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  • Mara Soloway

A Stray's Story: How Della Found her Forever Home

by Mara Soloway

First published in September 2017 in Houston PetTalk Magazine

The “ghost dog” began appearing in the Del Webb Sweetgrass 55+ community in Richmond sometime in 2015.

So called because of her light coloring and slight frame of about 30 pounds, nearby construction workers had witnessed the yellow Lab mix being pushed out of a car.

Thus began about a year of living as a stray. But guardian angels in the neighborhood would see to it that this sweet creature would find a loving family – Lisa and Jerry White of Katy and their sons Daniel and Patrick – plus another dog who became her mentor, their Australian Cattle Dog, Merlin. The Whites opened their home to Della and adopted her in May 2016.

Residents named her Della after the community in which she was dumped. For about a year, they and the construction workers fed her – she loved tacos from the food trucks. They found her resting on their lawn furniture and at the construction sites.

Della would follow residents when they walked their dogs around the neighborhood and would hang out by their iron fences to try to get dogs to play with her, and hopefully get some food. She seemed friendly and playful and would accept being petted, but could tell by the change in pressure of a person’s touch if they were attempting to put a leash on her, and she would bolt.

Ginger Bryan especially wanted to give Della a forever home and actually kept her for a while. Della was friendly with with Ginger’s dog, Darla. But the low fence around her home wouldn’t hold Della. If she didn’t jump over, she would dig under (although she also dug under Ginger’s fence to get in). Ginger said, “Il would pet her as much as possible to let her know what love is because | was certain she was going to get away. She was too determined to be on her own still. But I do think those couple days with us caused her to start to want to be part of a family.”

Home construction in Del Webb Sweetgrass started along FM 762 and is continuing towards Williams Way. As the construction workers moved so did the food trucks. And so did Della, which brought her near the home of Kathleen and Ricky Connaughton, owners of Hollywood Frame Gallery, who live about midway between the two main roads. They finally saw Della near their house in the fall of 2015.

“She was young, almost still a puppy. She was friendly and loved other animals but was very skittish. Although people back here were feeding her, she was skinny. You could see her scars,” Kathleen said. “She came up to me in the garage one day and licked me and let me pet her, but as soon as I went to get a leash, she was gone.”

Like others, Kathleen and Ricky were worried about how Della would continue to fare with continued construction and living in the elements. “She was living out there with coyotes and bobcats and with alligators in the lakes. People had been trying to take care of her but she kept escaping our attempts to capture her,” Kathleen said. “We just knew her time was running out.”

The Connaughtons had lost three dogs in four years. “We had lost our last dog Benny about five months prior to Della showing up around her. I had such a sense of loss. I knew Benny would send me a sign about what am I supposed to do,” Kathleen said. “Then it dawned on me: we were supposed to rescue Della. We needed to get her, get her to a vet, get her trained and get her adopted.”

Liz Scarborough had already started Della’s Group on Facebook and Ricky posted the Connaughton’s plan: they would undertake all expenses but needed help in securing Della. Residents rallied. Via Facebook and word of mouth, additional donations were collected to cover veterinary expenses and obedience training.

Finally, on April 15, 2016, the stars aligned for Della to be captured. Kathleen happened to be at her neighbor Patsy Bennett’s house. Patsy’s Shih Tzu, Jake, played a starring role. “Della came through to the area between our two houses. We took Jake and enticed Della into the back yard. Then we called the neighbor she was used to, Ginger, to come over. After about an hour we got her in the crate,” Kathleen explained.

“She seemed to be tired of running.”

Meanwhile, Kathleen had already contacted an area vet, Dietz Family Pet Hospital in Richmond, to bathe and evaluate Della. They discovered she’d already been spayed, had been shot and had a pellet lodged in her hip in an inoperable spot, and thankfully was heartworm negative. Next Della was to head to Shelmar Kennels in Katy for obedience training. But the escape artist would throw one more wrench in the plan.

Just as an overjoyed Kathleen was posting on Facebook that Della finally had been caught and was at the vet clinic, she got a call from the clinic at 11 pm. They had bathed her and put her on a slip leash to take her outside. As she shook off the water, the leash came off. Della jumped the fence.

“This is the closest thing I came to having a heart attack. I was shaking so hard. But they are so wonderful there — the vet techs had been out looking for her from 6 pm to 11 pm and they said they would resume first thing in the morning,” Kathleen said.

Ginger and others joined the clinic’s crew of staff volunteers looking for Della at first light. Seven hours later, Della still had energy, but they finally subdued her thanks in part to getting a sedative in her. The plans to get her to Shelmar Kennels on the next Monday supposedly were back on track. But this time, it was the weather, not Della, that threw the wrench in to that plan.

Torrential spring rains flooded the area around Shelmar. Della ended up spending the week boarding at Dietz’s, with staff staying with her at the night as she was afraid of the storms. That gave them time to break her of her junk food habit.

When Della finally got to Shelmar, Kathleen could relax again. “I could tell right away that this was going to be just what Della needed: to be taken care of and given consistency and love.” At Shelmar, the stars continued to align for Della: she met the White’s dog, Merlin, who had trained there four years ago and who was now boarding while the Whites were traveling.

“We feel that Merlin was the one to choose Della,” Lisa said.

Merlin has been Della’s mentor, helping her live the life of a well-adjusted dog. “They are quite the pair. They like siblings. You’d think they grew up together,” Lisa said.

Della also has attached herself to their son, Daniel, who also saw how much Merlin means to Della. “At first she didn’t come up to us but then after a while she did,” he said.

One major step forward for Della is that she wants the family to come explore with her – whenever they’re out walking, she sits and waits for them to catch up to her.

No longer a ghost dog existing on the fringes, Della can command an audience with her presence. More than 25 area residents turned out in May 2017 for a party marking one year since Della was adopted by the Whites.

At the reunion, Pasty Bennett said, “If it hadn’t been for Kathleen and Ricky and their hearts of gold, there’s no telling where Della would be now.”

People say things work out the way they should, and this plucky dog has a forever home that would be the envy of all strays – one in which she is living a charmed life with people who love and understand her and another dog who has mentored her.

“Della really is a people dog. Sometimes, if she’s not getting attention, she comes to you,” Lisa said. “Once she has contact with you, that seems to be all she needs. Once you pet her, worry seems to leave her.”

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