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By Fred Dickey

Photo: Kendall Brannon, Molly/Annie and Melissa Howard

Oct. 27, 2014

The woman opened the front door, and sitting on the porch, patiently staring at her, was a large mongrel dog. She stepped closer and saw that it wore no collar. She could see fleas hopping all over its skin like a trampoline play day. It’s ribs were countable, and its hindquarters shrunken with emaciation. Most of the hair had shed from its skin.

The dog obviously was in a desperate state. Flies swirled around it as though waiting to get in the carcass line. And it stank. Oh, it stank! It clearly had been without care for a long time.

The woman, who happens to be my wife, Kathy, went inside to get some food and water, but when she returned, the dog was gone. She rushed around some junipers and saw it forlornly trotting away.

“Here, doggie,” she called, and the dog readily came back. It immediately wolfed down the food and drank a half-gallon of water.

Unwilling to see the dog wander away to a fate certain to be grim, she coaxed it into our gated side yard until something could be figured out.

As she stared through the chain link fence, Kathy wondered how many porches this female dog had sat on before being turned away. How had she avoided the coyotes in the canyons, always watchful for easy prey? How had she not been picked up by animal control? And why Cardiff? This is not a place where strays come to party.

This was a dog that often would be “put to sleep” by some agency, and most would consider it an act of mercy.

I wasn’t home for all this, and when I arrived, the dog had become a neighborhood project. Carol Serling from across the street was there, as was Melissa Howard from next door. They and Kathy were standing in the driveway staring at the dog and forming a plan of action.

The animal hooked the women with its old-dog sad eyes, a gentle little “woof” and a “How can I please you?” watchfulness.

When a bunch of women get together on a mission, no men need apply, especially husbands. I gamely offered, “Let me know what I can do.”

None could have guessed the bizarre event that would end this dog-venture.

The first thing they did was name the dog Molly, for whatever reason or no reason. They fixed a bed in our side yard and set out bowls for food and water. Molly gulped everything like at a Donner Party picnic. When told to sit, she did, and also extended a paw to offer a shake. Clearly, this dog had benefit of some civilizing.

But what to do? She had a chip, but it wasn’t registered. An online lost-and-found search was fruitless. None of our concerned families had room or circumstance to adopt Molly. The women feared that to call animal control or one of the rescue clinics might be the end of Molly. Either she would be destroyed as unadoptable, or the kennel would refuse admission because of her desperate condition.

Their plan evolved from the absence of alternatives. They would do nothing except try to make Molly healthy again. Kathy immediately gave the dog a dose of flea-tick-lice treatment, a whiff of which made the insects pack up and move on, but their damage already done. A corner of a gardening shed became a doghouse to spare Molly the chilly nights.

Kathy (a career research scientist) got rigged up in what looked like a hazmat suit and gave Molly a lengthy bath. That was just a start.

Pretty quickly, Melissa took over primary care. She, with husband Mark, has several canine adoptees: a dog lover of great passion. She took Molly to the vet on several occasions and learned that the dog was in starvation mode, dehydrated, suffered from thyroid problems and had a systemic yeast infection that created a scaly, smelly, elephant-like skin. She also had been infected with fleas and ticks. She had ear mites and infection. Pockets of maggots were feeding on her open sores. Finally, she had gum disease and nocturnal incontinence.

Melissa paid for her medicine, covered the vet bills and bought special dog food. Kathy wrote out a check, and we both pestered her to take it to help cover expenses, but Melissa always rejected it. Molly had become her cause.

This went on for over a month. Meanwhile, we speculated on how this dog had come to our court. We assumed she came from another area. Had she run off? She didn’t seem to have a roving bent. Was she pushed out of a car and left to live or die? If so, may the perpetrator have to face a jury of pit bulls on judgment day.

The strategy (and hope) was to get Molly into shape so she could be adopted by someone wanting a comfort dog, one that would lie quietly with hassle-free affection. But first, her health would have to be restored. The medicine was slowly getting the upper hand over the stubborn infections. Hair was growing back. The smell from her skin was getting much less odious.

Still, I worried: Would anyone really want this dog?

After weeks of seeing Molly inch toward recovery, Kathy and I drove up one afternoon and noticed Melissa bathing the dog in her driveway. We wandered over and were again discussing prospects when a woman pushing an infant stroller came into view. She stopped on the sidewalk and looked disbelievingly at Molly, shock on her face.

“That’s my dog,” she cried out. “That’s Annie.” She rushed up and threw her arms around the dog, which obviously knew her.

When the flurry of exclamations and gasps died down, the woman identified herself as Kendall Brannon. She said her family had adopted Annie as a shelter puppy a dozen years ago. She explained that one day she had removed the collar and given her a bath. Kendall had briefly been called away, and when she returned, the gate was open and her dog was gone.

For weeks, the family combed the neighborhood and wider area. They regularly checked the rescue shelters, but no Annie.


(I promised a bizarre ending, and here it is.)

The Brannons, the dog’s owners, live two streets away. And Kendall often pushes her stroller right down our street. For much of the Brannon family’s searching, her dog was in our side yard, 30 to 40 feet from where she passed.

As to why Molly/Annie wandered lost in her own neighborhood, we surmised that the old dog might have had a touch of dementia and couldn’t find her way home. Weirdly, she was always not where the Brannons were searching. Whatever. She’s back home now, and we hope Molly/Annie enjoys an uneventful old age.

And stay in your yard, damn it!


If you don’t love dogs, this is probably a boring story. But then, I’m not talking to you because you didn’t read this far. However, if you love our toothy bone-buriers, you know there are many thousands of Molly/Annies in this country running loose, hoping to find a bread-crust at an overturned garbage can and slowly starving and dying of disease.

We need to broaden our awareness of dogs and think not only of full-tummy Foo-Foo lying by the fire, but also of Spike wandering in the cold.

Molly/Annie was really lucky. But let our joy be muted. There are too many homeless dogs, and too few Melissa Howards.

Fred Dickey’s home page is

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