Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dogs of IMR

While rescue can be very rewarding, there is one HUGE pitfall that all good rescues encounter: The Unadoptables. Here we also call them "Retirees". Simply put: If you operate a dog rescue, and you are not left with a bunch of these, you are either placing badly or not accepting the dogs who need you the most.

Gunther was our first of these. My friend, Lisa, asked me to pick him up from Crawford County Humane Society. I spent a day driving nearly to Indiana and back because we knew he had an eye injury that needed treatment. As it turned out, I wasn't able to treat it anyway because Gunther spent his first two weeks in rescue under my dining room table. He still has a scar.

You see, Gunther had been "rescued" by an elderly woman who thought that she was helping stray dogs by keeping them in a pen in her back yard. By the time her daughter came by and found out about her endeavors, there were 30 dogs of varying ages in that pen. Gunther, still under two years old, was hopelessly feral. He is now 12 years old and hates being touched. We drug him to trim his nails. Gunther requires a low allergen food, but little else. He knows the routine here and hates strangers coming into the house (he will try to bite them). Gunther also hates men in hats.

Sassy is an elderly Rat Terrier who came in a group of mill dogs when she was about two years old. I'll never forget the words of the rescuer who brought me two Rat Terriers. She pointed to the first, saying, "She's a sweetheart." Then she looked at Sassy and said, "That one is nuts."Sassy has been here ever since. No one can pet her or touch her. Much like Gunther,she will never adjust to a normal home. Sassy falls into the "Aren't puppymills wonderful?" category. She requires no special care - just food and compassion.

Canis Stumpus Tripodis
Canis Stumpus Tripodis was one of a large group of Yorkshire Terriers confiscated by a local humane society. Stumpy had a badly mangled left rear leg which had to be amputated. When I brought him home from the hospital, he promptly bit me. It has taken years for Stumpy to feel comfortable enough to allow some guests to pet him. He loves being outside and we often find h
Cha Cha
im in the backyard, laying in the grass or barking at passing cars. He might be adoptable to the right home, but he requires a pet door to a fenced yard and no kids. So far, the proper situation for Stumpy continues to elude us. He is a Retiree with an option.

Cha Cha is a Chug - part Chihuahua, part Pug. She was a confiscation by an area humane society. They asked us to take her because of her intense fear. When she came here at one year of age, she bit Kevin as he tried to get her out of the kennel. Never one to ignore a warning, I placed the whole kennel in our gated laundry room with Cha Cha in it. For several weeks, she came out only at night to eat, drink, and use the piddle pads. Each day I would look into her pet taxi and speak gently to her as she tried her best to blend into the plastic. I fed her, talked to her, began holding out my hand for her to sniff while keeping my face averted - if I looked at her, she was gone! It took months for her to accept me. When she finally decided to trust me, she had reached her limit of one worthy human being. Two years later, no one else can touch her. Cha Cha eats a costly low-allergen food. She has no other special requirements.

Roxie is a 10 year-old Pug belonging to a dear friend who had to move into supportive living. I offered to keep Roxie and bring her for visits. These visits mean the world to both of them. For those of you unfamiliar with supportive living facilities, they take the resident's income and leave them $90 a month for incidentals. Roxie eats a mix of Blue Buffalo kibble and canned food, and uses tacrolimus eye drop at a cost of $50 a month. We receive much thanks and appreciation, but no financial support for her.

Likewise, Khaleesi's owner went into long term care when Khaleesi was already 14 years old and blind from bilateral cataracts. Khaleesi, a tiny black poodle with one Grade IV luxating patella, had two dentals right away - her teeth were horrible. She is the sweetest little thing you could ever imagine, and she fit in so well here, I hadn't the heart to send her on to another rescue. Khaleesi is now 17 years old. She spends most of her time sleeping on a bed in the kitchen near the refrigerator. She gets the food she prefers (Pedigree Little Champions), and takes Flagyl and Metacam each morning. Every evening between 6:30 and 8:00pm, I can count on her rising to make her way down the hallway - it's time for her dinner (if I don't notice her right away, she will come and stand stoically next to my bed until I do). Khaleesi is the only dog here who eats twice a day. At her age, she gets whatever she wants. We will love her until she joins her Mama in Heaven. Her other expenses include grooming four times a year and intermittent vet visits for antibiotics (she is prone to upper respiratory infections).

Sadie is a 10 year old Pug whose owners took really crappy care of her, then dumped her on rescue with a belly full of cancer. We hope our vet was able to get it all, but fear of recurrence seems to be preventing Sadie from finding a home with anyone else. We did a dental and spay on Sadie, too. Our vet missed a small round lump over her thigh, which is likely a cyst, but may require removal. Sadie has really bad knees in her rear legs which causes diminished fecal continence. She gets a queasy tummy, so we give her a half a Pepcid each morning with her Metacam. She eats canned food in weight maintenance formula to keep her weight down. Sadie is a sweetheart who never complains, gets along with everyone, and enjoys barking at stuff in the back yard along with her buddies, Stumpy and Eddie.

Gertie is a 10 year old Pug who is mine by default. Gertie is blind and not housetrainable - 'nuff said. Gertie has the worst KCS I have ever encountered. We use tacrolimus, but are close to giving it up for artificial tears and Genteal Ointment for Severe Dry Eyes. She chose me, and made her choice clear by saying,"Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma" whenever she is separated from me by a door or a baby gate. It would have to be a pug angel to ever adopt her. I would only entrust her to someone I know personally. Gertie is due for another dental soon.

Friends and blog readers will be familiar with Calvin the Curmudgeon. Calvin came to rescue in a group of mill dogs at age nine. He is fecally incontinent and walks by swinging his back legs like two sticks. He frequently falls and still stands back and barks at folks he doesn't know. If he lives long enough, Calvin will need wheels. Calvin takes Metacam each morning for pain and needs another dental.

Nellie is hands-down the most loving dog I have ever encountered. She is also the most submissive. Nellie is a 45# hound mix with a long list of phobias: Loud noises, thunder, open spaces are a few of them. We keep sedatives and she needs them if it even looks like it might rain. Nellie hasn't a mean bone in her body, but her fear is her downfall. If we take her out the front door, she drops to the ground and army crawls. She submissive urinates when strangers pet her or when she is placed in a vehicle. As you might imagine, she does not show well. So far, nobody seems to have the kind of tenderness, patience and compassion to work through these fearful stages. In my home and yard, she behaves like any normal dog. I do not see much hope for adoption for Nellie. Her main expense are her Blue Buffalo and her sedatives.

 Last of all today is Eddie. Eddie is 10 years old. Despite his age, Eddie is adoptable. He's pretty healthy - just needs dental and tiny lumpectomy. He is scheduled for these procedures on August 18th. Then, we hope, Eddie will be going home.

We buy a bottle of Metacam every month, a bottle of tacrolimus, Genteal drops and ointment, 50# of kibble, two cases of Pedigree cans, about 50 bags of Pedigree LC, one box of The Honest Kitchen EVERY month. We stock amoxicilline, Flagyl, Clindamycin, meclizine, baby aspirin, triple antibiotic ointment, and more. We use gobs of paper towels, baby wipes and chewys.

We have a bunch of very tough-to-place dogs. But we feel they deserve to be cared for as well as we possibly can.

If you feel that way, too, please help.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Visit With Vi

Roxie and Vi, Christmas 2014
Instead of going straight to work this morning, I went a few miles past the office. You see, I don't usually have a passenger. Today, I had a pug named Roxie riding behind me in a car seat designed to keep a canine occupant at precisely window height. We were on our way to meet someone very special to both of us.

Roxie is an excellent passenger. She rides like a small, four-legged person, looking out the window. She's also a fashion diva - it's a playful surprise  to see what she'll be wearing each time we show up. Today, she wears a pink "I Love My Mommy" sleeveless t-shirt with a matching pink leash and harness. She knows exactly where we are headed. I can see her counting the minutes.

Our host is supposed to meet us in the lobby of Manor House but, when we arrive, she's no where in sight. Most of the residents of this supportive living facility love seeing pets come to visit, and we are stopped several times as we work our way down the hallway. One lady tells me all about her beautiful German Shepherd who died some years ago at the age of 14. Another had a black lab named Sassy who had been rehomed. Pets are not allowed to reside or even spend the night at Manor House, but day visits are permitted.

"There's my Roxie!" Vi is standing in the hallway chatting with another resident. "I was just on my way down to meet you." She introduces me to the other lady, telling me she is also a dog lover. "Come in, I want to show you something," she says, turning the key to her small apartment. "You've never been in here before, have you?"

"Sure I have, Vi," I answer, "Many times." A look of confusion appears momentarily, and I instantly regret my answer. Vi is painfully aware of the gaps in her memory. The last thing I want to do is upset her. "Your place is so pretty! I just love the way you have it decorated." The uncertainly disappears and the smile returns as she shows me a collection of pug pictures and figurines she has carefully arranged on her coffee table. I admire them - one of which Roxie and I gave her for her 83rd birthday - and pretend she has not shown me the same display every time I have visited.

I think back to the first time I met Vi. It was several years ago at the aging agency where I work as a counselor. I found her sharp wit and cheerful disposition engaging, and she quickly became a favorite client. But the thing that firmly united us was our love for pugs. Whenever Vi came to see me at the agency, she brought with her stories and pictures of her pug, Roxie, whom she clearly adored. She laughed as she talked about Roxie jumping on her lap as she read the paper, and showed me a picture of Roxie looking down at the print as if she were reading the headlines. She sometimes brought Roxie along with her. Roxie "lacked for nothing", in fact, she was seriously spoiled. When Roxie developed ongoing eye problems, she saw a vet often and also underwent surgery to save her sight. Vi would have done anything within her power for her Roxie. With help from her children, Vi and Roxie were able to remain independent for the first 10 years of Roxie's life.

Then Vi started forgetting things - just a little at first, then more frequently. The forgotten items gradually became bigger and more critical, from grocery items to bills and people's names. One day she came to see me for an appointment. 

"I've been diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's Disease." she said characteristic aplomb. "My kids want me to sell the mobile home and go into assisted living. But I don't want to go anywhere without Roxie." At the mention of her pug, I saw the first shadow of worry flicker across her brow.

I had heard something about a recently enacted law that might prevent seniors from being forced to give up their pets. The next day, I consulted an animal welfare attorney I know. Would this law help Vi to keep her pug? "It doesn't apply to community living situations," was the response. I felt awful. Vi would be faced with giving up her beloved Roxie. It wasn't fair. I knew how desolate my life would be without my beloved dogs. It was bad enough that Vi was faced with losing the home she loved because of this awful disease. Asking her to lose Roxie as well was just too much. I had to do something. But what?

I saw no way to keep Vi and Roxie both safe and sharing the same space. But maybe there was something I could do to make the situation tolerable, if not perfect. I made Vi an offer to think about.

When Vi and her daughter came into my office one day and asked me if I would keep Roxie for her, I truthfully answered, "I wouldn't do it for anyone but you, Vi. What's one more pug at my crazy house?!"

So I became Roxie's "other mother". Roxie loves going to see Vi - she runs to her with kisses and a wagging tail. We always go on weekdays so we can get there early. On weekends, I like to sleep in. If we arrive too late, Vi has forgotten about us and is off somewhere else. I've learned to call the night before, and call again in the morning to announce that we're en route.

After work, I'm back at Manor House to retrieve our shared pug. I'm aware that persons with Alzheimer's forget things, but they always remember how they feel. Whenever I visit, I am careful to leave Vi feeling as happy as I possibly can. I pull the van into the circle drive, open the side door and greet both Vi and Roxie with a big smile.

"Did you two have a good day today?" I ask.
St Patrick's Day, 2015

"Oh, we had a wonderful day!" Vi answers excitedly. She tells me all about Wii bowling and Roxie eating cheerios and how everyone loved her shirt...I half-listen, laughing, because I so love her enthusiasm! Vi is such a special lady and has become so dear to me -  I feel lucky to be able to do this small thing for her.

Vi is a little teary as she tells Roxie goodbye. Once again, I wish Roxie could stay with the mom who loves her. Pets are allowed in many assisted living facilities, but those are the expensive ones at $2000 a month or more. Supportive living facilities like Manor House, that admit people without a lot of money,  never allow them to bring their pets. I remind myself that this is the next best thing. "Give me a kiss", she implores, and Roxie offers an exhausted lick in her general direction.Vi gives her a generous smooch in return. 

"I love you both!" she exclaims as we hug.

"We love you, too, Vi," I answer."Don't forget to call me. We'll set up a day for our next visit." I'll call her, of course. I give Vi my cell number every week, and every week she asks for it again.

As we pull away, I look in the rear view mirror. I see Vi happily chatting with a young woman at the entrance doors. Behind me, Roxie dozes in her car seat, sleepy from all the attention. 

As for me, I am already planning what outfit Roxie will wear for her next visit.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Death of a Rescuer

Sandie Konopelski & Friend
On Friday, April 25th, while I was working my regular job as a Resource Specialist at Age Smart Community Resources in Shiloh, Illinois, Sandie Konopelski was climbing across train tracks wearing a pair of "bite gloves" in pursuit of an opossum who had ventured out onto the tracks.

I did not know Sandie, had never met her. She was a different kind of rescuer. Sandie had devoted the last 20 years of her life to wildlife rescue and rehab, while I had devoted about the same portion of my life to rescuing and rehoming dogs. Sandie was two years older than me, and lived there in Shiloh, where I was working that morning.

Later that day, I heard the news that a woman had been struck and killed by a westbound Metrolink train. It had happened between 8:00am and 8:20am. Details are sketchy. Metro has not released any information on who placed the call for assistance to the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline of Missouri and Illinois, but it's reasonable to think it was a Metro employee, since they regularly called the hotline for assistance with wildlife on the train tracks. Sandie responded, as she had numerous times before. How she ended up in the path of an oncoming train that day, no one seems to know.

I put the incident aside, thinking no more about it. That is, until Jenny came into the agency for her appointment.

Jenny was a neat little gray-headed senior with a cafe au lait complexion and a friendly manner. She laughed a lot. I liked her immediately. She sat in the chair beside my desk and looked up at a picture I keep on the wall. It is a Winter depiction of a young woman with her arms wrapped around a red pit bull. The dogs eyes are closed. You can feel the love between them.

"What a beautiful painting", she said. "Is it someone you know?"

I explained that the young woman in the picture was a rehab staffer from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.The dog was one of Michael Vick's pit bulls.

"Did you hear about the woman killed on the Metrolink tracks in Swansea?" she asked. "I don't know for sure, but I'm afraid that was my Sandie." He voice faded and her countenance was sad."I don't know for sure. But I've called her cell phone several times. She hasn't answered."

She went on to explain that her house backed up to a wooded area."I call her all the time," Jenny continued. "She always comes out. Once, I found a sick raccoon in my back yard. She couldn't save that one. It had distemper. I've found rabbits and opossums...even a coyote pup!"

I interjected that I also did rescue, but with dogs. "I have loved animals ever since I was a child," she smiled. "Once when I called, Miss Sandie told me she was at church, but she'd be out right after. And she always called me back to let me know what happened to the animals she came and got. She always came whenever I called her." Her warm brown eyes misted over. "Who will I call now?"

I had no easy answer for her. I was beginning to realize what a huge hole "Miss Sandie" had left in her wake. I gave Jenny my cell number and told her to call me. "I'm not a wildlife rescuer," I said, "but I'll find someone who is. I'll help you in a pinch." 

When Jenny left, I understood much more than I had before about the woman who had been struck and killed while struggling to save an animal. Jenny was just the tip of the iceberg. How many more were wondering what to do, who to call now? I felt personally robbed of this amazing rescuer who had lived and rescued in my own backyard, yet I never knew it.

I felt a pang of sadness for the loss of a compassionate, wise and skilled rescuer. There are so few...

I did not know Sandie Konopelski. But damn, I sure wish I had.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wrinkles, Now & Then

Wrinkles, 2015

As so often happens, it was a friend and former adopter who alerted me to a senior pug needing rescue. He was, through no fault of his own, in a risky situation. Jen B picked him up and met I met her in St Louis to retrieve him. His story, as I understood it, is all second-hand:

I was told Wrinkles had been saved by a good Samaritan, and that his original family had planned to euthanize him. I never heard why they decided they couldn't be bothered with him after nearly 12 years. The person who took Wrinkles already had a full house and could not keep him, so she started looking for an appropriate home for him.

Wrinkles is a pound overweight, needs his shots updated and a dental, but is otherwise healthy. Like most owner-surrenders whose families abandon them, he was not thrilled at the conditions at my rescue house. Clearly, he had never seen so many dogs in one place. Wrinkles ran out my back door and as far away from all of us as he could get, which is to say, he was in a corner against the far fence. He made himself as inconspicuous as he could. Wrinkles stood there, visibly shaking. He would not eat. He would not drink. He would not come near me or any of the rescue dogs. His eyes darted about nervously as if to say, "Where are my parents? What is this place and why am I here?", followed by an emphatic "HOME...TAKE ME HOME!"

Though my heart ached for him, I knew the best course of action was to leave him alone and let him calm down. It was a beautiful day and Wrinkles was safe, so I went back inside and began trying to piece together what I could of his history..

Wrinkles came with a folder containing his medical history, The first thing I saw on opening
Wrinkles, 2004
it was a grainy xeroxed photo of a pug puppy with adorable airplane ears. Wrinkles' vet had taken it on his first visit and never changed it. Seeing that photo - realizing his family had bought Wrinkles as a very young pup - was a shock. For me, that would be tantamount to giving away a child. In December of this year, Wrinkles will be 12y/o. What kind of people get rid of a dog they raised from a puppy in his last few years of life? I could only imagine the emotional trauma. No wonder Wrinkles wanted nothing to do with us.

I left him alone that first night, although we did make him come inside to sleep. The next morning, back out the door went Wrinkles, and as far away from us as possible. He would not be tempted by even the most delectable morsels - chicken, tried-and-true arsenal. Nor would he allow himself to be caught, or even approached by me. As darkness encroached, I enlisted the aid of my brother, Mark, to catch Wrinkles. Mark came from one side, I from the other. As I came close enough to touch him, I commanded "Sit!" several times with the accompanying hand gesture. Wrinkles sat, but he still looked at me as if I were coming to kill and eat him. Instead, I gently lifted him and sat him on my bed.

Wrinkles had pain-filled eyes that made only the briefest contact. Not physical pain, but the despair of abandonment - of having your whole world evaporate in an instant. He was deeply sad, and I was sad for him. Every muscle in his little body seemed coiled and ready to spring. Slowly, I began to massage his head and neck. I brushed the loose fur away. I concentrated hard on sending gentle, calming energy through my fingertips. I tried to explain.

"What they did to you", I whispered, "was horrible. You did nothing to deserve this. You're a good pug." Some of the tension faded. "I know you have feelings. I care about your feelings. I promise, no one here will hurt you. I won't let anyone hurt you again." I kept speaking in a soft, low voice. He did not understand the words, but he did understand. After a long while, Wrinkles laid his head down and went to sleep. He slept on a corner of my bed that night, a privilege, I'd been told, he was not allowed by his original family.

The next morning, Wrinkles went outside and came right to me when I called - no more cowering in the corner. He ate some canned food for me.When my brother worked outside that day, Wrinkles followed him. His tail was raised and curled. When I came home from work, he stood with the other pugs. He was a full-fledged pack member. I was so proud of him. Even after nearly 20 years of rescue, it amazes me that a senior dog can be so resilient. Despite the most grievous insult from the family he had loved, somehow he found the courage to begin to trust again. 

Wrinkles has been with us almost four days now. He's doing better and better. Every day a little bit better. I think we have reached a state of understanding.

But the family who bought that precious little pug puppy, raised him for nearly 12 years then dumped him like a piece of old furniture?

Some things I will never understand.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Three Dogs Who Are Not Dead

Scarlet is not dead today, and I am the reason.
Scarlet is six years old and blind. Her owner surrendered her to a "kill shelter" -  I've no idea why. Scarlet is apparently perfect, other than her vision. She runs up to strangers and places both paws on their legs to be petted. Scarlet fit right into the pack at my house. She's unfailingly cheerful, playful - a joy to be around.

She came very, very close to dying.I have a houseful of old, blind, unadoptable pugs. I did not want to take in another. But I did it anyway, because God or conscience would not allow anything else. I'm getting old, I work a full-time job, I live with chronic pain. But we all have our burdens and obligations. Mine do not excuse me from doing the work I was destined to do, no matter how difficult.


Scarlet's brother, Luke, was dropped at the shelter with Scarlet. Luke, a sweet, slightly cautious nine-year old with bad knees, is Scarlet's guide dog. He has a slight case of dry eye, in addition to the mild patellar luxation in his rear legs, and was also deemed "unadoptable". When Scarlet sits next to me on the bed, I see Luke watching, like a concerned big brother trying to decide if she is safe with me.
Luke is alive, too. In fact, he's lying in a cuddler bed on a raised platform in my bedroom as I write this, twitching in REM sleep, dreaming, perhaps, of a frighteningly crowded shelter filled with the lost and discarded...the one  where he and his sister nearly died.
When Scarlet and Luke came home with me, they didn't have a lot of options. In fact, they had none at all. I put out requests for help on their behalf. The only answer came from my "sister", Lisa, from Midwest Pug Rescue who, I might add, has been a great help in posting my hard-to-place pugs. Lisa tried to find foster homes for Luke and Scarlet. She and I share a special affection and empathy for the old, blind ones. Good thing, huh? I mean, since that is what we generally get in rescue. When I do have puppies for adoption, they're not pugs. They're whatever I could purchase cheaply enough to help pay for the Lukes and the Scarlets. 

There is a third dog alive today. She's not a pug, but a pug-chi mix. She is a fear-biter who will not come out of her crate when anyone is nearby. Instead, she creeps out at night to eat and drink. In the morning, she is back in the crate. We have her safely isolated in our laundry room. The picture at left is her, curled up in the back of a crate. She has no name. We stop, bend down and whisper softly to her several times daily. I have no idea what happened to her to make her so viscerally terrified of human beings.Only time will tell what the future holds for this dog. 
All I can tell you is that she's not dead.
Three dogs are not dead today, only because I could not allow their stories to end otherwise. Their futures may be uncertain at this stage.
But, at least for the time being, I can say they have futures.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Old Pugs

Last Wednesday, we dropped a six-year old pug off at our vet's office for a dental. Her name is Isabelle and she only came to us because her owner died of cancer. Isabelle is a fantastic pug: Confidant, outgoing, friendly to everyone, Isabelle was clearly loved by someone. She showed evidence of having had previous dental care, and needed only a cleaning - something we rarely see. She had been spayed and was heartworm-free, unlike many of the dogs we get from that southeastern Missouri.

But somehow Isabelle had still ended up in a "kill" shelter.
Luckily, this particular shelter worked with rescue. Six is up there for an adoption prospect in any shelter. Puppies fly out the doors, but a six year-old - even a purebred - is another story. Had the shelter not called us, Isabelle's chances of survival would've been iffy.

Isabelle spent the day at Noah's Ark, had a cleaning, then rode back to our house in the pugmobile with a new friend named Lulu. Lulu's owners have a three year-old child with allergies, so they decided 12 year-old Lulu had to relocate. After trying briefly to talk them out of it, we simply had them leave Lulu at the same vet's office where Isabelle was having her dental done. The kind staff there trimmed her nails, which had grown into her pads, and cleaned her ears, which they described as "filthy". The owners had left a donation that might cover her dental, but not the tumor I found under her chin when I bathed her. Clearly, Lulu had received little attention or care for a very long time...I'm guessing about three years.

Before that came Piggy and Howdy, whose owner also died of cancer. I was in touch with the owner's daughter while she was still in hospice. Piggy and Howdy's owner had her daughter promise to care for them. The daughter, who was a lovely person, was not in a position to do that. But she promised anyway. What choice did she have? She endured considerable guilt over relinquishing them to rescue - unnecessarily, I assured her. Calling rescue was the best thing she could have done for them. What I meant to say was, calling rescue is better than leaving them in a shelter, where the foreign environment, smells and noises would certainly confuse and frighten any animal who had lived in a normal home up until that point.

Change is no picnic for the best of us. I promise you, this only worsens as we age. I work at an aging agency during the day counseling seniors who will dig in their heels at the mere mention of relocation, regardless of how obviously practical that might seem to everyone else. Then I go home to a houseful of elderly, displaced pugs.

In rescue,we try to make the displaced pets as comfortable and happy as we can, but it's sad and difficult. They don't want to be in a rescue house. They want their homes. They want the children who cuddled them, the owner who sat with them on the sofa in the evening...everything they've always known is what they crave. At work, we call it "aging in place". It means not being uprooted just because you've grown old. It's what most of us want. If dogs could speak, it's what they would ask for, too.

Gertie, Bebe & Angus
I have made provisions for my dogs, should anything happen to me. I don't want Bebe, Angus and Gertie to ever find themselves in a shelter pen somewhere. The tiny puppymill pens they once knew must seem another lifetime to them now, as they sit on the bed beside me while I write. Their well-being is paramount. They know that I love them. They know they are safe now. I've made certain to the very best of my ability they will stay safe,even if I cannot care for them personally.

Isabelle has a wonderful home waiting for her. Next weekend, she'll be leaving with a couple of "repeat offenders" I've known for years, a perfect match, a happy ending after all. I have a brand new bunch of fearful breeder release pugs who will require far more emotional rehabilitation than physical.

As I grow older, I find myself identifying more and more with these senior dogs. I have the same arthritis, dental woes, declining vision and diminished hearing, and need for familiarity and repetition. Lost, displaced, abandoned. All I can do is marvel at their resilience, help the ones I can, and ensure that I do better for my own than their families did for them.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bruiser and Kira

My favorite saying in the world is this: "What goes around, comes around." This simple phrase is uttered by yours truly on a regular basis, and I firmly believe it. Why it's true, I do not know. But it is. Every once in awhile I come across a case of karma so profound, I have to sit back, look up at the sky and just marvel at the Big Plan. When I get a chance to throw a little assist into the cosmic blender, well, no one is more tickled than me.  

About a month ago, I received a call from someone here in town who had a pug to surrender to rescue. He was, of course, "very sweet". I didn't care, we take all pugs in trouble. I swung by her house that weekend. Jan and Bruiser met me in the front yard.

As it turned out, Jan was not actually Bruiser's owner. Bruiser, as the story was recited to me, had belonged to a boy who left for college and decided not to take the pug he'd had from puppyhood. His parents, who clearly were not interested in having a dog, began looking for someone to take Bruiser. Jan, a concerned neighbor and animal-lover who had all rescued dogs herself, offered to take Bruiser home with her. Whether or not she originally intended to keep the pug, I'm not sure. But she saw a few unsavory issues - particularly a tendency to dribble urine - and called rescue. 

What I saw in her driveway that Saturday, was a handsome fawn intact male pug, with a pronounced limp. As she lifted Bruiser, I reached out to examine a his paw to see if overgrown nails were causing problems. Bruiser immediately snarled and snapped at my fingers. As I pulled my hand safely out of reach, Jan commented, "Oh, she did say he doesn't like you touching his feet". Now you tell me, I thought. obviously, there was some pain involved here.

"I'll ask the vet to examine his leg while he's anesthetized", I responded. Then I asked, "Why didn't she keep him?"

"He belonged to her son," said Jan. "He left for college and couldn't take him. The mom said it was just too much for her to handle with Bruiser. She was looking for somebody to take him. I offered." Like most stories I hear, it sounded a bit fishy. I could feel simmering anger, but tried not to show it. Our Number One Rule is: Get The Dog. 

"He's intact, " I said. "He needs a dental. Has he ever seen a vet?"

Jan shrugged. Don't know. "He marked a little here. Urine dribbles a bit when he walks." She wrinkled her nose. "I can already smell it."

"Probably a UTI," I answered. "Very easy to treat."

"She did ask me if she could visit him." She looked at me expectantly.

"No," I responded. "He's being displaced at nine years old because she 'can't handle him'?  They haven't taken care of him - he's probably never seen a vet. And he'll cost considerably more than his adoption fee, if we can place him at all. Believe me, she would NOT (emphasis here) want to talk to me." 

"She's dealing with a lot," said Jan-the-compassionate-neighbor. Then she told me the woman had lost her teenage daughter in a car accident a couple of years earlier. "She is still fighting depression." I actually remembered the accident - an awful tragedy - and my temper cooled considerably. Jan pressed $40 into my hand. "It's something," she said. I wondered why Bruiser's family had not provided decent care when the houses around me cost three times as much as my own. They could clearly have afforded it. Still, losing a child is a terrible thing. 

I mulled it over and called Jan when I got home, leaving my number so the woman could make arrangements to visit Bruiser. I needn't have bothered. She never called.

Bruiser and I pushed bravely onward. A round of antibiotics took care of the UTI. Our veterinarians neutered him, cleaned his teeth, trimmed his nails, microchipped him, provided all vaccinations and heartworm tested him (thankfully negative). It was a Bruiser makeover. On examination, he was found to have a partial dislocation of the elbow and painful arthritis, so we started him on a quality puggie joint supplement. Bruiser became my little shadow, following me everywhere and sleeping right next to me, too. I knew it was time to send him to Kristen's house, where he would be one of three instead of one of twelve. He transferred gracefully and fit right in.

A week later, my friend Nadine emailed to tell me someone on craigslist was looking for a pug named Bruiser.

"Can't be the same one," I said. "This guy was an owner surrender. No one would be looking for him." Bruiser is a common-enough name. I dismissed it and went on to the next rescue.

A Familiar Face Here
A few days later, I opened this email and read it:

"Hello I'm trying to get in contact with someone about bruiser, the 9 year old pug. I'm extremely interested and would like someone to get in contact with me right away. My name is Kira and my number is *******. I believe this may be my ex boyfriends dog and would take him. If you give me a call I can explain how I am familiar with bruiser."

It ended with a signature and her number again, along with the photo on the right. 

"That could be him," I said. "I'm gonna call her."

I didn't take long to determine identity. "He has a funny-looking paw and he limps when he walks," said Kira.

"Yup," I nodded "This is definitely him."

Kira went on to tell me a somewhat different story about Bruiser's travels. She had, she said, lived with Bruiser's owner, Jeff, in a apartment in Missouri near the college they both attended. 

"I was Bruiser's primary caretaker," she said. "We broke up, I moved out and I asked him if I could have Bruiser, and he told me no, I could not." Kira later found out that Bruiser had been given away to a stranger and was very upset. "I've been looking for him ever since."

A Happy Reunion
Anger again. Rather than place Bruiser with the one person in the whole scenario who actually cared about him, Jeff had dumped Bruiser on his mother, who dumped him on a neighbor. It reminded me of things I saw working at a domestic violence shelter - abusers like to use pets to punish their victims. I wondered if this had been the situation for Kira and Bruiser. Thank God, I thought, that the neighbor was a decent person who was familiar with rescue. No telling where Bruiser might have ended up.

Kira's story had the ring of truth. "Bruiser's yours", I told her. I explained to Kira how we had gotten Bruiser and what I had been told. I explained how we had cared for Bruiser's medical needs, and how she could continue what we'd started. "He's microchipped, too", I said. "Register the chip in your name and you'll be Bruiser's legal owner." No one would ever be able to take Bruiser away from her again.

Bruiser & Kira
The day Kira came to adopt Bruiser, Kristen took a couple of pictures for me. I had really wanted to be there, but other dogs called. The reunion was a happy one to say the least! It made me think about karma and the way the things we do travel. Good comes back our way, kindness returns. People who go the other way are so often their own punishment. Bruiser took a circuitous route only to end up in the place he was always meant to be.

The little pug had spent most of his life with shallow people who abandoned him. People with no regard at all for what he needed or deserved, especially in the twilight of his years. But somehow life (karma?) brought him  back where he belonged. 

What goes around, comes around.

It made me feel pretty good to have been a miniscule part of that. But I knew that it was not my doing...not by a longshot! Pugs have a way of reaching into the lives of the good people and leaving lasting impressions there.

It was Bruiser's own generous nature and loving heart that brought him home.