Determined Modesto couple get hands on – and give home to – elusive stray dubbed Joe Dirt

etracy@modbee.comJuly 17, 2014 

For weeks, many people tried to capture the stray dog that came to be known as Joe Dirt. One couple, who spent hours every day gaining the dog’s trust, finally succeeded Wednesday night.

The story of Joe Dirt has a happy ending.

The scruffy little dog, tan and apricot in color, caught the eyes of at least a dozen residents near a 35-acre dirt field at Oakdale Road and Floyd Avenue.

It had been living in the dirt field, hence the name, for at least three weeks when The Modesto Bee published a story about neighbors’ efforts to capture it last week.

Residents put out food and water and made beds for the dog. A handful of neighbors kept one another updated through group text messages about their rescue efforts, which included corralling and coaxing with kibble.

Animal control got involved last week and tried setting out traps, but with so many other food options, the dog wouldn’t bite.

When the article was published July 10, animal control officers had tried to shoot the mutt with a tranquilizer gun but missed.

It ran north and hadn’t been seen for several days until a man who read the story called the newsroom with a tip. He said the dog was hanging out near a road-widening project on Claribel Road near Coffee Road, more than 3 miles from its original home in the dirt field.

Some of the construction workers were trying to catch it.

Laurie Pallotta, one of the residents who’d worked tirelessly to capture the pup, found the dog in an orchard on Claribel on Friday night. Every day since, she and her husband spent several hours before and after work letting the dog warm up to them. They’d bring it food and just sit nearby.

They got the dog to eat out of their hands several times but couldn’t get it into a crate they had brought to the orchard.

Wednesday evening, they had a breakthrough.

They moved the crate into some bushes. Pallotta several times got into the large crate and handed the dog food from inside.

Then she sat and waited with her husband, who held a rope that was attached to the crate’s door.

The dog got inside and the door shut behind it.

“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 said. “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?’ 

Yes, the dog people called Joe Dirt is actually female. Pallotta gave her a more feminine name, but one that still serves as a reminder of her time on the lam.

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

She and her husband plan to keep Heidi. They took her to Atchison Veterinary Hospital in Riverbank on Thursday to check if she was microchipped and have her cleared with a clean bill of health.

Veterinary technician Bonnie Perkins said Heidi is a 1- to 2-year-old terrier mix. She was cleaned and vaccinated and in the future will be spayed.

Heidi is still a little shy, but otherwise is embracing domestic life.

“We stopped by Petco to get her a collar and found one that said, ‘Peace, Love and Rescue,’ ” Pallotta said. “Wow … such a perfect inscription.”

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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