Sol – Into The Light
As much as Gateway Pet Guardians volunteers don’t want to see male and female street dogs reproducing—adding to the overpopulation of stray and feral dogs in East St. Louis—they take comfort in the bonds many of the dogs form. Given how many challenges the street dogs face, it’s heartening to imagine that they have company, maintaining social ties as dogs are wont to do.
What’s unimaginable is a dog forced into isolation, cut off from other dogs, people, and any outside stimulation. Perhaps this is why Sol’s story has resonated with so many dog lovers. As GPG volunteers fed Aubrey, an “owned” dog allowed to roam, they had no idea that another dog was living on the same property Aubrey called home. That other dog was in a shed, put there to avoid conflict with Aubrey, her littermate. For four years, that dog went unnoticed until one day the volunteers discovered her living in the dark, entirely unsocialized to the world around her.
In March 2014, volunteers moved quickly, trapping that dog, later named “Sol,” which is Spanish for “sun”—granting her a name that would help blot out years spent in darkness and usher her into the light of her new life.
A honey-colored shepherd mix with triangular floppy ears folded neatly forward, Sol bears the intense gaze of a shy dog. After rescue, it was clear she needed a foster home with at least one other dog that could help teach her what it means to live outside of a shed. Since Sol missed out in her formative years on critical socialization—socialization to other dogs, people, cars, loud noises, nearly everything—she was more like a puppy than a four-year-old adult, and it will take time, patience, and love to help her grow.
Sol lived with a couple of different fosters over her first ten months, making small strides, like taking a treat out of a person’s hand or allowing a pat on her head. It’s easy to desire or even expect speedy recoveries for street dogs—to want the best for them immediately—and sometimes that happens. With dogs like Sol, however, there’s much neglect to be undone, so her progress has been slow and not without setbacks.
One major setback occurred on the evening of March 10, which also happened to be her “birth” or original rescue day, when Sol slipped out of her collar while on a walk. Shortly after she became loose, she was clipped by a car. The driver of the car and the volunteer who had been walking her tried to follow her as she ran from Gateway’s shelter where she was living at the time. Word of Sol’s escape spread quickly among the GPG community, and search parties formed armed with flyers and updates from the man who hit and continued to follow her. By the end of that evening, Sol had been spotted several times—once running west down the middle of Manchester before McCausland—but disappeared in the cover of darkness.
Incredibly, the day after Sol escaped, Aubrey, her littermate allowed to roam free as she was locked in the shed, was rescued by Gateway. The irony of the sisters’ fates, which seemed inextricably bound to travel opposite trajectories, was not lost on GPG volunteers.
Searches for Sol—coined “Sol Searchin’” by one of the volunteers, who said that when she’s found, the humor could be appreciated—continued the next day with the help of a map charting her escape route and projected movements, neighborhood canvassing, and contacting postal workers, package and pizza delivery drivers, and railroad employees. Despite the extensive efforts made by volunteers the day after her escape, Sol remained out of sight.
While the GPG community tried to remain hopeful, knowing that Sol was injured and skittish and without the requisite “street skills” that the typical stray has, thoughts turned to the worst.
Thursday morning, volunteers received a call from the city animal control with great news—Sol was there, linked to GPG through her microchip. She was injured but alive and safe. Later, the full story was revealed: Sol found a hiding place under a trailer at a family-owned equipment rental business, We Rent It, in the Southwest Garden neighborhood. Dog lovers themselves, the father and son quickly recognized that Sol was hurt and scared, so they proceeded with caution, calling animal control and monitoring her closely while they waited.
With a compound fracture and exposed tibia in her right back leg and open wounds on her left back leg, Sol spent a couple of days at Hillside Animal Hospital for her initial recovery. The best place for a dog with injuries like Sol’s to heal is in a foster home, and luckily April Belangee and Lee Hager stepped up to take Sol home. April and Lee are no strangers to fostering; in addition to fostering other GPG dogs, they had previously fostered Sol for several weeks before she went to the shelter and then escaped.
April and Lee have made a home for Sol, providing her with her own room for quiet rest and a smorgasbord of high-value foods like hot dogs, meatballs, tuna, turkey treats, and cheeseburgers. They also carry Sol, either by picking her up or with a sling, to help her get around the house, to go outside to eliminate, and to relax on the couch. Triple-leashed and fitted with a GPS tracking collar, Sol
Dedicated to seeing Sol through this setback and beyond, April and Lee are prepared for next steps, which includes amputation of the broken leg—the best course of action, according to Hillside’s vets—and continued physical and emotional recovery.
Please consider supporting Sol in her journey by donating to the Giving Guardian Monthly Donation Program. If you choose to sponsor Sol with a monthly donation, you will receive updates on her progress as well as several other benefits.
Other ways to become involved include volunteering and signing up to be a foster parent like April and Lee. With additional fosters, GPG can help guide more dogs like Sol into the light of their bright futures.
Written by: Jennifer Agnew