Julio “Hoolie the Hooligan” – A family and a dog learning about true love…
From the John W Strobel III series, People I’ve Met Along the Way…
How does one explain a relationship that is tentative yet appears to be lasting? How do you explain a liaison that has barriers but is destined to remain an enduring, eternal, undying and faithful bond between a dog and a house full of humans? “Hoolie” the Hooligan and my family are in that kind of association. Forget the fact that I am an old man and he is part German Shepherd and part Husky dog. It makes it almost comical at times. He constantly reminds me that we are so different and yet so similar. We are unable to speak to each other yet we communicate, we both have eyes yet we see things differently, we both need affirmation of our lives yet we seek that affirmation in different ways, we express love to one another but in bizarre and curious ways… Such is the relationship between “Hoolie” the Hooligan and me and my extended family. Let me tell you how we met this fascinating wild dog…
It was a cold winter here in the Antelope Valley in 2009, we had experienced a few light snow showers but we had no idea the immensity of one that was on the horizon. One day after one of those light snowfalls, we drove to the store and noticed a beautiful fawn colored German Shepherd dog lying among the left-over snowflakes on the lawn of a neighbor. It was obvious that he had adopted the neighbor’s lawn for his home. Each time we passed the house we were astonished by his beauty. The lawn he adopted belonged to our neighbor Helen, a lovely young lady from Vienna, Austria who served two tours of duty in the U. S. Army in Iraq and was now trying desperately to join the Los Angeles Police Department. She kept a horse in her backyard as many of us do here in Lake Los Angeles. She also had three dogs that lived in her backyard. This stranger just appeared one day, survived the officious barking of Helen’s three backyard dogs and never left.
Curiosity finally got the better of us so my daughter, Wendi, called Helen and asked her about the Shepherd living on her lawn. Helen told Wendi that the dog had just appeared one day and slept in her front yard all night. The next morning she noticed how skinny and undernourished he was so she put out food and water for him. He shied away from her when she got near him but didn’t seem menacing to her. Helen had been a dog handler in Iraq so she was fully competent to judge the dog’s personality but as much as she and others tried they could not get near the obviously frightened animal. Every time she put food and water out for it but the cautious canine would back away until she had gone back in the house before he would attempt to eat and then always with a watchful eye on the front door. Wendi asked her if the dog had any identifying tags. Helen said she could not see any and she added that the neighbors across the street were very upset with him living in her front yard. It seems that he had dug a nest for himself in their flower garden and made it his bedroom for his afternoon naps. The small hole he dug also helped him stay warm out of the cold winds. They have animals too and are not unkind people but their flower garden was their pride and joy so they told Helen that if she didn’t control him they would call Animal Control. Helen explained to them that she could not control the dog any more than anyone else, she was feeding him only to keep him from starving to death.
Within two days Animal Control was there. Two officers approached the dog and after some sweet talking and a bit of wrangling they captured him in their net. However, as they tried to put him in one of the cages in their truck he wriggled free and ran like the wind away from them. All further attempts to corral the now extremely frightened animal failed so the officers said they were going to declare him a feral dog and return with weapons and shoot him.
When Wendi heard that she came unglued. The dog had been coming into our front yard too on his forays for food. He soon was eating the food and drinking the water we put out for him on a regular basis. After the unsuccessful capture attempt by Animal Control he spent more and more time in our yard. We could not get near him either, he was so suspicious of two legged beings that we came to the conclusion that someone had mistreated him so badly that he wanted no contact with us or any other human.
Animal Control was back one day with their weapons in hand and ready to shoot “Hoolie”. In the interim Wendi had named him with the light hearted moniker. She intercepted the Animal Control Officers who were getting ready to hunt Hoolie down in the wild area of brush and Joshua Trees behind Helen’s house. Wendi told them, “I’ve got an idea, I’m going rig the back yard gate with a rope and get him in there to eat, then I’ll slam the gate shut and we’ll have him. You can’t shoot him, he’s such a beautiful animal we must save him. We will trap him and train him and buy him a license and give him a good home. Please don’t shoot him.”
The officers were not happy about having to shoot Hoolie either so they agreed to give Wendi a week to trap him. One said, “If you can get that dog out of our hair We’ll give you time to domesticate him so you won’t have to bring him in right away.” He noted his promise on their paperwork and they drove away happier than when they arrived. Their bloody task had been cancelled by Wendi’s promise to capture Hoolie.
My tender hearted daughter moved his water bowl and food to the backyard and then we waited, and we waited, and we waited. Of course when he saw the Animal Control truck he disappeared into the outback so it was a day or two before he came back into our front yard looking for food, always sniffing the air for any sign of danger. When we saw him in the yard Wendi would rush to the back patio and crouch down behind our swing, rope in hand, watching the backyard gate while I reported to her on his movements in the front yard. After hours of waiting while Hoolie looked for his bowl where it had always been he sniffed the air one more time and I watched him disappear around the corner of the house. I whispered to Wendi that he was moving and sure enough he cautiously came to the back gate. He stopped and looked around as if he suspected a trap but raised his head and sniffed some more. We waited with bated breath as he made up his mind that the food was more important to him than danger. Still, he moved slowly to the dish of food, to which Wendi had added some fresh meat. He finally lowered his head and took a mouthful of the steak in the bowl. Wendi waited until he was busy eating and then she pulled the rope and the gate slammed shut. I have never seen anything like the reaction he had to the gate closing. He went to it and pushed on it with his nose, he cried and put his front paws on it trying to get it to open. When he decided it was not going to open he began to pace, howling at the wind and his captors, prowling back and forth across the backyard. Wendi and Donna and I had all retreated into the house where we watched his every move from behind the sliding glass door.
Other duties on our “Rancho Rescue” had to be done. Wendi had to cross the backyard twice a day to feed her horses and let them out of their corrals. Each time she would go out she placed fresh food for the dog in his dish and filled his bowl with water. She did this while keeping a wary eye on a big dog that we knew nothing at all about and then went on to take care of the horses. When she went into the back yard from the house the dog would shy away to the farthest corner of the yard behind an apricot tree. He would stay there until she returned from feeding the horses and then he would cautiously approach the food dish and eat.
It went on like that for weeks, the dog, who Wendi dubbed “Julio-Hoolie the Hooligan”, showed no signs of taming his fear of humans. The only bright spot during that time was when our Border Collie Tippie would go out in the backyard. Hoolie would prance and jump and play with him like a puppy turning the back yard into his own personal bark park. Franklin, our Terrier joined in the fun and soon the three of them were romping around the back yard as if they had done it all of their lives. They got along great but Hoolie still didn’t want anything to do with humans.
Slowly, slowly Wendi and Donna enticed him to come to the back door for food. He was hesitant but eventually they got him to eat the food when they placed it there and not out in the yard. I should tell you that we decided the girls should do the enticing as we thought that if he had been mistreated it was probably by a man and not a woman. It appeared they were right as he trusted them more and more each day. Finally Donna got Hoolie to eat a piece of meat out of her hand. What a day of celebration that was. It took another week or so but eventually he ventured into the
house. He was again cautious at first but then began to enjoy being inside, perhaps because of the snowstorm that hit us dumping three feet of snow in our yard while he laid in front of the fireplace all cuddly and warm with Tippie and Franklin. He slowly adjusted to being around us, largely because his pals Tippie and Franklin were always nearby. I opined to the girls that it was obvious someone had mistreated the poor dog to the point that he trusted no human so I ruled that no one would attempt to pet him until he came to us for some contact.
That was two years ago. Hoolie is part of the family now, an integral part of a close knit household. He sleeps in our bedroom by Donna’s side and I’m sure would protect her should that need ever arise. He and I have developed a very special relationship, one in which he knows he is the master and I am the pet. He will touch me with his nose when he wants a treat or he’ll push on my feet as I sit in my easy chair when he wants to go outside but he will not allow me to pet him…It is so frustrating to me. He is such a beautiful animal and has become such an important part of our family that I almost wish I had not declared petting him off limits. But we know if we ever tried to force him into petting we would break the fragile bond we enjoy now so we stay at arm’s length. I would dearly love to not only pet him but also to hold him in my arms and try to infuse our relationship with the love I feel is there, it is just so tentative that it isn’t time yet for us to bond that way, to show those tender feelings. One day, one day, perhaps we’ll be able to show him just how much he means to us and just how deeply we love him…I truly hope that day may be soon…
Photography by Loli Lupe…(Procounced Lolly Loopie…)