A True Story of Healing, Hope and the Unexpected Love of a Dog
“NO WAY!” “NO FREAKING WAY!” I screamed inside my head as I pulled in to the parking lot. “Who would do such a thing?” But there she was, chained to a light post in the bushes without food or water and filthier than I have ever seen an animal. Thing is… this animal shelter is a satellite office. No one was there Monday through Thursday and this was Friday. How long had she been there? Blood rushed to my face in anger. My heart broke as I realized this was probably not a brown dog after all, it was just impossible to tell what color fur was under all the caked mud... and her ears, “Oh My” the ends were completely scabbed over from flea bites. The stench was overwhelming, “this must not all be mud”.
Anger faded to compassion as I approached this sorry looking dog… such a sweet face even if the eyes were sad.
I knew better than to approach a wounded animal haphazardly. If this dog was not injured physically she was certainly broken in spirit. So, I sat for a while and talked to her in soothing tones. This was certainly going to set my day of errands back a few hours. Typically, I volunteered just a couple hours on Fridays to walk the dogs as a break from my routine. But today was going to be special, inconvenient for sure – maybe dinner would be carry out.
The animal shelter employee pulled in to find me with tears in my eyes talking to something that resembled a dog. He quickly got a dish of water which was carefully slid over to the pathetic dog, not to much mind you because the dog might get sick from drinking too fast. I blinked and the water was gone… more comforting words as I sat with this dog while the employee opened up the building for the rest of the animals. Then more water was followed by a small amount of food. “Could this animal ever trust a human again?” After things were well settled and calm inside the building we began the slow process of coaxing this dog into the building and then into a large cage. Amazingly, there was no animosity, no biting, no growling. Sadly, this animal’s spirit was completely broken. Hours went by as we continued to feed small amounts of food and gradually more water. Until, eventually, my dog fell asleep with a full belly in the comfort of a large cage with a blanket.
Dinner was carry out. But, routines being ,well, routine… life carried on.
Months later, I arrived to walk the dogs and there she was… clean and healthy, sporting a short but full lions mane. My heart jumped, immediately I knew who this was chewing her toy so contentedly in her cage. The shelter employee explained that they had cut off all her fur because it simply could not be cleaned. She had been given all the veterinary care she needed and loved every day in a safe environment. Never once had she shown any animosity, no biting, no growling. All the shelter staff had been surprised because this dog is part chow, which is known for defensive aggressive behavior.
So, I walked her, my Molly girl. Our short walks were filled with wagging tails and playful trotting, each time dutifully returning to the cage slightly less enthusiastically than the last. We walked every Friday week after week until the weeks turned in to months, and I realized that no one was adopting this amazing dog. Why? She is black, longhaired and part chow… some of the least adoptable characteristics a dog can have. Plus, because of her abused history, she needed to be placed in a calm home, like an older couple but older couples generally do not want a 55 pound dog. She had come so far, and won the hearts of the shelter staff in the process, only now to be left without a home and family to love her. Heartbreaking.
It came to an end the day I went to put Molly back in the cage and she circled the door hiding behind my legs instead. There was no denying that this was my dog. The next day she rode home with me to stay.
The transition into living in a home came easy for Molly. Being left alone did not. She was terrified of things that had probably been used to hit her: yardsticks, flyswatters, spatulas, pieces of wood, household tools, and of men wearing baseball hats. If any of these things appeared, she cowered behind my legs, shaking. She would not take treats from my Dad, who always wears a baseball cap, until he took his hat off. But if she was left alone she panicked, repeatedly throwing her full body weight against the door trying to get out and eliminating on the floor. Molly clearly had some healing to do before she would feel safe again.
We worked together for months… 3 mile a day walks to tire her out followed by randomly being left alone for short periods of time throughout the days. At times, I would shut myself in the bathroom and talk to her through the door. Other times I would leave the room while she was asleep but leave the door open so she could find me when she woke up. Eventually I left her in the house alone while I walked down the driveway to get the mail. Molly struggled to feel safe in her own home.
One of the funniest memories I have of this time is with my cat, Oscar. He is a 12 pound brown tiger who made it very clear from the beginning that he was not going to be intimidated by a 55 pound black hairy dog. Oscar would walk up to Molly’s food dish; Molly would stop eating and sit down. Oscar would eat the dog food, eventually get bored and leave. Then Molly would finish her dinner. Later in the evening I would almost always see the big black hairy flash of Molly running across the house being chased playfully by the cat. They became constant companions, if not friends.
It took Molly over a year to truly settle in to her new home. She learned that soccer balls are the best toys ever, couches are meant for naps, and that barking when someone comes to the door is OK. She also has come to believe that most humans do not beat animals, nor do they abandon those under their care. We have spent hours walking, playing and travelling together. After almost ten years, there have been some amazing days. But, as life is life, we have been delivered some pretty nasty turns at times. There have been days that I might not have made it through except by knowing that my dog survived her ordeal, so I could too. I only have to look at her to see an example of trust after deep wounds, loyalty even after betrayal, and a sweet spirit in spite of abusive treatment.
And through it all… there has been an unexpected special love, a bond that has strengthened both a woman and her amazing dog.
Endnote: If you are considering adopting a dog from a shelter, please do your homework first. The number one reason many pets are returned is that they are not a good match for the owner, not because they are "Bad" animals. How To Adopt A Dog: The Secrets to Finding Your Best Friend At The Pound is a great place to start.Credit: By NoÃ«l Zia Lee (Love) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons