In October of 2018, a liquor store owner phoned Sabrina Wilkerson – as a member of a local animal rescue, they knew she could help. A creature had found its way inside the shop and made clear it was in need of help from the humans who had found him.
Wilkerson built her life around caring for animals. Not only did she have professional dog-sitting experience, but she volunteered as a pet foster parent and with the Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego County too.
According to the Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego’s Facebook page, the breed is disproportionately seen in the city’s shelters. Therefore, the organization’s members strove to take in and rehome chihuahuas and other small breeds.
Because of her association with this organization, Wilkerson received a phone call one evening in October of 2018. On the line was the owner of a nearby liquor shop, who had had an unexpected visitor walk into the store.
The four-legged visitor was a chihuahua that appeared to be hiding inside of the shop. As Wilkerson spoke to the store owner on the phone, though, she said it had been clear that “he really didn’t know much about dogs,” she told The Dodo.
“I said, ‘Is he friendly? Will you go near him?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m not going near the dog,” Wilkerson recalled. But the liquor store owner had snapped a few pictures of the scared pup, which had taken refuge by the shop’s supply of orange juice.
The second image showed the clearly frightened chihuahua lying down beneath the orange juice shelf. In it, Wilkerson could see that the shop owner had placed a towel over the pooch, as he was wet from the rain falling outside.
But the dog would need more help than that, so Wilkerson drove over to the liquor store. At first, though, the animal did not want to go with the dog rescuer. “He showed us his teeth – he was just stressed out,” Wilkerson said.
Fortunately, Wilkerson had the patience to get the chihuahua to move from his safe spot and into her crate. She then took the dog to the vet, in the hopes that he had a microchip. The grain-of-rice-sized implant would identify the dog and his owners – if he had one, of course.
But the pooch wasn’t microchipped, so Wilkerson took him home for the night. Then she was able to see a bit more of his personality. “He was sweet and he warmed up, and you could tell he was friendly. He was just nervous,” Wilkerson said.
The next day, though, Wilkerson had to drop the dog off at a local shelter. Local law required her to surrender the stray for several days in case someone was looking for him and wanted to claim him. However, her trip there didn’t go as planned.
Wilkerson admitted, “I didn’t take him in a crate. I figured I’d just carry him in my arms. I don’t know what I was thinking – I’d never done this before with a stray.” So when she pulled the door of the car open to take the dog out, he made a run for it.
Some people in the vicinity tried to help Wilkerson wrangle the chihuahua. “We tried to get him, and there were lots of us trying to get him… but he just disappeared and we lost him. It was devastating,” she said.
But the dedicated dog rescuer didn’t give up. Instead, Wilkerson created flyers and hung them near where she had lost the chihuahua. That night, a woman named Austin called to say that she had found the missing pooch, and she’d return him to the shelter.
Wilkerson made her way back to the shelter in the morning to make sure the dog was, indeed, the chihuahua she had lost. It was him and, as an homage to his rescuer, Wilkerson gave him a new name. “The woman’s name was Austin Walker, so I named him after her,” she said.
After his requisite time in the shelter, Austin returned home with Wilkerson, who quickly got to know the dog she had met at the liquor store. “He takes a little while to warm up, but he’s a sweetheart when he trusts you,” she said.
Considering his sweet personality, it would only take Wilkerson a few weeks to find Austin a forever home where he’d surely feel the trust he needed. Wilkerson announced on Facebook on October 28 that “a lovely couple” named Kate and Irina had adopted him.
“They have followed Austin’s story from the beginning and they have experience with shy dogs. They were perfect when they came to meet him. [He] warmed up quickly with some treats and allowed them each to pet and hold him,” Wilkerson wrote.
The couple would have plenty of time to work with Austin too – his new mom Irina had a home-based job, so the dog would “be getting lots of TLC,” Wilkerson wrote. The pooch’s parents also said they’d “be extra super careful with him,” assuring Wilkerson that “he [was] in good hands.”
Wilkerson told her followers who knew Austin’s story that his new family “[understood] that he’s going to need some time and patience.” But the dog rescuer knew he’d soon thrive with “consistency and stability. I have no doubt that he will turn into a confident, happy, loving little boy,” she wrote.