A diamond in the rough

26th Jul, 2019

Written by Megan Soule – Foster Mom for HART (Helderberg Animal Rescue Team)

Professional photography by Tiffany Schultz Photography

It was what seemed to be a rather normal day for the Soule/Bridger family. Dinner was being discussed on the family WhatsApp group, pictures of the latest foster were being shared… In short, the usual stuff was happening.

Until one phone call changed the purpose for existing and the reason we all seemed to get out of bed.

He blindly kept walking

My sister-in-law, Anja Soule, was on her way to collect groceries for dinner during her lunch break when this incredibly emaciated, lost and sad brown dog trudged straight in front of her car and blindly kept walking.

Anja knew that, if she drove off now, she wouldn’t have slept that night, and so she did what she does best: saves the underdog. Anja called a colleague to bring anything she could find that resembled a leash just so that she could safely capture the dog without him running into oncoming traffic. This road is busy and, sadly, only one person stopped to help this poor dog. One!

As the make-shift lead settled around his skinny neck and Anya helped him into her bakkie, the realisation that he’d just been saved hit him like the vision of a warm bed and a bowl of food that he’d certainly been dreaming of forever. 

What next?

The weary dog sat calmly in Anja’s car, so proud, so relieved, so ready-for-anything because he knew he’d just been saved. This poor dog drank over a litre of water and scoffed puppy food up as if it was going to be his last meal. It was heartbreaking.

Time to start planning. A stray dog in your car, groceries to be bought, a boss waiting for your arrival, and work to be completed… What to do? One phone call to her sister who then called the awesome Louise Spagnoulo, founder and manager of HART (Helderberg Animal Rescue Team) and, soon, Jackson, as he’s now named, was on his way to a temporary safe place until the work day could be complete and the vet could be visited.

Vet visit

At the vet, we discovered that this large-breed Pit Bull-Boxer male dog weighed in at just 22kg – vastly underweight. He was fragile and weak and, yet, that long white-tipped tail just kept right on wagging.

This poor soul was estimated at around five years old; it makes you wonder for how long Jackson had been on the street. Did he run away from his owners? Why did they stop looking for him – or had they even looked at all? How many people chased him away because he looked awful and unworthy? What rejection had this boy gone through? How is it that he still has a piece of sunshine in his heart after all that he’d faced?

Cottage Vet in Gordon’s Bay was the first to aid Jackson, and their willingness to assist us even though the day was already full will never, ever be forgotten.

A place to heal

Our household consists of two cats, a parrot and four dogs (one being a puppy foster for HART), and we thought it would be best for Jackson to stay at our workshop for a couple of days; there’s a carpet, a lekker couch, and neighbours who’d keep an eye on him during the evening. This would give him time to peacefully heal and get his strength back.

During his recovery his food-scavenging behaviour was clear (and understandable). But if you put your hand in his mouth to test reactions, there was nothing except submission. No attempt to bite or growl. He was so gentle.

How could a dog this hungry be willing to give you some of his food? How could he not growl at you? Bark at you? Be angry? No… not this dog. He was just grateful to get whatever he was given, whenever he received it or found it.

Every morning, night and spare second Anja had was spent at the workshop with Jackson. The bond these two shared will forever be cherished and fondly remembered. Our friends, neighbours, HART foster moms and family supported Jackson every single step, and again the saying prevailed: it takes a village.

Learning to be a dog again

Jackson got a walk every day. From being so weak that he needed to stop every 200m, he started to pull on his lead as time went by. He was getting stronger.

Our neighbour bought him a jacket to cover all his bones – and stop the judgement from bystanders. Helderberg Doggie Splash Flea Go arrived to give this boy a bath so that he could feel better.

Within a few days, his naughty/playful side came out. When you walked into his new domain, you’d find the hooves we’d put up on the fourth shelf had been half eaten, but the food you’d put below the hooves hadn’t been touched.

Jackson was learning to be a dog again – one that was playful, funny and carefree.

New horizons

Soon, Jackson was proving to have far too much energy and strength to be a calm HART pup with the other puppies looking to be adopted. Once our foster pup, Milly, had found her forever home, Jackson moved into our home so that he could be around our dogs and learn to channel his energy.

And it was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. Not only did Jackson learn to keep his excitement to a controlled pace for people to manage but he also learnt that, if you left him to his own devices in the garden, he could leave to go and play with his Pit Bull friend next door. (Anja and her sister learnt this by playing a game of “goodbye Jackson” and closing the door while he was in the garden, grabbing their coffee and staking out the garden from the spare bedroom.)

Jackson was gaining weight at a whopping 2.5kgs per week. His diet consisted of high-protein puppy food, more high-protein puppy food and the best medicine of all – love.

Time to go

We posted Jackson and his story on Facebook; the post was shared many times and several comments came through wishing him all the best, but there were no takers for our (now 25kg, sterilised and beautiful) dog. We felt so sad for him.

But then a lovely gentleman by the name of Ian Swart called. Arrangements were made for Ian and his wife, Mariaan, to meet Jackson. Within the first minute of meeting Jackson they experienced love at first sight. An application was completed, and the home check was personally done by Anja, her sister, and co-foster Shane.

All that was left to do was introduce Ian and Mariaan’s two dogs, Lilly and Jenna, to Jackson…

Meet and greet

Dog “meet and greets” have to be one of the most nerve-racking things to experience in the adoption process; not because there could be a fight but because the dog/s need to be accepting of the newcomer – it’s all up to fate, nothing else. The stars will align or they will not, it’s that simple. It’s meant to be or it’s not. It’s hard not being able to control the outcome of a situation, and being a bystander is somewhat of a humbling experience – a rather overwhelming one at that.

At first, Lilly and Jenna had what I considered too much anxiety on the lead and excitement to walk; my hope faltered a little. But Ian and Mariaan are two firecrackers – they’re happy-go-lucky, energised, true-to-who-they-are people, and, without hesitation, the two of them ran down the road with their two dogs to go and find Jackson, who was waiting in the park with Shane.

At first, all the dogs were a little tense. But one slow walk away from each other and back to greet and it all fell into place. We now had three new friends taking on the world together with their awesome parents beaming joy and contentment. Soon it was time to go home.

A second chance

Jackson trotted into his new home and was given the grand tour by his new four-legged friends and the curious cat. He now sleeps on any couch, naps in his parents’ bed with his siblings and receives the second chance he so badly deserved.

Ebervet Strand had welcomed Jackson and assisted with his sterilisation; Louise welcomed Jackson without even meeting this boy – she just put all faith in her team to make the best decision, and she assisted in anything and everything they needed. We’ve also learnt that husbands/boyfriends are great assistants in fostering!

Jackson was a broken boy who wasn’t considered worthy because of the way he looked, yet he turned out to be a diamond in the rough, a brilliant companion and best friend.

Mariaan Swart, Jackson’s new owner, shares…

From the moment we saw Jackson’s post on Facebook he just crawled into my heart, and we knew we wanted to adopt him to be a fur friend for our other dogs, Lilly and Jenna.

Jackson has totally transformed into a well-built dog; he’s now fondly known as “Ou Bul Jackson” (Afrikaans: “old bull”). His coat is beautiful; he’s getting new and slightly crooked teeth coming out; he nibbles on you out of excitement; he plays gently with Lilly and Jenna; he digs holes in search of moles… and loves to “talk” to anyone who will listen.

Jackson thinks he’s just a puppy and loves to leap onto a lap for a cuddle, from where he can peer over the couch to see if his kitty friend is in her basket.

Our house is filled with laughter, fun, love and energy. Thank you to everyone who saved Jackson for us.