May, 2002 Wingspread
      By Billie Marie Zal
      I don’t know when I was born. I do remember my Mama, though. She was a good Mom, she did the best she could with no roof over our heads, and no food in our den. But she was there for us as long as we needed to nurse; it was fun the day my eyes opened, I had no idea what the world looked like. And I began to hear sounds----some were beautiful, like the songs of the birds, but some were scary. When the storms rolled over us, she would cover us with her own body and we felt so safe and loved.
      The first day I left the den was a beautiful, sunny day. We lived in the woods and as we came out, my brothers and sisters played tag and I sat and watched. Mama stayed awhile and watched over us, and the one thing she told us was to “Behave, now. Don’t go any farther than the door of our house.”
      Of course, being puppies, we didn’t intend to obey her. We thought we were putting something over on her when we tumbled out toward the grass a little distance away. But we should have known she was hiding and watching, and we learned our first lesson about obedience. She gave us a good whipping, picked us up by the scruff of our necks, and back into the den we went. I didn’t mind. We deserved it. When you deserve punishment, you don’t mind it so much.
      Of course she let us get to know the forest and every day was an experience in testing our ability to survive in the real world. If we don’t learn survival skills in the den and in the forest where our Mama takes us----then we don’t make it.
      I can’t remember what happened to all my brothers and sisters, and maybe I have blacked out what happened to my Mama.
      But one day I found myself all alone. I wasn’t very old, I know that. And I didn’t know exactly what to do. My legs trembled when I tried to walk, let alone run. And I was so aware of the dependence I’d had upon my Mother and my litter mates. We had been a family---a PACK---and now what?
      I sat down in the forest and glanced around. The trees had never seemed so tall and the underbrush had never been so thick, hiding who knows what? But then I made a big decision. I would do everything I could to survive; my Mother had taught me well, and I could handle it. I would believe in myself and forget the fear. Or---if I couldn’t forget the fear, I would ignore it.
      You have to be mighty smart to survive as a “feral dog.” In a way, you have to develop two personalities: a wild, ferocious animal who can hunt and kill; and a nice, smiling, “good dog” who can con people into giving you food if you look helpless enough.
      I heard that humans call this kind of personality a “schizophrenic.” I don’t know why they give things such fancy names. You get to where you believe you are two different dogs (or persons) if you work at it. And I sure did work at it!!
      I must have been about four months old when I began my journey as a loner. I had no idea that I was different from other dogs. But one day I noticed while I was hunting rabbits that everything was blocked out on my right side.
      How come I couldn’t see anything? I figured it out; I was blind in that eye. There wasn’t any eye in the socket, and I had to deal with that handicap right then, or I would have become really sorry for myself. So what if I had only one eye? It was a good eye, and I could learn to make it work and do big things, because if you accept your handicap then you are on the way to success.
      I did great the first few months of my life; Northwest Arkansas is a land where you can find all the squirrels, rabbits---all kinds of creatures to hunt. Sometimes I got lucky and made a big “kill.” I made my own den, and didn’t leave the forest until I met up with some other “feral dogs.” I heard the “feral dogs” are what people call domestic dogs who have not had an owner and they just grow up in the woods and do what they have to do, to survive. I had friends now and that was fun, especially when we went on a big “hunt.”
      My Mama had been able to run with the winds, and I must have taken after her. I could out run all my buddies, and they admired me. I have to tell you---I had lots of “self esteem” in that pack. They didn’t make fun of my missing eye, and they didn’t try to take away my position as pack leader. I had a good bunch of friends, I’ll tell you that for sure.
      Life couldn’t be better for that first year of my life. Hunting was plentiful, and we would lie around my den (which I didn’t use unless it rained or snowed) and exchange stories about our past. Some of the feral dogs had pretty sad lives. I remember one of them telling us about how he had belonged to a man who chose him out of a litter of pups; he had felt so proud, to be chosen, you know.
      Well, after he got big enough to hunt, the man tried him out and he evidently didn’t make the grade. He thought he had a home for life, but one day this man (whom he really admired and loved) took him on a long trip. He was really happy, and even when he told us, he smiled a little at the memory of going on a long trip.
      But what happened after that is hard for me to tell you about because it makes me want to cry and I try not to cry, it might seem like I am weak.
      Well, the man left him off, like he was going to park the truck and come back; but he never came back. He said when he heard the truck drive off and keep going, he refused to believe that the master he had loved could ever do anything wrong. So he just sat there and wouldn’t move from the spot. He wanted to make sure that he would be there when the man got back.
      It took him a couple of days, he said, to realize that he had been abandoned. He choked up when he said that, and we all turned our heads away so he wouldn’t be embarrassed by his show of emotion. We made it up to him, you can be sure of that, and from then on he was one happy dog. Sometimes I even let him lead the hunt and he felt so proud.
      Then one day when I was about nine months old, some strange feelings came over me. I was really surprised because I had never even thought of getting married and having babies. But one day this handsome member of our pack came up to me and sure enough, we got married. He evidently wasn’t interested in settling down, and he left the pack.
      I was really scared. I knew that I carried babies within me, beneath my heart, and I wondered if I could be the kind of Mother they would need? That’s one thing my own Mother had not talked much about----having babies. I asked her once about it, and she said, “You’ll know what to do when the time comes. Our Creator will tell you.”
      I didn’t know who our Creator was then. But she was right.
      But I am getting ahead of my story.
      My babies within me needed good food, I did know that. So I decided to venture out of the woods and find better food for them on a regular basis. This meant that I would have to expose myself to human beings, and it would take some really personality changes to do that.
      I began my life in the outside world by ‘conning people.” Humans have a tendency to love dogs, and I knew how to smile and make them feel really good. In a way, I wasn’t lying. I just played the part of a good girl, and let them pat me on the head. But I never settled in with any of them. That would mean I would lose my freedom, and no one was going to make me lose my freedom.
      The first four weeks was all right. I found a trailer park (that is what I heard someone call the place) where people fed “stray dogs.” They had lots of “domestic dogs” lying around, but I curbed my instinct to show them my teeth and dare them to fight me because that meant I wouldn’t get some food scraps and a pat on the head.
      I got some pretty good food at that trailer park. They cooked lots of hamburgers, chicken, all the good stuff. My yellow coat was beginning to shine. And with only one eye, it became a help to me because people kind of felt sorry for me I guess.
      I also practiced being very “meek” around people and now I can say, looking back, that this was my downfall as far as running wild in the woods was concerned.
      I will tell you now what happened.
      I had gone through the woods on a mountain close to where my Mother’s den had been---way back in the woods---and I circled around and got down to a place called “Tillie’s Grill.” I had heard from my pack buddies that there was some really good food at that place and if you hung around long enough you would get some great meals.
      Of course you stood the chance of being picked up and hauled off (to where, no one ever said) but I knew my puppies would be born before too long and I knew they were hungry inside me. So I took the chance.
      This was the day that changed my life forever. I was smiling, and looking very meek, and walking back and forth down at Tillie’s Grill, and a car drove up to get gas. I had never let any human get to me, but I noticed a lady sitting in the car and she spotted me.
      I should have RUN---FAST---right then, but the way she smiled at me touched my heart strings. I never had anyone smile at me like that; I knew at that moment what Love was. Before I could get out of there, she got out of the cart came over to me and smiled again. I couldn’t help but smile back, you don’t insult Love.
      Then she took my face in her hands and said, “Do you belong to anyone?”
      I didn’t answer, I knew I was dangerously close to crying.
      I heard her say, “Rodney (that was her husband, I found out later), go inside and ask if this dog belongs to anyone.” I could have told her, but I kept my mouth shut. I had a really strange feeling that something BIG was going to happen and I was scared.
      Rodney came out and said, “No, she’s been hanging around here for a few days.”
      Then she said, “We can’t leave her here....let’s go home and come back for her.”
      To this day, I believe she was testing me, because she didn’t want to MAKE me leave my free world unless I down deep wanted to. I don’t know why I didn’t run for it, but there was just something in her eyes that made me realize I had never really been free. So I stayed.
      It wasn’t long until Rodney and another man (who later I found out is my Uncle Brian) drove up and Rodney said, “There she is!.” They came over to me and so help me, I never was so scared in my whole life. I was not one to be scared of anything.
      They picked me up and put me in the truck, between Rodney’s legs. I was shaking so bad I could hardly breathe, but Rodney’s hand on my head and neck was so loving that I knew nothing bad could come from this encounter. He said such nice things to me, and didn’t even mention that I had only one eye.
      When we got to Rodney’s house, I never heard such noises in all my days with my pack. I didn’t know why they had all those dogs but everywhere you looked there was a fancy looking dog in what they called “the kennels.” Those dogs were fat---hadn’t done a day’s work in years, I’ll bet---and they told me that this was their home and I had better learn the rules or I would get it. I sneaked a snarl at them and let them all know that I was a FERAL dog and they had better not mess with me. They sure were brave, behind their fences, but I could have handled all of them with one paw tied behind me.
      After I got here, the nice lady who had smiled at me came down and I knew I was a goner. She insisted I have this beautiful “kennel house” with an extra one for “later on,” when the puppies come. How did SHE know I was going to have puppies? I had three long runs, a water bucket, and heat lamps when it would get cold. I heard her say, “We’ll have to have lots of shredded paper for when she whelps.” I suspected she meant “for the baby puppies.”
      The first night, it was nice. The month was January (I remember this because I heard my Mother say, “It’s January and we don’t want her to be cold.”) Before I knew it I was calling her MY MOTHER. Can you believe that? I hardly knew the woman and already she was my Mother. She had some more ladies with her, too, who would check me every day and help keep my home clean and pretty. All the ladies came by to see me, bringing their offerings of beef bones, Purina Chow and all kinds of meat. I guess they didn’t realize that a feral dog doesn’t fall for that kind of thing.
      The next morning I realized that I was confined; and I had never been confined in my whole life. I would never, never live under such conditions, so I found a small hole in the fence and pulled it open and took off. Something drew me back, though. I’ll never know what, but as I began to take off into the woods I felt this tug at my heart. Ahead of me was freedom, I could do as I pleased. Behind me was Love. And I knew that Love had rules and regulations.
      My Uncle Brian (now I not only had a mom and dad--Billie and Rodney---but I had Uncles. TWO OF THEM! Uncle Brian, and Uncle Eddie! And I had three Aunts, too! Aunt Gail, Aunt Shirley, and Aunt Margaret!
      I had gotten myself into a really big mess, I guess. But secretly I began to feel mighty safe not only for myself but for my babies who would be here before long.
      I turned back and wandered around up by Aunt Margaret and Aunt Shirley’s houses, just to make sure they saw me and they did. They brought me back to my home, and I noticed that Uncle Brian had fixed up the hole so I couldn’t escape again.
      The next day I found another “escape” hole and just to remind my folks---here I was, calling them MY FOLKS----I got out again but I didn’t go into the woods. I just casually walked past Aunt Shirley’s house and of course she saw me, and said, “Let’s go on back to your house.”
      Looking back now, I see that I made a mighty wise decision. I didn’t tell them, but I figured that after the babies were born and could fend for themselves I would just one day go off into the woods, find my pack buddies, and make my life in the free world again.
      And then the babies began to arrive. My mother Billie had heaped shredded paper which my Aunts brought into my house near two heat lamps. They looked in and sure enough, a couple of babies had already arrived and you should have heard them making “people noises---” shouting and saying how beautiful the babies were. You’d think they had never seen a baby feral dog before. But I let them know that I did not need their help, and would they please just let me do what my Creator would show me to do? So they left me, and my Creator guided me every step of the way.
      When they came in the next morning, they were in shock. I heard them begin to count and finally they got to the number, ELEVEN, and they couldn’t believe it. Eleven baby puppies, six boys and five girls. I don’t know how it happened, but there were eight pups who were all black and three who were black and white. Who knows? And all of us have blue spots on our tongues and I heard my Mother Billie say that we had some “Chow dog” in us. I have no idea what she means, but she usually knows everything.
      I sure did appreciate the cozy house, the heat lamps, the tender care of my aunts and my mom. I don’t believe any dog ever had such care and that meant I must be something! I was too busy to say much to my folks the first week, it’s mighty hard to nurse eleven puppies. My Creator told me to nurse them so many at a time. Make the others stay back, and remember their scent so I didn’t by-pass any of them on my routine.
      And do you know that I raised eleven of the most beautiful feral dogs in the whole world? I adored them, all but one. My Mother named him “ Joseph” and for the life of me, I never knew what she saw in him. He was always first at the dinner table to nurse, and then he would go off to the corner and sleep it off. He wasn’t nearly aggressive enough, he didn’t fight and push the others away. I figured maybe he wouldn’t make it in the pack when we finally left and lived in the woods. So I would just as soon as let him starve. That isn’t cruel in the feral dog world, you know. We have to believe our Creator’s Word, that only the fittest survive and I would have spared him lots of pain if my Mother and Aunts had not coddled him and finally kept him. He is ok now, but he is not my favorite, I can tell you that.
      As the puppies grew and when their eyes opened, they did something that no responsible feral dogs would ever do-----they bonded not only with me, but with my mother and aunts and uncles. They didn’t even know the difference and I decided to throw up my paws and just do the best I could and let the folks have them.
      But as the days passed by, my own heart was captured by the pure Love of this family who claimed me, gave me food and drink, and a home, and helped me raise my beautiful children. When it came time to find the perfect home for each puppy (I was ready to let them go by then) I knew my Mother Billie would never let any one of them go unless she was sure they would have that Love that she had for them. And she found perfect homes for six of them.
      One day she said to me, “Tillie, we are going to keep five of your puppies. We have named them “Anna Belle,” “Pee Wee,:” “Rocky,” “Ali,” and “Joseph.” I agreed with the names, and though “Pee Wee” isn’t a very dignified name for a feral dog, she is a lot like me and a “prissy” name would never have suited her. She is wild, I will say that, and my mama calls her “the hair puller.”
      We have a wonderful life here now, and the thought of running with my pack in the forest hasn’t been coming to me much lately. Every day at a certain time, my Mama comes down and she gives the whole back yard to me and my five children. We even have a child’s swimming pool. Anna Belle is the one who would be the bird hunter, she loves the water and loves to run with the winds, like I do. We take over everything when we have our time outside. We explore, we dig, we jump on the big benches that they said used to belong to “the wolves.”
      I have kept my rank. I don’t back down to any dog no matter how big or mean. I even show my teeth to “KaHoo” who is the biggest wolf I ever saw. He looks like a polar bear but I don’t let him know I am scared of him, and I snarl and lunge when he comes up to my run. He acts like he doesn’t even see me, and I tell you, that makes me mad. He also has the nerve to take his beef bones over to my children’s run and drop them there---as if they needed HIM.
      I guess the free world isn’t so free after all. The only place I will ever be really safe from harm is here---among friends who love my Creator, who know I have a heart filled with love and am willing to obey their rules simply because of their Love.
      I heard my Mama Billie say, “ You remind me of my prisoners, Tillie. You thought you were so free out there, and you did as you pleased and no telling what would have happened to you if Love had not come along and beckoned to you, and given you rules to live by. And what would have happened to your babies? Look at them now. They have no idea of how harsh the free world can be, and once they were born into a loving family, they would never want to run with the winds in the forest.”
      I don’t know who her prisoners are, but I can tell them, she is right. We don’t get what we think we want when we have no limits to our behavior and no Love surrounding us. I really wasn’t free until now---in this place, close to my Creator’s heart because He is the One who led my Mother to find me and bring me HOME.
      And oh---by the way----my daddy Rodney is the one who named me “Tillie,” after the place where they found me. I sure do love my name. It’s a fancy one, that’s for sure.
     I have pretty much kept all of you informed about our life here. As you know, we finally got the yard done, and Rodney is a really artistic person, it shows in the pretty little paths, the big flower beds, and all the hard work he has done to make this yard reflect God’s glory.
     We are all well and good. Ed Warnock will celebrate his birthday this May 14th and they ran a picture of him on the postal newspaper this week and we enclose it with our Wingspread. We are all proud of Ed, not only for his service in WWII but for his Love for Wingspread. Happy Birthday, Eddie!!!!!

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