Ladybird: a dog story

Kelsey McFadyen and her boyfriend Joe Klein had the sweet coming-of-age story in mind when they rescued a Labrador retriever-pitbull mix found roaming their neighborhood

PHOTO Courtesy of RedRover

The film Lady Bird didn’t take home a gold statue at the Academy Awards, but Greta Gerwig’s homage to Sacramento is still winning in more ways than one. Kelsey McFadyen and her boyfriend Joe Klein had the sweet coming-of-age story in mind, after all, when they rescued Ladybird, a Labrador retriever-pitbull mix found roaming their neighborhood. McFadyen documented the couple’s rescue efforts with her camera phone, and when she heard about the Paws 4 Love contest sponsored by RedRover, a Sacramento-based animal charity, and Russell Stover Chocolates, she decided to give the dog a starring role. Talk about a big break: Ladybird’s film debut earned her a third-place win. Who needs an Oscar, anyway?

How did you meet Ladybird?

We first spotted her on the streets [in] December. We had one of our other dogs in our front yard and noticed there was a loose dog. We went out there to try to catch her, and she just took off. She was super scared, a super timid dog. So I called 311 and then saw her again the next night and a couple of nights after that. Finally, I just started calling animal shelters and they [told me that for] skittish or timid dogs, [they relied] on the community to help. We knew her routine, so we [decided] to make a trap and train her to eat out of it. It took about four weeks.

Four weeks? Wow.

Yeah, and we’d set up a little hidden camera, so every night I was watching her on my phone. She’d run up and look around, eat some food and dart away. She was coming back probably three to four times a night. Finally, after four weeks, it got to the point where she was going into the cage for up to a minute at a time, long enough for us to be able to close it. We tied a rope to the cage, and we were watching from the living room, and [Joe] pulled the string and the latch stuck, and she just spun in circles and she just howled; she was so sad.

Oh, poor girl.

We had her in the cage, sitting with her until she calmed down. We tried to take her out and put her on a leash—it was clear she’d never had human contact or been put on a leash before, so she just started alligator rolling and …

Alligator rolling?

Have you ever tried to catch an alligator? It just rolls. They just start rolling and thrashing. Throughout this whole thing, she never showed one ounce of aggression. We decided to bring her to Front Street [Animal Shelter] to have her evaluated. I told them I was willing to foster her. We went and visited her a few times, and they got her to the point where she could walk on a leash and come up to humans—so they did the base work.

How did that meeting go?

Honestly, having her and our three dogs interact, she probably learned the most from them. Just how to be a dog.

How did you feel like you connected to her?

She was just so sweet and docile—someone who deserved a chance. And it doesn’t sit well with me coming home every night and seeing this dog darting in the streets back and forth. And I thought, “One time, I’m going to come home and it’s going to be her body lying here, or she’s going to get so sick that no one’s going to see her again.”

So, are you keeping her?

We’re finding the right home. A couple of friends are interested. Legally, we can’t have more than three dogs in the county. The second we caught her, I thought, “This is something we have to see through to the end to make sure she has a good home.”

What made you decide to enter the contest?

I saw a post on Facebook about it, and I’d been [shooting] footage this entire time and had footage that showed progression from night one until now. So I thought, “I’ll put it together; it’s a cute story.” She’s a Sacramento girl; a hometown girl.

That brings me to her name.

Yes! I saw [Lady Bird] over Thanksgiving and I watched her on the camera from afar on the street, and she kind of prances around like a little lady. So I thought, “Oh, she’s a lady. Oh, Ladybird.” And she’s an adolescent dog on the streets of Sacramento and Lady Bird was an adolescent girl.

Who is trying to break free.

It’s a coming-of-age story, a coming-of-dog story.

How old is Ladybird?

We think she’s 1 or 2 years old. When we caught her, she was in heat. Dogs her size are in heat usually after a year.

Have you fostered before?

This was the first time, and I was very nervous about it and pretty hesitant because we have dogs of our own… but she ended up being the perfect [dog] for it, and she got along great with my other dogs. Although my lab’s a little jealous, but that’s just him.

There wasn’t a love story there?

There was, but she was in heat initially! And, typical male, he was all into her and all about her. And now that’s she not, he’s like, “Oh, she’s still here?”

It sounds a lot like the movie, actually.

Yeah, exactly. They really follow the plot closely.

Will you have trouble saying goodbye?

I’m already kind of going through the grieving process. I go through periods when I’m crying and I cuddle with her every night. When she was first here, it was like spending two hours a night in the cage just sitting with her, hand-feeding her. When you devote that much emotion to something …

I imagine this beautiful Lady Bird ending where she calls you one day.

I know, right? I’d be happy, but it dawned on me that we have three really loud, rambunctious dogs, and she needs a mellow environment. It’s not fair to her and it’s not fair to our dogs.