Written by Alicia Thomas – SPCA Louis Trichardt
Professional photography by VividLenz and Pix for Paws
It’s said that one can find HOPE in the eyes of a dog. I find these words to ring true for every dog that crosses my path. Their eyes hold within them a powerful language and, when one takes the time, one will have the privilege of understanding what they’re saying to you.
He was completely bewildered
Early in 2021, our SPCA was notified multiple times of a handsome German Shepherd dog that was roaming the streets of our small town. So many had tried to capture him, but all had failed. We too, couldn’t get near this fearful boy to bring him to the safety of our SPCA. He was completely bewildered by the countless attempts by so many to rescue him that it was impossible to get close to him.
We decided that we had to do something. We couldn’t leave this poor boy to fend for himself on the streets, being shunned by those who were fearful of him and forever on the run from those who were trying to save him. We called in the help of a local veterinarian to dart him and, hopefully, then finally get him to safety. There were risks involved with this type of capture, but we simply had to try. We were out of other options.
Run, Forest, run
Although we hadn’t met him, we’d already fondly named him Forest as we’d chased, walked, driven, run many kilometres to try and capture him… but Forest just kept on running!
On an extremely hot, sunny day in March, Forest was spotted once more, and we were notified of his whereabouts. We set off in two vehicles, along with the vet, determined that today would be the day.
It took two darts to get him to slow down, but we finally had him. We were immensely relieved and hastily set off for our SPCA before the reversal drug started to kick in.
Poor Forest was overheated, dehydrated, exhausted and still quite drugged. We did our best to cool him down and make him as comfortable as possible, gave him the time and space he needed, and left him to sleep it all off that night.
It would take time
The next morning, my real journey with Forest began. His chocolate-coloured eyes were dark and dull, and it broke my heart to see him flinch for every quick, sudden movement or loud sound. He paced his kennel like a scared and unsure caged lion.
On that first day, Forest fearfully snapped at me. I luckily got away with just a scrape – and a much better understanding of how traumatised this lonely soul really was.
I knew this was going to take time – and lots of it – and patience, a soft voice and tender touch, and treats… plenty of treats.
The best is yet to come
Some dogs arrive with us shell shocked, but then trust within minutes. Others take more time and a lot more effort, but those are the ones that, once you’ve broken through that wall of fear, mistrust, pain and disappointment, you just know that the best is yet to come.
And so it was with Forest too. Day by day, he trusted more and became more confident and more loving. The light was returning to his eyes and it was blinding.
Forest would jump up and down and vocally welcome me when I arrived for my daily visits.
We’d forged a bond, as I do with all the lost, abandoned, and lonely ones that cross my path.
Somewhere out there…
We knew that Forest wouldn’t be an easy adoption when the time came. He was still so misunderstood, and those who visited our SPCA were intimidated by his mesmerising eyes… but we had to try.
I knew that somewhere out there was the perfect family for Forest. A family who understood the breed completely, who’d be patient with him and help him to grow and find his inner strength, but also his true gentle nature. The side that I was so fortunate to see every single day because I ‘d put in the time; the family who adopted him would have to be willing to do the same.
We advertised him on our Facebook page, and although many came to meet Forest, not one application came through.
That was until I received a call from Natacia, all the way from Kempton Park (a distance of over 400km). I had a good feeling about this family the moment we spoke. The adoption wheels were set in motion, and even though there were some hoops and hurdles to get through and over, nothing was going to stop Natacia and Steven from making Forest a part of their family.
And so it was to be.
The day that I had to say goodbye to Forest, it felt as if a part of my heart was being broken off once again, but I was elated for Forest too. This was the beginning of his new life, a happy life.
Natacia and Steven sent me updates every single day. It wasn’t smooth sailing from the start, but they too had looked into those incredible eyes and knew that Forest was worth overcoming every challenge that was presented to them. I’m so incredibly thankful to them for being so patient, loving, and understanding towards Forest.
Forest has just celebrated his third month with Natacia and Steven. He’s settled in and is completely part of the pack now. Forest is exactly where he belongs, with his forever family. Forest can finally stop running. I found hope in Forest’s eyes and I know Natacia, Steven and Julia did too.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” ~ Emily Dickinson.
Written on behalf of Forest by Steven Holzen
I don’t remember my birth name or even if I was given one. I have very little recollection of my formative years, probably because I had to block it out. I don’t recall playing or having any enjoyment as a puppy. Fragmented memories occasionally come to the fore. Bad memories of being locked in a shed, being beaten for reasons I cannot fathom. My owner made a very poor impersonation of a human being. I was always in trouble for some or other innocent behaviour. My first memory is of being abandoned and all alone on the streets of Louis Trichardt.
I’m not sure whether I escaped or whether that horrible owner just dropped me off on some street to fend for myself.
I remember feeling unwanted and unloved. People were chasing me away and other dogs just kept barking at me. I was very scared all the time. I felt like a criminal on the run. I have no idea how I survived for so long…
A very scary place
One day, some strange men shot a dart into me. I panicked and ran as fast as my legs would take me, but another dart got me, and I slept.
I awoke to find myself in a cage. There were other dogs there that, like me, were unloved and unwanted. This was a very scary place. I had an unwavering sense of foreboding. Everybody feared me, thinking I was vicious, beyond saving.
Then a very kind lady tried to touch me. Her touch was soft, loving and gentle, so I wagged my tail. In hindsight, that may have been the moment that saved my life… She took me for walks and even let me play with other dogs. Those were very happy memories for me, but those moments were so short lived before I was caged again. Her name is Alicia, to whom I’ll eternally be grateful. It’s no understatement to say that she saved my life.
After being in that enclosure for so long that it seemed forever, they took me out and brought me to one of the strange men who’d darted me. I was sure my ticket was going to be punched. Fortuitously, I woke up in my cage again, feeling a bit odd and missing a part of my body but, otherwise, okay.
The big move
A week later, I was put into a car and we drove endlessly before I was put into another car with the lady I now know was to be my new mom. We drove and drove again for what seemed like forever. Eventually, I arrived at my new home far, far away. There I met my new family. I was so frightened but also optimistic.
My new mom was very loving to me and introduced me to my new family. I met my new dad, who seemed cautious of me, but I could see he was also most loving. Then came the teenager, Julia, who welcomed me without hesitation.
Thereafter, I was presented to my older brother, Loki. He looks strange (not like me) – he’s all white with floppy ears and is very big. He resembles a polar bear, but he has the kindest, most gentle soul I’ve ever encountered. He was happy to see me (or smell me). I suspect he’s blind, ‘cause he often walks into things or into me. It’s rather funny at times. Then I met my other brother, Cosmo. He looks like me but is very young and extremely playful; he just wanted to play and play and play. I discovered that both of them were adopted as well. Then came my sister, Nina, who also looks like me, but she’s rather temperamental. She’s our leader. I soon learned that I must avert her steely-eyed glare. Once I submitted to her leadership of our pack, my life changed drastically for the better.
It’s like heaven
My new family were weird; they wanted me to come inside the house. I thought it was a trick so they could chastise me. I remember my first meal – they put the dish inside the house, and I ate it with half my body inside and the remaining half outside the house.
I saw that my siblings could come and go as they pleased, and neither my mom nor dad seemed to care about it. Cautiously, I ventured inside, but as soon as they saw me, I quickly dashed back outside. I didn’t want to get into trouble. But I watched the others and became braver and more daring until I felt it was safe to come into my new home. It’s the first time that I’ve been inside a house. My brothers and sister were lying on the couches – and mom and dad didn’t seem upset at all. In fact, they wanted me to do the same. I tried it out and it was wonderful. My mom even hugged me and kissed me. What a weird family this is!
Three months have passed, and I’ve never been happier in my life. It’s like I’m in heaven. Dad makes the best food ever. Cosmo and I even get two meals a day, not to mention all the tasty treats in between. We sleep on dad’s bed; we take turns or sometimes both of us at the same time squish in. Nina usually sleeps with Julia on her bed, while Loki prefers the lounge. Cosmo is very handsome, strong and extremely fast. He always gets to the toy that dad throws for us first, so I just like to wind him up by nibbling at his hind legs. Cosmo is also very clever as he can open doors and is very good at training the humans. We love to wake dad up when he takes a nap. We lick him in the face. It’s so funny to see him try to hide his face. I like to put my cold paw on his face – that always works.
I get tickles, massages and tummy rubs every day from all the humans. I love them so much. They never get cross with me, even when they all left us alone for an afternoon and I ate the DStv remote and PlayStation controller due to separation anxiety (although my mom did tell me off a bit). I won’t do that ever again, as I don’t want to upset my devoted family. My brothers and sister lick me all the time; Cosmo even tries to French kiss me! Sometimes he pretends to be a doctor, but my dad says he’s a snake oil doctor of quackery. Whatever that means. My dad, also, jokingly calls me Crazy Eyes Ted from the Wild West.
I’ve never felt so loved, cared for, secure and happy as I do now. I no longer flinch when the humans have something in their hands or reach out to me. I know all they want is hugs, kisses and to cuddle me. I’m no longer misunderstood and scared all the time. I go to sleep on a bed or a couch every night with a full tummy, in a warm house with my whole family. Always getting tickles, and dad even likes to hold my paw. Every morning, after waking up my reluctant dad, I greet everybody with a big lick and excited sounds. Then we play outside before jumping on dad’s bed for some more tickles and playtime. With some urging, dad then cooks us a delicious breakfast. Sometimes, mom takes me for a quick drive to drop Julia off. She likes it when I growl at crooks. Every day is filled with pure joy. We even get a wafer after dinner.
This is the best pack any dog could ever wish for. I’m so happy that my tail never stops wagging. It wags so affectionately that even my bum moves left and right as well. All I ever wanted was to be loved and to love; why is that so hard for some humans to understand?
A note from his mom, Natacia...
I must admit that the entire experience was fraught with difficulties but so worth it. I saw the appeal to find a forever home for Forest on the SPCA Louis Trichardt’s Facebook page. After reading his story, I knew that there wasn’t much hope for him. German Shepherds are often misunderstood, and Forest looked very scary, like a wild wolf. I showed my husband the request and he agreed that we should contact Alicia, which I did straight away.
We realised it would be a difficult process due to the distance involved and that we had three fur babies already. We were concerned as to whether this would work out. But, despite our initial trepidation, we decided that we were all in and committed to adopting Forest.
Alicia went beyond the call of duty and arranged to meet us halfway of a six-hour trip with Forest. It was a long journey into the unknown as I fetched him and brought him home. The rest is, as they say, history.
We naturally had challenging moments, but it was nowhere near as difficult as we all expected. It actually turned out to be a very easy adoption, bar a week of adjustment. What I can confirm is that I don’t regret for one second doing what we did. We all love Forest with everything we have and know that he loves us back, probably even more (if possible). He’s fiercely protective of our family, loving to the extreme, and just a precious creature that only brings happiness and love to our lives every day.
A note from Julia…
My journey with Forest began with my mother picking me up from school and me seeing this wild-eyed wolf dog. Initially he was aloof but allowed me to touch him, slowly and softly. I spoke to him and showed him that I meant no harm and only wanted to show him love. Even though his personality wasn’t showing, I knew he was going to fit in with my crazy and dysfunctional family.
When we arrived home, we opened all the car doors, yet he wouldn’t get out of the car. We filled his water bowl, trying to coax him out, even adding treats, all to no avail. We then decided to sit patiently on the grass; he eventually came out and wandered around like a lost fart.
He met our other babies, and our family of six became a family of seven in the blink of an eye. Forest has always been full of love, despite those crazy eyes. I could tell all he wanted was love, security and consistency. That’s what we gave him in abundance. Our new family member desperately needed that. We were all more than willing to do anything, even if it meant travelling to unknown places, which my mother did. We’ve been committed to Forest since day one; I remember sitting on the kitchen floor watching him – he was afraid to come inside. I would touch him and speak to him gently until, magically, he came into the house that he can now always call “home”.
I’ve watched him grow – this dog who was so afraid of love has transformed and become the perfect addition to this family. The journey was as crazy as his eyes, and there isn’t a moment I would change. Forest has my unconditional love and a piece of my heart forevermore.