Whenever possible, if I see an animal in distress I try to help. It was early June 1992, and summer was just heating up in Southern California. I commuted every day to the garment district to my job as a textile designer. When I left my office at the end of the day, I noticed a large, black dog cowering in the parking lot. I immediately approached her to see if she would come to me, but she slunk away, visibly scared, but almost too weak to move.
I've seen packs of dogs in the industrial areas of Los Angeles, who are "professional strays", cruising the streets looking for food. This dog was different because she wouldn't leave the parking lot. I thought she was probably abandoned. When I asked the lot attendant how long she had been there, he said, "all day", and cautioned me to leave her alone because she looked like a rottweiler and "you know, they are vicious." Various people who saw me trying to coax her offered their advice or leftover lunches but my efforts were unsuccessful. The pathetically thin and filthy dog would stay just out of my reach.
Finally, a man who had a rope in his truck helped me corner her against the fence and I fashioned a harness around her. We were relieved she didn't struggle too much as we hoisted her into my Pathfinder.
As I drove away with the bewildered dog, I looked in my rear view mirror at the mangy creature. I have the capacity to see the potential beauty in things, so I imagined a match being made. I got home, put her in my cool garage with food and water, and made arrangements to have the vet check her out.
I was aware the dog could have been lost and contacted the Humane Society, but I didn't want to check her in because she already seemed so traumatized. I planned on putting an ad in the paper too, but I thought whoever claimed her better have a good story because she showed signs of abuse. She had some distinctive marks -- scars on her neck and a sandwich-sized bite out of one of her ears -- that could be easily identified.
I needed to name her something, so I called my unsuspecting friend Patrick, (Ruff Wear's founder) and asked him for some German women's names. He rattled off a couple and when Ursula rolled off his tongue, I said, "That's it." "That's what?" he asked. "Well, I found a dog today. . ." and told him the story.
I sat in the garage with the newly named Ursula, and it became obvious she wasn't used to any kind of gentle social contact. She had the mannerisms of a haggard junkyard dog as she paced around the garage, though she did seem to enjoy being gently scratched on the forehead. I braced myself for the responsibility of taking her in -- by the looks of things, she was going to be a big project!
In the morning, I called the L.A. Times to place a "found" ad and dropped her off at the vet for a bath and checkup. The vet reported she was between 6 and 8 years old, was an unspayed female rottweiler, had terrible teeth, but all in all, was a good-natured dog. The "good-natured part" was encouraging I thought, as I loaded her into the truck again. Now that she was clean, I could see she was missing large amounts of hair from her face and body. This dog had been through a lot.