ARF: Sabrina’s Story, From Stray to Superstar

by Wendy Hunter

Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month.
Glinda: Are you a good witch, or a bad witch? Dorothy: Who, me? Why, I’m not a witch at all. I’m Dorothy Gale from Kansas.
Glinda: Oh, well, is that the witch? Dorothy: Toto? Toto’s my dog.
The Wizard of Oz

Well, she may not be a famous movie witch or even a teenage TV witch, but Sabrina is a truly magical mutt, who could easily charm a sourpuss pout right off anybody’s face. An extremely shy and untrusting stray, Sabrina arrived at Animal Rescue of Fresno from a local shelter. Though small and compact, she was a bit intimidating to a lot of us volunteers, including me. She barked constantly at anyone who approached her yard, and if she could talk, the translation might have been, “I see you, I smell you, and I don’t like you.” Or something to that effect. It was most likely, “Back off Bozo, before I make a meal of you.” Sabrina’s squatty body was low to the ground, and though she wasn’t the biggest dog on the block, she certainly roared like the King of Beasts. However, there was one particular person who didn’t just see a tenacious Terror of a Terrier. Instead, she saw a gentle spirit with twinkling onyx eyes and a hidden smile; a true diamond in the rough.


That person turned out to be Mindi, our Vice President, and she spent (and is still spending) many valuable hours with Miss Sabrina. I have to say it was a bit unnerving watching their first meeting, after Mindi climbed into the kennel. Sabrina backed into a corner with raised hackles, and if she had the power to spit nails, it would have been game over. Undeterred, Mindi slowly gained her trust with soft-spoken words and the one irresistible thing to both humans and hounds alike: belly rubs. It’s amazing just how far that one simple gesture furthered their relationship, along with Mindi assuring Sabrina that she was finally in a safe place. And since our new resident was not fond of leashes, Mindi gingerly carried her charge to bed each night, and continued the belly rubs and confidence building. For a pint-size dog who came in from the cold, unsure of her situation and what would happen next, the possibilities of a great future began to appear.

Mindi and Sabrina

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According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are roughly 70 million stray animals living in the U.S. Of that number, only about six to eight million enter the nation’s 3,500 shelters every year. Dogs who’ve spent a lot of time on the streets usually build up a strong suit of armor, because their trust instincts are violated on a daily basis. It’s scary to think what they go through while navigating unfamiliar territory, nonstop traffic, confrontations with strange dogs, and cruel human behavior. The weather can be harsh, often driving dogs underneath decks and porches for shelter, or even into drain pipes and sewers. Strays are nomadic and move around frequently, many even creating their own pack for camaraderie. Just try to comprehend what a perilous life these animals live. Can you imagine being in constant survival mode, scrounging and safeguarding every scrap of food? Fending off predators to protect your pups? Or how about trying NOT to jump out of your fur whenever a siren squeals? It’s enough to turn the sweetest of Spaniels into a cranky Cujo.

This explains how a good natured dog like Sabrina can easily be startled, and can take some time to warm up to new people. It has to be tough adapting to uncertain surroundings, even with a warm bed and full tummy, wondering if it’s permanent. And with so many furry friends! Sabrina is the perfect buddy for all the ARF dogs, especially new arrivals. She’s like the Welcome Wagon, without the gift basket. She frolics with anyone put in her yard, savors splashing in water tubs, and is especially fond of getting her stubby little legs as muddy as possible. Santa may have to bring her some rubber boots for Christmas this year. Sabrina is so even-tempered, that she proved to be a match made in heaven for a family of Boxer puppies we had recently. They jumped on her back, pulled her ears, chewed her tail, and generally made a nuisance of themselves, but she never wavered. As you can see from the photo, when she did need a break from their constant craziness, she plunged herself into their water bucket to cool off. If there was a cartoon bubble over her head in that picture, it would read, “All right you kids, don’t make me stop this car!”

One of Sabrina’s more endearing attributes, is her unabashed displays of affection. It’s impossible to count the number of slobbery kisses she plants on Mindi’s face, unless you actually see it yourself. If nothing else, Mindi gets a free facial, which is a whole lot better than paying for one at a swanky salon. And if you’re into cuddling, Sabrina’s got you covered, literally. Because if a whole body hug from this pussycat of a pooch doesn’t warm your winter heart, then you may want to have your blood pressure checked. It’s achingly obvious how much Sabrina wants to please, even though she can be wary around new folks. But once she learns they present no danger, she calms down and trots over to greet them. I have actually made some progress with her myself, and she eagerly welcomes me with a lively bark and wiggly little rump. Sabrina also enjoys the almost daily company of Erika, our lead volunteer, who knows all the quirks and qualities of the dogs. Erika introduces Sabrina to every new playmate, to see how they interact. After a brief sniffing session, it’s all fun and games. Tag! You’re it!
These days, Sabrina can be seen sprinting around the big dog yard during our “playgroup” sessions. In the early morning before ARF opens, or just before bedtime, we open the kennels to let the larger dogs out for some exercise. They’re like restless racehorses at The Kentucky Derby, anxiously waiting for the starting gate to fly open. The pure joy on their faces is priceless, as they chase each other at breakneck speed. Recently, we installed a piece of agility equipment that has proven quite popular with the dogs, especially Sabrina. She scurries up one side to the top, awaiting smooches from Mindi, then scampers down the other side. Run, rewind, repeat. And with daily walks, she’s getting used to being on a leash. Sabrina’s not a professional yet, but soon will be with patience, practice, and handfuls of chicken bites. Even the most fearful Fido would agree that these are the tastiest treats around. Well, that and Puppuccinos, but they do tend to melt in your pockets.

Because Miss Sabrina is highly affectionate and sociable, she would do best in a house with another dog. She seems to be happiest when she has one or two buddies to romp with, and it’s clear she thrives on companionship. The opportunities are endless for many stray dogs, if they can just find that one perfect person who is willing to turn a blind eye to their past, and look forward to their future. In cases like Sabrina, the only thing she really needs, besides a wonderful home, is a chance. If someone is willing to give her some quality time and training, she would bloom and grow like a tropical hothouse flower. If you have a green thumb and a generous soul, then this precious poppy might be the ideal addition to your garden. At Animal Rescue of Fresno, we would love nothing more than to see her blossom.

Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section on Kings River Life, and the Pets section here on KRL News & Rewviews. Check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.

Wendy Hunter has been volunteering with ARF for just over a year. She grew up in Fresno and recently became an Office Assistant with Fresno County. She has been writing all of her life, though never professionally, and currently writes personalized poetry for birthdays, weddings, pet remembrances, etc.