Military Feature: Couple rescues dog

CNJ staff photo: Tonya Fennell Hector, left, and Melissa Santaella cuddle with their dogs in their Clovis home. Melissa calls the group her “rough riders.”

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

“Baby” is a celebrity of sorts.

And like many young stars, her life has been far from perfect. The female Staffordshire bull terrier was abandoned and left to wander Cannon Air Force Base for more than a year.

The canine was first spotted hunkered down under a tree near the Airman and Family Readiness Center, according to Airman and Family Readiness Center Community Readiness Consultant Ellen Saccoia-Smith.

Saccoia-Smith said Baby burrowed in a hole to stay warm throughout the winter. “You’d look over and just see little ears sticking up,” she said. When summer rolled around, she retreated to the nearby culvert to stay cool.

But, finding food was a problem. “She was thin and skittish,” Saccoia-Smith said.

So, Saccoia-Smith began bringing her food daily. “She got everything from dog food to fried chicken,” she said. “I even brought her a leftover ribeye steak.”

Others around the base followed suit, and soon Baby was being fed four times a day. “Everyone became protective of her,” Saccoia-Smith said. “But, she wouldn’t let us pet her.”

Although the shy animal was elusive and slow to make friends, she was known around the base by many names including — Sassy, the Golden Dog, the dog under the tree, and the commissary dog. But, the female Staffordshire bull terrier was most commonly called “Baby,” a name she lovingly received from Saccoia-Smith.

Eventually, Baby caught the eye of Master Sgt. Melissa Santaella. “I would see her when I went for a groceries at the commissary,” Santaella said. “She was always limping.”

Santaella, a self-described dog lover and animal advocate, decided she and her husband, Staff Sgt. Hector Santaella, would adopt the dog. “We took her to the vet and got her spayed,” Santaella said.

“Baby” was renamed Ruby because Santaella said her new pet was a “precious jewel.”

And Ruby is not alone at the Santaella home, she joined two other dogs, Molly and Kayla, who were also rescued by Santaella. “I call them the rough riders,” Santaella said.

Santaella said since being rescued Ruby is a different dog who provides excellent watch dog services and has claimed the corner of the couch as her bed.

“She’s (Ruby) spoiled,” Santaella said, “She has moved uptown.”

Although Ruby’s situation turned out well, Saccoia-Smith and Santaella are working to educate pet owners about several issues.

Saccoia-Smith said the Airman and Family Readiness Center can assist families who are changing base assignments and can’t take their pets. Saccoia-Smith said the A&FRC can find foster or adoptive families or transport the animal to a no kill shelter. They also network with several animal advocacy agencies.