In August I wrote about dog rescuer Eldad Hagar and his saving of Sonya. I have an update to share, but first let’s revisit her previous situation, as new info has come to light since the story ran.
Sonya, a Chow–Golden Retriever mix, had been living on the streets of an industrial area in Long Beach, California, for years and could clearly be seen via Google Street View sitting on the sidewalk in the slim shade of a utility pole. Two concerned people who don’t live in the neighborhood — identifying themselves only as Patrick and Jen — learned about Sonya and asked Hagar and his Hope for Paws group to rescue her. They wanted a better life for the street dog.
Hagar arrived in the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and saw Sonya sitting underneath an RV parked on the street. She had no collar or tags, and her fur was a matted, flea-and-tick-infested mess. Hagar corralled her using fencing kept in his car, then he took her to a groomer and home. The next day, Sonya went to a vet, where she stayed for a week receiving desperately needed medical care.
The vet surgically removed ingrown dewclaws as well as a growth on her left elbow, the result of her almost-constant contact with concrete. She had dental work done and ear infections treated. She also got vaccinated and microchipped but was already spayed. Once given a clean bill of health, Sonya went to Patrick’s mom, Joan, as a foster.
As soon as Hagar shared the story of Sonya’s rescue on Facebook, drama ensued. Certain commenters said that the dog, called Choka, had an owner and had lived in the Long Beach neighborhood for more than 18 years. She was a street dog, but well cared for, they said. Supporters of Hagar fired back at the commenters with accusations of neglect and cruelty.
Hagar made contact with one of the commenters and eventually spoke with Vince Guerrera, who said he was Choka’s owner. I recently talked to Guerrera as well to get more of the story behind the dog’s former situation.
Guerrera has run a machine shop from the building seen in the Google Street View for more than 25 years. He said he found Choka as a pregnant stray more than 18 years ago and that he has provided care for her ever since, including her spay surgery and regular shots. She had a shelter and water bowl on the sidewalk near his entrance, but they were missing when Patrick visited before contacting Hagar. Guerrera said he even attempted to domesticate Choka.
“We tried to get her in the house a couple of times, but she would just eat through the door,” he says. “She didn’t want to stay in the house. So I would go down there seven days a week and feed her.”
Guerrera said he fed her a half-pound of liver, one and a half chicken breasts, and half a can of dog food a day. Choka does not seem hungry in the video Hagar shot of her rescue. She actually ignored most of the cheeseburger bits he tossed toward her in an attept to lure her out from under the RV.
Choka was registered, according to Guerrera, but he did not keep a collar on her because he was afraid someone would use it to grab her. He also said that area animal control officers knew she belonged to him and let her roam the area around his shop.
“She was like a watchdog,” he said. “She didn’t want to stay inside.”
Guerrera said he had already been by to feed Choka by the time Hagar captured her that Sunday. When he arrived at his shop Monday morning, she was missing.
“After 18 years of being greeted by her, she was just gone,” he said.
Guerrera said he sent workers out to search for Choka and checked area dumpsters in case she had been hit by a car and placed inside one. He went to the pound twice. He only learned where she was after someone from the neighborhood spotted her on Hagar’s Facebook page. The men talked, and Guerrera decided that Choka, now Sonya, was in good hands at her new home.
“I’m very happy she has a place to convalesce for the last years of her life,” he said, adding that, “It’s perfect timing. We’re about to move the business. I was already concerned about what was going to happen with her. I don’t think she would have stayed with us at the new location. I’m not happy I wasn’t notified, though.”
Guerrera said he would like to donate money to Patrick’s mom, Joan, for Sonya’s care, as he worries she may not like a different diet.
“I’m sure she’s not being fed the way she was used to,” he said.
Perhaps not, but Sonya has certainly settled into her new home well, recently leaving her foster status behind to become a permanent member of her new family.
According to Jen, “Whenever anyone comes to the door, she gets up to greet them with a smile and a wagging tail. Her tail always seems to be wagging these days.”
Sonya likes petting so much, Jen said, “She literally buries her head in your lap because she wants you to scratch behind her ears. If you stop, she’ll gently grab your hand in her mouth as if to say, ‘No. Don’t stop!’ She lets me hold her face and kiss her all over her head and nose, and she returns the kisses.”
Jen also said Sonya has found a new best friend in Jack, Joan’s other rescue dog: “She follows him around the yard and will sneak in a little kiss every now and then.”
Jen also reported that Sonya continues to receive the medical care she needs. She said she took Sonya to her vet a couple of weeks ago to get the staples removed from her elbow, where Eldad’s vet surgically removed that growth. From the X-rays taken at Eldad’s vet, Jen’s vet was able to see that she has a large bone spur on her lower back. She also has some arthritis in both her knees.
“That explains why she walks a little slow and stiff and is a little wobbly on the back end,” Jen said.
Because of Sonya’s age, though, the vet recommended agianst surgery to remove the spur. He provided some medication for inflammation and discomfort and recommended some supplements.
“She went for her first ‘real walk’ to the end of the block a few days ago,” Jen said, “and she did great.”
Upon hearing that Sonya was one of his many foster fails, Hagar said, “My job is done at this point. I am just super happy it all worked out so beautifully.”