Copyright 2011 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is strictly prohibited. Contact Us The Sun Valley Guide magazine is distributed free four times a year to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper will receive the Sun Valley Guide with their subscription.

A Time to Reap
by Greg Moore
photos by Nina Fox
illustration by Kristen Kaiser

The story of Harvest, the dog with crazy eyes.

In the fall of 2008 three young black Lab-mix dogs were dropped off at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley near Hailey. The person who left them said they had been found by the side of a road. The terrified puppies sat in the back of their cage shaking, and recoiling from being touched. Without knowledge of the dogs' history, shelter employees couldn't tell whether their behavior was the result of mistreatment or heredity.

The shelter is a no-kill facility, which means no dog or cat is killed to make space. However, no animal deemed a threat to people is put up for adoption. Dogs of suspect temperament are put through a series of tests. How do they react to handling? How protective are they of food? Are they willing to play? How do they react to strangers?

Two of the newly arrived dogs failed the tests and were euthanized. The third, a female, squeaked by, and was given a chance for adoption. Due to the time of her arrival, she was named Harvest. She was a medium-size dog, mostly black with a white chest and white spots on two of her paws.

Shelter employees tried to socialize her by taking her outside and playing with her, but her temperament showed little improvement. She relaxed some with the few people who handled her regularly, but remained terrified of the world, and cowered in a corner of her kennel whenever potential adopters made the rounds. Not surprisingly, she was never chosen.

To help improve the chances of adoption for problem animals, the shelter has created a foster program. Volunteers take a dog or cat home temporarily or out for regular activities like hikes, giving the animals more socialization and shelter employees a chance to evaluate them in a more natural setting. But it wasn't doing much for Harvest. She refused to go out with most volunteers, and for the next two years spent most of each day in her kennel.

In fall 2010, a shelter employee called one of their volunteers, Isabelle Moore (also my wife), and asked her if she'd like to work with Harvest. Working with either animals or children, Isabelle has sought out the most challenging subjects. As a children's ski instructor at Dollar Mountain, she took the beginning skiers who had fallen behind and got them to the point that they could ride the lift. She now tutors special education students at Hemingway Elementary School.

When Isabelle heard from the shelter, she had just finished fostering another black-Lab mix named Jimmy, who had had fear issues similar to Harvest's. After about a year of Isabelle's adoring attention, Jimmy finally met a potential adopter who saw through his shyness, and he found a home. Now Isabelle faced an even bigger challenge. "When I first saw Harvest, she just cringed in the back of her kennel, looking at me with crazy eyes," Isabelle said.

On the shelter property is a little house with furniture in it to mimic a home setting. Isabelle and Harvest were left there to get acquainted. Harvest cautiously walked up to Isabelle and sniffed her hand. "You could tell she wanted to trust," Isabelle said. "But after about 10 minutes, she stood in front of the door as if to say, 'OK, that's enough.'"

By Isabelle's fourth visit, Harvest had warmed up to her. While the two were in the shelter office, Isabelle said, "She jumped on me and kissed me, and everyone was amazed. So I took her on a hike and since then I became her friend."

For the remainder of the fall and through the winter, Isabelle took Harvest on regular hikes and snowshoe trips. Harvest began to show signs of enjoying life. She loved to run fast through the snow, especially when she had found a big branch to drag with her. Tearing downhill, she mowed down any little trees along the trail, and would have taken out Isabelle, too, if she hadn't learned to jump out of the way. Harvest was acting less intimidated by other people on the trail—now she just trotted by instead of taking a big detour around them.

Eventually, Isabelle took Harvest home for weekends. By this time, Harvest had become devoted to her. If Isabelle went upstairs, Harvest went upstairs. When Isabelle went downstairs, Harvest went downstairs. When Isabelle sat at our desk working on the computer, Harvest lay quietly at her feet. For perhaps the first time in her life, she seemed content.

But when Isabelle left the condo for any reason, Harvest became frantic. She ran from window to window, to see where Isabelle had gone. She couldn't be calmed until Isabelle returned.

We talked about adopting her, but decided that with both of us spending most of the day at work and living in a condo it wouldn't be a good idea.

When spring came, I took Harvest and her kennel mate, Murphy, out for mountain bike rides at Lamb's Gulch, not far from the animal shelter. The two were the shelter's most long-term residents, both having lived there for more than two years. Murphy's a good-natured and goofy-looking dog—mostly white with big brown spots and brown freckles on his face. His hind half looks about one size too small for his front half, like a man wearing pants that are too short. Whenever Murphy went snarfling around in the woods, he always took the direct route, crashing through the underbrush toward whatever goal he'd set his mind to.

One day the three of us came across a trail-building crew in Democrat Gulch, and I stopped to compliment them on their work. One of the crewmembers asked about the dogs. I told him they lived at the shelter, and I was taking them out for exercise. He said he used to take dogs out from a shelter in the town where he went to college. Unlike the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, however, that one was not a no-kill shelter. He said he discontinued his visits after arriving at the shelter one too many times to hear that the dog he had befriended had been replaced by a new arrival.

As we talked, Harvest and Murphy cooled themselves in a creek by the trail. While Harvest sat primly in the water, panting softly, Murphy wallowed in the mud at the edge of the creek. The young man looked on approvingly. "Now that's my kind of dog," he said.
Harvest got accustomed to mountain biking right away, waiting for me to ride by, then falling in and trotting along behind. The more rides we went on, the more relaxed Harvest became when we met other people on the trail. Pretty soon she was wagging her tail, playing with the other dogs and even submitting to being petted by their owners. She developed proper trail etiquette almost immediately, stepping off to the side to let other bikers go by. "Wow, what a great biking dog," said one woman in Greenhorn Gulch. I was starting to feel confident that Harvest was well on her way to being adopted.

Sometimes I took Harvest out for a bike ride on Wednesday mornings, when most of the other dogs were up at Adams Gulch for the weekly Hikin' Buddies walks. When she returned to her kennel, she always got a loving reception from Murphy, who greeted her with multiple licks on the face.

For Murphy, who had spent the first few years of his life at the end of a chain, life at the shelter was a step up—he got regular walks and attention from lots of humans. He always appeared content to return home after a bike ride. But Harvest dreaded going back to her kennel, balking stubbornly as a shelter employee tried to push her through the door. Harvest's kennel was at the entrance to the shelter property, and looking in the rearview mirror as I drove away, I would always see her staring at the car until it disappeared down the road.

One day on a hike in Adams Gulch, Harvest exhibited an ominous behavior. She ran ahead of us to a couple hiking farther down the trail and barked at them from behind, startling them. Then she ran back to us, with a sort of "hee-hee-look-what-I-just-did" attitude. Over the next couple of weeks on hikes with Isabelle, she repeated that performance twice.

Not long after, when I was at work, I got a phone call from Isabelle. She tearfully told me that Harvest had been on a walk that morning with a shelter employee and a volunteer. As they passed a jogger coming the other way, Harvest suddenly ran across the road and nipped the woman on the back of her thigh. Harvest appeared to be heading back for another bite when the volunteer grabbed her.

It seemed that Harvest was trying to overcome her fear of people by demonstrating that she could make them scared of her, but whatever the motive, she had committed the unforgivable canine sin—becoming a threat to humans. She would now bear the consequences of her act.

About noon the next day, shelter executive director Jo-anne Dixon, along with the shelter's manager and its veterinary technician, led Harvest to a spot on the grass under some trees behind the shelter. Harvest lay down in the shade, and the three women petted her and talked to her calmly. She hardly reacted to the poke of the syringe. A minute later, her eyes were staring blankly into space. One of the women gently closed her eyelids.

"It may have been the right thing for that dog," Jo-anne told me. "She was suffering in her own way—life was just too much for her."

For the next couple of weeks, Isabelle went on hikes by herself, tracing the routes she and Harvest had walked together. She left little bouquets of dried flowers at the hilltops where the two of them had sat taking in the views. Despite the heartbreak of seeing Harvest come so close to success, then fall back, Isabelle said she was glad to have spent so much time with her. "If I hadn't volunteered, she wouldn't have received any love, because nobody looked at her. She was weird."

As the weeks passed, the death of a dog settled into a more appropriate place in our view of the world's tragedies. Isabelle took on another foster dog—a beautiful, reddish-brown Doberman mix named Mimi. In two weeks, Mimi was adopted.

Murphy has a new kennel mate now. She's a light-brown boxer-chow chow mix named Molly. They seem comfortable together. I haven't seen Murphy lick her face yet, but, as everyone knows, relationships take time.

Editor's note: Since this story was written, Murphy was adopted.



Murphy, Harvest's kennel-mate.

A Home for Life

In its 30 years of existence, the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley has found homes for more than 10,000 dogs and cats.

"Animal shelters have evolved over the past eight or 10 years," shelter Executive Director Jo-anne Dixon said. She said shelters now have more health care and better housing, and are more likely to adopt a no-kill policy. But with a constant stream of animals coming in, managers at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley face a challenge in maintaining the shelter's no-kill policy. They have created several programs to help them meet that challenge.

One of the most important is a foster program, under which volunteers take home "special-needs" animals to put them in a more natural and relaxed setting. The program allows shelter employees to more accurately evaluate animals and can help calm animals who arrive at the shelter feeling overwhelmed and scared. "The foster program is a very important part of the more humane system," Dixon said.

Another program pairs dogs with inmates at a juvenile detention center in Snoqualmie, Washington. Each gets one hyperactive dog to train for two months. "It's a perfect match," Dixon said. "Some of these kids have never experienced unconditional love."

Some dogs that arrive at the shelter and show an obsession with chasing tennis balls are deemed too much for most owners to handle. But the shelter sends those dogs to a couple in Emmett, Idaho, who train them for use by police or fire departments.

Dixon said shelter managers are constantly looking for new ways to get abandoned animals into homes—"whatever creative venue we can come up with to keep the shelter from overflowing."

The shelter advertises available animals on its website, and in the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper.