If you’d told me a year ago I’d be writing this post, I would’ve told you to check your head. Every rescue story I record here is special to me for one reason or another, but this one really changed the way I view the world in its entirety.
Sweetie is an old lady pit bull who was tragically abandoned at a boarding facility a year ago this spring. Riddled in pain from years of puppy-machining, neglect, and a life spent confined to a concrete dog run, the poor girl seemed as if she’d lost hope. When we met, Sweetie was covered in large callouses, flies that’d laid eggs in her fur, and grossly infected teats. She snarled. She snapped. She lunged, and I’ll be frank: I believed her quality of life was likely to only improve through the kindness of death. (I wrote about Sweetie’s long suffering here.)
While the boarders journeyed through the tedious process of gaining legal custody of Sweetie, we brought her bones and treats in an attempt to occupy her and earn her trust. None of it was easy; her health deteriorated further, but she began to approach us more and more — still growling, still hating on us, but with cautious desire to interact. Admittedly, I’d never dealt with an animal so full of aggression. We were flying by the seats of our pants, really — hoping she would understand we weren’t like the other humans she’d known, taking each step slowly by allowing her to lead the way.
After months of having only food and water slid to her through a chain-linked fence by workers and receiving whatever treats we had to offer, Sweetie finally stood close enough to the gate for us to touch her one day. She groaned a little, but switched sides allowing me to stroke her fur again through the fence. It was like touching cardboard. Broke my heart, numbed my brain. How could someone treat a creature so terribly? When my fingers connected with her fur that first time, her suffering was tangible, and I felt it in my soul. Can’t explain it, really, but I knew her spirit was still alive. She was trying.
The facility won custodianship by mid-summer, and I arrived to jailbreak Sweetie on behalf of DFW Rescue Me for her well-deserved trip to the vet. Later that day, I drove her to my home to recover, but had little faith I’d be able to safely foster her with my other animals. After all, I’m no dog trainer, and I’ve always told folks I’m a cat person at the end of the day. All the same, I considered Sweetie’s spirit and her progress. Maybe, just maybe things could work, I thought.
That first month we kept Sweetie in a room alone. She wanted to eat the cats and other dogs. The next month, she wanted to eat the cats and other dogs less. We took her on walks and supervised play time in the yard, and, remarkably, she decided to befriend our little Italian Greyhound foster guy. We moved Sweetie into a large crate by our patio door so she’d have a better view and also be able to spend more time observing the offending cats, whom she became slightly less dead set upon devouring. Slightly. By the end of the third month, she’d made friends with our cat Mr. Bob Dobalina, a grey tabby tom dude with titanium tolerance. Like a helicopter mom, I began leading Sweetie around the house on her leash so she could hang out in general population. I could tell she wanted to please us and was grateful; she just needed to take her time.
In the evenings, we sat in the hammock in the backyard and stared at the sky together. Sweetie would close her eyes, lean into me sighing and kissing my cheek. Her teats weren’t swollen anymore. Her fur felt like…fur. She was content. And beautiful now. Sometimes I’d gawk at her in complete disbelief that she was the raggedy old hag who used to spit and cuss at me just months earlier. I’d hold her and tell her everything was going to be ok, but I knew we still had a haul ahead of us.
Even though Sweetie was improving, her thyroid wonked out. Rats. Here I was with a pit bull burdened by a sordid past [strike] who was old [strike] with a condition that required medication twice a day for life [strike]. She wasn’t receiving boatloads of adoption applications, let me tell ya. I wished she could only get along with my little dog, Nova Party Pants, who was still pretty irritated Sweetie was crashing at her pad. Rock and a hard place, but with a little wiggle room for hope.
A couple months ago, Sweetie was snoring on the couch when Nova slumped up next to her. Burrowing into the fatty folds of Sweetie’s belly, Nova passed out. Everything really was going to be ok, I realized. Nova just needed time, too. There they were: Four cats and my beloved gal pal Nova…and Sweetie. Victory.
Because Sweetie’s progress was so significant, I began socializing her on Main Street. Then we started going around in the car more. Last week, I’m honored and proud to say she completed her fourth appearance as a Voices for Justice dog, which is an educational program our rescue presents to local elementary schools and children’s groups within our DFW communities. (She was even on the news because she’s a superstar like that.)
On Wednesday, like almost a thousand people before me, I completed an online application to adopt through our group. All of our dogs deserve the best homes possible, but certainly Sweetie’s was a lifetime coming. I closed my laptop after sending the app and told Sweetie, “So you’re staying. Forever.” Then, for the the first time ever, she tore apart my kitchen trash. Stinker. Pfft.
In the past year, I thought I was working on Sweetie, but, truly, she was working on me. I was the one with trust issues. I was the one who needed to believe the unimaginable was possible. I was the one who underestimated myself and my ability to let the world unfold instead of forcing that which only time often reveals. When those flies were laying eggs in her cardboard fur, she could’ve given up…but she didn’t. There was spunk buried inside her will to live. She chose to become a better dog when new people showed her a light, and because of that, I’d be a fool to not become a better person through her lessons.
As I type, Sweetie is snoring with her pokey out-y tongue hanging out and drooling on my bed. She’s shedding and smells like hell, but I don’t care. Like the rest of my clan, I love her without end.
And I’m humbled she calls this place “home.”
Welcome home, Sweetie. This is our sweet hereafter, old girl.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Toothacres, Jim Wenger, and the great volunteers at DFW Rescue Me who created a bridge for Sweetie’s recovery as well as an outlet for her to share her story to educate others. Most of all, thanks to Russell for saying “yes” over and over again, even when saying “no” would have often been easier. <3
The world is a little lonelier around these parts tonight. A few hours ago, I said goodbye to Lexi the luckiest Chihuahua in all of north Texas as she left to begin her new journey in Austin.
It’s amazing how such an eensy weensy dog filled so much room inside my heart. Being the bridge doesn’t mean it’s always easy to let go once you’ve reached the other side. In the case of Lexi, though, kismet seemed to be hard at work, and you can’t fudge around with that sort of thing. It was time.
Lexi was supposed to have been three, four-day-old wild brown rabbits. At least, that’s what I thought I was going to be transporting when I met her at Dallas Animal Services.
A few days earlier, I was at the counter of the shelter picking up a dog for DFW Rescue Me when someone brought in tiny bunnies, who were likely candidates for being euthanized. After calling my friend whose family is experienced in bottle-feeding baby bunnies, I said I’d be back to retrieve them when they were processed.
Lexi’s stroke of incredible fortune played out at the same counter 72 hours later like so:
“I’m here to pick up the three bunnies tagged by Jim from DFW.”
“Jim got them about an hour ago.”
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t, you guys. He’s on his way here now.”
[Head scratching all around]
As it turned out, there are two Jims: Jim from DFW Wildlife and Jim from DFW Rescue Me. The bunnies were safely in the capable hands of the wildlife crew, but there I was with my cat’s empty crate in the lobby. I’d driven forty-five minutes in rush hour traffic, so I wasn’t leaving until that thing had some weight in it.
“So what do you have that will fit in this crate?”
Mark Cooper, DAS rescue coordinator extraordinaire (BEST WISHES WITH THE NEW GIG AT THE VERY COOL OPERATION KINDNESS!), escorted me to a room full of small dogs whose only shot was a slim glimmer of accidental fortune. Stopping at a small, fawn-colored Chihuahua, Mark sighed, “This is Lexi. She comes with a closet of clothes and everything. A lady brought her back because she’s really dog aggressive. She likes cats…and birds! She had a pet bird who rode around on her back, even.”
Lexi was wearing a pink polka-dotted hoodie. Terrified and cowering, she looked up at me from the frilly princess basket in which she’d been dumped by the woman.
Mark continued, “This is her second return. I don’t know what happened the first time, but I can’t hold her any longer.”
Within half an hour, Lexi and her fancy wardrobe were in the cat’s crate, sitting next to me in my truck. Kismet, like I said. I texted my husband a picture with the caption, “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t leave her there. She’ll get adopted fast, I promise. Don’t kill me.”
Once home, we learned Lexi was perfect, except that she’d never been cared for properly. Her teeth were jacked up. She was scared to be alone. My dog Nova was frightening to her because little Lex wasn’t socialized very well. Her doe eyes were so kind, though, and I could tell it would take a while for whatever sadness she’d known to subside.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of folks who want a five-year-old dog. Adoption applications fell through. Home visits were canceled. She spent some time in foster/possible adoption arrangements that didn’t work out in the end. With her lucky streak quickly ending, my husband and I decided to take Lex under our wings, even if that meant we were her forever fosters.
It wasn’t long before Lexi’s spirit began shining a little brighter. She talked to us — the cutest squeaks imaginable. We spent our nights separated in bed by her burrowed body. I must have a bazillion photos of Lexi — the morning sun lighting up her enormous ears — as she was fast asleep, curled inside my husband’s arms. We took her on outings, bought her nine million dollar dog food, and flooded our Facebook feeds with Lexi pictures and videos. She’d established her place in our family, and, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I fell in love with the little dog who was supposed to have been three bunnies.
So back to the kismet: During the time we fostered Lexi, we’d also been caring for three abandoned kittens. Ready for new homes, I took the kitties with me to an adoption event in Dallas last Saturday. I hadn’t planned on taking Lexi because she was having dental work done that would require recovery the next week, but I figured our two adult cats might like a quiet afternoon without pipsqueaks running around. That said, I lugged my cavalcade of tiny animals to Fair Park, hoping to return kittenless.
Within a few hours, I noticed a friendly face making goo goo eyes at Lexi. Lexi was smiling back, also with goo goo eyes. I’ve seen that kind of love connection enough to know what was about to happen, and my heart sank and skipped a beat all at once.
The young woman staring at Lex explained she didn’t have a dog or anything, that she was there with her parents who were with the Greyhound rescue. She was saying all the right stuff that I’d hoped to hear from the person who would take Lexi one day. She was smart. Her boyfriend had a cool tattoo of a classical guitarist’s autograph on his arm. They were laid back, brainy people, who seemed as if they could make Lexi’s third time a charm. And her parents’ rescue background was a deal sealer if there ever was one.
“Would you like to hold her?”
The woman smiled, “Can I?”
I handed her to Lexi, and my foster cuddled into her chest right off the bat. Very sweet. Felt right.
Later in the day, the couple returned with an adoption app. We walked outside with Lexi a bit, and the amount of showboating Lexi exhibited cracked me up. I’d never seen her laugh like she did that afternoon, going between us all, smiling, prancing around like the gentlelady she is. The young woman, Stav, and I exchanged information, and we kept in touch while I continued to commit to Lexi’s medical treatments this past week.
Last night, my husband told me, “I won’t be able to be there when she leaves.” And that broke my heart. I thought back to that first text when I asked him not to kill me. I guess it turned out alright. Heh.
This morning I pulled up to the event — kittens in tow, but this time it was about Lexi. Stav’s father was already waiting, and I knew these were my final moments with the blonde Chi next to me. It was the end of the bridge for us.
As we finalized the adoption, he carefully put a teensy gold tag on Lexi’s little pink collar with her new phone number on it. This was real.
I said goodbye, but I couldn’t watch her leave like I usually do. I found a pillar to stand behind for a minute and collected myself. The rest of the adoption event was before us, and I had three kittens who needed me more than I needed to cry in front of an Office Depot in Grapevine, TX.
A while ago, Stav wrote to say everything was fine. Lexi was fine. She was fine. Her dad’s trip was fine. I was…fine. Kismet happened, and that’s more than fine.
In the world of rescue, there are dogs we’ll never forget — dogs who “found” us as much as we needed to “find” them. I’m so very glad we found “something” that fit in that crate those months ago. Best of my best wishes to Lexi and her awesome new family. Austin is a luckier place tonight.
There’s nothing quite like being mind-stuck in the toothpaste aisle at Target, trying to decide which variety to buy (as if I haven’t been buying toothpaste since I was seventeen), and receiving a holiday picture text from the family who adopted one of my fosters. Kinda brings stuff like the Big Toothpaste Decision 2011 back into focus.
I grabbed the box of Crest that was in my hand and scrolled through the new pictures of my past foster kid, Phillie, and his BFF Frosti.
(Some of you might remember Phillie from this story. We called him Philippe then.)
Phillie’s mom, Alice, says his groomer has a thing for him. I think everybody who’s breathing should have a thing for that dog. He’s a rockstar.
When not modeling his winter couture, Phillie spends most of the rest of his time in repose. It’s difficult being rescued, you know.
When I see these photos of my formerly forlorn pal from the state fair, I have tangible hope for the futures of all of the guys who are still looking for homes — homes like the one Alice and her family have given these lucky critters.
Without rescue programs in place, Phillie would have never found his canine’s paradise . . .
. . . and I would probably still be looking for toothpaste at Target instead of typing this homage to my favorite Bichon Frise pup. You’ve gotta pay attention to the things that make life grand.
Thanks to Alice for sending the photos, as always. If you’d also like to make a difference this holiday, consider donating to a rescue or shelter group. The dogs in boarding (and in foster care) need bones, warm beds, blankets, toys, and people who have extra time to hold a leash every so often. Fill out the contact form below to be redirected to a needy shelter/animal rescue group near you.