• Elliot Harper

The Tales of a Yorkshireman living in Texas: Dogs

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

I'm suspicious of people who don't like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn't like a person.”

- Bill Murray


It’s fair to say 2020 has been a cruel and mischievous bastard. Almost since day one, it hasn’t let up. It’s been playfully twisting in the knife for months now. If it's not one thing, it's another. I, probably like everyone else, have flopped between forced apathy and simmering anger at world events, from pandemics, to police brutality, to governmental inertia, to Liverpool winning the Premier League. The list goes on.

As you know, I’ve kept myself as busy as I can with writing and releasing my first-ever self-published book (a big thank you to everyone who bought it!), so I’ve done a reasonably good job of burying my head in the sand, only occasionally popping up to do my armchair-activist bit of reading a lot of leftie articles and blocking/reporting Donald Trump adverts on Facebook. But it’s fair to say that I’ve written off the rest of the year. I’m sure a few of you out there have done the same thing. At a time of such an avalanche of bad news, something happens that brings things back down to earth. With all great stories, it starts with someone going for a walk.

I’m one of those losers who like to keep to his step target for the day. I’ve got a Fitbit Versa, and I can be quite obsessive with meeting my daily goal. Usually, I go for a run, or walk the dog in the morning, but for some reason one Saturday in June I was way off. It was a hot day (over 35 degrees), so I didn’t think it would be fair to drag Hank along with me. I threw my “sweats” on and went for my suburbs walk in the early evening, which is basically just a massive loop of the nearby area where we live in the GOOF (Garden Oaks/Oak Forest.)

I quickly got to stomping along my usual route, with my headphones in and my Spotify playlist blasting in my ears (if for some bizarre reason you want to see what I listen to, its unimaginatively titled Elliot’s Eclectic Playlist.) I needed to burn some energy off. I get anxious if I don’t do a lot of exercise and I’m particularly stressed out at the moment (aren’t we all!), so I took the long route, and headed three blocks down. It’s a busier road that I don’t usually take and one that sits right next to the rail track. I made short work of the distance, and began to feel that slight elation you get when you're outside in the sun and under a bright blue sky, when it happened.

From across the road, this big brute of a dog ploughed straight across the street, narrowly missing an oncoming car, and made a beeline for me. I immediately saw the size of the beast and its thick belt-like collar and thought “oh fuck.” We have dogs, and even though I don’t really consider myself a dog person, I probably am one, so despite a little fear at its appearance, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen next.

I stopped as the dog approached. Houston has a big stray dog problem. There are tens of thousands of them on the streets, or in shelters, and foster homes. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a dog on the street (and it won’t be my last), but usually, they just run away, or just eyeball me nervously and then slowly come over. To my surprise, this dog didn’t do that. It came straight up to me and nuzzled my legs playfully. I was wrong, this was no beast, no savage animal living in the underpass like some 21st-century troll. This was a soft, gentle and clearly trained dog who was lost. You can tell immediately, and at that very moment, I knew I had no choice.

I quickly realised the dog was a she, but there was no tag or information on the horrible filthy collar that was around her neck. After a few moments, she sat down and stared at me with as much expression as I’ve seen from a dog. She was panting heavily, and would let out these horrendous throaty coughs. She was also covered in fleas, and she was scrawny to the point of death from starvation. Plus, she must have been thirsty due to the heat. This dog was asking for help. She was on the edge, and she did what she needed to do.

I knew I had to help. I called Naomi, quickly explained the situation, and she drove straight over with a spare lead and some water. Once again, she nuzzled Naomi’s legs and was as gentle with her as she was with me. Naomi agreed with me that we needed to help her, so we took her home and let her into our back garden, giving her a safe place to relax, and brought out a bowl of water.

Now, this is where my part became secondary while Naomi took charge of the situation. After a short time letting her calm down a little, we quickly cleaned her with some flea shampoo, threw her old stinking collar away and gave her some treats. Our dogs were going mental, but I shooed them away and cleared out our “dog room” which is connected to the back door, threw down a few old dog beds (we have so many of these its ridiculous) and created a place for her to relax and recover while we worked out what we should do.

Again, this is where Nay got to work. She posted on local lost dog sites, sent out emails and asked our friends for some advice. We were inundated with people willing to help, pointing us in directions for charities and shelters. It's incredible what people can do when they’re adequately motivated. We had offers from people willing to take her in immediately, but we decided it was best to get her to the vet for a check-up and some medication.

The next day, Nay took her to the vet while I stayed back at home with our whiny dogs who were understandably freaked out by this sudden guest. Even though we had kept her separate from them, our mutt, Hank, ever the bad-ass, wasn’t sure about her. Our greyhound, Bray, obviously didn’t seem to give a shit either way, but with Nay out of the house, they commenced to whining, while I waited for an outcome.

It didn’t take long. The vet found that she had a microchip that was registered to a man who lived on the east side of Houston, which is a good thirty-odd miles away! He was automatically sent a message, and he called straight up. Much to everyone’s amazement, he said he’d lost his dog, Sheila, during Harvey… in 2017! The first thing I thought was we were going to get one of those viral video feel-good moments, like the guy who finds his dog on the street after three years (and is mysteriously recording it.) But then he said he’d come and get her the next day and didn’t confirm any time.

Now, I have no idea this guys situation, and to be fair to him, he did think his dog was long dead, but surely most people would come running, but he didn’t. So, we were cautious. Next day arrived, and we heard nothing. The day dragged on and still no word. Eventually, Nay messaged him and asked what he was doing, and he basically said he didn’t want her anymore. I felt gutted for this poor creature and anger at the guy who callously threw her aside. Our feel-good viral video was ruined. It was back to the drawing board.

Another day passed, and we got her some more medication from a different vet – with some help from our Houston friends who kindly donated some money to help with the expensive bills – and we needed to make a decision. We had already renamed her TJ after a friend of ours celebrated her birthday on the same day we found her (it didn’t seem right for her to keep her old name anymore), so as you can imagine we were beginning to get attached. As you can see from the pictures, she’s a large dog that’s close to the Pitbull breed which are banned in the U.K. The vet records says she’s an American bulldog, but that isn’t always an exact science, just educated guesswork.

This put us in a weird predicament because our visa runs out next year and if we did return home, we probably wouldn’t be able to get her back in the country. On top of that, Hank was stressed out at having another dog in the house. We have enough room for two, but three was stretching it. All this added up to the realisation that we needed to get her into a charity and a proper foster home where experienced fosterers could rehabilitate her. This would give her a better chance of being permanently rehomed. It was a hard decision (it's amazing how quickly you get attached!), but it would have been selfish of us to try and keep her.

Once again, this is where the local community sprung into action. We had received a few messages online about the Animal Justice League that operates in the area. This was reinforced when our landlords recommended us getting in touch with the charity as well. They’re dog people themselves and, to their credit, they had been thoroughly supportive of us randomly bringing home a stray dog. So, Nay fired out some emails.

It had barely been five days at this point and TJ was already starting to show her true self. She slept a lot (decompressing), and her recovery was underway. Her cough was down, and she had put a few pounds on. How can you tell if a dog is feeling better? Easy – they roll around on their back in the garden and howl at dinner time. She was coming out of her shell, and the idea that we would have to send her somewhere else was, although necessary, becoming hard. To our astonishment, towards the end of the week, the Animal Justice League replied and said they had found a foster home for TJ! Not only that, but only a four-minute drive away!

Just think about that for a second. We found a stray dog on Saturday evening, and now within a week, we had found her a foster home with a great local charity! And all this after the bitter disappointment of her old owner casting her aside. Unbelievable really. Things were moving quickly!

We arranged to drop her off at her new temporary home on the Saturday, along with a dog bed, duvet, collar, and thunder vest that were now hers. It was a strange feeling. On the one hand, we were happy that we’d been able to help her, and that people had been willing to take her in so quickly, but, on the other hand, we were sad that she was leaving. Again, this was tough, and becoming tougher as the days passed, but it was the right thing to do.

The day quickly arrived, and we took her to her new home. She had been particularly boisterous that day, which although great to see, made it that little bit harder. At this point, lots of different worries were flashing through my mind. What will the fosterers be like? Is it the right decision? What if they are Trump supporters? All these irrational things were plaguing our minds, and then we arrived, and it was all dispelled within minutes.

TJ introduced herself to Nancy and Mike on her own. She didn’t hesitate as she went inside and met their two dogs. She seemed perfectly at home in this new environment. Her new fosterers were relaxed and easy-going, clearly showing their experience with dogs, and we both knew straight away that we’d made the right decision. It’s fair to say that we were both relieved. We exchanged numbers and agreed to help out if we could, or at least drop in for a visit, but as quick as lightning we were gone.

It was strange arriving back home to find her not there, although our dogs did a decent job of making enough noise to distract us for a while. After only seven days we had started to feel like she was part of the weird little pack that we’d put together, despite Hanks insistence that she wasn’t welcome, but we knew that we had done the right thing.

You might be thinking that this is a perfect feel-good story. Well, it kind of is, but things don’t always turn out that way. The newly renamed Harper (after us) was settling in well at her new foster home. She was taken to the vets to do a more thorough check-up where they found that she had the worst case of heartworms that the vet had ever seen. These parasites cluster around the heart and are extremely dangerous if not treated, but also hard to remove if they’ve got a foothold. It was agreed that she would go to surgery to see if anything could be done.

During this waiting period, the Animal Justice League spread the word about the impending surgery and were promptly inundated with donations. It's incredible how generous people can be! The day of the surgery arrived quickly, but unfortunately, the vet found that it was worse than they first realised and that nothing can be done. She was lucky to be alive at all and could die in terrible pain at any moment.

This was a heartbreaking turn of events. What went from a hard-luck story to a feel-good moment, then back to a hard-luck story, and then back to a feel-good moment, had now turned again. Poor Harper couldn’t catch a break! Mike and Nancy had to make an awful decision.

After a week filled with cheeseburgers, belly-rubs and playtime in the pool, Harper passed on in her home with Nancy and Mike there to comfort her until the end. This was the right decision, and we all took comfort knowing that in the end, she did find her home and that when she died, she did so happy.

It’s times like these that you need the little things. This is only a tiny story in billions. A random English couple find a stray dog, take her in, and with the support of their friends and total strangers find her a new home within a week. It might not have ended the way we all want, but she died happily and in safety. While everything seemingly falls apart around us, it’s a friendly reminder that people are fundamentally good and when someone or something is in need, we can come together and make a difference, however small.

That was a tale of a Yorkshireman living in Texas.

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