Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It all started when...

One does not take up animal rescue without having had experiences that caused him/her to reach that sort of turning point in his/her life.

My experiences with dogs started quite young. My grandmother had a dog, Nippy, an adorable black miniature poodle. I was never certain why her name was Nippy. She had certainly never nipped at me. But then again, looking back, I always did seem to have a strange effect on dogs, this sort of "nurturing" aura of total and complete dog love. At any rate, we would watch Nippy for a couple months out of every year while my grandmother went to Tennessee to visit my Uncle. During those times, Nippy was our dog.

But then there were the 10 months in between Nippy's visits with us that we were dogless. And the clamor went up, from mom and kids alike, to get ourselves a dog, our own dog, a dog that we would have year round instead of for only two months.

My Dad, however reluctant (as he generally is), relented in the face of overwhelming opposition. Thus began a rather strange journey, which consisted various dogs that just weren't right for us: the husky puppy that was too rambunctious for too young children and eventually went on to my Aunt and Uncle; the border collie who my mother rescued from my aunt's cruelty (she tied her up to a dog house for three months and barely paid attention to her), who turned out to be understandably crazy and neurotic, chewed everything, and ran away every chance she got -- even though we loved her dearly, she went off to a friend who lived in the country; the little pet store puppy who turned out to be terribly sick when we brought her home -- distemper and then pneumonia...we'd only had her for two weeks when we had to put her down (for the record, the pet shop was shortly thereafter shut down -- small vindication for the loss of a beloved little puppy).

It was really a sort of comedy of errors and looking back, I can clearly see all the mistakes that were made. My parents were wonderful, caring, pet owners, but they didn't quite know what was right for us at first. No doubt they would be passed over by rescue associations due to those early mistakes. But they made it all right.

They got Pepper. Well, Pepper II, as the little pet shop puppy was named Pepper as well. Pepper II was a sweet wheaten terrier/poodle mix puppy born on Valentine's Day 1984. My mother found out about her through an advertisement in the classified ads looking for people to adopt these dogs, "free to good home." Sometimes the best things in life really are free! The people who had her were certainly not the best people in the world. Their poodle had gotten pregnant by a local Wheaten terrier who had gotten loose. While I loved Pepper dearly, and still do, despite her death occurring nearly 10 years ago now, it's situations like this that remind me why I'm such a strong supporter of spay/neuter programs. The people who owned Pepper's mother clearly did not want to spend the money to spay their dog and the consequence was unwanted puppies. The man seemed to be so angry about this that he would sweep the puppies under the couch when they got in his way! In this way, Pepper learned an innate fear of men. She would overcome it with various men throughout her life, through contact and their demonstrating over time that they would not harm her. But it always took her months to warm up to someone. She was a wonderful dog. And she is still missed.

Three years after Pepper's death, my mother and I again talked my father into a dog. This time we ended up with Teri, another wheaten terrier/poodle cross (though purposely so this time). She was well-cared for and well-socialized as a pup and we ended up with the sweetest, most loving, and most spoiled dog imaginable. She's now almost 7 and she has my parents wrapped around her little paw. I can't imagine how we got along without her for so long! She's loved by everyone she comes into contact with. So loved, in fact, that we're always afraid someone is going to run off with her! She wouldn't make a peep that's for sure. She'd just roll over and try to get the person to pet her belly or hang her head and let them rub her neck.

The dogs we cared for are only one part, perhaps even a small part, of how I ended up here. The story is certainly much longer than I could tell here!

I can remember certain incidents in my life where I was involved, even as a child, in some sort of dog rescue. I recall finding a pregnant dog at one point...some sort of Basset hound or Basset mix. She was extremely pregnant and was wandering aimlessly through our neighbourhood. Because I wasn't sure what my parents would think of her, I hid her in our shed, brought out food to her, and provided towels. At some point, my parents discovered what I was doing, found the poor pregnant dog, and somehow she was either returned to her owner or turned over to the shelter. I was rather young at the time -- this was before Pepper and I was all of 8 when we got her.

I will also never forget Lightning, my aunt's dog. My aunt (and uncle, and cousins) lived with my grandmother for much of her life. I think it was a way to mooch off my grandmother, unfortunately. any rate...she had a dog named Lightning. Looking back, I suppose I would have to call her some sort of yellow lab/shepherd mix. I still have a rather vivid picture of her in my mind. Nippy was allowed in the house. She was small. Lightning was a 50 lb dog and since my aunt was a neat freak to the extreme, Lightning was not allowed in the house. This meant that Lightning spent her life in a cold, damp basement and was occasionally allowed out to romp in the backyard. No one paid attention to her and she always seemed so sad and lonely, stuck in a small gated area in the basement. I don't ever remember her having a dog bed down there, or anything resembling someplace comfortable and warm to rest her body. When we went to my aunt's house for Christmas every year, I eventually ended up in the basement, sitting down in a place that smelled entirely of dog urine (as they never let Lightning out enough) and playing with this poor beautiful dog. I spent many an hour sitting down there with her, just petting her and giving her some much needed attention. She would perk up as soon as I came down the stairs, her great tail sweeping arcs at such a speed I was sure it would fall off...or launch her into the air. Every year, I would ask my aunt if we could let Lightning up, just for the day, let her enjoy Christmas with friends and family. The answer was always no..."she's too big, too messy, too in the way." So off I went into the cold and dampness to be with her since I couldn't bring her to us. One year I did actually just let Lightning out and she careened up the stairs with me close on her heels. My aunt was angry and no one seemed to understand that Lightning needed people. I know now, as an adult, I would have done more to help her. I would have found a way to get her out, find her a new home with people who would let her stay with them upstairs. But I was young and had no influence, no way to go about what needed to be done. In a lot of ways, I still feel like I failed that sweet dog somehow.

There were plenty of other dogs in my life, some in good places, some in not so good places. There were the dogs I've come to dub "The Paper Route Dogs." those dogs I met daily in my travels on my middle school paper route. Shadow, an older black lab mix was owned by an elderly lady and loved dearly. I used to bring her biscuits when I came to collect the money and Shadow was always thrilled to see me and would push herself up against me, nearly knocking me to the ground in her exuberance to be petted. There was the miniature schnauzer, whose name I have long since forgotten, who always had a reddish face from being fed spaghetti. And the St. Bernard puppy who grew at such an alarming rate that I could notice the size difference from one week to the next. But then there were the dogs who were not in the best place. There was the Irish setter, a poor creature left in a fenced in yard with little attention. She would bark...and bark...and bark some more. They told me she was mean, but whenever I approached, her barking was coupled by a wagging tail and she's sniff my hand through the fence, occasionally give me a little lick. Pooper, the beagle, was no doubt well-loved, but his owner never had his collar done up properly and he would slip it. This always seemed to happen just as I approached his house and the next thing I knew, I had a little companion on the rest of the paper route. Pooper would follow after me and I would occasionally reach down to pet him. He would follow me down the road, around to the next block and all the way back to my house. Like the Pied Piper of dogs, I generally showed up with some creature at my heels. And then there was Tackleberry. Ah, dear, sweet Tackleberry. Tackleberry was an absolutely gorgeous young English springer spaniel who lived on the corner of Ivanhoe and Heather. The problem for Tackleberry? His owners didn't care if he was loose. If he had to go out, they'd just let him out the front door and not worry about him. While we didn't live in an area with truly heavy traffic, there were enough cars to be constantly worried about him. The good news for Tackleberry? He would always find me on my paper route, sometimes far from his house, and he would spend the rest of the route with me, and like Pooper, he would follow me home. Sometimes the two did together. My mother would take one look at me and my entourage (which also sometimes included a cat) and we would hop in the car and drive the dogs back to their houses, knocking on doors and explaining that their dogs had, once again, followed me home. Tackleberry came to a sad end, that we know of. My mother, some years after I was off at college, my mother ran into Tackleberry's owners while on a walk. She noted she hadn't seen him for some time and wondered what had happened to him. They told her they had him put down because they "didn't want to put up with him anymore." My mother was shocked. I was outraged. I don't think I could speak to that family ever again. A little part of me hopes the vet claimed they put him down and really found another home for him. He was a great dog, but understandably unruly!

Other dogs have had great influence on my life: There was the dog I truly rescued one late night in Terre Haute, Indiana. I was driving down the road when I saw someone hit a dog. The person kept going and the dog rushed off to the side of the road. I didn't even stop to think about what I was doing. I pulled into gas station across the road and rushed across 4 lanes of heavy traffic to get to the dog. He was laying in the grass on the side of the road and when I approached pulled himself up and came over to me. He wasn't wearing a collar and so very likely was one of the city's strays. This might scare a normal person, but not me. I squatted down and let him come over to me. He seemed fine. He was walking ok, but there was a little blood coming from his nose. I wasn't sure what to do and so I walked a few paces away. Of course, he followed me. And so I knew I had to do something. I got him to follow me all the way across the road and back to the gas station. I went in to talk to the cashier, see if he knew what to do. It was late, so I knew the humane society would not be open. I thought maybe I could talk to the cops. The cashier's reaction was to tell me not to..."the last time someone did that, the cops took the dog out back and shot it." No way in hell was that going to happen. I eventually got an emergency number for the humane society and a woman came out to take him off with her. I spent a total of two hours with that dog...about an hour or more of it, sitting outside the gas station with this dog who was laying down on the sidewalk, looking as forlorn as could be. A lot of people passed by me, some stopped to talk, asked about the dog, and shook their heads when they found out he was a victim of a hit and run. A lot of people thought it was great what I was doing. When the humane officer finally showed up, around midnight, she took a look at the dog and thought he was done for, thought it was internal bleeding. I gave the woman my number and asked her to call and tell me what happened to him. She called me the next day and told me it was just a bloody nose and they would be washing him up and helping him find a new home.

It's for that injured stray dog, for dogs like Bandit who were tied up (some for much longer than Bandit), for dogs like Lightning who were forced to live their lives in a dank basement with little human attention, that I do what I do. If I can give one dog a chance to have a new life with loving people, then I feel good about having lived my life. It means that I've done something worthwhile with it. And living a worthy life is all important to me.

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