Merry Christmas! Now let me break your heart.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write an article; pulling sixteen hour days between law school and paying the bills, and somehow fitting in running a rescue, has not left much time for my creative muse. Plus, let’s be real – law school will suck your soul out through your nose and leave you feeling akin to something frightening from an AMC show. Never fear, though. I’m still around and pissing off fun-sponges and armchair quarterbacks just as well.

What am I going to hit y’all with today? Well, actually, I’m going to be nice for a change. Believe me, there are plenty of snarky rants dancing like sugar plums through my head, but in the spirit of Christmas, I will save those for the New Year. Today, I want to make you cry, and then I want to make you get in your car and go save a dog’s life.

Before I get to the nitty gritty, I need to tell y’all a story. A few weeks ago, I got my daily email loaded with photos of all the dogs and cats sitting in my two largest local animal control facilities. As usual, I opened and scrolled straight to the bottom, so I could see the new editions. Immediately, I noticed the Boykin (if you don’t know what a Boykin is, go here later). It was an awful photo, like all the shelter photos I tend to get, but I recognized him immediately and sent a text within the next thirty seconds to the director of the nonprofit that sends out this daily digest.

Two days later, I had the smelliest dog ever in the back of my car. Within two minutes, he shit bloody diarrhea all over everything, but than goodness I only had a few blocks to go to get home. I wasn’t even upset – this dog was at least twelve years old, blind as a bat, emaciated, and could barely walk straight. Green slime crusted his eyes shut and his nose looked like a desert, it was so dry and cracked. Shit, I thought. Give him a week, maybe a month.

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And such is the glamorous story of how I came to own my sixth dog. Sullivan, he is named, has now been with me almost a month. It took two weeks to clear up the respiratory infection, and he’s slowly putting on weight. With the help of twice-weekly medicated baths, his skin is softening and his fur is growing back (it took four baths to get rid of the stench of weeks-old urine). At first, Sully didn’t even acknowledge my existence. Now he comes when called, if you say it loud enough. He loves his softy, squishy bed, and likes to find me and press his head into my legs and touch my hands with his nose. He tries to look at me when he hears my voice, but he can’t see anything.

I have always had a soft spot for old dogs, since my experience with Tala. This year I pulled a seven year old Great Dane named Cyrus from my local shelter, and a blind senior cocker spaniel left by her owners at Miami Dade animal control. Sometimes they find homes, like Tala. Cyrus has a foster home who loves him and understands that he may be theirs forever. Roomba, my goofy little Florida cocker, was adopted just last week – I truly expected her to be with me for her entire life, too.

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Sullivan is old, and Sullivan is going to die. It could be tonight. He could be lifeless when I come home today from work. He could live another six months or a year. And when he does die, I am going to be absolutely heartbroken. I am going to cry and it’s going to tear me up inside as if I had owned Sully since he was eight weeks old. It doesn’t matter, though, because every single minute Sully spends in my home is worth all the heartache I could ever imagine.

There’s a special place for people who dump old dogs. There’s an even more special place for people who stick their old dogs outside to rot for months – years, maybe – before they finally succumb to the pain, or, like in Sully’s case, somehow by the grace of Dog escape that hell and get lucky enough to find solace. But, like I said, I’m not here today to bitch about those people. They exist, there’s nothing we can do about it, and I sincerely hope that when they are old and frail, their children leave them to rot from bed sores and dementia in nursing homes.

The silver lining to all of this is simple: we can do something to make these dogs’ lives better. We being me, you, and all dog lovers and rescue advocates. Anybody with space in their home to fit a soft, warm dog bed and enough money to spare to feed an extra mouth. Old dogs don’t do much – they sleep, they eat, they go to the bathroom. Some of them are spry enough to enjoy tagging along on a walk, but others, like Sully, are too weak and wobbly to go far and would rather just sleep all day. They don’t even need much as far as vet work goes. I did a routine blood panel on Sullivan just to get a baseline, and I paid for antibiotics and prescription wet food that would be easier on his stomach. But nobody is asking you to spend a fortune on testing and medications, and cancer or heartworm treatments. All these dogs need is love.

It’s really, really easy. Get in your car and drive to your local shelter. Ask them if you can see their available senior dogs. Go pick one out – you’ll find them in all shapes and sizes. Then, take them home, give them a bath and a good meal, and love the hell out of them. Rinse and repeat. These dogs have done nothing but give their hearts and souls to humans for their entire life. No matter what kind of terrible person left them to die, they don’t deserve to spend their last days on a cold, wet concrete floor surrounded by the stench of feces (probably covered in it, too) and the cacophony of barking. They deserve to sleep on a warm bed, feel the kind touch of a human hand on their head, and die with a little goddamn dignity.

And you know what’s really, really cool about all of this? After you’ve taken your sweet old dog home and loved it, and it passes on to the other side, you can do it all over again.

December-3

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Tala’s Story: Lessons From a Mean Dog (Part Two)

Read Part One first…

Come Christmastime, I took Tala with me to North Carolina to visit my father. He’s the reason I have Aussies to begin with, and he adopted my very first foster dog, Tucker. I tried to convince him to adopt Tala, since there was plenty of reason to assume she was in fact Tucker’s mom (same county, I was just full of crap). He didn’t buy it, but we had a blast anyways. Tala enjoyed the snow and she was finally at the point where she could be completely off leash without issue. She still hated to be grabbed, and she snapped at me in the den when she had an accident and I jumped up with a “NO!” and went to put her out. Belly up, on the floor, I forgot about her little game and grabbed her. Whoops. This vacation, however, was a definite sign of our much better relationship. She trusted me, and she didn’t want to leave me.

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January brought heartworm treatment, finally. She still hadn’t gained much weight, but we opted to go ahead. Tala was such a trooper; she never complained, never acted the least bit sick or in pain with the injections. Two months later we had a clean bill of health, and a month after treatment, our little blue bug weighed 36 pounds! Tala learned how to play with toys, and she loved tossing a tennis ball to herself. She no longer needed a crate to sleep in, and spent her nights on the rug by my bed with Rugby.

Okay, I knew this would happen. Here’s where I’m going to start typing through my tears. Curse my womanly emotions.

100_8687We were nearing the year mark with Tala in foster care. My hatred for this little dog had turned a 180 and blossomed into full-fledged, unconditional love. It was more than just me caring about her, and more than just me liking her. I loved that dog with all of my heart. I remember one morning laying in bed and looking down to where she and Rugby rested on the rug together, grooming each other affectionately. I loved her, Rugby loved her, and I wanted nothing more than to keep her forever – whether forever was six months or three years. However, I was in undergrad, had two dogs already and couldn’t logically commit to a third. So I kept her up for adoption and fought back the tears every time I thought about her leaving.

It was nothing short of a miracle when my rep told me about a repeat adopter in North Carolina that only adopted senior dogs. They were interested in Tala. To date, nobody had been interested in my now eleven-year-old scrappy Aussie girl.  I had lots of mixed emotions, but they came down to South Carolina for a visit. There wasn’t much to it – she was my dog, and didn’t care too much about visitors, but they liked her and so we arranged a weekend for me to drive to their place to see how Tala did with their other two Aussies and the cows.

Tala did wonderfully, of course. I was so happy and so sad when the adopters said they would like to keep her. My success was also my worst nightmare; I had to say goodbye to a foster that was just short of a “heart-dog” in my life. I stood there in their kitchen, choking on my words and doing a really crappy job of holding back my tears (exactly like right now, thank goodness there’s nobody around to see me and wonder why the heck I’m sitting in the back of the law school auditorium crying). The sweet couple smiled and said they would give me some time with Tala, and as they closed the door behind them I sunk to the ground, wrapped my arms around her little neck and bawled. I cried like baby for fifteen minutes before I gathered myself enough to stand up and walk out to shake hands with the adopters, and thank them for giving my sweet girl the opportunity to have a great rest of her life. Then I left, and I cried the whole way home.

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Tala lived for two more years on her farm in North Carolina. She was pampered and adored, and could not have asked for a better “retirement” home. She passed away last spring; she had developed adenocarcinoma in her mammary glands – probably from years of puppy rearing – and succumbed to the cancer in her sleep one evening. Of all the heartbreaking calls I received last year concerning my foster dogs, hers was by and far the worst. I sat on the back steps and wept hard and long. I knew she was old, and I knew I would get the call eventually, but I was heartbroken all the same.

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In the year that I fostered that scrawny little blue dog, I learned more about fostering and rescue than many people learn in decades. I learned, first, that patience is not just a virtue – it’s a necessity. Dogs will learn, and they will adapt. There will always be foster dogs that are more difficult than others. The key to success with these “project dogs” is to never give up. They feel your frustration and animosity towards them, and it hurts them and makes them anxious. On the flip side, they can also feel your resolve and your patience. It may take weeks or months, but when you and the dog do finally reach an understanding, there’s nothing that can break that bond.

Second, I learned that the dogs that touch our hearts are not the ones that we need or that we want or like, they’re the ones that need us. And we don’t get to choose which dogs need us – they just appear, and it’s up to us to recognize their need and be the rescuer they’ve been waiting for. I’m not religious, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. Tala came into my life to make me a better person, and a better rescuer. I might have saved her life, but I owe her more than I could ever repay. She is the dog I think of when I’m frustrated with a foster. She is a memory that makes me smile and laugh, and she is the reason that I do what I do. She didn’t deserve the life she lived, but damn if she was going to take the fire out of her. If only humans could learn to live with such positivity and resiliency.

Rescue is hard. Fostering is hard. Balancing school, work, and life in general with this mission of dog rescue is incredibly hard. The heartbreak when we lose a dog that we loved so very much, even when it wasn’t even “our” dog, is excruciating. It’s always worth it, however, because every dog and the lessons they impart during their time with us makes us better human beings.

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Tala’s Story: Lessons From a Mean Dog (Part One)

This is a long one, so I’ve broken it into two parts. 

Those of us in rescue know – there is always that one dog that opens your eyes and shows you exactly what you’ve been missing. They may appear early on in our rescue days, or they may not surface until we “think” we’re veteran rescue sages, just to show us that we really don’t know as much as we think we do.

To say I’ve fostered a lot of dogs is rather the understatement. I mean, I can’t even remember all the dogs I’ve fostered. That’s most because, as the “boss”, I’ve always felt it was my job to take most of the rescue burden. I also have never felt completely comfortable asking others to foster dogs that I haven’t met and evaluated myself. Anyways – lots of dogs, which means lots of lessons. Each dog is a lesson of their own, as each dog has a different personality and set of needs.

One dog, though, was a step above the rest when it came to being a professor of the fostering art. She was a scrawny little blue merle female Aussie, found stray in Oconee County, South Carolina (better known as Upstate BFE). This little dog weighed 28 pounds, and I could fit my hand around her waist and probably pick her up by her spine if I wanted to. At that point in my rescue career, she was the worst case I had ever seen. She was 9-10 years old, had very obviously been pregnant recently, and had heartworms and every type of intestinal bacteria you could imagine. Her teeth were all broken and/or worn down to nothingness, her legs bowed, and she smelled like a music festival port-a-potty. I named her Tala, which meant “wolf” in Sioux.

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Getting Tala home was the easy part. Being Tala’s foster mom, not so much. She was nervous indoors and paced constantly. Wire crates were out of the question, but she tolerated a plastic one well enough unless she knew she was being ignored. She was a trash-dog and counter-surfed, terrorized my cats if they didn’t stand up for themselves, and was rather overly enthusiastic with puppy managing. Somewhere in the archives I have a video that basically consists of me saying, “Tala, stop tackling the puppy,” over and over again. That being said, she got along fine with my older dogs and fosters.

Tala was sick – probably the sickest dog I’ve ever fostered, even now (with the exception of parvo puppies).  I mentioned her bacterial infections; it is because of Tala that I learned what giardia and coccidia smell like. All over the living room. I’ve never been a weak-stomached person, but I literally had to hold my breath, run in and wipe up a spot, then run back out to breathe or I would have vomited. Tala’s heartworms were also severe, and it took almost eight months to put the four pounds on her little frame that the vet requested before starting the immiticide treatment.

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While Tala’s condition taught me a lot about foster care (she was my first senior and my first heartworm dog), it was her attitude that taught me the most. You see, Tala was not always a very nice dog. In fact, she was quite the nasty bitch when she wanted to be. About a month or two into fostering her, I hated her. I absolutely despised that dog. She was cunning and manipulative, and she was not afraid to use scare tactics to get what she wanted. Her favorite thing to do was to slip out the door between my legs and take off down the street through the neighborhood. I would chase her, and when I finally got close enough she would flop on the ground, belly up in “okay, I submit” position. Naturally, my first reaction was to reach down and grab her by the collar to pull her up and walk her back home. NOPE. That little shit would bite the crap out of me the minute I touched her collar. She waited, goading me into making a mistake. Fortunately, she had no teeth so I was never hurt, but still – nobody likes to be bitten. So, this turned into me standing over her nudging her with my foot when she would belly up, and she would just lay there, four legs stretched out in the air, not moving a damn muscle. I would eventually get a leash around her neck and she would pop up, happy as a lark with herself for playing such a great game of, “Who’s really the boss?” One day, I got so fed up with her I just walked back home and told her to figure her own shit out. Of course, the game was over then, and she rose from the ground and followed me on home with no problem. That was the end of her running off, if I wasn’t going to chase her, then it wasn’t worth it and she needed to find a new game.

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As quick as it is to explain, it really took months for Tala and I to reach our understandings. Meanwhile, I was begging my rescue representative (I was nothing more than a young, green foster at this point) to move her to another foster. I would take anything if someone else would take Tala. I was fed up with her, we didn’t get along, and nobody was happy. My rep said no, however, and told me I needed to stick it through. Old dogs are different, she said, and we just needed time to figure each other out. Tala had been through a lot and needed to learn to trust me. I very reluctantly complied, and kept trucking on with this bat-shit crazy little bitch dog.

Stay tuned for part two…

Foster Spotlight: Cyrus the Great

This is Cyrus – he is a Great Dane (maybe mix?) around eight years old. He weighs a skinny 100 pounds, but I’m not putting too much more weight on him for the well-being of his joints.

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Cyrus was left at a county shelter in South Carolina. This is one of my favorite shelters to work with – they hate rescues, won’t allow evaluations, and really can’t be bothered to hold any dog past its euthanasia date. I sure hope y’all get my sarcasm.

Anyways, Cyrus’s “family” left him with nothing – not a collar, not a name, not a damn clue anything about him other than they just didn’t want him anymore. So, when his time was up and no other rescue had raised their hand, I did. I’ve mentioned it before, but I really, really can’t stand when people leave old dogs to die in a shelter. When I picked him up from the adoption center, he sat beside me and leaned up against me with that big ol’ body of his, and I could just feel the tension melt out of him.

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Cyrus came with good news and bad news. The good news – he was heartworm negative, and oh so sweet and friendly! Cyrus loves dogs, cats, kids, you name it. He’s pretty awesome. The bad news – Cyrus’s back end doesn’t work too well, and he tends to loose balance and fall a lot. The vet thinks it’s a neurological thing, not a joint issue. On solid ground, Cyrus is perfect, but he has trouble navigating stairs, hardwood floors, and tight spaces.

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Cyrus is, of course, looking for a home. It’s hard to place senior dogs, especially ones like Cy who already come with the signs of aging. Cyrus doesn’t know he’s old, or that he’s “damaged goods”. He just wants a nice bed to sleep on and somebody to lean up against. He loves going on walks – he actually loves running in the back yard, too. He goes pretty fast for an old man.

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For information about adopting Cyrus, contact me here!