Shadow – Wait! That Looks Like a Dog! (Adopted)

It was shortly after Thanksgiving 2023 that we noticed a large black dog running loose in our community. Some people swore they had seen the dog for months. Although we had our doubts, rumors of a bear and a black coyote had been circulating since summer. We have trapped, socialized, and adopted out almost a dozen adult feral cats caught here, so we thought to ourselves, “How hard can it be to catch a dog?”

Animal Control was well aware of the dog and had set a trap for him without success. Since they could not monitor their trap, for the dog’s safety, they removed it. And since we didn’t have a cat trap large enough, we purchased a large animal trap designed for “coyotes and large dogs,” which we set it up in the woods where a resident had been feeding the dog she was calling Shadow. Then we monitored Shadow’s comings and goings with a trail camera. Two trapped and released possums later and numerous trail camera sightings of raccoons eating the food before Shadow got to it, we moved the trap across the street into the tree line.

In the meantime, we were consulting with several local and national rescues, the Animal Shelter, and the SPCA. It turns out everyone has a bait of choice – Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, Wendy’s cheeseburgers, KFC, bacon, rotisserie chicken, sardines, mackerel, hot dogs, crockpot meatballs, and coyote bait from Cabela’s. [Note from my husband: Do not get coyote bait on your jacket. He didn’t notice it until he was sitting in the dentist office waiting room and asking himself, “What’s that smell?”] But Shadow ate everything – as long as it wasn’t in the trap.

After three weeks of trying, we realized there was a 0% chance the “large” dog trap was going to work. Shadow was larger than the large trap and was having none of it. The next trap was a much larger, heavily modified metal dog crate. We’re talking bolted on gate latches, zip ties, and industrial bungee cords. But again, he would put half his body in but not more. Another three weeks of disappointing failure.

Then came the “Missy Trap.” A professional rescue organization out of Minnesota designed this trap. Their Version 1 uses a hockey puck attached to a pull cord in the center of a heavy gauge horse fence. Their Version 4 uses the same horse fence, but the trip is a magnet connected to a car battery and a garage door beam. Paul Phillips, the owner of a handyman business, had been following Shadow’s story and offered to share material expenses and to help build the lower-tech Missy Trap Version 1.

It took another two weeks of trial and error to pick up on Shadow’s pattern with the Missy Trap. The rainstorms were torrential, and the night temperatures were in the teens, so we left food near the trap for Shadow just to keep him going.

The Missy Trap was 10’ long and just as wide, so he had to go completely inside the trap to get to the food. We connected the trip switch to the food bowl, but he wouldn’t move the bowl far enough to trip the door! The two nights before we caught him, the trail camera showed him in the trap, usually around 2:30 in the morning, leisurely enjoying the meal.

The next idea was to rig a pull cord from the trap switch, through the trees, brush, and swamp, and across the backyard to a friend’s back window. The house is about 100’ from where the trap was in the woods. She had been monitoring a nanny camera at the trap for weeks. The cam had live video and audio. Then we loaded the bait bowl with grilled steak.

January 26 – 9:30PM: We got a call. Shadow was in the trap. We changed clothes and were at the trap minutes later. Shadow was understandably frantic. He was howling, barking, and charging the fence full speed. We wanted to get him in the transfer crate before he hurt himself. The transfer crate, covered with a blanket, was at the trap door. We used the catch pole to direct him that way. Once he was in, we tipped the crate back and closed the door.

It was now 9:50. We had a standing invitation from the Sun City Animal Hospital to bring him in as soon as we caught him. They were open until 11:00, so we loaded the transfer crate in the back of our SUV and were at the vet by 10:00.

The vet sedated him through the crate fencing and did blood tests, x-rays, and a thorough physical exam. We also had him put a harness on Shadow while Shadow was sedated.

Diagnosis: Shadow is 6-7 years old. An intact male. Has a mild case of pneumonia. And Stage 2 heart worms. But his medical issues are recoverable.

January 28: Shadow had not eaten in 36 hours, and he had 30 days of medications he needed to take twice a day. I was making myself scrambled eggs for breakfast and thought, “I’m going to scramble some eggs for Shadow and mix in his meds.” That was the solution.

January 28 – 1:00PM: Paul and Candace Phillips, Tree Tops residents and Shadow’s foster parents, came to take him home.

February 2: His progress is slow but steady. He had a setback the other day when they tried to walk him in the fenced yard in his harness. Shadow panicked and pulled out of it. They eventually got him safely back in the sunroom. He stayed in his crate for the next day, but has since moved to the patio furniture. They are now able to hand feed him, which is a major milestone toward socialization. The next major milestone was yesterday – a tail wag when they brought him dinner. These are short chapters in what we all hope to be his happily ever after story.

Shadow is out of the weather and away from traffic, but he is only halfway home. He still needs to get healthy and socialized to humans. Our feral cat rescue philosophy has always been to give these cats the time, space, and grace to adjust. With Shadow, it’s time, space, grace, and scrambled eggs.

February 25: Shadow had his four-week medical exam and his first heart worm treatment. He whined and cried the entire time, but he did well. We are proud of him.

March 4: Today was the first day Shadow walked on leash in the foster parents’ back yard!

Wide River to Cross (A Song for Shadow’s Recovery)
– Selected lyrics by Levon Helm –

There’s a sorrow in the wind,
Blowing down the road I’ve been.
I can hear it cry while shadows steal the sun.

But I cannot look back now.
I’ve come too far to turn around,
And there’s still a race ahead that I must run.

I’m only halfway home, I’ve gotta journey on
To where I’ll find, find the things I have lost
I’ve come a long, long road, but still I’ve got some miles to go.
I’ve got a wide, a wide river to cross.

I have stumbled, I have strayed.
You can trace the tracks I made,
All across the memories my heart recalls.
But I’m still a refugee, won’t you say a prayer for me?
‘Cause sometimes even the strongest soldier falls.