad, come look at Panda,” Jessica calls out. Papa Matt comes into the kitchen to see the poor little dog licking her wound.
“Whaddaya think happened?” she asks her dad.
“I dunno, but she probably met her match with some critter,” Papa Matt replies as he looks her over. “I think she’ll be okay—there are no broken bones or deep lacerations. But let’s take her to the vet to make sure she’s okay. I hope there’s not a rabid fox we have to deal with.”
Panda wishes she could tell them about her fight with the vixen and how Dingo saved her, but she can’t. All she can do now is to heal and hope it never happens again.
When they arrive at the vet’s office, Panda starts to tremble again, remembering how scary the animal hospital is with all the strange smells and scents of other animals. She also remembers the shots that she was given there.
Papa Matt explains to Dr. Hodges, “I think this little dog had a run-in with a fox. We found a few puncture wounds and she doesn’t seem impaired, but I wanted to make sure she’s okay.”
“If she’s had her rabies shot, she’ll probably be okay.” He explains that sometimes a rabid fox will attack dogs for no good reason. “If she’s current on her vaccinations, you have nothing to worry about.”
“Also, if you’re afraid of her getting lost, I recommend this Global Positioning System. There are two types: one that owners can keep track of their dogs by way of miniaturized GPS receivers and mobile modems attached to the dog’s collars. “If the dog leaves the yard, you’ll get a call on your cell phone,” Dr. Hodges explains.
“The other method is an implanted microchip transponder under her skin that has been used for years. The tag includes a glass-encased microchip with a unique identification number that cannot be altered but can be read by a low-frequency radio scanner. The number is then matched to a database to find the pet’s owner.”
“Wow, high-tech to watch over your dog! What a great idea,” Matt replies. Jessica is happy to learn that if Panda strays away or is stolen, she can be located immediately.
“Can we do it, dad?” she asks.
“You’re darn right we can,” he replies. “Is there any way we can put one on Jessica too, just in case?” While it may seem funny, maybe it’s not a bad idea knowing that she’s prone to wander in the woods alone just like her dog.
“What about the other dogs?” Jessica asks her dad.
“Let’s just do this for Panda today; the others are old enough to know their way around, and she’s the only one who tends to wander. We’ll think about it, okay?”
A few weeks later Panda is playing tug-a-war with Max in the barnyard again, good as new from her scrape with the vixen. This time as they play-fight, she pulls harder than before, knowing she needs to get stronger if she ever encounters the red fox again. Playing with Max is fun, but fighting with a fox is serious business and she knows it’s her destiny.
Panda feels the growing urge to be a fox hunter as she matures. Since her run-in with the vixen, the chicken coop raids have stopped, but there’s no promise it won’t happen again as long as the fox den remains in the South Cove and needs to feed her kits. With that in mind, Panda decides to scout the area again, which turns out to be a big mistake.
“Come on, Max, let’s take a walk and scout the South Cove,” she says.
“I dunno,” he replies, “I’ve never been that far from home before without Jessica.”
“Don’t worry, you’re with me.” Max looks at her with a quizzical stare, not knowing if it’s reassuring or not, but he gamely follows anyway.
With Max at her side, Panda walks along the lakeside path to the big oak tree where the path forks—one branch follows the lake back around toward ol’ Shep’s former home while the other branch continues into the South Cove toward the fox den. Panda knows she’s not ready to take on the vixen, so she continues along the path around the lake into an area that is totally new to her.
“Where are you going, Panda?” Max asks her, becoming a little worried since he’s never gone this far from the barnyard.
“I’m just exploring the area in case I need to chase the fox.”
“Well, I’m going back to the barnyard,” he replies. “This reminds me of when we rescued Ol’ Shep, and besides, Jessica may be worried about me.” In reality, he’s the one that’s worried.
“Okay,” she says, “I’ll be home in a while after I’m done exploring.” She continues down the lakeside path, enjoying the scenery and the scents along the way.
She reaches the former home of Shep where she sees some old debris in the junkyard. Most of the junk cars have been hauled away. Across the lake she sees the Golden Joy Ranch. She also sees King Luke, ducks and other water fowl that live on the lake. She’s never been this far from her home and is both proud and a little afraid being so far away.
As she continues to walk around the lake scouting the area, suddenly a mob of wild dogs comes up from behind her, barking as they charge toward her. From their growling, she knows they’re not friendly, so she takes off running toward a big ranch house nearby, hoping to find a place to hide.
The mob of dogs gains ground on her as she heads toward the house. Being so small, she can’t outrun the pack, so she ducks under an old truck parked in the yard. The mob surrounds the truck, barking hysterically at Panda, but they’re unable to crawl under it to get her. Panda’s smart enough to lie under the truck, hoping they will go away as they continue to bark and bark. She barks back at them, but it certainly doesn’t scare them away.
“Listen to her little bark,” the mob leader says.
“Oh, please don’t bark at us, we’re so scared,” another one says sarcastically. The third dog in this mob is trying to crawl under the truck to bite Panda, but he’s just too big and can’t get under.
In the distance, General Jerry hears the barking noise across the lake. Since his hearing is not as good as it once was, he asks Dingo and Miss Belva if they hear it too.
“What’s that noise across the lake?” he asks.
“Sounds like the mob again chasing down another poor bloke,” Dingo replies. More than once they’ve heard this mob chasing prey to kill. This mob consists of runaways from bad homes and a guard dog that got loose from an old car junkyard.
“Do you hear that one bark—the high-pitched one?” Miss Belva asks. “If I’m not mistaken, it sounds a lot like Panda.” She looks around the barnyard to see if Panda is still here.
“Where’s Panda?” she yells out. “Are you here, Panda?”
“She’s long gone,” Callie says from her perch in the tree. “She walked toward the lake about an hour ago.”
Just then Max comes into the barnyard, worried about Panda too. “I left her at the big oak tree. She said she was scouting the area on the other side of the lake, but I think she’s in big trouble now.”
General Jerry says, “It’s time to find out what that mob is up to. Dingo and Shep come with me and Miss Belva you stay here with Max—if Panda shows up, you let us know by signaling us with your beautiful bay.”
“Why thank you, General, and I certainly will.”
The three dogs go running to the lake and follow the old Indian path around the lakeside in the direction of the South Cove, following Panda’s scent. When they reach the oak tree where the path forks, they encounter King Luke and his cygnets enjoying a tasty morsel of grass growing along the shoreline.
“Have you seen Panda?” the General asks the King.
“I sure have, she’s down at Mrs. Russell’s. I heard her crying out after the mob chased her there.”
“Thanks, King, I hope we’re not too late,” the General replies as they run off down the path.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Russell stands in her kitchen baking bread. After hearing the barking commotion in her backyard, she sees the mob, wipes her hands on her apron, and goes outside to find this mob of hysterical dogs.
“Get out of here,” she yells at the mob. She reaches for an old broom and runs at the pack, swinging and yelling at them, “Go on you bad dogs, get off my property. You’re the ones who killed my favorite cat!”
Instead of running away, the mob stands its ground, growling at her. Finally she grabs her water hose and sprays them until they run off. “Bad dogs, no good for nuthin’,” she says to herself.
She wonders why they were barking near her husband’s old truck and looks around until finally she sees little Panda hiding underneath.
“Come on out, you little dear,” she says in a soothing voice. Panda slowly crawls from underneath the truck, trembling with fear. Mrs. Russell reminds Panda of Mary Beth with her comforting voice, so she willingly goes to her.
Mrs. Russell picks her up and consoles Panda, “You poor dear, you’re shaking like a leaf. Let me take you indoors and calm you down.”
Mrs. Russell walks into her kitchen with Panda in her arms. Inside, Panda notices she has four big long-hair cats that are perched on her table and countertops, all wondering about the commotion outside. When they see Panda, they run out of the kitchen into the living room to hide. Since the Russells aren’t dog people, their cats are unaccustomed to this odd-looking Panda creature.
“Let me see if you have a name tag on your collar,” she says to Panda. Unfortunately, Panda didn’t have a tag. Hers recently got torn off when she was digging for chipmunks under a thick azalea bush.
Mrs. Russell notices there’s no tag on Panda’s collar, so she says, “We’ll have to phone the animal control officer to pick you up. Maybe they can find out where you live. In the meantime, let me get you some food and water.”
Little did Panda know that this turn of events would lead to the biggest peril of her life.
The mob of dogs is wet and mad after Mrs. Russell sprayed them with her water hose. They are also still very hungry and are disappointed at losing the meal that Panda would have supplied. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve eaten a dog, a cat or small livestock from the local ranches. These are bad dogs that are mean and hungry, which makes them only madder.
Suddenly the mob encounters the Wellston clan of General Jerry, Shep and Dingo who are running along the lakeside path looking for Panda.
They stop in their tracks when they come upon the mob, growling to show their suspicion. “What are you doing here?” the General asks the mob.
“None of your business,” the leader replies.
“What was that barking all about?”
“Like I said, it’s none of your business.”
“Well, mate, I think it is our business,” Dingo tells him. “We’re looking for our lost puppy, a little Sheila with big brown eyes, and we heard her voice a few minutes ago coming from over here.”
“You must be daft,” the junkyard dog says. “We ain’t seen nuthin’ like a puppy.”
The three dogs in the mob all start laughing.
Ol’ Shep knows they’re lying and they wouldn’t tell the truth anyway.
“I’ve lived along this lake all my life, and I remember you bad dogs. Just what are you doing back here anyway, other than causing trouble?”
“We’re just taking a little walk around the lake to keep in shape.”
“Yeah, that’s it, we’re health nuts and we’re gonna run in the next ‘Dawg Jawg’,” his sidekick says.
“Enough of this,” the General tells them. “You’re trespassing and don’t belong here. This is our territory so I suggest you leave and never come back.”
“And just who’s gonna make us leave? You and that old dog?” he says pointing to Shep. “I don’t think so.”
They underestimate Shep’s strength and simply think he’s too old to fight. Dingo walks over to the mob leader and says, “You don’t want to mess with us, bushranger. We’re on a mission and you’re in our way, so buzz off now or else.”
“Or else what?” the mob leader asks. “I don’t think you and these two old geezers should be telling us what to do.”
Just then Dingo jumps on the mob leader, knocking him to the ground. Never had the mob leader been hit by such a powerful blow before. As Dingo stands over him, growling and biting at him, the other two mob dogs jump on Dingo, knocking him to the ground too.
General Jerry and ol’ Shep, although a step slower than in their prime, jump into the fray, pulling the two mob dogs off Dingo. Shep can bite with over 1,000 pounds of strength and his first bite on the forepaw of one mobster easily slashes his skin.
The other mobster dog is fighting with General Jerry, biting at his mane. Since the General is taller than the mobster, he’s able to withstand the attack. Finally, ol’ Shep comes over to help and takes a good bite out of the mobster’s hind leg, sending him running off.
Dingo is now in battle with the mob leader who’s surrounded by the General and Shep.
“Holy dooley, whacker, now it’s just you and me,” he says. “Are you ready for a fair fight or do you need your mates?”
“All I need is…” he says as he leaps onto Dingo, trying to grab his throat.
Compared to fighting with unruly cattle, this mobster is a small problem for Dingo, a 50-pound mountain of muscle. With bad dogs, particularly males, the Australian Cattle Dog is aggressive and fearless. And with Panda’s life in jeopardy, this mobster is no match for an angry blue heeler with strong jaws and a determined attitude.
General Jerry and ol’ Shep just watch as Dingo takes a few bites out of the mobster’s hide. Listening to him yelp is music to their ears—every dog loves a good fight, especially when their side is winning.
Dingo finally knocks the mobster to the ground and stands on top of him victoriously. “Have you had enough, bloke, or do you want some more?”
The mobster lies on his back, knowing he’s defeated. Finally he yields and says, “Okay, okay, I’ve had enough.”
“Let me give you a warning: this is our lake and our territory. If we ever catch you or your mob around here again, I won’t be so kind. Do you understand me, mate? Or do you have a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock?”
“Yeah, I think so,” says the mob leader, obviously confused by the Aussie slang.
Dingo backs away from the defeated mobster to allow him to stand up again.
“No worries then,” Dingo says. “Now get up, shove off, and don’t look back or I’ll give you the what for.”
The mob leader stands up and shakes the dirt off his coat. He’s not quite sure what Dingo means, but he knows it’s not an invitation for tea.
“If you’re still interested, the pup you’re looking for is at that farmhouse up yonder, hiding under the truck.”
“Thanks, mate; you should have told us that earlier and you wouldn’t be limping now.”
The mobster takes a final look at Dingo as he limps away with his tail between his legs down the lakeside path. Sometimes humility is a hard lesson to learn.
“Let’s check out that farmhouse,” says the General.
Off the three victors run to the Russell farm, hoping to find their lost puppy. When they get there, they find nothing under the pickup truck, wondering if they were misled by the mob leader.
They can smell Panda’s scent, but they don’t see her anywhere. The three search around the farm house, hoping she leaves a trail, but they lose the trail immediately. Little did they know there is no trail since Mrs. Russell picked Panda up into her arms.
“Let me call for her,” the General tells his comrades. He lets out a loud bark, but nothing comes back from Panda. Dingo gives out a shout too, but nothing happens.
“Too bad we don’t have Miss Belva hear to call with her bay,” the General says.
Inside the farmhouse, Panda hears them barking and recognizes her friends’ voices. She begins barking too, but Mrs. Russell thinks these dogs are more members of the mob. She grabs her broom again and rushes outside to scare them off.
“Go on, you bad dogs.” She turns on the hose again to spray them down. She continues to spray them, yelling at them to leave her property. The three rescuers back off, knowing they can’t get past this mad woman with the water hose.
“We’re not going to be able to get Panda out of that house without Papa Matt’s help,” the General says. “At least we know where Panda is, so let’s go back and get Papa Matt or Jessica.”
Little do they realize that Panda’s plight is far from over.
Tom, the new animal control officer, comes to Mrs. Russell’s home to pick up this stray dog, Panda. Tom has worked for animal control as the patrolman for the past few months since Sgt. Murphy was promoted to the rank of detective and moved to investigation duty, so he is unfamiliar with Panda and the Wellston clan of dogs.
“I found her under my truck. She was being chased by that mob of wild dogs that I had to spray with my hose to get them to back off. I do wish you’d get those dogs before they do more damage around here,” Mrs. Russell tells him.
Tom listens to her, but doesn’t seem really interested in helping with the wild dogs. “I’ll try, but I’m awfully busy since I’m the only one animal control working now that Sgt. Murphy has moved to investigations,” he explains to her as his small black eyes dart back and forth.
“Let me take this little one back to the shelter and maybe its owner will call in,” he tells her. Mrs. Russell hands Panda to him, but Panda begins to growl and bark at him. She can tell he isn’t to be trusted—dogs have a sense about people and know instinctively whether or not they’re good people. Panda definitely feels Tom is not a good person.
“Well, she doesn’t seem to like you,” Mrs. Russells says. “Maybe I should keep her with me until her owners call, if they do. I might just keep her for myself since she’s so cute.”
“No, you can’t do that because she doesn’t belong to you,” Tom tells her emphatically. “It’s my job to take in lost dogs, so just give her to me.”
Panda growls louder and snaps at Tom when he reaches out to get her from Mrs. Russell. “Maybe she’s still scared,” he tells her. “I’ll just put her in the cage in my truck until she calms down.” He grabs Panda from Mrs. Russell and tosses her into the cage. Panda is now terrified after being taken from Mrs. Russell’s warm and caring arms to being thrown into a steel cage filled with the smell of other dogs.
Mrs. Russell is stunned by Tom’s callous treatment of Panda. As Tom gets back into his truck, she tells him, “Remember, if no one claims her, I will.” He nods his head, not really listening to her offer because he has a different plan for Panda.
As he drives off, Mrs. Russell wonders if Tom runs a shelter or a pet prison since he seems so indifferent toward Panda. Just like the puppy, Mrs. Russell has a bad feeling about that man.
When Tom reaches the animal control shelter, he tries to take Panda with his hands, but she’s terrible frightened and bites at him. Rather than talking nicely with her to calm her fears, he grabs his choke rope and slips it over her neck to pull her out of the cage. Panda has never been choked so badly before and this only increases her fear—she now is terrified.
Tom drags her into a kennel that contains other large dogs that are also afraid of him since he treated them the same way—like prisoners in jail. Panda is the smallest and youngest of all the dog prisoners. Instead of a nice family of dogs that she has back at the Wellston ranch, now she’s caged with stray dogs who are also terrified.
“Come here little girl and lie by me,” says one nice old Pit Bull terrier. “My name is Jake and I’ll take care of you.”
The other dogs aren’t so friendly and they’re all scared too, so Panda walks over to Jake and lies beside him. He reminds her of General Jerry, so she feels comfortable with him.
Back at the Golden Joy Ranch, they’re looking for her everywhere, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.
“Maybe the fox finally got her,” Max says.
“I told her not to run off,” Miss Belva says.
“I miss her bad,” little Max says with tears in his eyes. “She is my best friend.”
“Don’t give up hope yet,” she warns. “She may just be lost—you know how she likes to wander off. Don’t give up hope until we’re positive one way or another.”
Jessica is beside herself with worry too, so she asks her dad what to do. “Dad, I haven’t seen Panda all day, and I think she may be lost.” Sometimes she doesn’t see Panda since the dogs are often out in the fields and not in the barnyard, but after this length of time, Jessica is seriously worried, especially when Panda missed her morning meal, something she’s never done before.
“And to make matters worse, she lost her name tag,” Jessica admits. “I was planning on giving her a new one for her birthday.”
Papa Matt knows his daughter is upset by her missing pet, so he tells her, “I’ll give Sgt. Murphy a call down at the shelter. Maybe he has her there.”
When Matt phones the shelter, Tom answers the phone.
“Is Sgt. Murphy there?” Matt asks.
“No,” Tom replies, “he doesn’t work here anymore. He’s in the investigation department now.”
“Well, that’s too bad; maybe you can help me instead. Our Jack Russell terrier has run off. She’s about one year old and her name is Panda. She has a collar, but no name tag. She has a microchip you can scan. She also has distinctive markings—brown circles around each eye and two spots on her back near her tail.”
“Nope, haven’t seen anything like that,” Tom says. “But if I do, I’ll be sure to call you.”
Matt doesn’t know for sure that Tom is lying to him, but he doesn’t feel good about him, that’s for sure. His voice is just too unconvincing.
Papa Matt turns to Jessica and says, “He says Panda’s not there, but something doesn’t feel right either. If we don’t find her soon, we’ll go to the shelter and have a look and let them do a radio scan to locate her. I’m glad we got the chip for her.”
After talking with Matt, Tom immediately goes to the kennel where Panda’s kept. He takes both her and Jake with him to his truck. Panda is excited, thinking she’s going home to her ranch, but when the truck finally stops, she realizes she’s not home but somewhere else—at Tom’s house.
He grabs Panda and takes her into his house, but he keeps Jake in the cage in his truck.
“Here’s a puppy for y’all,” Tom tells his wife and daughter, a little 4-year old named Leanna. When he hands Panda to her, Panda barks and snaps at her, making Leanna cry.
Panda knows this isn’t her home and this little girl isn’t Jessica. She’s still trembling from her ordeal and doesn’t feel comfortable at all in Tom’s house. She still senses a very bad feeling about him.
Tom grabs Panda from his daughter, madder than a hornet, and screams, “If you don’t want to be nice, then I know what to do with you.” He walks out to his backyard shed and throws Panda into the confines of a cold, steel cage along with Jake.
“I’ve got plans for both of you,” he says in a mean way. “You both stay put here until tonight.” He then returns to the animal control shelter after his lunchtime break.
“Why are we here?” Panda asks Jake.
“I don’t know, but something isn’t right. I’m afraid we’re gonna find out soon,” Jakes replies.
Back at the ranch, the family begins to search for Panda. “Mom, can I ride my bike around the lake and ask people if they’ve seen her?”
“Yes, but only go to the houses on the lake; don’t venture out across the road over there,” Mary Beth replies.
Finally Jessica arrives at Mrs. Russell’s farmhouse. Mrs. Russell is happy to see Jessica again, knowing how much she’s grown over the years. She and her husband are retired teachers who love kids and certainly love pets, so she’s happy to help. After Jessica describes Panda, Mrs. Russell immediately knows it’s the little dog she found beneath her truck.
“I know this puppy, Jessica. I found her earlier today hiding under my truck when a pack of wild dogs were chasing her.”
“Really?” Jessica asks.
“Of course, I wouldn’t joke about anything as serious as this.”
“Do you still have her?” Jessica asks hoping Panda is nearby.
“No, I phoned the animal control officer who took her to the shelter,” she explains. “I’m certain he must still have her.”
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Russell,” Jessica says. “That’s weird, though, because we just called the shelter and were told they hadn’t picked up a dog today. I’m going home to tell my mom and dad so we can go get her.”
“Oh, yes, the officer was here, and I can tell you that your Panda didn’t like that man at all. I feel terrible about this! If only I’d known she was yours……”
“That’s okay. After all, you didn’t know.” Jessica rides her bike home as fast as she can. She’s so excited about finding her puppy that she swears she’ll never let Panda outside without a tag again.
“Dad, mom, Panda was found by Mrs. Russell, but she’s at the shelter now,” Jessica yells as she runs into her house.
“That’s strange; she must’ve arrived right after we called. I wonder why they didn’t call us back,” her mom says. “Your dad is still out looking for her, so let’s get him and go pick up Panda.”
The three of them jump into the truck to fetch Panda, excited that this drama of their lost pet will soon be over.
“Jessica, let this be a lesson to you—even though Panda has the GPS chip, she needs a name tag, too. This wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” he warns her.
“I know. I should’ve gotten one the other day at the store. They have one of those machines that makes the tags.”
“Even Callie needs one too,” her mom tells her. “You just never know when they might run off or get lost.”
Jessica knows they’re both right and makes a promise to herself that as long as she has pets, they will wear name tags.
When they arrive at the animal control shelter, Jessica runs into the office as fast as she can where she is met by Tom. “I’ve come to get my Panda.”
“What kind of dog are you talking about?” he asks.
“A little, short-legged Jack Russell terrier with brown circles over each eye and two spots near her tail.”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have any Jack Russells here now,” he replies.
Just then Papa Matt and her mom walk into the office to overhear the bad news.
“But Mrs. Russell told us she found her and gave her to you,” Matt says.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have any Jack Russells now,” he again says. “Let me show you the ones we have anyway in case you want to adopt another.”
Jessica is in tears now, broken hearted that her Panda isn’t there like she expected. “But Mrs. Russell said she gave Panda to you.”
Tom just shrugs his shoulders, playing dumb and hoping they believe him. “Go look for yourselves and see that there’s no terrier here now.”
Matt is very suspicious now that something’s fishy here, so he asks Tom, “Check the radio scanner. My dog has a GPS chip, and we can locate her that way.”
“Oh, uhh….the radio’s not working today. My supervisor is going to check it out this afternoon.”
“Where’s Sgt. Murphy? I’d like to talk with him,” Matt demands.
“He’s a detective working over at the police department now.”
“Okay,” Matt says, “let’s go pay him a little visit.”
Upon arriving at the police department, Matt is more suspicious than ever about Tom. Not only was it highly unusual for Mrs. Russell to tell Jessica she gave Panda to him, but for him to deny it made him very wary of this young man.
Matt explains to Detective Murphy the entire story, which doesn’t surprise him. “To be truthful, ever since I left the shelter, we’ve had a lot of complaints about Tom—strange things like animals turning up missing, volunteers being turned away, pets being destroyed after only a few days, and the general negative attitude down there now.”
Matt says, “Panda has a GPS implant, so if you have a receiver, we can locate her if she’s still nearby.”
“Of course we do,” the detective says. “I’ll go now and get it. Do you know the frequency band?”
“I sure do,” Matt replies.
Detective Murphy returns with the receiver and plots the frequency. Suddenly a small beep appears on the receiver, locating Panda.
Jessica’s and Matt’s eye are wide open, looking at the receiver. “Does this tell you exactly where she is?”
“It sure does, but before we go crashing down doors, let’s develop a plan that might answer a few questions about Tom that I’ve suspected for a long time.”
Later that night Tom drives out into the county to an old farmhouse. In the back of his pickup truck are Panda and Jake in the cage. When he arrives at the farm, he drives behind the large main white house to the rear buildings that are all painted black as camouflage under the darkness in the pine tree grove. Dozens of cars and trucks are also parked behind the main house with one goal in mind—to gamble on illegal dog fights.
Panda and Jake can hear the dogs barking and snarling while people cheer. From the sounds, they know this is an evil place… not a playground. Tom meets a man beside his truck who says, “What did you bring me this time?”
“I got two—one is a pit bull and the other is a Jack Russell terrier.”
The old man looks into the cage to see them, and then laughs. “I can use the pit, but I don’t know about the Jack Russell. It seems too small and rather young to stand a chance in the pit. But here’s a hundred dollars for the pit. If we need the Jack Russell, I’ll give you another bill.”
Tom has supplied stray dogs to fight seasoned fighters in the pit ever since he got his job. In fact, Tom wanted the job at the animal shelter for exactly this purpose since he can make a lot more money supplying dogs than working at a legitimate job.
“Ah, come on,” Tom pleads. “That little dog is a real fighter and it could be fun to watch it against the other fighters. Plus, I’ll let you have her for only half price.”
“Okay, fine. But bring them both into the shed until we need them.”
Tom gets his catch pole from the truck—a six-foot long metal pole with a wire snare at the end that loops over the head onto the neck of uncooperative dogs. He guides the snare over Jake’s head and pulls the snare until Jake is choking badly. He then pulls Jake from the cage and drags him onto the ground to take to the fighting ring. Panda watches in horror as her friend is dragged away to an unknown fate.
Dog fighting is a sadistic blood sport in which two dogs that are bred, conditioned, and trained to fight, are placed in a pit, a small arena enclosed by plywood walls with carpet on the ground for better traction, to fight each other for the spectators’ entertainment and gambling. Fights average nearly an hour in length and often last more than two hours. Dog fights end when one of the dogs will not or cannot continue. Often owners kill the losing dogs because they are too injured to fight again.
Tom supplies opponents from the animal control shelter for the seasoned pit bulls fighters. No one suspects anything’s wrong and if asked about the high kill rate at the shelter, Tom just shrugs his shoulders and says they were sick with distemper. Since no one cares about these stray dogs, no one is suspicious about his criminal behavior.
The injuries inflicted in dog fights are often severe, even fatal. The pit bull terriers used in the majority of these fights are unrelenting in their attempts to overcome their opponents. With their extremely powerful jaws, they are able to inflict severe bruising, deep puncture wounds and broken bones on their foes.
Although Jake is a pit bull, he is not from the fighting line. Many pit bulls are normal, friendly house pets too, but it doesn’t matter to Tom or the people in the crowd who bet on these poor animals. If Jake’s a pit bull, he’s expected to fight.
Tom drags Jake into the pit with his catch pole still around his neck. On the other side of the pit is a fighter twice his size and mean as a snake. Jake is terrified by the crowd noise, the pit itself, and the angry dog ready to fight him. Suddenly a whistle blows and the handlers release the dogs.
The big pit runs at Jake and knocks him down, then grabs onto the nap of his neck, tossing him around like a rag doll. Jake is shocked by this attack, and tries to fight back, but he can’t get a hold of his opponent’s neck, so he grabs his front leg and clamps down with all his might.
This doesn’t stop the pit bull from attacking Jake—he continues to hold onto his neck as he slings him back and forth. Jake yelps in pain as he is hurled around the pit ring. Within just a few minutes, Jake is unconscious and helpless.
The crowd boos at his poor performance, not realizing Jake’s a family pet, not a fighter skilled in the ways of the ring. The owner of the winning dog puts his leash back on and takes his dog and winner’s prize money with him. Tom drags Jake from the ring with the catch pole, places him in a wheelbarrow, and takes him back to his truck.
Panda hears the commotion from the pit area and wonders why all the shouting. After the noise ends, she sees Tom bringing Jake back to the truck. Although he’s badly wounded, he’s still alive. “Jake, what happened to you?” Panda asks her injured friend. He raises his head slowly, obviously in a lot of pain. He’s bloody with bite marks around him face and neck. He can’t stand and can barely talk.
“Don’t go in there, it’s a killing ring,” he warns her. He drops his head as he falls back into unconsciousness.
“It’s your turn, little one,” Tom tells her. He reaches again for his catch pole to slip the snare around her neck. She’s frightened as she barks and growls at him, knowing her fate will be the same as Jake’s.
Not all the fighters are big dogs as other animals are often sacrificed as well. Some owners train their dogs for fights using smaller animals such as cats, rabbits or small dogs. These “bait” animals are often stolen pets or animals obtained through “free to good home” advertisements.
Tom and the fight promoter think it will be fun to watch Panda fight another small pit bull. Tom doesn’t care as long as he gets his fee for supplying the bait for the fight.
Panda is dragged into the pit area just as Jake was. She can smell the blood from earlier bouts and is terrified. On the other side of the ring, a half-grown pit bull is placed in the ring, ready to fight. This is not a pet like Max or Panda, this is a pit bull bred and raised to fight for its life or kill its opponent. Often pit bull puppies that are not aggressive in their litter are put to death by their owners.
Panda cowers in the ring, expecting to be attacked and killed at any moment. The crowd jeers and laughs, showing no sympathy for this little dog. “Kill the coward,” someone yells in the crowd. These people are insensitive to animal suffering; they are enthusiastic for violence, and many children in the crowd are taught to be uncaring for these exploited animals.
“Tear her apart, Spike,” the owner yells at his fighting dog, “I’ve got a lot of money riding on this fight.”
“Look at that measly little pup! She’ll be dead in a minute,” another spectator yells out. “Kill her, Spike!” Everyone knows that Panda is no match for Spike, a young Pit Bull bred to be a killer. She is simply bait to train Spike how to fight.
Just before the referee blows his whistle to begin the fight, suddenly and unexpectedly a loud siren is heard outside the pit area. Policemen crash through the door with guns in their hands, ready for trouble. Detective Murphy leads the charge and orders, “Everyone freeze! You’re all under arrest.”
Police and deputy sheriffs block the doors and scuffle with a few undesirables trying to flee. None can escape because the exit to the road is blocked by police cars and the paddy wagon. The only way out is with handcuffs in police cars.
Detective Murphy looks in the crowd for one person in particular to arrest. He finally sees Tom hiding behind a row of seats in the back of the room. He walks up to him and says, “You’re under arrest, Tom. Turn around and put your hands behind your back,” as he handcuffs him.
When Tom turns around again facing the detective before he’s led off, Detective Murphy notices Tom is wearing his work shirt that has the shelter’s logo on his shirt pocket. He grabs the pocket and rips it off Tom’s shirt.
“You’re not fit to wear this anymore,” he says in disgust. “Take this one to the paddy wagon and book him,” he tells another deputy sheriff.
While the police round up other spectators and dogs, Detective Murphy runs into the pit for poor Panda, still cowering and frightened to death. She snarls at him, not realizing he’s there to rescue her. As much as he wants to help her, she’s too afraid to let any stranger handle her now.
“Matt, I think we need you over here,” he calls out to Papa Matt.
Matt wads through the crowded room. He’s wearing a deputy’s coat so he’s not mistaken for a gambler. When he gets to the pit, he notices his poor dog cowering and scared to death.
“Come to Papa,” he tells Panda. She recognizes his voice and runs to him, jumping into his arms. She’s still trembling from her near-death experience and she’s happier to see him than ever. She clings to him as much as he clings to her.
“I didn’t know dog fighting existed around here,” Matt tells Detective Murphy.
“It’s everywhere, unfortunately. As long as people want to bet, there will be dog fighting, especially in the county where small remote farms like this exist,” he explains. “And as long as guys like Tom supply victims for these creepy pit bulls to kill, there will always be this sadistic show for the low-lifes who come here for cheap thrills.”
“At least there’s now one less illegal dog fighting ring busted,” Papa Matt replies. He looks at Panda who’s still clinging to him like glue. “Let’s go home,” he tells her. “I’m sure Jessica and Mary Beth want to see you home again.”
When they arrive back at the Golden Joy Ranch, Jessica comes running out of the house to meet them in the driveway. In her hand is a new collar with a name tag, and as soon as Papa Matt hands Panda to her, she puts on the new collar.
“This is a mistake I’ll never make again,” she tells her dad and Panda.
After a long day of adventure and peril, Panda is glad to be home again. She walks to her bowl of water, takes a drink, and then crashes in her dog bed exhausted. It’s certainly a day she’ll never forget. Nor will Jessica, Matt or Mary Beth.
Panda’s return to the Golden Joy Ranch is a celebration for the barnyard animals unlike anything they have ever done before. Panda retells her story to each dog, over and over again, and they all eagerly listen. The more she speaks, the more she embellishes the danger when she recounts the dog mob and the dog fight, although she also admitted she was scared to death both times. The only sad part of her story is that Jake had to be put to sleep because he was so badly injured from injuries in the dog fight.
“They don’t make many days like this in middle Georgia,” Papa Matt says to his wife, Mary Beth, as they sit in their rocking chairs on the porch. The sun is setting in the western sky, the heat and humidity from the summer has broken in the month of October as the evening autumn air is chilly but not cold yet. Panda lies in his lap as he gently pets her and rocks, watching the birds visit the feeder for a bit of supper.
Mary Beth sits next to him with General Jerry and ol’ Shep on each side of her rocker. In their nightly ritual, each of these big dogs love to have their heads petted and their ears rubbed by her as they just sit alongside her. As long as she pets them, they sit still, but when she stops, they use their noses to encourage her to start again.
“I don’t know why you say that since there are a lot of days when the weather is great,” she replies. “Other than the dog days of summer, most evenings in Georgia are nice.”
Jessica agrees with her mom as she sits on the porch with Max in her lap and Miss Belva lying beside her sound asleep. “I love listening to the insects and frogs making their music,” she says. “Only in the country can you hear the symphony of nature, and the wind chimes make it a great symphony.”
“Look at Panda,” Matt tells Mary Beth and Jessica. Panda is lying on her back with all four feet pointed upward as she snores—obviously totally content. He rubs her stomach as she sleeps.
“She likes me best,” Papa Matt kids his wife and daughter. No doubt Panda is in hog heaven as she sleeps in his lap.
Just as the sun sets, the chickadees become active, flying from branch to branch in the row of red tips surrounding their barnyard, chirping as they play among themselves. An occasional bat flies by seeking a meal of insects. And, of course, Callie entertains everyone by walking around the porch, rubbing herself on their legs, seeking a lap to lie on. Indeed, life on the Golden Joy Ranch is often lovely and relaxing, in between the occasional adventure, that is.
After a day or two, Panda has recuperated and is play-fighting with Max again in the barnyard doing their tug-a-war.
General Jerry is happy his little puppy is back home safe, but he still wonders about the wild dog mob that they fought on the lakeside path. He knows they’re no good for nuthin’ and worries that no one in his clan is safe until that pack is gone.
“Dingo, what should we do about that mob?” he asks.
“I’ve been thinking about that, mate,” he replies. “As long as those mongrels are out there, nothing is safe, including the livestock.”
Ol’ Shep makes a suggestion, “I can work the furrow to protect the barnyard.” One trait of Shepards is their instinct to patrol a boundary all day and restrict the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area. It’s this instinct that has made the breed superb guard dogs, protecting their flock or guarding an area.
“That’s a good idea, Shep, but we might set a trap for them if we are to get rid of them once and for all,” General Jerry adds.
“Fire away, mate.” Dingo asks. “What do you have in mind?”
“I dunno yet, but let me think about it.”
He turns to Callie who’s listening from her normal spot on the tree limb above, “Callie, do you have any ideas how to trap this mob?”
“That shouldn’t be so difficult considering how dumb most dogs are,” she says. “Give me some time and I’ll come up with something, General.”
Back in the ranch house, Papa Matt is concerned about the problem at the animal shelter. The fact that Tom had broken his oath and duty to protect homeless dogs was upsetting to him.
“I wonder how many family pets were killed by Tom,” he says to Mary Beth. “There’s no telling how many pets he sold to be bait for those killer pit bulls. And the fact that it happened without anyone knowing is frightening. That isn’t my idea of an animal shelter—it sounds more like a pet purgatory.”
Jessica doesn’t want to hear about how close Panda was to death because Tom was an evil man and corrupt officer. If Panda didn’t have the microchip under her skin, she’d be dead today. It makes her shiver with fear just to think how close they were to losing Panda.
“I also learned from Detective Murphy that it really isn’t a shelter like we think it should be. It’s actually an animal control facility whose mission isn’t to shelter lost pets until they find the owners like we thought. He told me according to state law, they only have to keep a dog or cat four days before it can be put to sleep.” He shakes his head in disgusts, knowing that isn’t enough time for owners to find their lost pets.
Jessica and Mary Beth are stunned to learn how quickly lost pets can be euthanized at the animal control facility. If they hadn’t acted so quickly when Panda was lost, she might be dead according to his account, either from euthanasia or from the dog fights.
“As long as cops like Tom run that place, it will be a pet prison instead of a true animal shelter run by people from a nurturing humane society,” Matt says. “We’ve got to talk with the mayor about this before more animals are killed by this bad policy.”
A few days later Jessica notices that Panda is not playing with Max like she usually does. Instead of her playful fighting, she’s listless and is vomiting. The biggest sign that Panda is ill is when she stopped eating and developed a bloody, foul-smelling, liquid stool.
“Dad, something’s wrong with Panda,” Jessica tells him very worried. “Can we take her to the vet now?”
“It’s Sunday and his office is closed,” Papa Matt explains. “We’ll do it tomorrow if she’s still sick.”
At sunset when all the dogs go to their usual sleeping areas around the porch, Jessica notices that Panda is missing again. Her first thought is she’s run off, but knowing how lethargic she is, that can’t be true. She looks around the barnyard where Panda plays, but still can’t find her. Finally she tells her dad that Panda is missing.
Papa Matt knows that when dogs are dying, they often wander off to die alone. He doesn’t tell Jessica that for fear she might freak out, so he says, “Let’s go look again before it gets dark and cold.”
Along with the dogs and Mary Beth helping, Matt and Jessica search the barnyard—they look around the barn, under the porch, in the stockyard, inside the stalls, and even around the henhouse. They all call out, “Panda, Panda, Panda,” but they still can’t find her.
After an hour of looking and calling for her, Panda suddenly appears near the porch. She looks terrible from vomiting and dehydration, typical symptoms of infection.
“Dad, here she is,” Jessica calls out anxiously.
When Papa Matt arrives, he immediately notices how bad Panda looks. “Let’s get some water into her immediately.”
Jessica takes Panda into the kitchen and spoon-feeds her. Panda slowly laps the water, obviously dehydrated. If Panda doesn’t get enough fluids into her little body, she will die.
Jessica puts Panda down on the floor to sleep in her bed. After an hour, Jessica returns to Panda’s bed, but she’s gone again. “Dad, have you seen Panda? She’s not here in her bed.”
Papa Matt knows that dogs seek darkness when they’re sick, so he tells Jessica to look in the closets, under the couch, her bed, or wherever there’s a dark area. Finally Jessica finds her in the back corner of her closet, curled up and completely listless.
“Look, Jessica, you’re going to have to stay up with her all night to make sure she doesn’t go off again to die. You need to keep fluids in her every hour until morning, then we’ll take her to the vet.”
That was the longest night of Jessica’s life. She has never stayed up past midnight, so she keeps falling asleep in bed with Panda. When she falls asleep, Panda jumps off her bed and wanders off to find a dark place again. Jessica wakes up to find Panda missing and panics, wondering if she’s gone off to die like her dad said. After looking under her bed and behind her dressers, she finally finds her again in the back of her closet.
After Jessica finds Panda, she wakes her parents to ask for help. “I can’t do this alone anymore. I’m so tired, and Panda can hardly hold up her head. She’s sooo sick.”
“Keeping her hydrated is the most important thing you can do to keep her alive,” her mother tells her. “I’ll help you with Panda by taking turns watching her.”
Mary Beth takes Panda back to the kitchen to feed her more water so Jessica can go back to bed and lie down. They both hope morning comes as soon as possible. Jessica has stayed up all night at a slumber party, but this time is different. She’s so worried and exhausted, yet her tiredness is overcome only by her wish to save her puppy.
“It’s finally getting light outside. That was the longest night of my life. Please, let’s get Panda to the doctor. She’s hardly breathing!” Jessica begs her dad to hurry.
At sunrise, Jessica and her dad take Panda to the vet. Matt phones the vet’s office to let them know they’ve got an emergency coming in shortly. Since it’s Monday, Dr. Hodges and his staff are there early to do a full day’s work. When Jessica and Matt arrive with Panda, Dr. Hodges meets them at the door.
“You’re a pair of early birds,” he says. “What can I do for you this time?”
“Our little Panda is sick—she’s been throwing up all night and is hardly moving now,” Matt tells him.
“I stayed up all night to give her water,” Jessica adds.
“No wonder you look so tired,” Dr. Hodges replies as he pats her on her back.
They walk into the treatment room and she places Panda on the table. Panda’s scared, remembering her last time there; plus the smells of other dogs and cats make her afraid since it reminds her of the animal shelter.
Dr. Hodges takes Panda’s temperature and sees it’s very high. Her gums are white instead of pink, and her other symptoms like the diarrhea are classical signs of an intestinal infection.
“Well, I think she has Parvo,” the vet tells them. “Let me draw blood and run a titer to find out what’s going on.” He takes a syringe while his assistant gently restrains Panda and draws blood from her front leg to analyze. Panda cries out softly when he sticks her, but she realizes he’s trying to help and doesn’t bite or withdraw.
“She’s lucky you kept her hydrated all night, otherwise she might not be alive now,” Dr. Hodges explains. “Symptoms of Parvo usually begin with a high fever, depression, and loss of appetite. Secondary symptoms appear as severe gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting and bloody diarrhea. In many cases, dehydration, shock, and death follow.”
“That’s exactly what’s been happening, but she was vaccinated for Parvo when she had her puppy shots,” Jessica says.
“I know it’s a paradox why some vaccinated dogs still get the disease, especially puppies like Panda. Sometimes the antibody protection the puppy acquires from its mother can interfere with vaccination. Many vets recommend vaccinating puppies every three to four weeks for this virus starting at 6 weeks of age and continuing until they are at least 16 weeks. She most likely has a strain of the virus that’s not in the vaccine. It’s like getting the flu even though you’ve gotten the flu shot. There are so many strains out there.”
“But what’s happening to her?” Jessica asks him.
“Parvo is a virus that attacks the lining of the digestive system,” he explains. “It causes dogs and puppies to not be able to absorb enough nutrients or liquids. Puppies are especially prone to it because they have an immature immune system. When dogs and puppies contract Parvo, they usually stop eating and develop a bloody, foul-smelling, liquid stool.”
“That’s right,” Jessica says, remembering how bad Panda’s poop smelled last night.
“What makes it so deadly is that Parvo can also attack a dog’s heart causing congestive heart failure,” he says. “This can occur months or years after recovery from the intestinal form of the disease. Puppies who survive Parvo infection can remain somewhat unhealthy and weak for life.”
“How did she get it?” Matt asks. “None of our other dogs have ever had Parvo.”
“Just because they’re not symptomatic doesn’t mean they’re not contagious,” Dr. Hodges explains. “Adult dogs may be infected carriers without showing any clinical signs. Dogs with the typical diarrhea that Parvovirus causes shed the virus as well. It can last a long time in the environment, perhaps as long as 9 months or longer. You can just walk on an infected surface like your porch and contract it, spreading it somewhere else.”
Matt and Jessica had no idea that Parvo is so contagious and so easily spread.
“Generally, it takes 7-10 days from the time of exposure for dogs and puppies to start showing symptoms and to test positive for Parvo.”
“Wait a minute,” Matt remarks. “She was in the animal control shelter just about a week ago.”
“That’s probably where she contracted this virus since that place is not very clean,” Dr. Hodges admits. “This isn’t the first case of Parvo I’ve seen from that shelter, and it won’t be the last one either. I’ve warned them to improve their sanitation, but the staff there doesn’t seem interested.”
“That problem may be over because Tom was arrested at the dog fight last week,” Matt tells the vet. “But if they don’t hire someone who cares about these lost pets, it will only happen again.”
“You’re right about that,” Dr. Hodges says. “Parvo is highly contagious to unprotected dogs, and the virus can remain infectious in ground or on concrete floors contaminated with fecal material for five months or more if conditions are favorable. Simple chlorine bleach is the most effective and inexpensive agent that works, but if the staff is too lazy to spray daily, this hardy virus can take off.”
“I doubt Tom was cleaning anything when he was there,” Matt replies. “All he was concerned about was avoiding work and stealing dogs to sell to the dog fighters.”
“Rest assured that Parvovirus is specific to dogs alone and cannot be transmitted to humans or other pets of a different species, such as cats,” he tells them.
“Good, at least I don’t have to worry about Callie,” Jessica says.
Then Matt asks him, “How is Parvo treated?”
“Treatment generally consists of IV fluids and antibiotics,” he tells him. “But let me be honest: There is no cure. We can only treat the symptoms palliatively, and try to keep the dog alive by preventing dehydration and loss of proteins. We’ll give her fluids, regulate electrolyte levels, control her body temperature, and give her blood transfusions if necessary. In a few days we’ll know if she makes it.”
“Will she die?” Matt asks. Even though Panda is Jessica’s second best dog other than Max, she is Matt’s favorite lap dog.
“This is a very serious disease,” Dr. Hodges explains. “A good guess is she has about a 50-50 chance of survival. If she makes it through the first three to four days, she will usually make a rapid recovery, and be back on her feet within a week. Without medical treatment, most puppies die quickly.”
Jessica and her dad are shocked to learn that Panda only has a 50% chance to live. If they hadn’t forced her to drink water last night, she would probably already have died.
“Parvo can live up to 6 months or so in your home or yard, so use a strong bleach-water solution to kill it,” Dr. Hodges explains. “Soak the yard with it—better to kill the grass than your dogs.”
Dr. Hodges’ assistant takes Panda from the examination room to the isolation ward to begin IV treatment. Jessica watches with tears in her eyes, not knowing if she’ll ever see Panda again. Panda also looks at Jessica and Matt with her big brown sad eyes, wondering what lies ahead for her. Besides feeling bad from the virus, she’s scared to death not knowing if she’ll ever see them again.
“Bye, Panda,” Jessica says. “I’ll come visit you every day.” Matt puts his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and walks her to the truck. Both of them also are worried they might never see Panda again.
“Where are they going? What’s wrong with me? I’m so sick. Please come back for me,” Panda whines.
“I can hardly stand this,” Jessica cries. “Panda has no idea what’s happening. She probably thinks we’re abandoning her.”
On the way home to their ranch, Jessica is both sad and angry. She’s scared that she may not see her puppy again. Leaving her at the hospital is worrisome.
“Panda’s sick because the shelter is so dirty,” she tells her dad. “We’ve got to do something about that shelter. But I still feel so guilty about not getting her a new tag when she lost the first one.”
“So, you want to take on City Hall?” he asks her.
“Whaddaya mean?” she replies.
“If you want to improve the animal shelter, it’s gonna take a lot of time, money, effort and people who support you in this fight.”
“Why wouldn’t City Hall want to help us?” she asks. “Why should it be a fight?”
Matt looks at his idealistic daughter with a smile on his face. He knows she’s very serious about improving the deplorable conditions at the shelter, but she doesn’t realize that in most towns, the animal shelter is among the lowest priorities.
“Let’s go visit Det. Murphy. Maybe he can answer your questions.”
Instead of driving home, Matt heads into town to the police station, hoping Det. Murphy is in his office.
Luckily, he’s at his desk when Jessica and Matt arrive and is glad to see them both.
“How y’all doing?” he asks politely.
“Not so good,” Matt replies. “Our little dog is sick with Parvo now. We just left Dr. Hodges’ animal hospital.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Det. Murphy says. “They’ve had five outbreaks of Parvo this last year at the shelter.”
“That’s horrible,” Jessica tells them. “We’ve got to do something.”
Det. Murphy looks at her and then at Matt, knowing she’s very upset and serious.
“That’s just half of the problem,” he says. “Aside from Parvo infections, canine distemper is another problem that kills a lot of shelter dogs. There’s also kennel cough and other airborne respiratory diseases that plague that place. It’s a hotbed of germs down there.”
“What can we do?” she asks him.
“The problem is we simply need a new shelter that is designed to control these diseases,” he explains. “That shelter is nearly 50 years old and was never built to be an animal shelter in the first place. It was just an abandoned building the city council gave to the police department to store lost dogs before they were put down.”
“How many pets are destroyed there?” Matt asks him.
“Just in our small county alone, the animal control officers bring in over 4,000 dogs and cats each year, and nearly 3,000 are put down.”
Jessica and Matt are stunned to learn of the high kill rate.
“Some are returned to their owners, some are adopted, but most are unwanted by anyone,” Det. Murphy explains. “Many are abandoned by owners out along the country roads. Some are wild dogs and feral cats that cause damage to livestock. And some are just bad dogs or pit bulls that we legally have to put down.”
Jessica and Matt are amazed to hear of the enormity of this problem.
“Even if we had a brand new shelter with a proper ventilation system to prevent airborne diseases like distemper and kennel cough, and a good drainage system to cut down on Parvo contamination, we still have too many dogs and cats that no one wants,” Detective Murphy explains.
“In the state of Georgia with nearly 160 counties, if each one puts down 3,000 animals on the average like we do, that’s amounts to nearly half a million pets that are euthanized each year,” the detective explains.
Jessica doesn’t realize that animal control is a huge problem for every town, not just their own town. The more she learns about this problem, the bigger it becomes.
“If we had the money and manpower to attack this problem,” he explains to her, “it would still take changing the way people look at pet ownership. When I worked there, I learned that too many people don’t spay or neuter their pets like they should.
“Instead, they want a litter of kitties or puppies to play with as if they were toys, not realizing there are not enough homes for them. I can’t tell you how many times people would bring to me a litter to find homes when there just aren’t enough.
Matt and Jessica never realized the emotional strain upon the staff at the animal shelter. These officers and volunteers love animals too, and to have to decide which pets are put to sleep is a hard choice.
“Every Monday morning we would close the shelter to the public to put down the unwanted pets whose time was up,” he told them. “What a horrible way to start the week, don’t you think?”
It is depressing for Jessica and Matt to think about working at the shelter, never understanding there’s more death and disease to deal with than the good news of reuniting lost pets with their owners or adoptions.
“If you want to take on City Hall, I suggest you come up with a plan and not just gripe about the problem. We know we have problems, but changing peoples’ attitudes is the real issue.”
“Thanks for the info, Detective Murphy,” Matt says. “You’ve given us both a lot to think about. And I promise you, before we go off half-cocked to the mayor, we’ll develop a plan.”
On the way home from City Hall, Jessica is deep in thought about the problems at the shelter. Once she put her emotions aside, she realizes there are more issues than she ever imagined in running an animal shelter.
Matt looks at her in deep though and asks, “Whatcha thinking about?”
“We need help,” she replies.
The Final Straw
Back at the Golden Joy Ranch, General Jerry and the rest of the dog clan are also worried about Panda.
“It’s amazing how that little dog goes from one problem to another,” Miss Belva declares. “If it’s not getting lost or fighting with the fox, it’s being stolen and almost killed at the dog fights.”
“There’s never a dull moment with that little Sheila, that’s for sure,” Dingo adds.
In the distance, they suddenly hear the dog mob barking again.
“I wonder what they’re after now,” the General says.
“They’re probably after another poor victim,” Shep answers. “Until we get rid of them, nothing will be safe around the lake.”
“What do you have in mind?” the General asks him.
“I dunno, but I know we need to get them before they get one of us.”
“You dogs are too dumb to figure this out,” Callie says sarcastically. “You need to think out of the box to solve this problem.”
“What?” ol’ Shep asks.
“Exactly my point,” she replies. “You need to take another perspective.”
“What do you have in mind, Callie?” the General asks her.
“We need to bait them into a trap since they’re hungry and desperate,” she starts to explain, “and I’m the perfect bait for a mob of hungry dogs.”
“Callie, we don’t need to risk your life,” the General replies.
“I have no intention of sacrificing myself, General, but if we do this right, we can lure them into a trap that will scare them off for good.”
That night in the barnyard, the clan of dogs led by Callie begins their quest to rid the lake of the dog mob. Little do they realize the adventure they will face despite their well-laid plan.
Callie leads them to the old oak tree where the paths fork. She climbs up to the large branch where she has often perched herself to view the activities that transpire around the South Cove. She then explains her plan to the clan of dogs.
“General Jerry and Miss Belva, I want you to go up that path and hide in the tall grass. And Dingo and Shep, I want you to go in the other direction and wait until I give you the order to attack. We’re going to ambush them from the rear, and do it twice.”
The dogs lay in wait hidden among the tall grass and foxtails on both sides of the path leading from the oak tree. The path to the fox den is left open for the dog mob to escape into the thorny underbrush—which is punishment in itself.
Once the clan of Wellston dogs are positioned—Shep and Dingo on one side of the tree and General Jerry and Miss Belva on the other side—Callie then begins to meow like a cat on the prowl—loud, long and inviting.
“What’s that noise?” the mob leader asks his pals.
“I dunno, but it sounds like dinner to me,” one replies.
“I’m hungry too; let’s go check it out,” the third mobster says as he runs to the sound of Callie’s call.
Not only does Callie’s yowling grab the attention of the dog mob, but a big feral tomcat also hears her. He isn’t someone’s housecat gone astray, but he is a large wild cat that predates on small animals living along the lake, and he’s no one to mess with, that’s for sure. Hearing Callie’s yowl is music to his ears, so he rushes to the sound of her voice.
Within earshot of Callie’s cry for affection also is the vixen whose den is nearby. She recognizes the mating call of cats that is not unlike her own shriek to attract male foxes—long calls starting gradually making it easy to find the caller. Also within earshot is King Luke who is curious about the racket coming from the South Cove.
The dog mob runs toward the old oak tree where Callie is perched. She continues to yowl as she watches them approach from the far side of the lake near ol’ Clem’s home site. As they run in expectation of an evening meal, little do they know they will encounter more than just a cat pretending to call for a mate.
Just as the mob approaches the oak tree, Callie sees them coming and readies her call for the trap to unfold. Once the mob passes by the General and Miss Belva who are hiding in the grass along the path, Callie yells out, “Now Dingo!”
While the mob is barking and jumping at the trunk of the oak tree trying to reach her, Dingo and Shep attack when the mob’s backs are toward them. Dingo takes a bite out of the rear leg of the mob leader as Shep grabs hold of the other mob member’s rear leg. The third mobster attacks Shep, biting him in the neck to let go of his partner.
Callie calls out to the General and Miss Belva, “Charge General!” From the rear they charge at the mob and latch on to the two rear legs of mobster holding on to Shep. He yelps and lets go of Shep who continues to have a vise-like gripe on the other mobster. Dingo also has a fast hold on the mob leader with his clenched jaws.
Although not fighters like the German Shepard or Australian Cattle Dog, the General and Miss Belva do their best to keep the third mobster away from their two comrades.
Finally Callie yells out, “Release!” ordering Shep and Dingo to let go of their victims.
As they lick their wounds, the General tells the mob once again, “Leave this lake. This is our territory and if we see you here again, it will be a fight to your death.”
As the mob runs off in different directions, they soon realize their ordeal is not over. The leader of the mob runs down the path leading to the fox den when he suddenly encounters the vixen that screams and growls at the mobster, scaring the heck out of him again. He’s now boxed-in between the vixen and the clan of Wellston dogs, not knowing where to go.
The other mobster runs down the path leading to Clem’s old home site when he runs upon the feral tomcat that hisses and spits at him just before he swats the mobster with his claws. Since cats have much faster reflexes than dogs, the tomcat takes a hunk of skin out of the snout of the mobster, making him cry out in pain from the deep slashes across his face.
The third mobster sees both of his mob friends being attack by the fox and cat, so he decides to jump into the water to escape. As he slowly swims away from the clan of Wellston dogs, he is suddenly attacked by King Luke who puddles his victim by standing on his back, pushing him underwater with his huge web feet.
As King Luke holds his victim underwater, he calls out, “General, what do you want me to do with this one?”
“Teach him a lesson then let him go,” he replies.
King Luke continues to puddle on the mobster’s back as he swallows water and begins to choke. Finally when the King thinks he’s learned his lesson not to intrude in his aquatic territory, he lets go. As the half-drowned dog swims back to the shore, the King tells him, “Stay out of my lake or else next time I won’t let you up.”
Now the mob is surrounded on all sides by the clan of Wellston dogs, the feral tomcat, the vixen, and King Luke. Their only alternative is to run through the scrubby trees and underbrush to escape. Thorny vines in the landscape causes mayhem for even the wildest animals like fox, but for the dog mob, they have no idea the problems involved with their route of escape. Among the worst are poison ivy, Cherokee rose, stinging nettles, and blackberry bushes full of thorns that cut into their skin.
As the mob ventures further into the underbrush, they can be heard yelling and whining from the wounds they’re getting from the thorny vines and bushes. “Ouch…ow…darn!” the dogs cry out as they crawl through the patch of vines and thorns. “Ouch!” they hear again and again as the mob suffers in their hasty escape.
The Wellston clan all laugh at the misery of the mob, hoping this teaches them a hard lesson to leave their territory once and for all. Stuck up to their ears in the underbrush, it will take the mob hours to find a way out and then it will take weeks for their wounds to heal. Hopefully it will give them second thoughts about returning to the Blue Heron Lake territory.
“Well, Callie, your plan worked,” the General tells her, “but only with some good luck and help from unexpected allies.”
From her perch in the old oak tree, Callie smiles down at the clan of dogs. “Actually, I enjoyed every minute of this—it was very entertaining,” she tells them as she jumps down and leads them back to the barnyard with her tail flicking straight upward in the air. “Besides, as I told you, most dogs are too stupid to outsmart a cat like me.”
An Elephant to Eat
“Hi, Panda,” Jessica says as she holds her puppy in her arms. “Are you feeling better?” Panda looks at her with her big brown eyes, but can’t even wag her tail since she’s so sick.
Jessica visits her daily in her struggle against her Parvo infection. The veterinarian has kept her on fluids and antibiotics, but Panda is still very sick and unresponsive to Jessica.
“You’ve got to understand that a puppy’s immune system isn’t as strong as an adult dog’s, Jessica,” Dr. Hodges explains. “We’ve done everything possible; now it’s just a matter of time and good luck if she’s to live.”
Jessica nods her head, knowing the battle Panda faces. Jessica remembers when she’s had the flu and suffered with a high fever too.
“We’ll probably know in the next day or two if she’s going to make it, so keep coming to boost her spirits, okay Jessica?”
As she puts Panda back into her cage, Jessica is crying inconsolably, knowing her puppy may not make it back home. Papa Matt puts his arm around his daughter and tells her, “All we can do now is pray for her, Jessica, and we must come back since it will help her to heal. If she loses hope, she’ll never make it.”
Jessica wipes her tears knowing she must stay strong for Panda. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” she tells Dr. Hodges and Panda. She knows Panda is alone and frightened. It breaks her heart not to be able to console her puppy more.
Back in the barnyard the clan of dogs is still buzzing about their battle with the dog mob. Each time they retell their story to Max, they exaggerate their own feats of fighting, except for Callie who takes credit for the victory.
“Don’t listen to them, Max, if it weren’t for my plan, they would still be barking up the wrong tree,” she tells him. “Dogs are so stupid, someone had to take charge.”
The General clears his throat to signify his displeasure. “Callie, I think you’re exaggerating a bit too much,” he tells her.
“Sorry, General. Maybe I should say most dogs are too stupid.”
“I resemble that remark, mate,” Dingo says to acknowledge that she may be right.
There’s been no sign of the mob since the fight, but the vixen is still lurking in the grass and underbrush, knowing the chicken coop is still unguarded by a Jack Russell. That night when the clan is asleep on the porch, the vixen makes her move once again to break into the coop to get dinner for her and her kits.
It’s well past midnight as the vixen sneaks past the barn, through the barnyard and approaches the coop. Even though she’s extremely quiet, the chickens can see her shadow and sense her presence; they start to cackle to warn each other. The vixen stops in her tracks, hoping the chickens stop squawking, and in a few minutes, quiet returns.
On this night, however, Max is sleeping outside with the General since Panda is still in the vet’s hospital. Usually these two sleep together in the house, but with her absence, Max feels the need to sleep with his oldest friend outside instead. Since he’s not accustomed to the outdoor night sounds, when the chickens squawk, it awakens Max while the other dogs remain asleep.
The vixen finally makes her move to enter the coop by pushing her nose under the chicken wire. Papa Matt always wondered how she got in the coop since there were no holes or breaks in the wire—little did he realize she simply pushed her way under the wire.
Once in the coop, the vixen stalks the chickens looking for the biggest one to capture. Of course, they chickens squawk louder, luring Max to the coop to investigate. Since dachshunds are hunters by nature, his instincts take over to discover the source of this commotion.
The vixen finally grabs a big hen in her mouth and bolts to escape, only to find little Max staring at her on the other side of the wire fence. Max is as surprised as she is, so the vixen runs to the other side of the coop to escape. Just as she slides herself under the wire, Max jumps onto her and bites her in the neck, making the vixen scream out in pain as she drops the dead hen.
“Yeow,” she screams as she tries to shake loose from Max’s hold on her neck. She can’t make him loosen his grip, so she bites him on his foreleg that causes him to let go of her.
“And who might you be, little one?” she asks.
“I’m Max and I’m here to stop you from killing these chickens,” he replies.
“Aren’t you a bit small to stop me?” she says sarcastically.
“For your information, my ancestors were bred to fight badgers, so a silly fox like you isn’t a bad match for me,” he tells her.
By now the entire chicken coop is squawking louder than ever, waking everyone in the house as well as the dogs on the porch. Papa Matt turns on the lights in the ranch house as he grabs his rifle. Jessica also runs downstairs from her bedroom to find out what’s going on. Mary Beth decides to stay in the house in case she needs to phone the police.
When the vixen sees the house lights come on and hears the barking, she knows she has no time to waste talking to this little dachshund, so she grabs the hen she’d dropped and makes another run to escape.
Max barks repeatedly as he chases her across the barnyard. Finally he latches onto her bushy red tail with his mouth, holding on until help arrives.
Dingo is the first to arrive on the scene and understands immediately what’s happening. He follows the scents until he sees Max in the dim night light holding onto the fox that still has the hen in her mouth. He runs to the fight and jumps over Max to bite the vixen in the rear leg, just as he does to unruly cattle. The fox has no idea that Dingo could pack such a wallop.
The vixen drops the hen, lets out with a hair-raising scream, and takes a bite out of Dingo’s snout to force him to let go of her leg. Max stands by watching Dingo fight as he continues barking at the same time, enabling Papa Matt to know where to come.
“A bit zonked, mate?” Dingo asks the exhausted vixen, who pants heavily as she listens to him.
“I suggest you buzz off before I get cheesed off,” he warns her, “unless you want another kick in the teeth.”
At the same time, the noise attracts the feral tomcat that is also lurking in the grass, hoping to find a barn mouse or something else to eat. When he sees the fox fighting with the dogs, he figures it’s a good time for him to take advantage of the situation while everyone is preoccupied with the fight.
He sneaks around the chicken coop looking for an opportunity to make a catch too. From her perch in the nearby tree, Callie sees the tomcat and knows he’s up to no good. While the dogs are attracted to the fox fight, none of them notice the tomcat on the other side of the coop, so Callie jumps down to confront him.
“So, what do you have in mind?” she asks him.
“Well, I had dinner in mind until you came along,” he replies. “Aren’t you the one I heard yowling?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t yowling for you,” she says with an indignant tone.
“Then get out of my way—I’m hungry,” he says angrily.
“There’s nothing around here for you to eat,” she replies.
“Seems to me there’s a hen on the ground over there waiting for someone like me to come along and make it a meal.”
He jumps over Callie and runs to the coop while Dingo fights with the vixen. No one notices the tomcat in the barnyard except for Max who sees Callie with another cat.
When Papa Matt sees Dingo fighting with the vixen, he yells out, “Dingo, back away!” This is a command Dingo knows perfectly well since he follows his master’s voice while herding cattle. When Dingo is clear, Matt fires his rifle at the fox, missing by only a few inches as the vixen flees into the darkness of night.
Meanwhile, the tomcat runs to the dead hen and grabs it for himself. As he runs away through the barnyard, Matt sees the big tomcat and fires at him, hitting the dirt just behind the cat. Max takes off in hot pursuit of the tomcat, barking incessantly as he runs. Finally, in the far side of the barnyard, Max grabs onto the dead hen while the tomcat holds onto the other side of the chicken.
Just as he’s done many times with Panda and Bandit, Max finds himself in a tug-a-war with the tomcat. Neither is willing to give up, so they stand face-to-face in the barnyard pulling on the dead bird.
“Get outta here!” Papa Matt runs toward the cat and chases it away.
“Max, you’re a hero,” Jessica tells him with delight as she picks him up. Max beams proudly knowing he fought the feral tomcat and saved the chicken coop from another predator.
Jessica runs into the ranch house to tell her mom, “You should have seen Max fighting a feral cat,” she says excitedly. “Dad chased the cat away, and he shot at the red fox, too, but it got away.”
Papa Matt comes into the kitchen still carrying his rifle. “Well, I think that’s enough excitement for one night. You should have seen that cat—it musta weighed nearly 25 pounds. We need to get a trap for these predators. The chickens are just the right bait to draw them to the yard.”
Just then the phone rings. “Who could that be at this hour?” Mary Beth wonders.
“Maybe it’s the neighbors wondering about the gunshot,” he replies.
Mary Beth answers the phone, listens to the caller, says, “Okay, we’ll be right there,” and then hangs up.
“It’s Dr. Hodges,” she says softly. “He says we’d better get down to his office immediately.”
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Jessica asks.
“I don’t know except that he said Panda isn’t doing well.”
Jessica is stunned by the news since Panda was doing better just that morning. When they arrive at the vet hospital, Dr. Hodges greets them at the door since his staff has already gone home.
“She’s taken a turn for the worse and I don’t know if she’ll make it until morning, so I wanted you to be here to cheer her up. She always does so much better after you visit her. I’m glad you were still up when I called.”
“Well, we had another adventure in the barnyard,” Papa Matt tells him. “I got a shot at a fox and chased away a feral cat raiding my chicken coop again.”
“Never a dull moment on the ranch,” Mary Beth says.
Dr. Hodges nods his head, knowing life on a ranch is never done, and then takes them to the cage where Panda is asleep. She is barely breathing and unaware of their presence until Jessica talks to her, “Panda, it’s me.”
Panda opens her big brown eyes and looks at Jessica, barely able to lift her head. Jessica opens the cage door and lifts Panda into her arms, cradling her like a baby.
She tries to cheer up Panda by telling her about the fight between Max and the feral cat. “You should have seen Max fighting the wild cat,” she tells Panda. “Max is the new hero in the barnyard,” but Panda can barely keep her eyes open. Her small tail wags a few times, and then it stops.
Jessica can feel Panda’s body is limp in her arms. She knows that Panda is very sick, and she just holds her puppy as Papa Matt, Mary Beth, and Dr. Hodges look on.
She simply looks at them without saying a word—her sadness is written all over her pretty face.
Dr. Hodges says, “Jessica, walk over here to the sofa and hold Panda for a while. I added this room to the clinic for times like this one. The more comfort you can give Panda, the better the chances are she will want to recover. We don’t want her to give up hope.”
“Panda, I know you’ll get well because you have so much more to do back home. Max needs your help. He misses you. We all miss you!” Jessica kisses Panda’s head and gently strokes her. “It’s going to be all right, Panda. You’re such a good, strong girl,” Jessica whispers.
After an hour, Jessica carries Panda back to her cage to let her sleep through the night. To everyone’s delight, Panda opens her eyes for a moment and licks Jessica’s hand.
“Jessica, I want to come very day to cheer her up. Just your comforting her does more good than all the medicine I can give her.”
“Why is this happening?” she asks her dad.
“God only knows,” he replies.
“I know you don’t want me to say it, but life isn’t fair,” Jessica says. “Panda is too young to be so sick, and if she dies, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
“It may not be fair, but you can’t go through life expecting it to be fair every time,” he explains. “There may be another reason that we’re unaware of now.”
Jessica tries to be positive, but can’t hold back her tears. Panda is a special dog who replaced another special dog, Bandit. “It’s just so sad since she’s so young.”
“The best thing we can do is to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Papa Matt tells her. “If the shelter was sanitary, Panda wouldn’t have gotten the Parvo in the first place. Maybe you could work in an effort to build a new animal shelter.”
That idea sparks an interest in Jessica. She knows the old facility is bad, but even a new one won’t solve the bigger problem that there’s too many animals that are unwanted, abused or exploited.
“Like I said before when Detective Murphy spoke to us, if we’re going to do this, we need help—a lot of help,” she replies.
Papa Matt knows if he can get Jessica focused on a solution that her grief will motivate her to accomplish this goal.
“Jessica, do you know how to eat an elephant?” he asks her.
“No,” she replies, wondering why he would ask her such a strange question.
“One bite at a time.”
“What do you mean?” she asks, not understanding his meaning.
“It’s like my granddaddy once said, ‘little plus often makes much.’ If you have a big goal, you need to break it down into many small problems to solve. Just start working on it and you’re half done. It may take a long time, but with enough help from the right people, you can accomplish your goal—any goal you may ever have in the rest of your life.”
When they arrive home, all the dogs greet them at the truck as they usually do. When they realize Papa Matt and Mary Beth are consoling Jessica, the clan of dogs knows something’s terribly wrong since they haven’t seen them cry since Bandit was killed.
“Mom and Dad, I want to spend some time with the dogs.” The thought of losing Panda is unnerving her, so she seeks comfort from her best friends.
As her parents walk back to the ranch house, Jessica remains with the clan of dogs and Callie who is perched in a nearby tree. She pats them all and hugs them. They know that Panda is very sick and might not come home ever again.
The General licks her face and Miss Belva also gives her a kiss. Dingo, Shep and Max stand next to her, holding their heads down as if in prayer. Their hearts are broken too. Even Callie seems saddened.
Max is especially sad since Panda is his best playmate. He slowly walks with his head down and his tail between his legs. Jessica sees how pathetic Max looks, so she picks him up into her arms to console him.
“Max, I know how sad you must be,” she tells him. “But now it’s up to you to guard the henhouse until Panda comes home since you’re the last hunter we have. Be brave and help take Panda’s place, will you please? Max looks up at her with is big eyes showing his disappointment. He licks her cheek as if to tell her everything will be okay.
“I know she’ll get well. I just know she will! She’s such a tough little dog, and I know she wants to be back here with all of us!”
Max licks her again in the face as if he knows what she’s saying. After a few minutes, Jessica wipes the tears from her eyes, pats each dog on its head, and with them all, walks back to the ranch house. Rather than being sad and mad, she’s determined to be glad to think that Panda will recover. Keeping a positive attitude is the most important thing now for all of them to do.
Jessica is also determined to help build a new shelter that is clean and safe for lost pets. “Come on, dogs, we have a job to do,” she tells them. “We’ve got an elephant to eat.”