Natalie Olivieri had rescued enough dogs to know that Harper had been badly treated.
Olivieri, vice president of Furever Bully Love Rescue, a rescue group based in Orlando, found Harper in a large field in Redland, Florida (commonly called “The Redlands”) — a place known for having a large population of stray dogs.
“The place is pretty much a dog dump,” Olivieri told The Dodo. “People just leave them there”
Another organization called the Redland Rock Pit Abandoned Dog Project visits Redlands every day to feed the homeless dogs there. It goes through about 350 pounds of kibble to feed about 100 dogs, Jessie Pena, the group’s vice president, told The Dodo.
However, there are more dogs than it can help, Pena explained.
“There are thousands of dogs out there,” Pena said. “We only cover a small area. Redland is huge”
In February of this year, Furever Bully Love Rescue teamed up with Redland Rock Pit to raise money for dog food, but also to rescue some dogs in the area. Olivieri, along with three other volunteers from Furever Bully Love Rescue, traveled to Redlands to meet with volunteers from the other group.
For Olivieri, it was an experience he will never forget.
“We stopped on this dirt road, everything was isolated,” said Olivieri. “You would never have found it on your own”
When the Redland Rock Pit volunteers started putting out food, dogs started showing up. That’s when rescuers spotted Harper, a 1-year-old hunting dog mix. The volunteers had seen her before, on previous visits to Redlands – they believed she had lived in the field for about four or five months.
“Harper went out with five other dogs,” Olivieri said. “As soon as Harper came up to us and we met, she completely fell to the floor in fear”
In addition to being clearly terrified of humans, Olivieri noticed that Harper had scars on her head and back.
“She was definitely abused and neglected,” Olivieri said. “There was no way we were going to leave her there”
Rescuers were able to slip a leash around Harper’s neck, but when they tried to get her back to the truck, Harper refused to move.
But Harper’s fear issues would take much longer to heal.
“For about three days, he never stood up,” Olivieri said.
And when someone picked Harper up, she clung to them like her life depended on it.
“I’ve never had a dog hold on to me so tightly,” Jennifer Adorno, president of Furever Bully Love Rescue, told The Dodo.
“It could be a comfort thing, or it could be that it’s holding on so it doesn’t fall,” Olivieri said. “It’s hard to tell with such abused dogs”
Since the Furever Bully Love rescue doesn’t have a physical shelter, Harper went straight into foster care with a woman named Cheryl Kessler. Harper has only been with Kessler for a few weeks, but Kessler is already seeing a huge change in her.”He leaves his cage and runs outside,” Kessler told The Dodo. “She’s doing donuts in the backyard and she’s just a very normal, typical dog. I love seeing her come out of her shell and see her personality come out.”
“Every day he’s doing better and better,” Olivieri said. “He’s becoming more like a dog – he’s learning that he’s going to get food every day and he’s going to get love every day”