Nearly two years after arriving at Alaqua Animal Refuge, still traumatized after a group of juveniles tried to set her puppies on fire, an Australian Cattle Dog named Belva rode away with her new family this week, destined for a 300-acre farm near Pace.
Beth and Keith Dixon’s son, Jackson, will fly the coop next month to begin college, leaving the couple with the dreaded empty-nest syndrome. Though Beth works away from home and is gone most of the day, Keith works at the farm, growing and harvesting timber and raising grass-fed cattle.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to need someone else to talk to and keep me company,” he said.
Their search for a new dog began last month, soon after Jackson graduated from high school. Set on finding a Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog, the family logged on to Alaqua’s website and zeroed in on Belva, the nearly 7-year-old Australian Cattle Dog who’d been at Alaqua since the fall of 2011.
Prior to her arrival, she and her puppies lived on the streets in a rural county north of Freeport. One day in September, they were seized by a group of male juveniles intent on harm — and torture. They threw the puppies in a burn barrel, then restrained Belva, forcing her to watch as they set her babies on fire.
“She was barking at it frantically until someone came over and saw," Laurie Hood, Alaqua’s founder, said in a 2012 interview with the Northwest Florida Daily News. "All but one (puppy) survived. She was so scared, you couldn’t touch her. Now, she’s just the friendliest.”
After seeing Belva’s photograph and reading her story, the Dixons were nearly 100 percent sure she was “the one.” Father, mother and son arrived at Alaqua Thursday afternoon, then followed a staff member to the dog area to meet the dog that had captured their hearts. The Dixons expected her to be shy and timid — especially shying away from Keith and Jackson — but they were pleasantly surprised.
“All the other dogs were barking, but she was right there at the chain link fence, wanting to know what was going on,” Keith recalled, adding being around other animals may have helped to ease her anxiety.
“She’s just cool as a cucumber,” Beth added.
Learn more about Alaqua Animal Refuge at www.AlaquaAnimalRefuge.org