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Kathleen Hawes/The Commons

Farmer the Dog poses with his foster family, Cassandra Holloway and her son, Gavin.


The dog with nine lives

After a harrowing spring, Farmer the Dog finds love with a new family

BRATTLEBORO—“He was covered in ticks and, worse, he was just fur and bones,” said Cassandra Holloway. “I had no idea how long he had been there”

On July 4, when Holloway found Farmer by the porch of her mother’s house in West Townshend, it had been months since she had last seen the Border Collie/Bernese mix. Though he had wagged his tail and barked in happy recognition, Holloway remembers that for her, that Independence Day was filled with mixed emotions.

“It wasn’t a happy reunion on my end,” she said.

In April, she had visited that same house, coming to check on her 66-year-old mother Elaine Smith, who was supposed to call Holloway after a doctor’s appointment and some errands, but failed to do so.

Upon Holloway’s arrival, she found Smith unconscious on the kitchen floor, with her two dogs, Elsie and Farmer, locked in their crates just steps from where she lay.

Because the dogs were in their crates, Holloway guesses that her mother had been preparing to leave the house, and estimates that Smith had been on the floor for over eight hours before she was discovered. The missed doctor’s appointment confirmed this.

After being rushed to Grace Cottage Hospital, her mother was later diagnosed as having suffered multiple brain aneurysms that, unfortunately, she would not recover from.

Holloway said the memory of finding her mother has been haunting, and that the two dogs “were part of that.”

“It broke my heart that they had to see her unresponsive like that, and then strangers taking her away only to never see her again,” she said.


Holloway admits that not only was the association of the two animals with the recent death of her mother painful, but also that she just wasn’t prepared to welcome a four-legged addition to the one-bedroom apartment where she currently lives with her 10-year-old son, Gavin.

Elsie and Farmer were later taken to the Windham County Humane Society, where she described leaving the dogs as “heart-wrenching.”

Luckily, Elsie was taken in by a friend of the family, and Farmer was soon adopted by a farmer in Grafton, who, Holloway says, planned to use him as a herding dog on his goat farm. But it seemed Farmer had different plans.

“I guess he had run away a couple times and kept going in the same direction, but they kept finding him.” Holloway said. She said the new owners had reported him missing the first few times, but that the last time Farmer had broken loose, she was unsure if it had been reported at all.

“For some reason there was a miscommunication, and [the Humane Society] thought he was back. But he wasn’t.”

Holloway also said that she had asked to hear updates about how Farmer was doing in his new home, but that she never heard back from the current owners.

After the bittersweet reunion by her mother’s porch, Holloway took Farmer to the vet, where he was immediately placed on a strict diet of high protein dog food and a routine of daily blood drawing to check electrolytes. Holloway said more than 50 ticks were removed from his body, and that he had lost over 20 pounds.

She also said much of his medical treatment was necessary because of his compromised system and possible damage to his organs: “we don’t know what he was eating . He was on his own for two months.”

How Farmer found his way back to his old home seems to be a mystery.

Having been raised by her mother, who had been in poor health for years, the six-year-old dog hadn’t been walked farther than the mailbox in his entire life.

“His experience was very limited as far as being socialized,” Holloway said. “Even the vet usually came to the house.” She said that, though he was able to play in a large fenced-in yard, he knew nothing about the surrounding area.

18-mile journey

When she looked up the distance between the center of Grafton and her mother’s address in West Townsend she realized that Farmer had found his way home over some 18 miles of completely foreign territory.

Though Holloway hadn’t intended to be a dog owner, finding Farmer in this state made her rethink the situation.

“I was torn. I wanted to talk to the Humane Society about keeping him ... to take him back to a place he ran away from and not trust that I was going to get updates was really heartbreaking.”

The current owner agreed that Farmer would be happier with Holloway.

Farmer is now living in Brattleboro with Holloway and her son, who conveniently, recently launched a timely campaign for a dog.

However, Holloway admits that never having been a dog owner before, sometimes she feels “like one of those people who gets the baby dropped off in front of the house, and I’m like, ‘Okay, what do I do?’”

In addition, the immediate medical expenses necessary for Farmer have been more than she could have anticipated. Holloway, whose own work as the director of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to community outreach and education regarding drug and alcohol misuse, has finally reached out to the community for help herself.

After posting on the GoFundMe platform on Facebook to help pay for Farmer’s recovery, friends and community members rallied. She was able to raise her goal of $800, which has made the transition easier on the new household of three.

Farmer has gained back 7 pounds. His final blood work recently came in, and he is on the road to recovery. Holloway says she is very thankful to the the Windham County Humane Society, and to all the support she received from her friends and the community.

In the conclusion of her GoFundMe post, Holloway wrote: “I had no intention of owning a dog but I don’t have a choice in this case: 1) I have a home and a workplace that are both open to him being with me. 2) He loves us and we love him. We make each other happy. 3) He has been through enough. He just wants to feel safe and happy again and now he does. 4) My mother bonds us. This holds mixed emotions for me as we are all still grieving her loss, but in time, what we will have is a beautiful and joyful final gift from my mother to us.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #419 (Wednesday, August 2, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

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