From Feral to Family
August 2023 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Cassidy Dunn Photography
Beth Henzler and her husband, Matt, have five dogs and two cats, and thankfully, a large fenced-in yard. Six of the these furry friends are rescue animals. One of her cats was found hidden in a car engine and rescued at Sam’s Club; the other cat just appeared around her home and never left. Beth and Matt rescued four dogs. Beth said she “will rescue almost anything.” Memorial Day this year, she proved it, when she decided to adopt a feral dog called Sunny.
“We’re foster failures,” Beth laughed. When it comes to rescues she said there’s not even six degrees of separation. “We know people who know people, and we asked to foster Sunny for a while, and as I said, we’re foster failures and adopted Sunny.”
Sunny’s story is one of tragedy, then hope, and finally, his best life. “He’s become a pampered poochie,” Beth said.
Back in April, Robin Boeke of Grace Farm Animal Rescue, located Sunny on a long, lonely road in Colleton County. “I got a call about a feral dog, so I drove over and saw a dead deer,” Robin said. “Then the dog’s head popped up. He was curled up lying against the belly of a deer that had just been killed. He was as feral as they come and wouldn’t come to me. He wouldn’t leave the deer’s side—he had a special connection to that deer, probably his only friend, and that bond sadly ended when the deer was hit by a car.” Robin left food and water for him and made multiple visits every day for two weeks as she tried to gain the dog’s trust. She saw that predators had been fought off, and one day, about 20 vultures surrounded the carcass. The dog charged at them yipping and crying, but they didn’t move. Robin chased them away screaming at them, and that was a turning point—a little trust was built. Finally, Robin brought her dog, Kalli, to interact with the feral dog and they were able to get him in a crate and take him to the farm.
About two months later Robin got a call from Beth who was a friend of a friend. She told Robin, “I feel a pull to this dog,” and offered to foster him. Robin tried to talk her out of it, but Beth told her she wanted a hard case.“We want to do this, and I know we can.”
So, Robin took Sunny on a hour-and-a half drive for a meet and greet with Beth’s four other dogs, which went fine.
“At first he would pace around the fenced yard. I wish I could say it’s been a bed of roses, but it was hard,” Beth explained. “We couldn’t even put a collar on him. Now, Matt has trained him on a leash. He took to Matt quicker than to me. It’s a personality thing; Matt is so patient, and I’m Type A. Sunny was probably about eight months old and very timid. We couldn’t approach him from behind or touch his heinie, but if I gave him a snack out of my hand he was very gentle.”
“Outside was all he knew,” Beth said. “He’s about 95 percent potty trained now. He’s getting it, but is the porch inside or outside?” Sunny enjoys hanging out in the yard with the other dogs, and inside they tumble and play, then curl up and sleep.
“Sunny is still very timid and afraid of people and voices. So we don’t have many people come in the house yet. Outside all the dogs behave, but when someone strange comes, Sunny gets very nervous. There is no rhyme or reason when he decides if you’re okay. Noises like the vacuum and lawn mower don’t bother him, though. He even chases Matt on the mower to help him.”
Socializing a dog ensures its ability to react to the world in a healthy way, without fear or aggression. Dogs who have not been socialized with other animals and humans can be fearful in new situations, such as meeting new people, being around other pets, or visiting new places.
Sunny is living his best life right now! Robin agreed, “Sunny is right where he is meant to be. Beth and Matt don’t give up, and Sunny’s living a great life. It was a neat journey for Sunny. He wanted to be part of that family. They sent me daily pictures of Matt getting closer and closer to him—then pictures of Sunny on the couch. I still get pictures that make me cry. I love how this worked out.”
• Beth’s very first pet was a pure white cat named Beethoven because they had the same kind of white hair. It was a rescue cat given to her on a birthday. She used to dress him up in doll clothes and ride him around in a baby carriage.
• Beth is originally from upstate New York, and Matt grew up here in the Lowcountry. They have been married 31 years.
• Beth loves reading, tennis and anything “beach.” Matt is a motorcycle racing enthusiast. They both bicycle. Beth is co-owner of The Vacation Company, and Matt is a retired auto body painter and parts manager. Their favorite vacation spot is St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.