Who would do this… ?
I first met Wilbert-Roy out in the swamps of Florida. He was starving way out on highway 41, in the Big Cypress National Preserve — a huge swamp in the southern part of the state. We met — if you could call it that — after I had driven several miles from where we camped, looking for the little bars on my cell phone to reappear.
Mosquitos plagued our camp — trapping us inside our coach day and night. Someone who had never been there named it Midway Campground presumably since it lay about half-way between Naples and Miami. Mosquito Camp would have been more descriptive. Finding a cell signal — after days of solitaire and Rumikube — meant a generous dousing of DEET and a dash of about 10 steps from coach to Jeep.
When the cell tower appeared — rising out of the dense growth along the highway — I heard Frankie Laine singing Cool Water….
Dan can you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me.
Except this big green tree was a cell tower reaching high up into the sky and making a reconnection with the world after several days out of touch.
On the way out, I saw roadside canals and ditches filled with clusters of gators — big ones — driven by drought into fewer and fewer water holes. Signs along the roadside warned of panthers crossing. Panthers?
The heat was oppressive, and mosquitos in ravenous black clouds swarmed upon anything warm-blooded. What was the risk of some hemorrhagic sickness? Ebola, yellow fever? My idea was to stay in the car with the A/C running, catch up on email correspondence, get the news and go back to camp. The universe had other plans.
When I turned into the side road, a reddish-brown bag of bones that might have been a dog at one time, crossed the road and ducked into the brush. His tongue lolled out to one side and I could see most of his bones through tightly stretched skin. It was like looking at an X-ray. A cloud of mosquitos followed him into the brush. This dog would not last much longer out here.
He’d used up everything he had — all his fat stores, all the water his cells and organs could furnish. Everything but his spirit, visible through bright brown eyes.
How long does it take for a dog to starve into that condition? Weeks perhaps. What sort of person abandons a dog 50 miles from anywhere? Why not a rescue organization, there are so many these days? The word “cruel” misses by a wide mile what someone did to this dog. Remember Michael Vick?
Marilee and Segal, a mother and daughter — and Good Samaritans of the first order — had stopped a few minutes before me. It turns out Wilbert-Roy had a companion — a female — who lay happily in their back seat. Wilbert-Roy’s imperative, however, kept him away from all human beings, a lesson he must have learned from sad experience. This was an imperative that forced him to choose starvation over salvation. No manner of entreaties or bits of food could entice him any closer than a few feet to a human being.
With only a vague promise of a response from Animal Services, the two samaritans and their new companion departed for Miami. Wilbert-Roy looked out at me from his hidey-hole. I had rushed back to camp for a couple of dog dishes, a gallon of water and a bag of dog food while the samaritans waited. Now it was me, the dog, and the godawful heat.
Let me try to describe the heat. Getting out of the cool car is a dive into an overheated hot tub. Getting even the smallest breath takes effort. Once inhaled, the air — mostly water — weighs heavy in your lungs. In seconds, sweat shoots from every pore, and none of it evaporates as the air is already saturated. Then mosquitos and biting flies attack.
Wilbert-Roy did his own imitation of Dan in the desert, lapping up as much water as I put out. I worried about giving him too much. Putting on my best dog persona, I tried numerous times to coax him out of his safe place. No amount of cajoling, treats, whistles or whining dog imitations worked. And no one showed up from Animal Services either. At dark, I went back to camp. I had burned up half the Jeep’s fuel supply trying to stay cool. Wilbert-Roy panted in the heat and tried vainly to nip the flies that hovered around his posterior.
That night it thundered and rained like it can only in a Florida thunderstorm. The next morning — Sunday, after driving 20 miles down the road for more fuel — I discovered he was still there. Bowls of food and water disappeared as quickly as the day before. Still that dog would not let me get close. Lynda came with me this time for moral support.
Lynda made calls to Animal Services in Naples, 50 miles away. As the afternoon dragged on, we realized that the likelihood of someone showing up dimmed by the minute. Who wants to drive 50 miles into the hot swamp to corral a wild dog when there are plenty of safer and more sure calls right close to home? It felt hotter outside than the day before. By this time we had spoken to the Sheriff’s department, Animal Services, and U.S. Park Service rangers who came out, told us to get back in our vehicle, and departed. I looked at Lynda and we shook our heads. This is what powerless feels like.
Late in the afternoon, Lynda’s phone rang. A guy named Billy called from Animal Services and said he was on his way. By then — after hearing so many promises of help —we felt dubious, but waited anyway. The Jeep’s fuel was down to half a tank once again, but Wilbert-Roy’s tank was nearing empty. About an hour after the call, an animal services van turned off the highway and onto the road where we waited.
To make this long story short, Billy Willis knew what he was about. In about half an hour he had Wilbert-Roy in a cage, and we were hoisting him out of the ditch. In a few more minutes, Billy had him perched on the front seat of his dog-catcher van, ears flopping in the breeze from the air conditioning. Wilbert-Roy never flinched, I guess Billy has that thing with dogs.
Right now, Wilbert-Roy is in an adoption kennel at Animal Services in Naples, Florida. They think he’s around three-years old. No heart worm issues. He’s put on a few pounds, and I’d like to think he’s happy. He’s still a little shy around people — but this is a good dog with a great heart. After all, he survived swamp, alligators, panthers, biting flies, hordes of mosquitos, starvation and thirst most likely for weeks.
We’ve moved on now, but I continue to feel connected to that dog and his outcome. His female companion went home with Segal. But when you save a life… it becomes your responsibility; isn’t that the ancient rule? So if anyone who reads this knows anyone in Florida or anywhere for that matter, who wants a great dog, Wilbert-Roy is waiting. Click the link below into your browser… please!
Or call: Collier Domestic Animal Services 239-252-7387
ID No A223777