"Do you know anything about a black dog in the backyard at the clinic?"
My heart sank. "No", I responded, looking at him awaiting more information. This is not the first time this has happened. It has happened to full sized labs at our clinic. I do not want to know how people got an eighty pound dog over the six foot fence in the middle of the night. I am just glad there were no broken bones as a result of the delivery effort.
Miguel had stopped at the clinic to drop off his dog so she would not get wet watching the game. He had gone out into the backyard with her and discovered a medium sized black dog hiding in the corner of the yard near the shed.
The poor thing was soaking wet. He ran from Miguel as if he had never met a person before. It took Miguel ten minutes to coax the dog close enough to him to grab him, so that they could go inside and warm up. Needless to say, both dog and rescuer were soaking wet by the time they went inside.
After a gentle towel dry, the new dog was placed in a cage with a warm blanket, fresh food, and a bowl of water. I am not sure he wanted the water after being out in the rain for what we can assume was most of a very wet and cool night.
When the soccer game was over, I drove to the clinic. Black dogs are always more difficult to find homes for because they are very common in shelters everywhere and they are difficult to photograph. A black dog's face in a photo does not show the expression that they can show in person if given an opportunity. Knowing that we had another black dog to adopt out made me a little sad.
The dog sat in the cage, huddled in the corner, still very frightened and unwilling to be picked up. Miguel came over with a soft blanket to drape over him to lift him out of the cage. We use blankets on animals that are scared and may bite. It gives them a larger target than a bare hand if they choose to bite. Using the blanket will increase the chance that an attempted bite will miss your hand. A blanket, if used properly, can be much less intimidating to a frightened animal than human hands.
Miguel cradled the blanket wrapped dog. I started petting the head and looked into his eyes. He was scared but did not seem like a biter, even with this level of fear. I slowly lifted his upper lip to reveal his teeth so I could estimate his age. He appeared to be a puppy, approximately five months old. He was scared stiff. Up front was a group of people waiting to meet him. My employees were there, my daughter was there, and HEART Rescue happened to be there for an appointment.
He sat in Miguel's arms wide eyed, and stiff as a board, afraid to move. I asked Miguel to put him down. Miguel looked uncertain about my decision, but he gently placed the pup on the ground.
The puppy sat in an awkward stance, exactly where he was placed. He looked around at the group of people who were trying their best not to be intimidating. He hesitated to move, still unsure of his surroundings. We all slowly crouched down to the pups level and remained quiet trying not to scare him further.
Suddenly, he noticed my six year old daughter and ran straight to her.
We named him Jack B. Nimble for his uncanny ability to jump a six foot fence "on his own".
Those of us in rescue see abandonment often, and the degree can vary significantly. Animals have been left in boxes on highways, left wandering country roads, left in houses with no access to food or water, tied to the doors of shelters, and left in boarding kennels by owners who have no intention of ever picking them up .
The group of us played with the puppy as he came out of his shell. He appeared to be a collie mixed with german shepherd. Those ears definitely look shepherd, and that long nose seems very collie. While we played, we also discussed the decision that his previous owner's had made. We experienced anger, confusion, and even relief. We agreed with each other, and we disagreed with each other.
We felt anger that a person would dump their dog over the fence in the middle of the night, releasing themselves of the responsibility to care for this puppy. When you decide to get a puppy, it is a commitment made for the lifetime of that dog. A dog makes that commitment to you at the very moment he meets you.
We were angry that they left the dog in a strange place, with no item of comfort, on a cold and wet night. This decision elicited such a significant fear response in this young puppy. All three of the dogs abandoned in this way at our clinic have been angry and scared when we arrive in the morning and walk out to discover them. They are traumatized by the experience, and this puppy's reaction was quite severe. Fortunately, he recovered quickly once given the chance to get to know us, as did the other two.
The anger we felt stemmed not only from the trauma placed on this puppy, and lack of commitment on behalf of the owner, but also from the owner's act of shunting financial responsibility on a rescue group rather than making sure the animal's care was paid for. All rescue groups, including ours, are underfunded and overwhelmed during any economy. This dog was not neutered, and we had no veterinary care history on him. We had to start from scratch on this boy. We had to treat him as though he was a stray dog.
We also discussed our confusion about how a person could make a conscious decision to abandon an animal. Confusion as to what prompted the abandonment. Were they not ready for a dog? Were the people not the actual owners of the puppy? Did the dog have a health or behavioral issue they would not tolerate? Did they suddenly have a lifestyle change that forced them to get rid of the dog such as foreclosure, unemployment, or divorce? Did they not know about any significant lifestyle changes just a few short months or weeks ago when they first brought this cute little puppy into their home? Did they try calling us or any other shelter to see if we would agree to take him into our rescue group before deciding to abandon him? Did the puppy's fur not match the color of their sofa?
We then discussed our relief in the fact that they chose to leave the dog with us, regardless of the irresponsible way in which it was done. Relief that the puppy was not running loose out in the countryside searching for food and shelter. Relief that the dog did not appear abused or neglected prior to this incident. Relief that the puppy is not at risk for being shot, hit by a car, or injured by other animals. Relief that the dog is in safe hands, and a proper home will be found for him.
I have said in the past, when we approach our door in the morning to find a strange box in front of it, often containing a cat or two, "At least they left it with us, rather than leaving it out on the highway." I guess I can wear that as a badge of honor, that they chose to trust their animal in our care.
A few hours later, I checked my email and discovered a custom form submission from an anonymous visitor to my website.
It read, "Dakota is a black lab/australian sheperd mix. He was born 05/11/10, so is almost 5 mo. old now. He has had two sets of distemper and is coming due for his next one. He is familiar with a kennel, but needs work on potty training still. Please help this wonderful pup find a loving home. I wish we could have provided it for him, but couldnt and felt the best place for him would be in your care. Hopefully this little bit of information helps you with him. Thank you."
I would like to respond to their note with the following, "You're welcome. While I don't know your circumstances or your reasoning, I would like to request that when you find yourself in a place of relative comfort in your life, remember that we helped your dog and in doing so, we helped you. I hope at that time you will decide to walk into the smallest, neediest animal shelter that is close to you and donate both your time and money to them, as a thank you to me and my staff for the care of your dog."
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