Storytime: From Beirut to the ’Burbs

Originally Published In Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers, Vol. II.

Rescue Organization: As Good As Gold

From Beirut to the ’Burbs

Golden Retriever International Transport

From a pet store to the streets. From the streets to a shelter. Then, from the shelter to a new home…6100 miles away!

We don’t know for sure what happened to land six-month-old Isabella out on the streets of Beirut. A mix of Golden Retriever and what looks like Saluki, Isabella often garners remarks of, “She has hair between her toes,” when people first meet her.

According to an article by Barbara Cooke in the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch (an Illinois publication), a Beirut dog-rescue agency named Animals Lebanon found this mixed-breed Golden and placed her in a local home, but she was returned shortly thereafter because she had health problems. Eventually, she was diagnosed and treated for nephritic syndrome, A.K.A. renal failure. She was placed in a foster home until her foster parents started traveling a lot, which landed her back at Animals Lebanon.

Had Isabella fully recovered from her health problems? No one was sure. The symptoms seemed to have subsided. Perhaps she needed more thorough diagnostic treatment than Beirut could provide.

Animals Lebanon started looking outside their immediate area for help with Isabella. They eventually made contact with animal rescuers in the Chicago-land area. Barbara Cooke was then contacted via email, and she posted about Isabella in her column. Thanks to a selfless donation of frequent flyer miles, Isabella and two other dogs from Lebanon were flown to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, where rescuers picked them up. Isabella went to As Good As Gold (AGAG), a northern Illinois Golden Retriever rescue that had read about her plight on Facebook (posted by Cooke) and stepped up to provide foster care and medical treatment for her. The news was good. Isabella might only have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which simply required a limited ingredient diet.

In January, my wife, Leslie, and I contacted AGAG to adopt a dog. My mother had passed away the previous November, we were empty nesters, and our six-year-old black Lab, Bojangles, had died suddenly and tragically several years prior, an early victim of pet food contamination. We needed someone to care for, and we wanted to again fill our suburban house with a daily dose of happiness.

After completing the AGAG pre-screening process, we were invited to visit Isabella and her current foster mom, Jennifer. For us, it was love at first sight. After Isabella pranced around with her foster home’s dogs in their back yard, she came up to me and sat down. I petted her, handed her a few of the dog treats Jen had given us, and leaned over and smooched her on her forehead. Thirty minutes later, Isabella hopped into the back of our Prius along with her food and toys and headed to her new home in Naperville, Illinois.

Since then, we have maintained a close watch on Isabella’s eating habits. We take her for periodic checkups with her veterinarian to ensure that her health problems – whatever they were – stay in abeyance. Additionally, just as Facebook and social media helped make possible Isabella’s lengthy trek to the United States, it also allowed us to get in touch with her Beirut foster mom, Angela. She confirmed what we already knew about our “Izzy”: She’s shy, adorable, cute, and every other adjective that doting pet owners use to describe their “one and only” pets.

The most surprising aspect of having Isabella in our family was our rapid discovery that we had a celebrity in our house! We’ve come to hear, “Oh, I read about her,” and “I saw her on WGN when she landed at O’Hare,” quite often. At a September reunion picnic for AGAG rescue dogs, Leslie and I felt like we could have set up a booth and hung out a banner that said “Meet Isabella.” While our faces may have been unfamiliar to many attendees, Isabella’s was another story. “Is this the Isabella?” one person inquired upon seeing her. Several of the individuals involved in her rescue through AGAG came by and reacquainted themselves with our world-traveling canine. Currently, Isabella holds the record for furthest distance traveled for a rescue dog from AGAG, a fact that sometimes is referenced with potential adoptive parents.

Isabella is a shy, friendly girl who recently passed her Canine Good Citizen evaluation, but like any dog, she has her moments of mischief. I got a full-blown black eye one day when she butted her forehead against my eyebrow after I bent down to give her a treat. We’ve had to childproof the garbage, and now we have to close the pantry door when we go out, as Isabella sometimes decides to play with the raw potatoes or Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets rather than her own toys. Our two house cats, Huey and Tundra, are slowly warming up and even willing to engage in some play time with her as well.

At first, Isabella had a high incidence of nightmares when sleeping. Was she reliving scary moments on the streets of Beirut? Encountering some other aggressive canine in a dark alley before a fight over garbage in the trash? Re-experiencing the airline flight and an uncertain future from Lebanon to the USA? (Who knows, since I can’t ask her about them, maybe they were really fantastic dreams of scrambling up a tree to snare a squirrel.) The thing I take the most satisfaction in is that Isabella’s nightmares seem to be subsiding. I like to think that she sleeps more soundly these days because after traveling 6100-plus miles, she knows that she’s now home for good. -David Madalinski