“Who’s the new mascot out front?”
They’re words Kim Burgess won’t likely forget.
At first, Burgess, an employee of the Carilion Clinic Family and Internal Medicine, said she didn’t know what the patient was talking about, but the next morning, she saw for herself. It was a medium-sized dog she eventually would come to know as “Jack.”
Jack was a stray, about 4 years old, and Burgess was one of the first to try to get to know him and help him, an effort that would involve a handful of committed individuals and include, if you will, an uphill climb. Think of any animal rescue story you have heard. This one has all those elements.
It starts with Burgess, and skittish, yet curious, Jack wouldn’t let Burgess get too close, although he certainly didn’t avoid the dog food she started to bring to work each day. Burgess didn’t let Jack’s flighty nature bother her and instead spent time with him in her own way.
“On the weekends, or when I was off, I’d walk in the mornings,” Burgess said. “I’d go up there and feed him and sit out on the curb and read. He’d sit with me, you know, about 20 feet away. And we’d just sit for about an hour. Then I’d get in the car and say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning.’ And then I’d drive off.”
What she didn’t know, though, was that Jack also had dinner plans with two other women down the road, Patti Covington and Melissa White, who live on the same road in Martinsville.
They had become involved with Jack in late May or early June, when White texted Covington about a dog she didn’t recognize suddenly appearing in the area. White first saw Jack around Lake Lanier, but he ran from her when she approached.
“I tried to coax him over, but he was very skittish,” White said. “I believe he came fairly close but wouldn’t get super close.”
White took photos of the dog and posted them to social media, but no one seemed to know where Jack had come from or to whom he belonged.
Soon enough, Jack traipsed into White’s backyard. She asked Covington to come down and help her catch him, but their repeated attempts didn’t prove fruitful. Trying to gain the dog’s trust eventually to catch him, White and Covington started feeding Jack every evening.
Burgess and Jack’s morning mealtime meetings went on for about a month and a half, but then one Saturday Jack sustained a serious injury.
“I came back Sunday, and I noticed he had a hurt leg, and he could not put weight on it,” Burgess said.
When two coyotes stole Jack’s food one morning, Burgess knew she needed to call help – and fast. Animal Control was already aware of the situation but unfortunately was unable to assist with the recovery effort.
Two concerned citizens, E.C. Stone, who spent nine years as the Animal Control Officer with the Martinsville Police Department before retiring last year, and animal welfare advocate Tiffany Smart, also had been trying to help the dog on their personal time, but like everyone else who got close to Jack, their efforts ultimately fell short.
Stone set traps, hoping to coax Jack in with some fresh food. Unfortunately, they didn’t work – either Jack was smart enough to evade the locking mechanism or another creature sneaked in and gorged on the meal.
After the injury occurred to Jack’s leg – yet experiencing difficulty with the rescue –the makeshift quintet went public with the dog’s story and their plight to help. Jack’s tale exploded in the community, and people offered their best resources.
Employees at the Food Lion on Brookdale Street and Carilion both called in with tips and kept an eye out.
“Ridgeway Signs printed signs for us saying we had a dog rescue in the process for free and asking the public not to feed the dog, not to bait the dog and just to let people know,” Smart said. “We had fliers printed, just to let people know that this is a group of concerned citizens that banded together, and we’re going to make this happen, but please help us out because we need to be able to track his movements, monitor him.”
Tips started flying in whenever a sighting occurred. Community members spotted Jack at several different locations in the city, including but not limited to Sam Lions Trial, Spruce Street and Hunting Ridge Road.
“We needed a really coordinated effort to be successful,” Smart said.
Caught in a trap
At 5:45 a.m. on July 23, Burgess, Smart, Stone, Covington and White arrived on the scene of a recent sighting of the dog. They were determined to get him the help he desperately needed. Hot on the trail, the group encountered knee-high weeds, chiggers, steep grade shifts and more tough terrain issues.
“We tracked him. We crawled over logs, through cobwebs. We took E.C.’s dog, Lucy, to help with tracking,” Smart said. “By working from opposite ends, we were able to pretty much get him in a compromised position down in a creek bed with very, very steep sides, to where he was just flat worn out.”
The crew brought a muzzle, bite gloves and other equipment down the ravine, but Jack didn’t need any of the cautionary gear.
“Jack was tired. He went willingly,” Smart said. “The rescue effort was just flawless.”
Jack allowed Stone to pick him up and carry him, but the duo didn’t go straight back up the way they had come.
“I couldn’t even get out of the creek bank, it was so steep. I had to walk down the creek and cross the logs to get myself out,” Stone said. “That’s kind of how it went.”
As Stone trudged through the woods carrying Jack after nearly five hours of the rescue mission, he felt exhausted.
“That last day, that’s the tired-est I’ve been in 10 years,” Stone said. “When I started carrying the dog out of the woods, it weighed 45 pounds, probably. By the time I got the dog to the car, it weighed 300.”
When the group safely emerged from the ravine with Jack in hand, emotions flooded over those involved. Finally, the months-long recovery effort had come to an end.
“Many of us – I won’t tell you which ones of us – we broke down in tears. We were just exhausted and grateful,” Smart said. “I had prayed so hard that we would be successful in saving his life because we knew that we were running out of time.”
A long time loose
However, Jack’s story was far from over. He was injured and needed medical attention right away. The group rushed him to the Pet Clinic of Martinsville, where Dr. Eric Lorens determined Jack had a fractured right rear leg.
But there was a surprise: Jack had a microchip registered to an individual from North Carolina.
Their private rescue effort became an SPCA of Martinsville-Henry County case when Jack’s previous owner legally surrendered the dog to the shelter because of personal financial issues. He also noted that Jack had been missing since February.
The vet kept Jack over the weekend, ultimately transporting him to the Pet Clinic of Rocky Mount, where he underwent surgery the following Monday.
Jack arrived at the SPCA around 5 p.m. on Aug. 5, nearly two weeks after his ravine rescue. Stone, the executive director of the SPCA, was there to greet him.
“I haven’t seen him since he left,” Stone said. “It was just a different feeling.”
The following day, the four women joined Stone for a reunion.
Covington said she couldn’t get to the shelter fast enough on Thursday morning.
“I wanted to pet him so bad in the two months I was tracking him. It seemed like he really wanted human interaction, but he just had a fear that he couldn’t overcome to let you pet him,” Covington said. “So this morning, being able to be up close to him and pet him – I was so excited about it last night and woke up this morning so excited about it. I’m not surprised that he’s a very gentle spirit.”
Burgess expressed the same level of enthusiasm.
“I was excited, like Patti, to see him because when I’d sit with him on the weekends and stuff, he just wanted so bad to be nice and come up and be petted and stuff, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it,” Burgess said.
White said she had her fingers crossed for a happy reunion but also had reservations.
“I always had a little bit of nervousness, you know, Patti and I would talk and say, ‘What if we get him and he’s not happy about it?’ ‘What are we going to do if we’ve got a really bad dog on our hands?’” White said, “But he proved it – Patti always had him pegged as a sweet soul. She always had faith that he would be sweet, and that has proved true. It’s really exciting.”
Smart also said she was filled with joy when she saw Jack again.
“I’m just so thankful that we have a safe place for him to go. I’m so grateful for that,” Smart said. “So seeing him today, knowing that he’s safe, that he’s received the medical attention that he so desperately needed, is very comforting.”
Now, the community has a second opportunity to help Jack. This time, instead of tracking his movements, it’s more about helping him move properly again. Jack has a hefty sum of medical bills that will continue to grow as he recovers. The SPCA is seeking donations to help Jack achieve a full recovery.
Jack is also available for an immediate foster situation, and when he is fully recovered from surgery, Jack will be up for adoption.
“He deserves and he needs a family,” Smart said. “He is a wonderful, wonderful dog.”
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