EXCERPT: 'Rescue Ink'

As Ribbon made his rounds around the room, sniffing curiously and stopping for back scratches and affectionate thumps, G and Joe told the story of their trip: The tight quarters and freezing temperatures in the tiny airplanes. The joyous reception from Ribbon's rescuers when they arrived. The generosity of Ribbon's vet. How Kathy and her humane-society volunteers spent the down time waiting for their delayed plane by rescuing a pig whose ears had been mauled so badly in a probable dog attack that he was Ribbon's oinking alter ego. ("I would've taken the pig back with us," said Joe in all seriousness, "but there wasn't any room on the plane.") How during the flight Ribbon had refused to wear the red coat that Mary had gotten for him, fussing until he eventually wriggled out of it. And how Joe and G had panicked when they tried to rouse the dog and he didn't move. They thought he was sick; he was just in a deep, contented slumber.

At the dark, deserted Kentucky airport the night before, Ribbon was ready to follow G and Joe wherever they led him. "He jumped up on the wing of the airplane like that's what he did," Kathy recalls. "He just looked so comfortable, and he bounced on in there."

During his convalescence at the vet's office, Ribbon became very attached to the vet tech who tended to him every day. He showed absolutely no signs of aggression to humans, and was friendly with dogs, too. "We wondered if there was a situation that could flip that switch and make him angry," Kathy says. But if there was, they never saw any indication that Ribbon was anything less than a sweet, loving dog.

One thing was very clear: Ribbon was extremely food-motivated. His nose was constantly to the ground, looking for morsels. He would sell his soul for a bit of string cheese. This was very good news, as it meant he would be very easy to train.

Then again, Ribbon didn't need much work on his manners. Yes, he pulled on the leash. But he eagerly sat for a treat, and even offered his paw. "This dog was someone's pet before," G said, intently watching Ribbon as he politely took a treat from Johnny O. He was clearly well socialized to people and dogs. He didn't growl or otherwise protest when someone stuck a hand in his food bowl or tried to take away a bone or rawhide. Even sadder than the story of his abuse was the growing possibility that he had once been someone's beloved pet and had been stolen to be used as a bait dog.

Ribbon didn't respond to their calls and whistles, and some of the guys wondered aloud if he was deaf. "When you tell him to sit, he does," said G, rolling his eyes. "How do you figure he can't hear?" The verdict would be in soon enough: Ribbon had an appointment at the vet's office later that afternoon.

Now that Ribbon had met his pack, the next order of business was a new name. While it had served ably as an interim name, Ribbon, everyone agreed, just didn't suit him. As suggestions were tossed out, Junior wrote them on the dry-erase board on the clubhouse wall. "JD," short for Jack Daniel's. "Jim Beam." "Bourbon." Clearly, Ribbon's home state of Kentucky reminded the guys of some powerful hooch. "Cassius" or "Ali," because the famous boxer hailed from that southern state. "Rebel," a classic good-ole-boy name.

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