Wed, July 17

A Tidbit of a Tale

Tidbit was the only dog who didn't find a family at a recent off-site adoption event. Early this October volunteers from the Verde Valley Humane Society (VVHS) had herded three little dogs into carriers, set up a playpen outside Petsense and let the cuties sell themselves.

First to go was puppy Winslow, all wiggly and too adorable to resist. Next went the sweet Pomeranian mix, Dobbie, who was adopted by a woman with a Pomeranian in her van. The two Poms were tested for compatibility and the games were on with the entire van serving as a Pom playground.

"I can't leave her behind," said the woman, and the papers were signed. Dobbie's playful personality won her an instant family. But Tidbit, an older dog, shivering in her borrowed coat, preferred the volunteer's lap to a showy playpen.

So, Tidbit came back to the shelter - better luck next time.

Tidbit came to the Adopt for Life Center for Animals (VVHS) in July via the county Animal Control Van. She had been found walking down the road in Cornville. She was amiable enough - in a small, female, Fox-Rat terrier, feisty way. Given the time to get to know you, you'd receive a friendly greeting.

If not, you'd see her aloof, regal side. Her arthritis caused her back legs to quiver and her teeth needed some attention. Girls from the Aftershock Cross-Country Team (Cottonwood Middle School) volunteered to walk little dogs on Saturdays and during break week. They worried when Tidbit's little back legs started shaking during long walks, but she was always good to go on.

One day a sports photographer came along with the team and their coach, Micah Swenson, to take some pictures of the volunteers for the Verde Independent.

Meanwhile, Rhonda Martin had been searching for her family's lost dog, Maggie, for a long time. The little black and white terrier had disappeared from a second-story, secure balcony.

Ever since Maggie had gotten lost earlier, during a family camping trip, Rhonda's daughter, Sarah, had always made sure Maggie's collar and ID tags were securely fastened. Surely someone would read her tags and bring her home. As the days, weeks and months rolled by it became apparent that the little dog had been taken and would not be returned. Sarah moved away and the family moved on. Their remaining dogs, Joker and Jackson were joined by a few more.

But Rhonda never stopped thinking about Maggie. Her fears about the tiny dog's fate sometimes overwhelmed her. "I was so afraid she'd be used as a bait dog. Or starved. Or just neglected. Run over. Because she loves to be in a den, I searched every hole and dark space I came across, just in case. I asked God to just let me know, even if she was dead, so I wouldn't have to worry that she was suffering. I decided that even if she was stolen, but well cared for and loved, I would be ok with that. For some reason, during the last few months, I felt haunted by her." Still, Rhonda kept looking for the little lost terrier. "I posted flyers and contacted every possible agency. At first I went to the shelter every week looking for her. Then it was every month. Then I gave up on the possibility of her being at the shelter, but I searched Petfinder, Craigslist, local newspapers and the Adopt for Life Center for Animals photo books at the vet's office."

Then one day at the office, Rhonda glanced at the Verde Independent sport's page checking the scores. She has friends with kids on local teams and she enjoys keeping up with their triumphs.

She saw a picture of the Afteshock girls walking little dogs for the Humane Society. In the midst of a grainy, black and white photo, was a little dog.

The picture struck a chord, but Rhonda set the paper aside and went back to the job. Hours later she returned to the picture. Could it be? Was it possible that after two years Maggie was at the shelter? When she arrived home, Rhonda hurried to access on her computer.

In her rush to check, she entered "100 mile radius" and was greeted with 1,600 dogs. Many of the photos only show parts of the dog until the photo is clicked on. Rhonda buzzed quickly through the pages.

By page 13 a nagging feeling caused her to return to page six. Among the dozen dogs featured there was "Tidbit: a Mature Rat Terrier." Rhonda never thought of Maggie as a Rat Terrier, but the word "mature" sure applied. Maggie would be over ten years old by now. Rhonda double-clicked on the picture, and there was Maggie. She grabbed her phone and scrolled to a picture she had always kept in case she had to prove to the police that a dog was her Maggie.

She compared the pictures and there was no doubt.

As soon as the shelter opened the next day, Rhonda called and asked about Tidbit. She described her down to a tiny scar. "That's my dog," she said. "I'll be in to get her." Unfortunately, Rhonda was covering two positions that day and could only make a quick stop at the shelter at lunchtime. "We were all so excited for her," said shelter staffer Pam Ridenour. "It was so obvious Tidbit was her dog. They were both so thrilled. She held her and Tidbit was just so happy. We discussed the paperwork. A 'Return to Owner' process would require that Rhonda pay fines and fees. Since Tidbit was probably stolen, that didn't seem fair. We discussed it and decided the best way was for Rhonda to adopt her. As an 'older' dog, Tidbit was only $50." Rhonda completed the paperwork and paid for Tidbit. On a final, sad note, she had to leave Tidbit/Maggie behind so she could complete her shift. When she got home that night, Joker and Jackson sniffed her shirt and wouldn't leave her side. Jackson, a pudgy Boston Terrier who always slept with Maggie on the couch, laid across Rhonda's lap and fell asleep.

The next day, the REAL reunion took place. More than 24 months had passed since Maggie was taken from the Martin family. "A staff member went and got Maggie and put her in my arms. She just laid there and licked me. I couldn't believe she had been at the shelter for almost five months! If only I had kept checking." Driving home, Maggie took her accustomed spot on the console. As they turned into "Old Cottonwood", Maggie started to whimper. She became more and more agitated as they neared home. "When we turned into the driveway, she was jumping from the console to the window and back, whimpering really loud. I lifted her out and she ran to the gate. Joker was the first to greet her when she came in. At first she stiffened up, but then they started licking each other. Then she trotted around the corner into the kitchen, right to the bowls of food and water. I let her into the back yard where we recently installed grass and a small pool house. She walked onto the grass and looked back at me as if to say 'hey, this wasn't here before!'"

"My husband, Dwayne was on the bed and when she heard his voice she ran into the bedroom, jumped on the bed and smothered him with kisses. She ruffled his hair with her paw. That night I brought her to bed with us, but she soon jumped off and joined Jackson on the couch, as if she'd never left."

Rhonda had kept the little terrier in her mind and in her prayers. "If I could tell people one thing about this experience, it would be 'Never give up'. I gave up on the chance she would be at the shelter. If I had kept checking there she wouldn't have been there since July." She gazes at the tiny dog napping on the couch and smiles. "I never imagined we would find her again. Maggie's home."