COARSEGOLD – You never know how far a little kindness will go. It started with a simple post on Mountain Swap and turned into something bigger than anyone could have imagined.
Not long before dark on Wednesday, Jan. 21, business owners down at Coarsegold Village were shocked and saddened to find a badly injured dog tucked into a planter that would have been impossible to reach in her wounded condition. Imagine the situation. Would you have been able to walk away?
The dog was in bad shape, a sight so upsetting it caused one proprietor to leave her keys just hanging in the door to her shop, so concerned was she about the barely-moving, blondish mixed-breed. It was getting cold outside, so another kind shop owner covered the dog with his blanket.
No one wanted to move the animal, since injuries were completely unknown and any attempt to help could wind up hurting. Someone called the town vet located just across the street, but the vet’s office was closing down for the day, couldn’t help, and suggested animal control. Concerned that the dog wouldn’t survive the results of that call, another shop owner took a photo with his cellphone and the newly-formed superhero rescue team acted fast to put the picture on Mountain Swap.
Why Mountain Swap? As anyone who’s a member knows, the local sharing site on Facebook can take a reader from “just looking at these cute canisters” to “I am fully engaged in this argument” in just a few short posts. It’s entertaining, useful, infuriating and amazing, and frequently those descriptives can be used simoultaneously. It’s not unusual for people to break into spats on Mountain Swap, and the sensible volunteer moderators have a heck of a time keeping things straight and civil. There are, after all, more than 10,000 people participating on Mountain Swap, so anything short of utter pandemonium is a huge achievement.
There’s also an incredibly sweet side to Mountain Swap, and that’s what this story is about.
Sometime around 4 p.m. the dog’s photo went up, showing the poor pup sprawled among leaves in the dirt, not moving, eyes barely open, not looking good. Sandy Stukas, owner of City Chics in Coarsgold, posted this message with the image: “Does anyone know whose dog this is? It has been either hurt or sick and can’t walk. It is located at The Coarsegold Village.”
That’s when the folks on Mountain Swap really began to gather steam. Within twenty minutes, word spread online through the foothills that a badly wounded four-legged friend needed help, big-time. From just a few people, the crowd in Coarsegold grew, as kind-hearted citizens offered food, shelter, heat, time, care, money, and advice. When they had nothing else to give, they offered prayer.
Around 5 p.m., down at Bass Lake, Belinda Ditton was getting ready to leave her office when Mountain Swap caught her eye. The as-yet-unnamed dog looked just like her beloved Rocky, now gone to the Rainbow Bridge, where pets are said to live when they leave us. Belinda responded to the post, asking where exactly the dog was, knowing she’d drive right by there on her way home. Before she arrived on scene, Belinda called an emergency vet in the city, making arrangements to bring the dog in that night.
In the Village, a small but powerful crowd coalesced around the failing dog, giving warmth and support by their very presence. Online, people near and far were willing to help out. When Belinda got to Coarsegold, the group decided to use a blanket as a stretcher to load the compromised canine into the truck. In pain, frightened, cold, hungry and badly injured, the dog snapped when they tried to move her. Belinda said they needed a muzzle, and practically before you could say “miracle,” the muzzle was supplied by Jackie Gunderman, whose husband Shad had already offered a warmed shelter and anything else that was needed. Despite the earlier snap, the dog didn’t fight the muzzle, and seemed to know she was being helped as the group of friends and strangers hoisted her by blanket into the warm cab of Belinda’s Tundra.
That’s how it went the whole night. As Belinda says now, “the dog was meant to be saved.”
Tears were shed and hugs exchanged among the helpful strangers bidding the dog goodbye at the Village, and Belinda flew down 41. Every light was green. Fog plaguing the previous nights disappeared. Traffic cleared, and though she was worried about her companion, Belinda sang aloud to the dog the whole way on her frantic trip into Fresno. What did she sing? “Bad 80s songs from the satellite 80s channel.”
Belinda hit all the right notes, but the dog never made a sound.
Finally they got to the vet, and when Belinda could take her attention off the road to examine the dog, it was “brown eyes looking right at me.” The lost dog was taken in on a gurney. Belinda was in the waiting room, updating Mountain Swap with a play-by-play on the creature’s condition.
“Not looking good, guys. No feeling in one of her back legs. Very bad wound on her side. Not chipped. They’ll work on her tonight and re-assess in the morning.”
Agreeing to take financial responsibility for the dog no matter the cost, Belinda drove back home to her husband Brad, greeting him and their own pack of pooches with the kind of hug that’s reserved for heart-wrenching situations and successful reunions. She’d done all she could for the night.
Meanwhile, it’s getting late, but Mountain Swap doesn’t sleep. Also not sleeping that night was a hard-working young woman in Ahwahnee whose beloved pet of 11 years had been missing since Sunday. Scrolling through Mountain Swap, desperately missing the medium-sized pet she’d raised from a puppy, Ashley Schweitzer-Sproull got what may have been the shock of her life. There, on the illuminated Mountain Swap page, somewhere between barrels of clothes and stores of furniture, peeking out at Ashley was her best friend, her fur-baby, her well-loved Sadie.
“I was in shock,” says Ashley, who some may know as a Medical Assistant at Community Medical in Oakhurst. “It was crazy. Sadie is 11 years old and I’ve had her since she was a newborn little puppy, abandoned with her siblings at an Oakhurst hotel.”
Sadie’s life may have started out with abandonment, but it was clear she’d been taken care of before she’d run away from home recently, straight into a rough patch. Sadie’s a digger, and lives to be free. This time, when Sadie got out and didn’t immediately come home, Ashley knew it could be bad. Sadie wore a collar with tag, but no chip. By the time she made if from Ahwahnee to Coarsegold, not exceptionally far as the scared dog runs, Sadie was a collar-free mystery. Now, on Mountain Swap, the mystery was about to be solved.
“I felt like I wanted to die, I felt so bad,” Ashley says. “I was frantic, I didn’t know what to do. I had to calm down and find out what was happening.” She contacted Sandy, who originally posted the photo of the dog they now knew was Sadie, and Belinda. “Everybody was so great and so helpful, telling me what happened and how they came upon her. I could feel so much comfort had been given to my little girl.”
Ashley and her mom Paula immediately drove down to the vet in Fresno, where they found Sadie heavily sedated on morphine to help ease her pain. Her ears perked up at the sound of Ashley’s voice. “We laid with her, loved on her, and she knew we were there. I wish she could tell me what happened to her because it must be quite a story.”
It’s still unknown precisely what took place, but it seems likely Sadie was hit by a car and possibly moved to the planter by the person who hit her. This is speculation based on her position and the result of the vet’s check-up: severe laceration on her right shoulder down her leg, bruised organs, two broken ribs. The good news was, no infection. Her heartbeat was a little off, so doctors waited until the next day to perform the surgery that would clean and ultimately stitch the gash. The surgery on Thursday went well, and not only is Sadie expected to make a full recovery, and will be home with Ashley and her husband Leon tonight. As of this writing, Sadie is up and walking around while Ashley drives again to Fresno, this time to pick her baby up.
“I want everybody to know how much their support means,” Ashley says through more tears. “It’s incredibly how everybody has come together for my baby, and I want everyone to know how grateful I am for that. Everybody.”
Most of us have been there at one point or another: a beloved pet, an expensive diagnosis, a credit card or worse. Vet bills can be daunting, and for some, there’s no alternative treatment that’s affordable. The result can be devastating.
“Things happen,” Belinda Ditton says with understanding. “People don’t always have the money to do what they need or want to do for their pets. Sometimes an animal who is hurt or sick has a lot of life and years left in them, if they can only get past that hurdle.”
As it turns out, about two years ago, the Dittons put some money into a corporation they dubbed The Talking Bear Foundation, with the intention of creating a charitable organization, and they weren’t sure what that charity would be. Suddenly, there was Sadie, and her predicament brought about the answer to their silent question.
“We want to have ongoing fundraising for pets whose owners can not afford high cost veterinary surgery or treatment,” explains Belinda. “Sadie was a catalyst and we said, ‘we’ve got to do something.’ About a year ago, a friend lost a dog to cancer and she didn’t have the money for expensive treatments. We want to focus on the high cost vet care that people can’t always handle themselves: emergency medical needs. When Sadie happened, Brad said, ‘this is a sign.’ We know we’ve got to get this going.”
So Brad and Belinda’s Talking Bear Foundation was given new life by Sadie, who was given new life by others, with memories of Rocky, and all the pets we love. Donations are being accepted on behalf of Sadie, whose vet bill still has a $1000 tab despite the generosity of the Dittons and everyone else who made contributions. Additional funds collected will go into the pot for future furry friends in need.
In addition to the Talking Bear Foundation, a new Facebook page has sprung up around Sadie’s situation: Mountain Dog Watch.
“Thank you to everyone who has donated to Sadie,” writes Belinda on the site. “You are all angels! Please help us get the word out. This girl Sadie has united this community and touched everyone’s heart! Please donate, even a small amount helps! This is an ongoing fundraiser, not just for Sadie, but for dogs and other animals like Sadie throughout our mountain community.”
Back on Mountain Swap, Cathy Fadden Schoch summed the events up nicely, saying, “We’ve all had the good fortune this evening to be a part of what’s still good in the human race.”