Passing of a Noble Soul

Posted by April Nockleby, ALDF's Online Content Manager on December 23, 2009

Text and photos by Barry Yeoman, writer, author of “Operation Rescue” in O, The Oprah Magazine, June 2009. Originally posted to Facebook, reprinted with permission.


Earlier this year, I wrote an article for O, The Oprah Magazine about 300 dogs who were rescued from an abusive hoarding situation in Sanford, North Carolina. The dogs lived in horrible conditions, and the rescue involved an innovative legal fight staged by the California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund.

I traveled to Arizona, California, and Maryland to meet the families who had rescued these dogs, and fell in love repeatedly. My favorite of all, though, lived just down the road in Chapel Hill. Here’s the story of Steve the Jack Russell terrier:

An hour away, psychologist Katy McClure was exercising at a YMCA in Chapel Hill when she noticed a sign on the bulletin board requesting supplies for the Woodley dogs. She had just moved to North Carolina and was still unemployed. With time on her hands, she dug up several surplus blankets and headed down to Sanford.

After meeting the dogs, 50-year-old McClure couldn’t stay away. "There were so many of them, and they would all look right at you," she says. "I thought, ‘I can do something here. This is worthy.’" Three times a week, she’d spend hours cleaning the facility before claiming her reward: the chance to exercise the Jack Russell terriers. "I’d run around like a maniac, and they would chase me in fun, making their little demon noises," she says. Helping out with the Woodley dogs reminded McClure of her own clinical work with traumatized humans. She drove home each night feeling tired and useful.

One of the oldest Jack Russells, an unruly male renamed Steve (after ALDF director Wells), had one eye, bad breath, and a reputation as the shelter’s Don Juan. He could scale his chain-link pen, and once found his way into an enclosure full of female Pomeranians. Usually, though, he stuck to himself, rarely barking along with the Jack Russell chorus. McClure often visited him at the end of her shift.

After many of the Woodley rescues had already found foster homes, Steve was chosen for a spot in an obedience class donated by a respected dog trainer. The hope was that he would become more appealing if he was better behaved. Because the sessions were in Chapel Hill, McClure agreed to transport Steve and attend class with him, then keep him overnight before returning him to Sanford.

McClure and her longtime boyfriend, Dana Daum, weren’t planning to foster a dog. But what happened next threw them off-guard. When McClure returned Steve to the Halls of Hope, the cocksure terrier grabbed her and looked up as if pleading not to be left behind. "He hung on to my leg with his little front paws," McClure says. "It was like, ‘Get me the hell out of here. I’ve been in your house.’ And it tore me up." After two more home visits, Daum said to McClure, "He was kicked down for the first eight or nine years of his life. Let’s make a difference now." She needed no additional convincing.

Steve required time to adjust to his new surroundings. He had to learn to walk on a leash. And to feel safe enough not to bolt when someone tapped a spoon against a cereal bowl. Spoiling has helped: Every Sunday Daum cooks salmon for himself, along with Steve and their cat. They pile onto the sofa, eat dinner together, and watch All Creatures Great and Small.

Still, Steve has quirks. He guards McClure fiercely, occasionally growling at Daum. He flees strangers and flash cameras. He can be a scrapper, so the dog park is off-limits. "In his most relaxed moments, he’s like a playful pup," McClure says. "But he’s also part ex-con. And he can be a real weirdo. That’s because of his background. To me, he’s far more interesting because he’s got these complexities."

In addition to the article, Richard Ziglar and I co-produced a series of audio slideshows, including one of Katy McClure and Steve. You can watch it here. The beautiful music in the slideshow is by Sequoya.

This morning I received an email from Katy McClure, with the subject line, "Passing of a noble soul." Katy wrote:

Dana and I just wanted to let you know our dear mutual friend Steve passed away last week. He developed symptoms of untreatable liver cancer, so his life came to a peaceful end…..Even though we miss Steve a lot, we are so happy he was in our lives! We also know that his existence in this world helped a lot of other beings, especially due to the article you wrote. I am so glad we all had that opportunity to meet crazy old Steve, and I like to think he has moved on to a happier, easier new life now.

Katy, Steve and Dana

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