- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

GRAND LEDGE, Mich. (AP) - When Rodeo was on the lam, wandering a 35-mile stretch between Battle Creek and Charlotte, Cindy Larsen knew the kinds of places to look for the dog when sightings came in.

She’d jump in her big red truck and drive out to the area in question, looking for comfortable porches, cozy barns, protected places where she knew the stocky, 78-pound Labrador liked to curl up and sleep.

Even then Larsen wanted to give him a home, the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/1XnDVt3 ) reported. It broke her heart, she said, that he didn’t have one.

Now the stray dog from Detroit who residents in two counties spent three months searching for has one - Larsen’s Grand Ledge home.

On May 18, they were both sitting in her living room, Rodeo on a soft dog bed and his new owner right next to him, scratching him in “his favorite spot,” right underneath his ear. He leaned in and closed his eyes.

Two months ago Rodeo wouldn’t let anyone get within six feet of him.

Last November Detroit Pit Crew Dog Rescue, a nonprofit, removed him from an abandoned, burned-out house in Detroit’s Delray neighborhood. He was found there with two female dogs and a litter of 11 puppies. Rodeo, known then as “Papa Bear,” was taken in at a Kalamazoo shelter and later placed in a foster home.

In early January he jumped a fence and took off on his own. People caught glimpses of him in Marshall, Sunfield, Battle Creek, Charlotte and Eaton Rapids. Larsen, who runs a lost pets Facebook group, started paying attention and, eventually led the effort to find him. She started a Facebook page entitled “Rounding Up Rodeo,” where she invited tips and help.

Larsen caught him March 28 just off M-79 on the outskirts of Charlotte. He went to stay at The Devoted Barn, a 53-acre nonprofit animal rescue in Newport. The agency takes in only feral dogs and dogs subjected to extreme abuse.

Founder Melissa Borden said at first Rodeo behaved like any feral dog would around people.

“When a feral dog comes to us they always shut down,” she said. “They’re frightened.”

Rodeo was no exception. He chose to spend the first several days inside his crate. Borden and volunteers work to build positive relationships with dogs who have had very few, if any, positive interactions with people in the past, she said. They hand feed them high-quality canned dog food and encourage them to interact with other dogs there.

Once Rodeo chose to venture out among the other dogs Borden said it was clear he could live a happy domestic life.

“He’s just a big, lovable old dog,” she said. He is believed to be between five and seven years old.

And he had the support and love of Larsen, who made the trip to Newport at least once a week to spend time with Rodeo, Borden said. Sometimes Larsen was there for as long as three hours, feeding, petting and reading to him. Her plans were simple. She wanted to adopt him.

“He had already stolen my heart,” Larsen said. “He was so lost.”

Borden said by the end of April she knew Rodeo was ready to go home with Larsen.

“I wish we had more people like her,” Borden said. “It would make things more rewarding if we had more people willing to not give up on these dogs.”

___

Larsen took him home May 3.

At first he stayed in his crate, she said, but eventually ventured out to explore the house and meet her two other dogs.

It’s been two weeks since he arrived and Rodeo is still adjusting, Larsen said.

He hesitates around strangers and is often reserved and quiet. But he trusts Larsen, watching her move around a room, sitting with her in the living room and accepting her touch easily.

There are even small victories, Larsen said, when he wags his tail or wiggles in anticipation when she comes home from work at the end of the day.

“Those are the best,” Larsen said.

On May 16, she took Rodeo to the vet, where he was declared healthy but needing treatment for heart worms. Other than that treatment and the scars that will always be visible on his face there’s little evidence from the time he spent wandering streets.

Larsen’s hopes for him are simple, but heartfelt.

“I want him to live out however long he can, to be as healthy as he can, and to be happy,” she said. “I want him to feel like he’s home.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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