Our first “child,” an English Springer Spaniel named Teagan, was just two and a half years old when we had her put to sleep. It was one of the worst days of my life.
She was a beautiful, enthusiastic, and affectionate dog. But shortly after she was a year old, she began exhibiting hostile behavior… lunging, snarling, threatening, and eventually biting.
We learned all too late that she came from a local bloodline of Springers known statewide for genetic tendencies toward brain “misfirings.” The condition shows up in afflicted Springers at an average age of 18 months. We hired a “doggie shrink,” had her on medication, implemented behavioral changes, and after talking at length with trainers, vets, animal behaviorists, and other experts, reluctantly acknowledged this disease was incurable.
We were useless for days after Teagan’s demise, sobbing at once for her helplessness in the matter and feeling guilty for playing God. Then it occurred to us to contact the association for English Springer rescue to save a life, especially since we felt we had taken one.
Within weeks, they e-mailed us about Dolly. Her owners couldn’t afford to feed her. We agreed to take her, sight unseen, and decided to rename her Sara, short for Sarasota.
The application process seemed as thorough as if we were adopting a child. First, a lengthy on-line questionnaire. Then several telephone interviews, a checklist faxed directly to our vet, and finally, an on-site inspection of our home.
The association organized a tag team of volunteers who drove “Sara Dolly” — in shifts — from Panama City down to Tampa, where we picked her up. According to the contract we signed, we had 30 days to return her, should she not meet our expectations.
She seemed very old. She barely moved and cowered whenever you tried to pet her. She was especially afraid of my husband, Patrick. She wouldn’t raise her head and didn’t respond to our voices or displays of affection. She didn’t wag her tail. Her skin was flaky and had an awful odor. She was missing some teeth and her gums bled. She had diarrhea. In anticipation of her arrival, we bought some new dog toys. She was afraid of them.
“Do you want to send her back?” I asked Patrick, who was visibly disappointed that Sara, other than her pretty Springer markings, bore no resemblance to his spunky little Teagan.
“I can’t do that to her,” he replied sadly. The next morning, he took her to our vet, who diagnosed and prescribed medicine for each of her many ailments.
By mid-day, she learned how to use the doggie door, motivated by all the lizards she was chasing. By afternoon, she actually barked. Okay, it sounds silly, but I was so happy I cried. By evening, she was giving us her paw so we would pet her. The next day, she started making eye contact and following us around … prancing and wagging her tail!
We had her professionally groomed, and within days, her coat looked shiny and smelled, well, it didn’t. I bought something called “Baby Dog,” a baby powder-scented dog cologne. She seems to enjoy her new fragrance. I know we do.
Sara loves to go for rides in the car. She spends each morning galloping around the yard. She seems happy all the time, even smiles. Sara and Cappuccine (our longhaired Chihuahua) enjoy after-dinner walks with us through the neighborhood.
Sara knows many commands and learns new ones quickly. She’s unusually smart, well-behaved, and now, incredibly affectionate. It’s as if she knows she’s finally home.
We surmise that at some point in her life she was well-trained; at some other point, she was badly abused. Everyone that’s met her can see it… “Who would do this to such a sweet dog?”
Rehabilitating her has been one of the most gratifying experiences we’ve had. From this point on, we will “do rescue.” I even checked the Internet for a Chihuahua rescue organization, not expecting to find one. No one would mistreat or abandon such a tiny creature. Wrong. In fact, I found rescue organizations for every breed imaginable.
Months later, Sara is a healthy, happy, pretty little girl who has rediscovered life in a loving environment. She is our miracle.
It is, after all, a Merry Christmas.
Sara was our first rescue, and we’ve been rescuing ever since. Witnessing her rehabilitation brought us great joy. But a misdiagnosed heartworm diagnosis from the start caused us to lose her just 15 months later, despite desperate and ill-advised attempts to treat the too-far-gone disease. But our time with her was priceless, and we know she crossed the Rainbow Bridge feeling precious and loved. We will always cherish the memory of Sara.
Make your own miracle.
Here are a few places to start:
* Bichon Frise Rescue
www.bichonrescue.org; (305) 743-6271
* Chihuahua Rescue and Transport
* English Springer Rescue America, Inc.
www.springerrescue.org; (561) 655-6736
* Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida
www.grrmf.org; (407) 332-2840
* Jack Russell Terrier Association of America Rescue
* Labrador Rescue of Florida, Inc.
* Florida Poodle Rescue
www.floridapoodlerescue.org; (727) 898-5114
* South Florida Shih Tzu Rescue and Adoption
www.petfinder.org/shelters/fl53.html; (941) 752-9840
Written by Lisa Codianne Fowler; reprinted from Style magazine