Modesto community works together to rescue “Joe Dirt”

Heidi, formerly known as Joe Dirt, with vet. Tech. Bonnie Perkins at Riverbank’s Atchison Veterinary Hospital in California.

For weeks, residents of one northeast Modesto, California, neighborhood got used to one friendly face roaming in their neck of the woods — a small sandy-colored Mutt endearingly known as Joe Dirt.

During his more than a month at large, Joe spent his days foraging in a 35-acre dirt field, living off the land and eluding any would-be rescuer in his midst. Despite many attempts to capture Joe, the little mixed breed pooch seemed content in his wandering ways, even though a busy and very dangerous intersection lay just beyond the borders of his favorite stomping grounds.

When Folsom, Calif., resident Sabrina Pittman was visiting her mother in Modesto over the Fourth of July weekend, Pittman says she learned about Joe Dirt. Pittman’s parents had tried several times to lure little Joe to safety, but had no luck convincing the roving rover to come in from the field.

During her three days in Modesto, Pittman says she joined a team of nearly a dozen of her parents’ neighbors in multiple attempts to rescue Joe. Together, they tried to coax Joe with tasty treats, stinky food, and water, and they made a makeshift cardboard shelter with fluffy towels for bedding. The team attempted several times to corral Joe into a waiting vehicle, but to no avail.

Modesto resident Laurie Pallotta says she isn’t surprised that it’s been so difficult to catch Joe. Joe, Pallotta tells the Merced Sun-Star that Joe bolts as soon as you make eye contact with him.

“He just looks bewildered and scared, and then when I found out he had been out there for two and a half weeks, I thought, ‘No wonder,” she explains. “He’s a survivor.”

After failing to catch Joe Dirt several times, Pallotta and a group of Joe’s caretakers contacted local animal control officers, who began setting humane traps last weekend. But Joe Dirt turned out to be an expert at avoiding these traps, and even dodged a dart from a tranquilizer gun last Tuesday.

“I don’t think I’ve had an animal capture my heart as much as he has,” says Pallotta. “The look that he gave me just captivated me; at that point I was on a mission to get this dog.”

Then, on Friday, Pallotta and her husband caught the break they needed. While scanning the area for any sign of Joe Dirt, they found the small scruffy Mutt near a road construction site. Pallotta corralled the pooch to safety in a local orchard. Sitting patiently and silently on the ground with food in their outstretched hands, the Pallottas got Joe to eat out of their hands.

After they’d moved a large dog crate into the bushes nearby, Pallotta climbed inside with more food, slowly luring the little dog inside. She managed to squeeze out and close the door behind her.

Looking closer at the small dog, Pallotta noticed something she couldn’t have noticed before — Joe Dirt was actually a girl, and the little girl seemed totally fine with being captured.

“This dog did not flinch or go crazy, she just sat there and looked at us like, ‘I am relieved, I am tired, I am weary and I am ready for this to be over,” Pallotta tells The Modesto Bee. “When we got her home last night, she just cuddled and was loving and we thought, ‘Is this the same dog that was on the streets for a month?” she says.

Pallotta and her husband fell in love with the little dog and decided to give her a home for good. But not before giving her a new name.

“We are calling her Heidi due to the fact that she has been hiding for so long,” Pallotta explains.

Sources: The Modesto Bee, Merced Sun-Star