By Ms Caroline N Keyser (Irwin)August 18, 2011
A food dish, a warm home and a pat on the head -- dogs don't usually ask for much more than that from their owners. But when one Fort Irwin dog needed some extra help, the community didn't hesitate to come to his aid.
Jake is a two-year-old Akita who spent much of the past 12 months battling the harsh elements of the Mojave Desert. Alone, without a family to care for him, Jake eked out an existence in an environment where winds regularly exceed 50mph, water is a luxury and temperatures can plunge below freezing. No one is entirely sure how Jake came to be alone on Fort Irwin, but Ramiro Gonzales, installation game warden, and others suspect his previous owners abandoned him.
Fort Irwin residents first noticed the mellow dog wandering the installation in December 2010. Jane S.* and her husband Dan, who lived in the Bitter Springs housing area, saw Jake approach their backyard one day in mid- December, and soon began receiving regular visits. Jake had no tags or collar and they quickly discovered no one was looking for a lost Akita. Concerned, they began feeding him and giving him water.
"He had such loving eyes and a gentle nature," Jane said. "He would arrive on cue and watch me put his food bowl out and often ate while I watched."
Weeks went by and a bond formed between the two dog lovers and the wandering Akita. Jake continued visiting Jane and Dan's backyard every day, but he never stayed and never came close enough for them to pet him. Jane and Dan grew increasingly worried about Jake's well-being, and they came to a decision " in spite of already owning several dogs, all of whom had been rescued from shelters or abandonment, they owed it to Jake to try to bring him into their home and become his permanent family.
"We felt it was our obligation to try and save this beautiful dog," Jane said. "We couldn't bear the thought of him trying to survive out there alone and scared."
But bringing Jake home proved easier said than done. The dog was skittish around humans and thwarted every capture attempt and safe trap Dan set for him. Jake showed a very keen awareness of people, Jane said. She and Dan once watched as he picked up his food bowl, looked both ways before crossing a street and then settled in a shaded, secluded area to eat.
"He's most definitely smart," Jane said.
Then in March, Jake's situation became more complicated. As he wandered Fort Irwin's RV park with several other dogs, his leg was injured by MPs who were investigating the death of an Army-owned goat. Jake fled, and the next time Jane saw him, he was limping.
With Jake's injury making him even more vulnerable to the elements, Jane and Dan knew it was time to step up their efforts to catch him. They enlisted Gonzales to help their cause, and installed four infrared game cameras to track the dog's movements. Then, they asked for help from the Fort Irwin community. Jane posted fliers on Facebook, asking people to contact her or Gonzales if they saw Jake and requesting they not try to catch him themselves. Jake had become even more wary of humans after his injury, and Jane and Dan didn't want him to be frightened by well-intentioned capture attempts.
It wasn't long before Jane was inundated with daily updates on Jake. Students at Tiefort View Intermediate School, where Jane taught, eagerly reported their latest Jake sightings. Complete strangers posted observations of his activity on Facebook. Employees at Clark Construction Group, whose office is near the Sandy Basin and Bitter Springs housing areas Jake often visited, provided Jane with daily updates and were instrumental in tracking Jake, Jane said. With the community's efforts, Gonzales was able to piece together the dog's daily movements and eating patterns, which let Jane and Dan monitor his safety and better attempt to capture him.
"Thanks to social media and the small-town nature of Fort Irwin, Jake became quite the local celebrity," Jane said. "It's a great example of the Fort Irwin community working together for the greater good."
Months passed and the dog continued to elude capture, but still visited Jane and Dan every day. Finally, in late June, with a PCS move imminent, Jake's adopted owners succeeded in bringing him home. They had contacted their civilian veterinarian to obtain a safe prescription sedative, which they placed in a meatball in an area Jake frequented. As Jane watched, Jake ate the meatball and fell into a sleep-like state.
Accompanied by several friends and armed with nets, Jane and Dan approached Jake, who managed to rouse himself and nearly escape capture before finally being caught and brought home. Lt. Col. Roy Brown, Sharon Brown and their son Roy Brown III were among the rescue party, as well as Command Sgt. Maj. Phillip Simpao and his wife Rose.
"You could see the relief on his face when he was caught," said Lt. Col. Roy Brown, who helped with Jake's capture. "He really enjoys being back in a family, and the other dogs look out for him."
At Jane and Dan's new home in Virginia, Jake is thriving and has fit right in, Jane said.
"He's just a happy, friendly, normal dog now," said Sharon Brown, Roy's wife, who also helped.
"It's such a happy story, and I'm glad I got to be a part of it. I don't think the smile left Jane's face for days. They were the most dedicated people I've ever seen, and it paid off."
Gonzales said he was glad Jake finally made it home safely.
"There's a misconception that just because a dog is loose, it's aggressive," he said. "If you can't take care of a dog, try to take it to an animal shelter somewhere. Don't leave it in the desert."
*Last name withheld for OPSEC purposes.