July 9, 2014

Modesto neighbors eager to rescue elusive stray dog

A northeast Modesto neighborhood has rallied in an effort to capture an elusive dog, affectionately referred to as “Joe Dirt,” that has been living off the land in a dirt field for at least three weeks.

A northeast Modesto neighborhood has rallied in an effort to capture an elusive dog that has been living off the land in a dirt field for at least three weeks.

The sandy-colored, scruffy mutt with a black nose has “captured the hearts” of residents near the 35-acre field at Oakdale Road and Floyd Avenue.

Sabrina Pittman learned about the dog from her mom while visiting her over the holiday weekend. Her parents made several attempts to coax the pooch away from the field and the busy intersection nearby, to no avail.

Pittman, a Folsom resident who took up the cause during her three-day weekend in Modesto, met a dozen other neighbors sympathetic to the dog’s plight.

“Some of us are lovingly referring to the dog as ‘Joe Dirt’ because he lives in the dirt field,” she said.

Residents have seen Joe Dirt trotting through the field, digging in rabbit holes and drinking out of puddles. They have tried to corral him with cars or capture him in jackets, and many have attempted to appeal to his domestic side by offering food, water, and even a cardboard shelter and towels as bedding.

The dog won’t let anyone near.

Laurie Pallotta said she spotted the dog while driving on Oakdale Road last week. She stopped and, like so many others, tried to catch him, but he takes off running as soon as they make eye contact.

“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 said. “He’s a survivor.”

Pallotta has been checking on the dog every morning before leaving for work at E.&J. Gallo Winery and every evening before returning home.

She is among a handful of people leaving food and water for him, but when animal control got involved Sunday, workers told residents to stop.

After failing at the same corralling techniques attempted by neighbors, animal control officers on Monday set traps.

“People are continuously leaving food out there for him, which may be luring him away from the traps,” said Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves. “(Animal control officers) actually removed six bowls of food.”

Officers returned to the field Tuesday and tried to tranquilize the dog but missed. He ran further into the neighborhood toward Ustach Middle School and hasn’t been seen since.

Pallotta and Pittman understand that Joe Dirt isn’t the only stray dog in the county. Twenty-three lost or stray dogs were taken to the Stanislaus County Department of Animal Services on Tuesday alone, according to its website. They mostly were brought in by animal control officers who handle numerous calls.

Still, Joe Dirt has made an impression on many people who live in the neighborhood.

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

Animal control is expected to return to the field Thursday to resume the search and rescue effort of Joe Dirt.

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