Redbone Coonhound Dan first arrived at the Highland County Humane Society (HCHS) in Hillsboro, Ohio, in September 2004, after a dog warden found the Hound running around Rocky Fork Lake. The dog was certainly a beautiful Coonhound, but with no tags, a high energy level, a wandering spirit, and a somewhat grumpy personality, the warden knew the full-grown adult male dog he’d brought in from the wilderness wouldn’t last long at the local pound—perhaps 72 hours at most. After that time it was likely the dog would be euthanized for space.
Not willing to give up on him, the dog warden contacted the HCHS shelter director Melanie Dodson, hoping desperately she had room to take the curmudgeonly Hound at her no-kill shelter. But Dodson’s facility is small, with only 16 dog kennels, and initially there was no room at the inn. Finally, with only hours left before the dog was set to be put down, Dodson called — someone had adopted one of the larger dogs at her shelter, so that left one kennel open. The Coonhound arrived at the HCHS facility later that day.
Nine years later, 13- or 14-year-old Dan still curls up in that same kennel. While he’s escaped from HCHS several times to chase raccoons in the woods behind the shelter, he always, without fail, returns.
“Danny is always happy to be back home,” Dodson tells USA Today. “I do believe he thinks this is home,” she adds.
Over the years, Dodson says, she has heard from plenty of people who think keeping Dan at the shelter is just plain cruel. But while she admits Dan’s living situation is not the one she would hope for, Dodson says she’s not willing to give up on the old Hound dog.
“We’ve got people who think we are the most horrible people in the world, keeping a dog that long,” says Dodson. “One lady said to just put him down. I told her: ‘You come up and put the needle in him.’ Dogs are not disposable items.”
And it’s not as if Dodson hasn’t tried to place Dan in a good home since he arrived at her shelter all those years ago. In fact, four different families have adopted Dan, only to return him to HCHS days after bringing him home.
The first family, Dodson says, was a sweet one with two kids, and they adopted Dan shortly after he arrived at her shelter. But it turns out Dan is startled by children.
“Now I don’t know exactly what happened, maybe the kids rushed him, maybe Danny told them to back off,” Dodson says. After all, Dan can be a crabby guy, she lovingly explains.
Dan wouldn’t get a second chance at a family until one year later, when an older woman — no kids, no other dogs — decided to adopt the Hound dog. But that adoption was short-lived.
Perhaps the third time would be the charm. Dodson certainly thought so several years later, when a couple seemingly fell in love with Dan during a visit to the shelter.
“This was a husband and wife. No kids. No other dogs. A big back yard,” Dodson recalls. “It was a perfect home.”
Or so she believed. Dodson let a few days go by, her thoughts often drifting to Dan. She wondered how the old guy was getting along, if he was happy with his new family, so she decided to drop by the couple’s home to check up on Dan. What she discovered made the seasoned animal rescuer furious. The couple was gone, but Dan was crying in their backyard. When Dodson went to investigate, she found Dan chained to a box. Livid, she confiscated Dan right then and there, bringing him back to the shelter before returning to the couple’s home with a handwritten note.
“That was not good enough” Dodson wrote. “No dog leaves here to be on the end of a chain.”
Dan’s fourth adopter, a judge, had a small dog back at home, but he and Dodson crossed their fingers. After all, Dan was older now, and perhaps wouldn’t mind having another dog around. But Dan did mind.
Dodson has grown quite fond of Dan, and has even tried bringing him home with her a number of times. But with seven other dogs of her own to care for, and Dan’s obvious desire to be the only dog in the family, Dodson says it isn’t the right fit. She takes the old boy, her buddy for nine long years, on car rides in her Jeep often to get him out and about. People come to her shelter multiple times each day to take Dan on walks, give him treats. He gets all the creature comforts Dodson can possibly provide.
Still Dodson can’t help but hope one day, just maybe, the right person will come along and take Dan home, give the old boy a place he can call his own where he could live out the last part of his life happy.
“But don’t take Dan out of here because you feel sorry for him,” Dodson stresses. “He’s fine. Take him because you want a great dog.”