Storytime: Charlie Takes a Dip

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Dogs, Vol. I.

Charlie Takes a Dip 

Charlie Takes a Dip

Charlie and I live in New York City and like to visit Central Park in the morning during off-leash hours. While Charlie never strays too far from me, he loves running around free in the grass. On this particular morning, we were walking along the bank of a pretty large pond in the middle of the park. Charlie ventured to the edge of the pond, but since he had never shown any interest in water before, I let him wander. Then, he started to cautiously step in to the dirty, muddy, and moldy pond.

At this point I was amused but still not too worried. That’s when Charlie started to actually swim in the pond! He headed straight to the middle of the dark and disgusting water, and I feared he might get tired, stop swimming, and then have no way to get back to land. I called to him, I whistled for him, and I looked around for someone to help me, but in the wee hours of morning, even in New York, people were few and far between.

Charlie, normally a very obedient dog, was completely ignoring my panicked cries. He looked so calm and happy that someone watching him would surely have thought he was just going for his morning swim. My nervousness was growing quickly, and I realized that my best option was to jump into the murky water after him and try to catch up. My heart was racing as I started thinking of the possibilities of this dire situation. I took off my jacket. I was planning on taking off my t-shirt, too, so that I’d have something clean and dry to wear when I got out, when I heard a jogger from the other side of the pond: “Stop! Wait, don’t jump in!”

I screamed, “But that’s my dog, and he’s not coming back to me!”

The jogger replied, “He’s coming toward me. Just wait, and I’ll catch him!”

I thought, okay, we can try this option before I jump in.

Charlie did continue swimming to the other end of the pond, looking as happy as a clam. Then, when Charlie was about five feet away from the shore, he turned around back towards the middle of the pond! I was beside myself, but I realized that Charlie was clearly teasing us and enjoying every bit of it. Eventually Charlie came back to my side of the shore and trampled out of the water. Everything but his head was a muddy, greenish-brown mess! I felt a rush of emotions: relief, happiness, and anger. And I couldn’t stop laughing as I tried to dry Charlie off with my jacket. –The Sheth Family

Storytime: With Us in Spirit

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Herding-Breed Dogs.

With Us in Spirit

With Us in Spirit

We had a great bunch of dogs at our Texas home: Cirrus, our Samoyed, and Shadow and Mac, sister and brother blue merle Collies. Shadow’s favorite place to go was Gaston’s White River Resort in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. We took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and stopped at Gaston’s on the way there and back in July. We normally went in the fall, but at the time, we didn’t know Shadow wouldn’t be joining us there ever again.

She was diagnosed with ehrlichiosis, an auto-immune problem, after being bitten by a tick. The vet put her on medication and requested a follow-up at the end of August. On August 15th she would not eat. She had not previously shown any signs of being sick. I took her to the vet. She had a 103 fever. By the next day she was gone. Her body was trying to destroy the disease, and in the process had killed her. The veterinarians at Texas A&M said there was no hope to save her. She was only seven years, eight months, and 16 days old.

We were devastated. She was my little girl. And Mac was especially saddened because this was his little sister.

It’s true what they say about one door closing and another opening, though. Our hearts broke for our loss, but my husband knew we had to move on. We had been looking at Houston Collie Rescue’s website for a while, even before losing Shadow, and after her passing had seen a blue merle listed as a courtesy for a Great Pyrenees group out of Seguin, Texas. I told him it was too soon. He said it wasn’t. This girl needed us as much as we needed her.

I contacted Val at the rescue, and she told me she was taking the dog, Spirit, to Dallas to meet another couple. I told her I would drive the four hours to meet her, too, if she would consider us. She agreed.

I took Cirrus and Mac with me because they would have to approve Spirit, too. As soon as they all met, they began to play. Spirit ran up to me, too, and I loved on her. It was like she knew I was going to be her new mom, and she was excited about it. She had come from a woman who had had 18 dogs, so I’m sure that sharing a home with only two others seemed just delightful. Both Val and I could see that she fit right in with us, so Val didn’t hesitate to say she could be mine.

In the truck on the way home, Spirit sat in Shadow’s favorite spot. Mac was not too sure about that, and for a while, he snapped at her every time she tried to lay her head on his back in the same way Shadow had. That all changed during our first trip out to Gaston’s that October. In the car, Spirit again laid her head on his back, and this time Mac just looked at her and sighed. He had finally accepted her as his new little sister.

We all continue to miss Shadow, and we don’t see Spirit as a replacement. We see her as a new chapter in our family book, a wonderful addition to our story, who has brought us out of our misery and elevated our spirits. –Linda Gandy

Storytime: To Fail is to Succeed

From Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Beagles.

To Fail is to Succeed 

To Fail is to Succeed

Fiona, Ella, Echo, Trixie, Freckles, Peter, Paul, Mary. Each name evokes a special memory and a smile. These were my foster dogs before I became what we call a “foster failure.”

My husband and I were already owned by Beagles. We had two; both were rescues. One was a beautiful, calm, lemon-colored female named Abigail. Beagle two is a tri-color male who has a great deal of difficulty staying out of trouble. In the first two years we had him, he tangled with a herd of javelina (animals that resemble pigs) and was bitten by a rattlesnake. He’s named after my husband’s favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle.

Fiona, our first foster, was a golden-eyed, long-legged Beagle who was, to put it diplomatically, a very free spirit. She loved to run and roughhouse with her foster dad, and I spent hours in our family den with the door closed teaching her to “leave it.” We got to the point where I could place a treat at her feet, and she wouldn’t touch it until I gave the okay. This was no small feat for a chowhound Beagle. While we were on a short trip, and Fiona was staying with another foster mom, my husband and I thought seriously about making her a permanent part of our pack. Lo and behold, when we returned, Fiona had been adopted. We didn’t even get to give her a goodbye hug, but we did escape becoming foster failures.

 Ella was the Beagle version of Queen Elizabeth—it wasn’t hard to imagine her in a hat, white gloves, and a purse on her paw. She was a Reubenesque tri-color with an allergy that caused certain parts of her female anatomy to swell to “much larger than life” size. She was adopted in less than a month and now lives in a beautiful home in the foothills. (Many of our fosters end up living much better than we do, but then again, they deserve it.)

 Echo looked a lot like Ella. She had lived with the same family since she was a puppy, but their youngest boy was horribly allergic to her. Having tried everything, the family turned Echo over to our rescue, and it wasn’t long before she was adopted from our home by a couple who had previously adopted from our group. Their earlier adoptee had succumbed to cancer, and they were still paying those vet bills when they adopted Echo. In a second stroke of bad luck for this family, it wasn’t long before Echo woke one morning and couldn’t walk! The vet diagnosed her with some problem no one could pronounce and suggested that surgery might be able to fix her. To help this couple out, our rescue went deep into debt to get Echo fixed, but it was worth it. She is now happy, relatively healthy, and very well-loved.

 Trixie was another tri-color, plus-sized girl. She slid right into our pack and our hearts as if she had always been there. She was adopted by an older couple who travels a lot, and I’m sure she’s seeing the USA via their Winnebago. She was the first foster whose adoption brought tears to my eyes.

 Then there was Freckles. Ten years old, graying but full of life. She had been named Freckles, I guess, because of her spotted belly, which she loved to have rubbed. Everyone who met her loved her, and in turn she remembered everyone she ever met and loved them right back. After I took her home with me, she developed problems urinating. We went through test after test after test. One vet repeatedly said it was a urinary infection, and when a wonderful couple wished to adopt her, the vet thought she would be okay.

 But she wasn’t. Soon there was blood in her urine. The adopting couple, who loved her dearly (they have a web page dedicated to her to this day), couldn’t cope with the vet bills, so Freckles came home with me again. There were more tests leading to the dreaded diagnosis: untreatable cancer in her urinary tract. She lived, played, and loved with our pack for a full year, until one day the pain was just too much for her. Rest in peace, dear girl.

 Peter, Paul, and Mary. No, not the 1960’s folk group. They were three littermates from a puppy mill in Missouri. At just eight weeks old, Paul, the smallest, fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. But, oh, they were so sick! All three had giardia and a respiratory infection. Aside from being the smallest, Paulie was also the sickest, and he came to us because his foster Mom had too many other dogs to care for. The first night we were sure we would lose him, but miraculously he made it through. The next day the veterinarian said he had less than a 50/50 chance of living and decided to try keeping him in an oxygen tent for several days. Paulie was a fighter, and his health improved. In the process he won the heart of one of the vet techs, who took him home with her at night and then back to work each day to nurse him back to health.

Meanwhile, his brother and sister were getting sicker, so we took them in, too. Mary, the next-smallest, improved ever so slowly. Peter was soon well. They became increasingly attached to one another, and we took them both. When the rescue wanted to separate them while Mary was still ailing, we just didn’t feel she could handle that stress…or maybe we couldn’t bear to part with them. Thus we became foster failures, adopting them and renaming them Ike and Mamie. Now we’re living happily-ever-after with our pack of four rescued Beagles.

 To those who say they could never foster because they would get too attached, I say, yes, that’s a real possibility. But the rewards in seeing your fosters go to their forever homes to be loved and cared for as they deserve make the risk well worth it! –Carol Meyer

Storytime: A Story of Circumstance

Read this and other awesome rescue stories in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Labrador Retrievers.

A Story of Circumstance 

A Story of Circumstance

Like so many other stories, mine is one of coincidence and circumstance. Ten years ago I endured major brain surgery and a brief near-death experience. Fortunately it left me with a somewhat altered outlook, giving me a greater sense of compassion for people and creatures struggling to maintain a normal, healthy life. This experience resulted in moments of total exhaustion and despair, but some indescribable motivation kept me going. There were times along the way I wondered why I couldn’t stay on the peaceful “other side,” but I eventually came to believe the main reason I remain in this world is to not only inspire others with my story but to also find a way to give something back. I just had not discovered what that would be.

Twenty years ago our family moved into a subdivision to be close to schools and other activities for our two daughters, and my wife constantly questioned why we couldn’t have a dog. Between my travel and the typical busy schedule of the family, I felt a dog wouldn’t receive the attention it deserved. For years I have seen overweight, bored, and neglected dogs that appear to be objects of their owner’s amusement with limited concern for the dog’s welfare. I explained to my wife that I had no intention of going down that path.

Following my surgery, our circumstances had changed, and I eventually agreed to open our home to a dog. My wife found Sir George, a blind 18-month-old Lab, on the rescue website, and I seriously thought about the challenges he must be facing without the benefit of sight. I reflected on my own struggles and recognized some common ground. Still, we ventured to the rescue headquarters keeping an open mind to all the adoptable dogs. The puppies were especially cute and difficult to resist, but, not surprisingly, they are quickly adopted. As I recall, when the moment came to make a decision, my wife and I looked at each other and asked the same question, “What do you want to do?” Our mutual conclusion was a concern that if we didn’t take George, who will adopt him? And so our decision was made. I remember the tears in the rescue director’s eyes after hearing our choice. She looked at us for clarification and asked again, “You’ll take George?”

Soon after adopting George, my wife entered him in a basic obedience class where he easily became the star pupil. Next we decided on therapy dog training with The Delta Society. Again, he easily passed and has managed to upgrade his status. He visits patients at local hospitals, elementary schools, and nursing homes. The experience is not only rewarding for George, but it also helps those with disabilities and illnesses to connect with a blind dog that is so happy and oblivious of his handicap. During one visit my wife encountered the nurse who retrieved George from an Indiana animal shelter before he was transported to Cincinnati.

Apparently George was severely neglected and his owners were reported to the Humane Society. Sometimes we wish he could tell us his story, but then again, it’s probably best if he doesn’t remember. We find it far more important that we give him the life he deserves for the present and the future. George and I visit the park often, where he swims and retrieves his ball or stick from the lake. Strangers watch him and are amazed when they discover he is blind. We run errands together to Home Depot or Lowes, and he has become a favorite among the staff. He even tolerates the grandbabies crawling all over him, and we have never experienced even the slightest problem at home. Is it a coincidence that he arrived at the rescue just prior to our visit? I can’t answer that, but what I do know is that he is the perfect fit for us.

Often I close my eyes and try to imagine what it’s like to live in a world of total darkness. It is frightening for me, but considering that George has no choice, he has learned to adapt by responding to touch and sounds. He groans from delight after a good belly scratch, gobbles his food with absolute gusto, and is excited when he knows we are preparing to travel somewhere. To us he’s a big, soft, gentle, loveable teddy bear and a pleasure to hug. I don’t know if I would have been so drawn to George and his disability had I not been through a life changing experience myself. Yet the most gratifying feeling for us is knowing George is in the absolute best possible home for the rest of his life, and although he has brought so much joy to our family, it’s even greater to be able to give back. –Rich Ayers

Storytime: Monte and Me

From Partners With Paws: Service Dogs and the Lives They Change.

Monte and Me

Monte and Me 

A while back Monte and I were climbing a ramp in front of a school when I noticed a woman watching us from a distance. As we reached the top, she called, “You’ve got a mighty handsome companion there!”

In a futile effort to salvage my fragile self-concept, I shouted back, “Are you talking to me or the dog?” She laughed and waved before walking across the parking lot and up the stairs. We chuckled together and exchanged dog stories while my charming sidekick accepted affectionate scratches and licked her hand in return. As she left, she assured me that I was every bit as handsome as Monte. For some odd reason, I found her comparison comforting.

Something’s wrong when being as attractive as a Labrador Retriever actually improves your self-image, but that’s just one of many revelations I’ve encountered in my adventure with a service dog.

I thought that Monte would do stuff for me, sort of like a four-legged servant who would anticipate my needs and fulfill my every desire. I imagined a combination butler/maid with a cold nose. Instead I got a floor littered with plush toys and a constantly wagging tail threatening anything in its path. I got a tireless retriever who returns a tennis ball until it’s too slobbery to hold. I got a devoted partner who always greets me enthusiastically, never gets angry, instantly forgives my impatience and eagerly performs nearly any task in return for a pat on the head and an occasional crunchy biscuit.

I anticipated a furry, dedicated attendant, always on call, no sick days and no appointment necessary. Monte fulfills those expectations with a comical twist. He may appear sound asleep, but the moment I drop something his head snaps upright. He’s instantly prepared to retrieve: after he stretches and shakes his head, he pounces as though the lost item must be subdued before he can safely return it.

As he transforms the frustration of an unreachable object into an entertaining pursuit, Monte reminds me that most everyday calamities aren’t the disasters I often perceive. I expected a service dog. I received a constant reminder that life can be calm and peaceful, as long as nobody utters the word “Frisbee.”

I wasn’t certain what to expect from a service dog. I’ve always loved and had dogs in my life, but after my injury I had been reluctant to accept the responsibility of training and caring for a pet. However, after reading about these amazing animals and meeting a couple of them, I could see how they enriched the lives of their partners. My wife loves dogs as well and thought a service dog was a great idea.

But I was still reluctant. As I shared my concerns, the staff at Canine Partners of the Rockies told me about this incredible yellow Lab named Monte and how he was perfectly suited to my situation. After some thinking, I decided to commit to a partnership.

I tried to prepare for Monte’s arrival, but I still felt apprehensive as the big day approached. When he appeared at our door, it was clear that he didn’t know what to expect either. He spent a couple of hours hiding in a corner, trying to figure out this strange environment and new people.

Then a simple, magical moment changed everything. A tennis ball appeared. Monte forgot that he was unsure about this new place. I forgot that I was unsure about caring for a dog. He bounded happily after the ball, brought it back, and dropped it in my lap.

I wasn’t a guy in a wheelchair; he wasn’t a timid, uncertain stranger. We were just there, together, having fun. We were partners.

The presence of a wheelchair in public settings frequently creates invisible interpersonal barriers. Others hide their discomfort as they shuffle apologetically aside and try not to stare, while their uncertainties circle in uneasy silence. Children are quickly shushed when they point and ask innocent questions. I’m embarrassed, smiling as though nothing’s wrong while I seek the quickest possible escape. But all of that awkward silliness disappears when Monte’s around.

Dogs forge instant relationships, and service dogs seem to amplify that effect because they appear in unexpected places. Even when I’m feeling self-conscious and wishing I could be a bit less noticeable, complete strangers become Monte’s instant pals, and I’m an automatic member of his social network.

People at the next table in a restaurant become immediate friends. We learn all about their dogs and their kids’ dogs. We listen to fond recollections and bittersweet remembrances of faithful, beloved companions. We laugh as our new comrades imagine the potential chaos if their own lovable but unruly dog were to enter an environment full of strangers and food.

Monte loves carrots. At one of our favorite hangouts, we scarcely reach our table before he is welcomed warmly with a doggy veggie plate. If the server is new, one of the veterans introduces her to Monte. Usually they greet my wife and me as well, but he’s the obvious guest of honor. Other diners giggle at the impromptu entertainment as I violate service dog protocol by tossing an occasional carrot to the star of the show.

Monte’s quiet demeanor in crowded situations always generates admiring comments. Even non-dog-lovers smile and note his remarkable behavior. Whenever we’re together, something in his calm, friendly manner draws people to us. My wife and I frequently chuckle when someone greets Monte, tells him how beautiful he is, and then as an afterthought, speaks to us. We’re clearly just part of his entourage.

I often struggle in the rushed, barren atmosphere of a hotel lobby. Business travelers are on a mission, families are frazzled, and children are restless. A wheelchair signifies an unwelcome complication involving special room arrangements and accommodations that slow the process and require extra effort. It’s easy to feel like I’m in the way, to imagine that people are silently thinking that things would be simpler if I hadn’t appeared. But something about Monte’s presence seems to encourage folks to unwind and slow down a little.

One especially harried check-in clerk at an upscale resort apologetically advised me that I’d have to sign a damage waiver to allow Monte in the hotel. She laughed and relaxed when I assured her that I posed a much greater risk of unacceptable behavior than Monte. In a short time the clerk, the manager, and a couple of weary guests were chatting, smiling, and admiring Monte (and his owner, of course). Each time I saw those folks during the next few days, I felt a bit like I was encountering old friends.

Anywhere we go together, Monte elicits excited grins from kids and warm smiles from adults. Despite his “working dog” label, people are drawn to him. Most folks ask permission to pet him, but many simply cannot resist. The most reserved individuals become puddles of mush, scratching his head as they share the life stories of their own dogs.

There’s something magical about a being that triggers giggles just by showing up.

Monte even impacts the normally reserved atmosphere in church. He usually lies quietly at my feet, garnering jealous glances from those who wish they were sleeping so soundly. A few weeks ago a guest musician was performing, and the service halted when she saw Monte. She stopped singing, ran down from the stage, and knelt on the floor to rub his tummy. Laughter filled the auditorium as he rolled onto his back with legs pointing straight into the air in the immodest pose we refer to as “The Full Monte.”

I love to ride my hand cycle, but cranking with Monte in tow redefines the experience. I might find a familiar path repetitive and unremarkable, but my counterpart renders such terms meaningless. Every corner reveals a new world to explore. Every fellow traveler offers fresh opportunities for interaction and admiration.

My workout partner eagerly anticipates each ride, and it’s impossible not to share the joy as his ears flap in the wind and his tongue lolls playfully. When I ride alone, I too frequently focus on a destination. Monte doesn’t care where we’re going, but he loves the experience of getting there. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he smiles as he romps along beside me.

I think Monte brings a sense of life and connection to an increasingly isolated, sterile culture. In a strange paradox, he seems to make things a bit more human for folks who are too frequently immersed in their own world of iPods and cell phones. He’s certainly a catalyst for interaction, breaking down walls of isolation for an owner who’s too frequently preoccupied with disability.

Monte invites people to relax, slow down, and forget their objective for a moment. He’s totally here and now, and his presence appears to promote a quieter, calmer atmosphere.

The effect is especially evident when he’s at school with me. I teach junior high math, which, for some reason, isn’t every kid’s favorite subject. No matter what I do to create a relaxed classroom environment, there’s often a good deal of stress in the air. Monte seems to calm things down for many students.

Some kids just gravitate to him. They always greet him, pet him, and some just get on the floor and hug him. During a test, if I sense that kids are unusually anxious, I simply move around the room with Monte. His simple, calm aura, along with an occasional lick on the face, seems to help them relax and concentrate.

Before Monte arrived, I feared that a service dog’s constant presence might create disruptions and distractions. I was right.

Monte disrupts my efforts to hide. Life in a wheelchair tempts me to withdraw or try to blend in with the scenery, but I quickly discovered that blending was no longer part of the script. There’s no such thing as “inconspicuous” in the company of an 80-pound people magnet.

He distracts me from my tendencies to lose perspective and to forget to enjoy the blessings that surround me. His jovial eyes and constantly sniffing nose lovingly mock my incessant need to accomplish the task at hand. Life becomes a bit less serious when you always have to keep a doggy treat handy.

Monte transforms the simplest excursion into an adventure and eliminates the notion of a “routine” errand. Whether it’s the reactions of the people we encounter or his intense interest in every sight and sound, there’s always an element of unanticipated magic in Monte’s world. It’s a joy to be part of his supporting cast. –Rich Dixon

Storytime: Tears and Cheers

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Basset Hounds.

Tears and Cheers

Pecos

What can you say about a five-year-old Basset Hound who died? That she was beautiful and brave?  That she loved belly rubs, baby feet, ice cream, and a Red Flyer wagon?  That her life was ending when we came together, but in those six remaining months, she would move many to tears and to cheers?  She was amazing.

With less than a week remaining until Christmas, I was elated when my foster Basset Hound Abby was adopted into her forever home. Woohoo! I would spend Christmas with family and upon returning to my cozy little townhome in Dumfries, Virginia, would request another foster Basset Hound. Having become a foster home for BROOD (Basset Rescue of the Old Dominion) earlier that year, I found that both I and my kind-hearted Basset Hound, Hoover, enjoyed our temporary house guests.  We both had more than enough love and nurturing to share as each sad-eyed Basset Hound, wounded in numerous ways, slipped into our routine, our bed, and our hearts.

December 23rd brought a phone call about a staggering Basset Hound dropped off at the overflowing holding kennel.  She was a confused, frightened, and severely impaired little girl, who desperately needed to be in a quiet and attentive home. So while everyone else was in the countdown to the final 24 hours of Christmas, we were on the countdown to getting our new foster dog, Pecos, and before day’s end, she was whisked from the kennel chaos to the warm bath and bed our home could provide. Hoover, with his welcoming watchful eye, undoubtedly was happy that Christmas would now be spent at home with a new foster.

Pecos’ affliction was a mystery, and her relinquishing family provided little historical information.  Her saving grace was the apparent lack of pain. She wobbled when she walked, with an odd, over-reaching step, and any movement appeared to be a challenge. She valiantly staggered toward the door when responding to nature’s call, but outdoor potty runs were impossible in her condition. I quickly learned to express her bladder, stimulate bowel movement, and carefully time her meals. Pecos adapted to saucy, padded denim britches, and we seemed to have things under control.

The search for a diagnosis and a plan of treatment took us to several specialists. Pecos had blood tests, X-rays, a spinal tap, an MRI, rehab therapy, acupuncture, and holistic treatments. Then we received the devastating diagnosis: Her brain and spine were affected by neurological distemper, undoubtedly having been latent in her body from earlier survival of the disease, which, by the way, is easily preventable.

Without a cure, we pushed on with living, with making the most of every day, with meds and therapy, and with prayers raised from the Basilica of Baltimore to the Grotto of Lourdes. Together we learned how to master movement with doggie carts supporting her rear legs. The day she came through her neurologist’s clinic door in her cart, the entire staff came into the lobby and cheered with smiles and tears as they watched her proudly roll forward to the treatment room under her own power.

Pecos became an ambassador for BROOD, attending doggie events and participating in fundraising walks. She alternated between her doggie cart and her Red Flyer wagon, which was known as her chariot. People applauded her effort to walk and asked to have their pictures taken with her. She adored the attention and gave a kiss to anyone who wanted one. She had a special fondness for licking the feet of squealing, excited babies.

Five months into our journey, Pecos lost the use of her front legs. Still happy with Hoover’s companionship, good food, and her pile of quilts with a view to outdoor activity and TV shows, we were now in hospice mode. At least Pecos was pain-free and reveling in outings with the Red Flyer wagon.

One month later Pecos let me know it was time to let her go.  I gave her a final ride in the Red Flyer wagon, embraced her with our love, and then helped her on a peaceful transition from wheels to wings.

Pecos may be one of the few dogs in rescue history to be adopted after her passing. Some may think it a moot point; she was in foster care and considered unadoptable because of her terminal prognosis. But it did not seem quite right to close the books without making it official. She was part of our family. She was treasured. She was loved. To this day I think of her with that infamous question put forth by many a foster parent: “Who rescued whom?” She was so amazing.

Diane McManus

Do you have your own story to share? Submit it here!

Storytime: The Best Listener

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories of Adopted Boston Terriers.

The Best Listener

 Jace

 When Jace came into the rescue group, he was thin and timid. His foster family helped him to put on some weight, and he quickly became a cute, fun-loving guy with an “attitude.” When we met him for the first time, we were impressed with the way that he walked with an air of purpose and determination, as if he were on a mission.

 Jace was relinquished by a family who found him too challenging. They couldn’t handle both him and their new baby. The family said he was a handful, and perhaps not very smart. Upon surrendering him they complained that he just wouldn’t listen.

When we heard about Jace through the rescue group, we simply couldn’t resist! He was adorable, and it turns out that his previous family was wrong. It wasn’t that he was stupid or a poor listener, the problem was that he was DEAF!

Since he came into our home, we have all learned sign language. To an outsider, the signs look very much like standard sign language, but we’ve simplified some of the hand signals to make learning easier for Jace. The signal is also accompanied by a verbal command. This way, our other Boston Bentley also learns the signals. Both dogs are now so familiar with the hand signs that we rarely bother with the verbal cues around the house. The signal for “no” sometimes has to be accompanied by a squirt from the water bottle (NEVER in the face) as a physical reminder that Jace is active in a behavior that is not allowed.

We have made up signs for my husband’s name as well as mine, Jace’s and Bentley’s. We try to use them every time we talk to Jace about each other. When it’s dark, we communicate with him through flashes from a laser pointer, or if he’s in the yard, we flash the outside light as a signal for him to look at the door for his next command or simply come inside. When Jace is confused, he looks to Bentley for “listening” cues, and Bentley happily shows him what to do next.

We don’t know if all deaf dogs are similar to Jace, but for him, being deaf is barely an inconvenience. We know that he is deaf, but sometimes we accuse him of faking…for a dog that can’t hear something hit the floor, it’s amazing how quickly he can find food that we drop!

Jace thrives on touch when you talk to him and likes to know where everyone is at all times. He’ll regularly search the house to check on everyone’s location and then go back to his resting spot. We have two older pugs that sleep downstairs, and often at night Jace will accompany them to their kennel so that he can see where they were going. He is a very loving, concerned companion and will not go to sleep at night until he knows that everyone is in his or her place.

One of Jace’s favorite things to do is to climb into our laps and lean against our chests so that he can “have a talk” with us. His favorite person to “talk” to is my husband, Jerry, who makes Jace so content that he sometimes even falls asleep on him! Other naps are taken with Bentley, either in the afternoon or in front of the fire after a bath.

Jace’s former family was right about one thing… he can be a bit of a handful during his waking hours! We’ve had to “Jace-proof” our home since he’ll eat practically anything: buttons off baseball hats, paper from our printer… essentially anything that he can reach is fair game. Just as he keeps his mischievous eyes on us, we keep our eyes on him with a spray bottle close by, just in case…

Despite his occasional “sense of humor,” Jace is very easy to love and has become a wonderful pet. “Talking” to Jace is sometimes difficult, but one thing is always clear: he never misunderstands a smile, and he always knows how to bring one out during a conversation! 

Gerald and Leatha Pierce

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Storytime: A Cat Named Sue

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Cats.

A Cat Named Sue

Sue 

Early last year a unique kitten came into my life. My heart belongs to all animals, but special needs animals hold a particular place. This is a result of my cat, Weaver, who was born without the use of her rear legs and was incontinent due to the nerve damage from various birth defects. Weaver was a part of my life for eight years until she passed due to kidney failure. She was the reason I rescued a special kitten from animal control when the plea came out over the rescue email lists of my area.

I was sitting at my desk trying to wade through the mountains of paperwork in front of me, when a plea for a six-week-old kitten, who had just been brought to an animal control in north Louisiana, came into my inbox. I found it odd that a plea for a kitten was going out on this list, as most people on the list were dog people, and emails about cats were rare. The subject line read: “Kitten with Deformed Legs at Animal Control: Needs Rescue,” and the message was from a dog rescuer who happened to be in the animal control facility when the kitten was brought. She took photographs and quickly sent out the email.

The rescuer normally did not work with cats, but the little kitten pulled at her heart because the center was not going to even consider finding placement for her; the kitten was to be immediately euthanized. The lady convinced the officers to give her a day or two to try and find a rescue to take the kitten.

Upon seeing the pictures of the frightened kitten, I knew I had to do something. All I could think about was Weaver and how no one wanted to give her a chance when she was that age, yet she had become the light of my life. I quickly responded and spent the entire morning making phone calls and trying to convince the animal control director that I have experience with cats like this and can give the kitten a good life. I am glad that I did, as I later found out that no one else stepped up to help.

Two days later I met the kitten and a transport volunteer at a little convenience store. The kitten I received was in desperate need of a bath and lots of love. This was the same time that a plain and slightly unusual Scottish lady named Susan Boyle had astonished the world with her powerful voice. Before she began singing during her first performance, everyone considered her a joke and judged her based on her appearance. When she opened her mouth, the beauty of her voice had people all over the world crying. I named the kitten Susan, as she seemed on the outside to be a total mess, but in her eyes I could see love and a fighter’s spirit.

Susan was probably the result of someone trying to breed Cymrics, as she is a longhaired Manx (which is, by definition, a Cymric). Her rear legs were curled around like curly-Q fries. She could not urinate on her own and had to have her bladder expressed several times a day. I would come home during lunch every day to take care of her and give her a bath. She was a spunky kitten and was living up to her namesake.

Sue would go with me to adoption days on weekends, and everyone loved her. As she became older, she did not like the outings quite as much, so I would instead leave her home to play with the other cats, while I went to adoption days or to work.

I brought Sue to several veterinarians, who all said she was a wonderful cat who had a lot of spirit and determination. They agreed that when she was old enough, she should be fine to go under anesthesia to be spayed, but a turn of events soon had us all floored by the extent of her birth defects.

When she was a little over six months old, Sue developed a urinary blockage. I was unable to express her bladder one evening. Knowing that urinary blockages were deadly, I took her to the vet immediately. She was getting weak, and I was scared to death I would lose her, but I knew she was a fighter. I had to leave her at the veterinary clinic because they had no open appointments; I had basically just shown up and pleaded for help. After an hour or two, I received a phone call from her veterinarian.

“Hey, I’ve got an update for you.” he stated.

“How’s my little girl?”

“Well…that’s the first thing we’ve got to talk about.”

“What do you mean?” I asked very confused.

“Miss Susan is actually Mr. Susan.”

“I’m sorry… There’s nothing back there.”

“Well he does have one thing… The rest is probably inside him, or he doesn’t have them at all. He does present externally as if he is a female, but if you apply pressure back there, you will see he’s a boy.”

I was astonished. Susan had been to three different veterinarians, and nobody realized that he was male? Of course, I never went poking around back there to make sure, and nothing ever poked out when I had made him urinate, so I wasn’t the wiser. We talked for a while to discuss the blockage. Apparently it is much more common for males to have urinary blockages than females. When a cat has a blockage, he or she must get to a veterinarian immediately, or death within a day or two is probable.

It was very lucky that I had to express Susan’s bladder because I knew right away that he had a blockage. This is why it is so important to keep an eye on your cats to make sure they are using the litter box properly and not having any issues. Susan was lucky, and after three days at the veterinary clinic, he was now able to come home. I had to bring him back once more after about two days when he became blocked again, but after that he did very well. Thankfully he has not had another blockage since.

At that point I was facing a new dilemma…do I rename him? I was used to Sue being my little Susie-Q, so now what? My friend said that I should just keep the name Sue and say he was named after the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue.” I laughed and said that was a good idea. I think I jinxed myself at that point, as Sue has grown up to be quite the little tough guy. He is the most dominant cat in my house, feeling that he has to prove he is the biggest, baddest cat in our little world. This is funny since he is still relatively small with a female-looking face and long fur, which makes him look even more like a female cat. He’s turning out to be My Boy Named Sue, and I love every minute of his antics.

Just think, a little over a year ago animal control would have euthanized this spunky fellow because they felt he couldn’t live a normal life. It just goes to show that like in the case of Susan Boyle, we should not judge people or animals before getting to know them.

Emily Harris

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Storytime: Heaven Sent

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Pit Bulls.

Heaven Sent

Emma

I had been searching for months for the perfect Pit Bull puppy to add to our pack, first visiting Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, and then monitoring Petfinder.com. One day I found myself continuously returning to a photo of a dog with a sweet, black and white face. I went to bed that night thinking of her and awoke the next morning with the dog still on my mind. It seemed that the time had come to contact the rescue and fill out an application.

I learned from the rescue that Arial, now Emma, was born without one of her front legs. She was surrendered to a shelter in Baltimore, Maryland, due to this “medical condition” when she was only five weeks old. How sad and short-sighted of the people who dumped her—to us she was simply perfect; her missing leg only adding to her amazing character and wonderful personality. It took a month before we were able to bring her home, but about four months after beginning my search, I picked her up from the veterinarian’s office who had conducted her spay, and Emma finally joined our family. She was an absolute angel from that first day—sweet, gentle, and very calm—amazing for a seven-month-old puppy.

About three days after we brought Emma home, she began growling at us when we petted her on her right, rear leg. I noticed a black mark through her white fur and thought that maybe someone had kicked and bruised her. When it seemed to get worse, I took her to my veterinarian, who shaved the area to reveal a necrotic wound. The vet thought Emma had suffered tissue damage from her surgery that could have been caused by a variety of things. In the end we learned that it was a thermal burn caused by the previous vet placing a heating pad on Emma when it was too hot. Now she has a large pink scar with no fur on it, but I think it just adds to her enormous character.

When people first meet Emma they often feel sorry for her. I constantly hear, “Oh, God bless her, she’s missing a leg.” Dogs, unlike humans, do not dwell on their handicaps or let it slow them down. Emma runs faster than some of her pals, jumps up and down steps, and loves to fetch toys and play tuggie with her four-legged friends. One of her many nicknames is “Roo” because she hops like a kangaroo to get up the steps or onto the sofa.

Pit Bulls are one of my favorite breeds because of their intelligence, devotion, and sweet, loving dispositions, and Emma is the epitome of all these fantastic qualities. Just by being herself she teaches people how misunderstood Pit Bulls are. She’s the perfect companion and family pet—a delightful girl who brightens the day of everyone she encounters. The way people so easily fall in love with her, and how her presence in my life has made me a better person, make it difficult to decide whether she’s Cupid or an angel—either way, all she is missing are wings and a halo—this dog is truly divine!

Laurie Yost

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Storytime: Challenge is a Chariot

Originally published in Lost Souls: FOUND! Inspiring Stories About Golden Retrievers.

Challenge is a Chariot

Triggerboy

Hi Everyone! 

My name is Trigger Boy and I am a 14-year-old Golden Coated Russian Circus Dog (just kidding) also known as a Golden Retriever.

            My Mom says I should be the Poster Dog for why NOT to put your dog in the bed of a pickup truck.  I had my front leg amputated after I leapt out of a pickup truck to chase a deer. (Oh, this happened BEFORE I adopted my parents here in Cody, Wyoming.) 

            Originally from Massachusetts, I was found on a playground and brought to a shelter. When no one claimed me, this young couple adopted me, and I lived with them for four years. We all moved to Wyoming, and on my first day here I saw this deer that had my name on it. I launched from the pickup, and that was a bad move.

            Well, they said I had nerve damage and I would have to give my leg up. After the operation, I started growling at the three young kids I lived with, and it was time for me to find a new home. 

            My name was Tigger, but being in the Wild West now, my new mom changed my name to Trigger, and she says I am a pistol! 

            Since I couldn’t keep up with my Golden brothers, the University of Wyoming Engineering Department took me on as a project to make a four-wheel drive “Waggin” cart. Four senior engineering students designed this award-winning device, and I got my wheels at a graduation symposium.

“Three paws up,” for those brilliant students! 

Two years later I crossed over the Rainbow Bridge.  I don’t need my “Waggin” cart here, where I romp with all the other Goldens, and wait for my forever family and friends to come play. See ya!

(Triggerboy, as translated by mom, Carol Polacek)

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