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Happy New Year Furiends!
We are extremely excited to kick off the new year with an awesome month of giving back to our dog communities. Farm to Pet is so pleased to feature a blog this week about one of our ambassador's Mom, Julia, and fur sibling, Soot. Enjoy this heroic story of Soot saving a life. Remember that dogs are a man's best friend for a reason. A special thank you to Julia for writing about her story.
Soot and The Bear
            I would first start out this story with a pure truth. For many years, I struggled to talk about this story with people outside of my immediate family, mostly because the experience in and of itself was way too traumatizing. Although in the end, Soot and I were both safe, until you are confronted with an experience as this; I cannot even begin to explain how mortified I feel when I think about what COULD have happened. I really try not to even imagine it, which is why reliving or retelling gets hard. However, since Soot recently survived bloat and is still on the road to recovery - I felt as though I owed it to him to tell a story of his heroism.
            They say that there is no bond stronger than that of a dog and their handler, and after over 20 years of shared living with dogs - I can say that this is absolutely true. There were admittedly times when I had gone away for military duty and I feared that my dogs would not remember who I was; this is based off of one incident in particular.
            I had gone away for 9 months, which is a typical call to active duty time frame. My German Shepherd, Soot (pronounced foot but with an ’S’) was six months old at the time when I left him to go away. After I had returned, Soot displayed an extreme act of aggression towards me when I went to cut his nails. By act of aggression, I mean he bared his teeth, his ears went back, he let out the most demonic growl that he possibly could have. Then, he lunged for my throat.
            I remember in that split second, I was able to react quickly and diffuse the situation but getting ahold of his collar and stopping him. Following this incident, I took him to several different trainers and veterinarians, all of whom were very nice people and tried finding polite ways to tell me ‘this dog may be beyond help, and you know what that means’.
            After my split from my ex, I went back to living with my parents so that I could start to save money again for my own place. Soot, despite our differences, came with me. We had a situation very similar to CPL Megan Leavey (US Marine Corps) and her K9 Rex. Soot and I had developed a love/hate relationship. While we were living with my parents, he had to be muzzled 98% of the time due to his unpredictable aggression.
            One day, I stumbled upon a trainer by the name of John Wadsworth. Not only did he do obedience training, but he specialized in K9 Protection Training. I took Soot to him the moment he had an available booking session. While we were there, after doing a brief evaluation of Soot, his temperament, and his drive - John informed me that Soot was not what he would define as an ‘aggressive’ dog. He just needed a job. I trained with John for about a year, getting Soot up to the ideal perfect obedience and protection dog. He even titled in a Schutzhund trial. I couldn’t have been prouder of him.
            Just as we were getting to more advanced training, I learned that I was going to be deployed to Germany for a period of time and therefore, I would not be able to compete in any trials until further notice.
            After all this, I decided to take a self-care trip to one of my favorite places in Pennsylvania. The Pocono Mountains. We had a family cabin for years in Blakeslee, right in the development of Arrowhead Lakes. I wanted to really do my ‘own’ journey so rather than go to the family cabin, I rented one from a family through a real estate agent who assisted families in renting out their homes in the rural areas. It was November 18th, 2017. I had decided to take Soot with me, a decision that would in turn, save my life in the end.
            November in Pennsylvania, depending on what part of the state that you reside, can be quite cold. I’ve actually never minded the cold and considering I was going to be in a part of Northern Europe, I really felt like I should start getting fully adjusted anyway. It was 7AM and I remember wanting to wake up early because I wanted to drive to Jack Frost/Big Boulder and do some skiing.
            I turned the coffee maker on, and dressed in my pajamas and sneakers, I walked towards the back of the house to let Soot out. I had been on and off awake most of the evening and I remember laying awake at one point around 3AM and being hungry, but I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I’m hypoglycemic, so I’m supposed to eat often so I avoid what we call ‘absence seizures’ or even worse. I wasn’t thinking so much about my own food consumption at the time, so I just put my boots on and walked towards the back to let Soot out.
            I remember Soot was walking towards me and then something made him stop. He started doing this impatient whine and his tail went straight out behind him. Thinking this was typical Soot impatient behavior, I rolled my eyes.
            I distinctly remember saying “Fine, I’ll just stand in the cold until you’re ready”. (Knowing he couldn’t understand me but saying it anyway.) I filled my coffee cup and walked towards the sliding glass door that led outside. Soot started protesting, this time barking at me with a deep bark, that was actually startling. I immediately thought back to a year and a half before when he and I had that ‘incident’ where he went for my throat. I remembered what the trainer had told me, and stood my ground and said: “Soot, no!”
            He did another whine and continued to stare at me, his tail slowly wagging. I rolled my eyes again, took my coffee and stepped outside. As I did, I walked past the dining room table where I kept the one thing I would have wished I had at my side with me; a 12 Gage Shot gun. It is something that most people think to bring with them when in the mountainous parts of PA, especially considering the wildlife up there.
             As I stepped outside, I was swarmed with regrets at how cold it was. There was a frost on the ground, and thinking on that day now - I am grateful that there was not snow everywhere. I looked back towards the house and couldn’t see Soot in the dining room area at all now.
                       “Soot, will you just come out and go potty!?”
             I figured if I walked around to the side of the house, I would be able to see him in the side window, which had a view of the living room. I started to walk in that direction, and that was when I saw it. Standing around the corner, attempting to break into a locked dumpster, was a huge Black Bear. It was standing on its hind legs; its paws were on the lid, and it was almost like someone trying to push over a vending machine. I remember letting out a gasp. I only had one other bear encounter in my life while in the Poconos.
            To my worst nightmare, the bear heard me. Its head snapped in my direction, and it started slowly walking towards me on all fours. It stopped, lifted its head in the air and started to sniff. I knew that it would detect my fear, so I attempted to remain as calm as possible. I’ve read so many stories and listened to so many podcasts on what to do when you encounter a bear but let me tell you, in that moment when you are completely defenseless - you forget everything, and your brain instantly floods with a million scenarios on how you are going to survive.
            The bear then tilted its head to the side and let out the most bone chilling roar I could have possibly heard. I felt panic, knowing that I had left the shot gun right in the house. I felt fear. The one thing I knew that I could not do was turn my back and run from this predator.
            The bear then started to pick up its movements, this time instead of a simple walk, it started to do almost a ‘trot’ towards me. I began looking around, trying to find anything I possibly could. For some reason, THAT was when it hit me that I had my coffee cup in my hands. I let out a yell and threw the cup in the bears direction. It stopped, shook its head and pawed at the ground.
            It seemingly knew that the cup was no threat so it picked up its advance towards me again. It could not have been more than 15 feet away at this point.
            Then - it happened. As fast as the Flash, I heard Soot barking and I saw his sable body rush past me. For a moment, I was filled with relief but then I was also struck with regret. This bear obviously had no fear of humans, so I was sure it was not going to be afraid of my dog.
            I literally thought “Oh my God… this bear is going to kill my dog.”
             Soot began running back and forth in front of the bear, barking as loudly and as aggressively as he could. The bear was suddenly no longer interested in me, and had turned his full attention to Soot. It attempted to swipe its massive paws at him (I have never seen paws so big before). He was too fast for the bear, causing the bear to almost moan in annoyance.
            I’m sure most people would have taken this opportunity to run inside and get the shot gun but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The thought of leaving him for a split second was heartbreaking to me, especially after he was now risking his life to save mine. I looked around and luckily most of the driveways up that way are still gravel, or they at least have hand sized stones lining the driveway as ‘markers’. I reached down and lifted up whatever rock I could get a hold of and I started throwing them as hard as I could towards the bear. Not all of them made it that far, so I took a few running steps closer to the bear and Soot.
            I remember thinking that there was no way this bear going to take my baby boy. I continued to yell and throw rocks, and Soot continued to run back and forth barking. The bear had started to retreat backwards, now moaning and roaring itself.
                       For perspective, Soot is a big boy for a Shepherd. He sits at 120 pounds and that is not because he is fat - he’s just very tall for the breed. Many people have told me he looks like a wolf due to his size and coloring. These bears can range anywhere from 400+ pounds.
            It was then that Soot stopped and just stood right in front of the bear on all fours, and his ears went straight up. The bear had also stopped moving. There was a few seconds where it would seem almost blissful, but the reality was - this was not a Disney movie and this bear was very real. That was when Soot let out the most vicious growl I have ever heard him to do this day. The bear looked past Soot and right at me. I remember seeing this huge brown eyes, staring at me. Some people would call this entrancing, and others, petrifying.
            After this exchange, something inside me clicked. I looked at Soot and gave him the command. “Sprechen” which means ‘Speak’ in German. Soot, not taking his eyes off the bear started doing as we call the ‘Bark and Hold’ in Schutzhund trials, which means he stays in position and almost ‘bounces’ with his front half of his body, as if warding off a potential attacker. The bear turned its head away, and continued to step backwards.
            Simultaneous to this, I could feel myself getting weak and dizzy. The adrenaline that had been surging through my system was now gone and I remembered I had not eaten at all that morning or even later that prior evening. I thought “I’m not going to pass out and let this bear kill Soot or come after me”.
            I called Soot to “place”. He turned sharply and ran towards me, and then positioned himself directly to my left. The bear, almost stunned, continued to stare at us like it couldn’t believe what had happened. I gave Soot the command “out”, so he was directly in front of me and then “Sprechen” again. I leaned forward and got ahold of his collar. He started to bark again, this time as loudly as he could. “Back” was what my next word was, and I tugged backwards on his collar. Gradually, Soot and I started to back up and away from the bear.
            When we were almost around the corner, the bear turned away completely and slowly started walking towards the dumpster again. It looked back at us one time, and then continued walking away. Once we were completely around the corner, I rushed Soot inside the sliding door as fast as I could, locking it and putting the shade and safety bar in place.
            I grabbed the shot gun off the table and ran towards the front of the house, where I thought I would have the best view of the bar at the dumpster. I looked out the bay window and to my surprise, it was completely gone. I remember gripping the shot gun tightly as I looked around, suddenly feeling as though I really were in a horror movie and this beast was somehow perhaps stalking me.
            That was when I heard Soot whine. I turned to face him and saw he had his one paw lifted in the air and there was blood on the floor. I rushed over to him and saw that he had scraped up his paw pad horribly to the point that it was just a bloody mess, and he had cracked his dew claw also. Putting my emotions aside for a moment, I got the first aid kit and started to wrap his paw as quickly as I could. He occasionally would lick my face and whine, but he remained still for almost the entire ordeal.
            Once I was done wrapping his paw, I looked right at him in his amber eyes. I immediately embraced him and started crying. I could not believe there was a point and time where people told me that he was ‘too aggressive’ and that I could not help him.
            He saved my life. The bear could have killed me or Soot or both of us. Bears are highly unpredictable creatures, just like any animal in the wild. I am so grateful that Soot and I have the bond that we do. Which is why in the beginning, I stated there was nothing stronger than that love.
             I have to thank John Wadsworth in addition to Pats K9 Training, At Attention Dogs, and Keystone K9 Services for instilling confidence in me as a handler - and for continuing to work with me and my dogs to get trained as protection dogs. Currently, Soot's sibling Ara is going through the phrases and the other fur siblings, Loki and Marli, will soon follow in suit. I am beyond blessed and lucky to have had Soot with me, and we are bonded for life. He knew that I was in trouble (in fact he tried to warn me) and risking his own life - he saved mine.
            I love that baby boy with all that I have. Though it is traumatic to talk about because sometimes it feels as though we are reliving it all over again - I felt as though his heroic deeds needed to be shared with the world.
             Thank you, Soot, my baby boy. You are the best!
            Soot is on Instagram as @soot_the_shepherd and his siblings, proud Farm to Pet brand ambassadors, are at @marlithemalligator.

Treat you Protective Pups next week!


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