A Stranger’s Quest to Save a Lonely Dog Has the Best Ending: Part Four

“I never did find out for sure why the barber’s landlord wanted me to have his dog. The barbershop owner said maybe he realized someone else could provide better care.”

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To read part one of the saga, click here.  To read part two, click here.  To read part three, click here.

Leslie Smith is a volunteer at the Berkeley Animal Shelter in California, and originally posted this piece on The Dodo.


Oakland, a week before Christmas. The wind is insane and the sky spews giant marbles we’re supposed to believe are raindrops. All I can think of is the barber’s dog, seeking cover under the truck or crouched at the back of his door-less doghouse, no bedding or insulation of any kind. My only solace is knowing that this miserable stretch for him has an expiration date.

I call him the barber’s dog because he lives on a cement lot next door to a barbershop, but if you want to get technical, Fella doesn’t belong to the barber. The owner of the shop — a young woman — rents the space from the dog’s legal owner, a man who doesn’t even live in Oakland. It’s through her that I leave notes for this absent guardian, offering to walk his dog or drop off flea powder. And she’s the one, back in September, who gives me the only message I’ve ever gotten back: “You can have Fella if you want him.”

I want him badly, but my house is at capacity, animal-wise. So the search is on.

It’s early December when Nancy emails, asking if I’m still looking for a home or group to take the barber’s dog. Nancy runs one of the most highly-regarded pit bull-focused rescue and advocacy organizations in the nation — ColoRADogs — out of Fort Collins, Colorado. We’d met in person only a couple of times, but she’d been following his story.

Nancy writes that she hasn’t been able to get Fella out of her mind. She tells me a voice keeps needling her about him, and she’s been doing this work long enough to know not to ignore it. I give her as much information as I can about this dog — and acknowledge the many unknowns. She listens, and then offers to drive out to Oakland in January to get the barber’s dog. I’m more than welcome to ride back with her and help him get settled. She even has a foster home already in mind and how does that sound to me?


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I tell Nancy that I never thought this day would come. I tell her if she ever needs a kidney, I’ve got a spare. I tell her she’s making an optimist out of a card-carrying cynic and that they may revoke my sarcasm privileges.

January is still a month away, so I make the most of my visits to the barber’s dog. If I time it just right, usually a little before noon, I see the man with the grocery cart. His clothes are tattered and he mumbles to himself as he rummages through the recycling bins and trash cans that line the street. He never acknowledges me, just tosses the scraps he’s scrounged over the fence to Fella. Sometimes it’s a few pieces of pepperoni pizza, sometimes leftover Chinese food. Sometimes chicken wings, bones and all.

It messes with your mind a bit to see this. A human with so little, sharing his spoils with a dog who isn’t his. The whole scene eats away at one’s pessimism. And prejudice. There are more than a few of us who care about the barber’s dog.

One day, an art student and her roommate come by. They say they, too, have fallen for this big stinky blockhead. We share concerns about his lack of fur and the bumps on his muzzle and his long hours alone. I tell them I’m going to be away for the holidays later in the month. They offer to take up the daily visits in my absence.

I get to know the super for the property as well — the guy who feeds Fella. I learn he isn’t paid to do this. He buys Nutro and Alpo with his own money and he comes by daily to replenish Fella’s food and water because he doesn’t want the dog to starve. With the owner absent, he could’ve surrendered Fella to Oakland Animal Services (almost a certain death sentence). He could’ve chosen to do nothing at all.

And so I come to appreciate each piecemeal, discrete act of kindness. They never added up to a particularly happy existence for the barber’s dog, but they were enough to keep him alive.


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I talk to the super to arrange the hand-off, and on Thursday morning, January 8, we meet at the property. He unlocks the gate to the cement lot, and for the first time ever, I kiss the barber’s dog without feeling metal chain link pressing into my face. I open the door to my car and Fella scrambles in.

He does not look back.

I take photos to prove it, but it’s still surreal to see the barber’s dog in my home. Friends come by, as does the art student with her boyfriend. Many bring gifts for both of us. Fella is every bit the gracious celebrity, welcoming each visitor with almost childlike sincerity. He tests out the various dog beds and keeps looking up at me as if to say What happened? I’m king for a day! I want to tell him not to worry, that he’s king from now on.


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When it’s finally time to turn in for the evening, Mike fashions a giant bed from old cushions and blankets, and Fella and I hunker down together. Every so often I wake up and cry, my tears of joy and disbelief mixing with his puddles of drool on the pillow. He doesn’t move from this position all night.

And then it’s Friday morning, time to hit the road. Nancy picks us up early — we have 17 hours of driving ahead of us. Our plan is to spend the night somewhere in Utah, get up early the next morning, and finish the drive.

Fella alternates between squishing on my lap up front and napping in the back. At each stop, he amazes me with his easiness, his softness in his movements. He stays close and accepts every mile of the journey without complaint, without question. When I can’t stay awake a minute longer, I crawl in the back and curl around him, and for hours we sleep. Nancy doesn’t wake us; she drives straight through the night. This dog has been waiting long enough to come home, she says.


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It’s late Saturday morning when we arrive in Fort Collins. Fella will stay in the Rad Pad, a heated indoor/outdoor structure on Nancy’s property, designed to keep the dogs she rescues comfortable for the time they’re here in transition. Fella will stay for at least a week to decompress, get checked by a doctor, and just generally settle. For the two days I’m there, Nancy and her partner grant me unrestricted access between their home and the Rad Pad. Food, bed, unlimited tissues included.

Fella and I revel in the togetherness. We nestle in his dog bed and we sit in the sun. It’s all so new and I begin to worry about what I interpret as incredulity in his eyes. But with each hour, he grows more assured that the toys, the blankets, the attention — it’s all for him.


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We’ve connected so deeply in these last few days that I can’t fully acknowledge, let alone comprehend, my looming departure. I practice leaving Fella for short stints. At first, just a few minutes at a time. By Sunday evening, I can steal away for longer spells without worrying about him pining for me. My pining is another story.

It helps that Fella’s arrival here was highly anticipated. Folks from all manners of the ColoRADogs network come by to say hello, including the woman who has signed on to foster him. (She is lovely. I exhale.) A vet student shows up with a handmade snood, knitted just for him.


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At one time, this dog didn’t even have a collar. Now he has a snood.

Monday morning arrives uncharacteristically gray. I explain to the barber’s dog that I have a flight to catch. And then one of us embarrasses herself by completely falling apart.

As much as I want to, for Fella’s sake, I’m unable to hold back. I cry sad tears because I can’t communicate that though I’m leaving, he’s in safe, good hands. I cry selfish tears for missing him, for not knowing when the next time is I’ll see his face or sniff his stink — and for no longer being the one who’s there to comfort him. And I cry useless, wasted tears for all those years he spent lonely and bored and cold, this dog who looks into the eyes of every person he meets and says, “I trust.”

Finally I bring myself to say goodbye … for now.


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Tuesday back in Oakland proves particularly difficult — the first day in over a year my lunch time is my own. All I want to do is breathe in his stink and scratch his belly and tell him it will be ok. He doesn’t need me to do that anymore. It’s the new normal for both of us.

Nancy, god bless her, provides regular updates and sends photos. I look at flights and make plans to visit in the spring. And I practice using his new name, the one we agreed on while I was in Colorado: Fergus. Nancy says Fergus comes from the Scottish and means “strong man.” My own first name is Scottish as well. I’m told it means “fortress.” Or “protection.” For once, the meaning resonates.


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I never did find out for sure why the barber’s landlord wanted me to have his dog. The barbershop owner didn’t know either — she said maybe he realized someone else could provide better care. For all the time and energy I squandered being angry at this nameless, faraway person, today I have to respect his action. In the end, he did right by this animal.

And this is where the story of the barber’s dog ends. It’s where Fergus’s begins.


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Fergus is not currently available for adoption, but keep checking with ColoRADogs.  He is being fostered as he goes through a transition period from lonesome, outside dog to indoor, family dog.  To follow his progress, become a fan of his Facebook page.  The photos of him looking happy with his new BFF are just too cute!


153 thoughts on “A Stranger’s Quest to Save a Lonely Dog Has the Best Ending: Part Four

  1. You need to go back and get YOUR dog! 🙂 You’ve made a real connection with him and it’s apparent that he has made one with you and trusts you. God bless you for all you have done for him and giving him the life he deserves!!

  2. That might have been the best story that I have ever read. I cried from part one too part four. Thank you for doing what you did! He is so beautiful and deserves to be loved for the rest of his days. You are my hero!!!

    1. go back and adopt him
      I had the same thing happen
      rescued a pitiful (named chula) and tried to find her a home
      fell in love with her and then found out my pitiful had cancer
      she lived another 9 months with us and now we are so Thankful we kept Chula
      There is a reason no one was able to adopt her BECAUSE she was meant to be ours
      She is our 3rd pitiful rescue.
      They are great dogs but need to be protected from the world

  3. Wonderful story (now that I can see thru the tears) The fact that Fella never allowed his lot in life to dim his loving heart is a true testament to the love inherent in all Gods creatures.. God Bless

  4. I am actually crying today with happiness for Fella/Fergus. God Bless you for all that you did to get him out of that terrible life and into a new much happier one. Do you think it will be possible that you will go back and get him? You have develped such a connection with him. Whether you do or not, he will have a much, much better life now thanks to you.

  5. You changed the world for one dog..as it should be. I am an ex-dog rescuer and every time I said goodbye to a beloved foster, I knew I had done the right thing (after I stopped the tears of joy and sadness too). You were there to save his life when it mattered the most. You made a connection with him, understood that you weren’t his forever home, and handed him off to the people who will find “his” home. If rescuers kept every dog, they wouldn’t be rescuers. I used to tell people that if they had the wrong dog in their home, then they were keeping him from the right home..made them feel better when they had to surrender a dog, but it was true. Then it became my job to find help that dog find the right home. I wouldn’t have found homes for several hundred dogs if I had kept the ones I made a connection with-which was practically every single dog. This is why rescue groups have a hard time getting foster homes-they adopt the fosters then have no more space or time. Celebrate the rescuers that know how to save a deserving dog and hand them off to other groups who will find that one dog a perfect furever home. Bless you for having the courage and strength to let him go so that he could find his new life.

  6. It made my day reading this, thank you for caring about this sweet animal. My mother, who was a rule follower all her life, was ruthless when it came to saving animals. She was a mastermind when plotting rescues. She always seemed to attract animals and loved all of them fiercely, even the wild ones. They took to her as if she could speak their language. Our neighbor had a son who was a horrible child. He was mean to everyone. He took a puppy, a beautiful shepherd collie, and put it in the yard next door. The house had been vacant for a long time. Mom heard crying and yelping and went to investigate the noise. She found an adorable puppy squinting through the weeds and grass in the yard. Without hesitation, she innately knew what was going on with this pup. She scooped him up, took him in the house and immediately took pictures of him with presents etc., staged to look like a Christmas gift. The police did come to our door and indicated that she had taken the dog. Cool as a cucumber, she showed them the pictures and said he was a present from her children. My mother, who never lied in her life, didn’t even flinch when rescuing this pup. This dog was one of the most wonderful animals we ever had in our house. He was brilliant and loving and who knows what would have happened to him at the hands of this child. Mom is gone now, but would be thrilled to hear of this story and rescue. Thanks for sharing.

  7. God bless you and Fergus! I’m still crying. I wish that my apartment allowed dogs because I would gladly take the handsome boy home!!

  8. I don’t know if this is the best ending or not. Yes Fella was rescued but I think he belongs with you!!!! Go back and get him! You can never have too many dogs!!!!

  9. Having adopted an Amstaff, 6 wk old pup, seven yrs ago, and getting an 8wk old pit from Craigs List a year ago-I shared my tears with you after reading Pt 4. If you see or have one of these dogs, you will NEVER ever be the same, this is why dog spelled backward is GOD. Love can’t be truer, or more pure. Great story-Now go get that dog!!!

  10. I can’t stop crying right now! Very touching and happy ending for an animal who otherwise would’ve never had a chance. The world needs more animal rescuers 🙂

  11. Oh my!!! I cried and cried the whole way thru your sad and yet wonderful story!!! THANKYOU….for being there for Fella….. I myself HAD 2 rescue dogs (I now have 4!) and after a recent visit to a local rescue group at Petco…. I brought home yet another two, very sad and grieving, 7 year old dogs whose owner was now in hospice with altzheimers…. She died the day I brought them home….. 🙁 Do I need another 2 dogs?…. There was no choice in the matter…they had to come home with me… My hat is off to you… God bless you……

  12. Great job. Maybe when your ready you may find another animal to save. It is what so many animals need right now. A Melanie.

  13. When I first read part 1 I was sooo mad that it ended. I started reading allot of the comments and then I got mad and pissed off because so many people made it ugly with their nasty disgusting racist remarks. I then read the story again and thought to myself this woman is amazing for what she is doing and ugly hatred has no place here. Today pt 2-4 came through and I decided to skip the comments and just focus on the story and hope and pray for a happy ending. I got my happy ending and so did Fella/Fergus. I love it when you said the gate was open and you were able to give kisses without the metal between you…that part made my tears flow harder. I wish I could really give you a huge hug for loving him…because he sure needed it. Thank you so very much and Fergus is sooo handsome and adorable. He looks amazing in his snood( I had to look that up). God bless you and Nancy and I hope the family that is fostering him keeps him…because he looks so very happy. Although …he should be with you. I am Pit Bull/ bully breed lover and all the stories about them always hit home with me. Thank you for being a hero…

  14. Not only are you an amazing writer, you’re a wonderful person too! Fella/Fergus’ story resonates so deeply with me as I just dropped off the AmStaff bully I found wandering down E14th in Oakland last October at his new foster home with a dog trainer outside of Sacramento. I named him Stinky because of the way he smelled when I pulled him from traffic with a tagless collar two inches too tight. His new family calls him Spot cuz he’s all white with a big brown spot on his back. Sweeter than sweet, he pulled every heartstring I have and I just couldn’t leave him out in the hood to get hit by a car. But my house already has a dog, plus eight cats, three rabbits and 20 chickens. Still, I brought him home and against the objections of my husband, I vowed to find him his furever home. In the four months I had him, we bonded so deeply that it became nearly impossible to part with him. But circumstances at home made his departure imperative and with a heavy heart I reached out to my Facebook friends. I lamented that I hadn’t found him a home yet and was inconsolable over having to take him to the East County Shelter in Dublin. Then a miracle happened. A friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in 25 years networked him and a friend of hers that trains dogs for a living offered to foster/adopt him until she could find him a new home. I was super-relieved that I didn’t have to take him to be put down and drove him out to Sacramento on Sunday. Parting was such sweet sorrow – I miss my Stinkers so much! But Spot couldn’t be in a better place. Reading this story right now is helping me through my separation anxiety – partly because it was a local East Bay story, but mostly because I can completely relate to the mixed emotions of Fella/Fergus’ rescuer. Please don’t let the people who keep commenting that you should have kept him get to you. You did the right thing by him and you’re an angel for doing so. Like me, spend an extra minute with the animals you are loving and giving a good life to already at home. They’ll remind you that you did the right thing. You’re my hero. Thank you for being a champion for those who can’t speak for themselves. And keep fighting the good fight here in the East Bay. There’s such enormous need and so few of us to go around!

  15. Wow. I can’t stop crying. To see him smile and be happy. But know that to him the most treasured part of his journey was laying there sleeping on your lap while you traveled to Colorado.

  16. I am so touched by this story as I love dogs. There is a love story that started
    with you and your gentle ways and heart. This dog loves you like no other, and
    you love him with all your heart. You and he belong together. You have a
    special bond. Please go back and take your dog home with you where he belongs.
    When you see him he will run like the wind to see you and be with you and will
    have the biggest smile on his face

  17. Great article! From one animal lover to another, great job & keep up the excellent work. I have 3 rescues myself & had to find a wonderful home for the fourth. Pitbulls have a bad reputation due to irresponsible pet parents.

  18. My nephew was killed by a pit bull raised from a puppy, loved like family, slept in the bed with everyone, showered kisses on anyone who petted her then she decapitated our beautiful precious baby boy so loved by us. This pit bull with no background of being well raised, well loved or otherwise exceptional does not deserve tears, adoration, worship from anyone. My nephew was killed one foot from his mother with no prior aggression. Wake the hell up!!!’ Pit bulls attack unpredictably. No child should die because people deny pit bull genes.

    1. Mary, parents kill their own children every year, with astonishing statistics. Other breeds have killed, including German Shepards, rotts, chows, retrievers, and many more. You make no sense blaming an entire breed for the actions of very few. Maybe you should look up how many humans commit murder a day/year. Six presidents owned pit bulls, Petey from the little rascals was akc registered and well loved and famous, the dog whisperers best dogs are pits. Pit bulls haven’t changed, we have… Your hate is unjustified, show me a bad dog and I’ll show you a bad owner, they did something wrong with that dog that killed your nephew, a properly raised dog can achieve greatness, popsicle the pit bull is the number one u.s. Customs dog, and look up xena the warrior puppy

  19. Thank you so much for sharing this story of love, compassion and friendship. You are a great writer, you should write a book. I am fostering 2, 5week old pups right now until they are old enough to get spayed/neutered and adopted to a forever home. It is so hard to not get too attached, but with the knowing that I am doing the right thing, and I already have 2 rescue dogs and a very small home. People always say to me when I tell them I am fostering, saving or walking dogs at the local shelter….” How can you do that, I could never do that, because I would want to keep them all” And I say ” How can you NOT do it”. Like Leslie from Oregon said….rescuers can not keep them all, or they would not be able to help and rescue more animals that need our help.
    You are an Angel and Fergus is one Lucky…Happy dog!!! God Bless you.

  20. Sorry for the end of previous ppost…hit wrong key…sweet soul…we can only save them one dog at a time in many cases!

  21. Thank the Lord and all those who helped this wonderful boy. It warms my heart to know there are those out there who do such wonderful work. Bless everyone’s heart

  22. Wow! That’s one lucky dawg!!! Happy for the happy ever after ending…. Kudos to Melanie and Fergus!

  23. Lovely ending to such a sad story. Poor Fella/Fergus has got a great new start. Well done, such tenacity. xx

  24. Oh I’m so incredibly thrilled for such a sweet, sweet little soul!! There is a very lucky forever home out there for Fergus. He’s beautiful.

  25. What a beautiful story from a beautiful kind hearted person. Please keep us updated on this handsome fella

  26. This story makes my heart full and my brain realize there are good people in this world. Dogs are sweet angels and every one has a message or story to share…without any words. God bless you all for your dedication to this sweet soul. Simply amazing

  27. Oh my what a beautiful story. God bless this lady for finding this sweet baby. God bless Fergus. He is loved now and for the rest of his life.

  28. Angels like you and Nancy and all the good people on the way that did that little something for him are giving hope to this world,to be a better place! Thank you from all of us- volunteers and dogs from the other side of the world!

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