Diary of a first Rescue
Article by: Lexianne Grant
Diary of a First Rescue
by Lexiann Grant
The following article has been provided by the above author. All copy rights are held by the author and any reproduction of this material in whole or in part must have the authors approval.
Fall; 1:45 A.M.
The decision to get involved
Apprehension awakens me.
Shortly after mentioning that I might be interested in volunteering with a breed club rescue group, I receive a call from the coordinator asking for help. There is a Norwegian Elkhound in a shelter about a hundred miles from my area. Could I get him out and prepare him to go to a foster home?
I know I'll become attached to the dog instantly, then have to give him up. What if he becomes attached to me, then gets dejected when I hand him over to the next person? He's already lost one family he loved. With all the change and abandonment, he must feel bewildered, rejected. What if he's been abused? How will I get him to trust me? Will I betray his trust when I send him off to foster care?
These are some of the reasons I'm afraid. Maybe I should cancel. I don't know if I can stand this anxiety or bear the pain when it comes time for the dog and I to part.
I cry myself back to sleep, my heart aching for the unknown dog.
Day 1; A.M.
After little sleep, I wake early. Doubts still haunt me, but sunny, clear skies raise my spirits. Maybe the weather is a good omen. I prepare a doggy travel bag: water, bowl, treats, a chew bone, leash and collar. Although I'm ready to leave, it's still several hours too early. I need to write my column before I go, but I'm too distracted by the upcoming rescue. I set aside my notes and start my journey early.
At the shelter, my throat is tight and my head's pounding so hard I think I might faint. I stand at the door but can't move. Have I made a mistake coming here? I wait a few seconds more, pretend to prepare the leash and collar, then take a deep breath and enter.
The lobby houses two pens full of kittens; through a window I see a room of crates filled with more kittens and cats. How could there be so many? How can people let these lives be created then forsake them?
In the office I try to sound as if I know what I'm doing when I introduce myself and the group I represent, but my voice sounds shaky. An employee leads me back to the Elkhound's kennel, repeatedly telling me what a "super dog" he is.
As we walk down the narrow aisle of cages, I touch my fingertips to the wet noses pressed through the wire fencing. There are some smooth-coated pointers, a Siberian Husky and a few dozen mixes. Their beautiful, lonely eyes plead with me to take them home and love them. Although spotlessly clean, the room smells of excrement and a stronger odor of desperation. Tears flood my eyes and I have to turn away from too many needy faces..
The Elkhound happily comes to us when let out. I rub his head and sides, amazed by his affectionate personality. I love him immediately. Though he will soon leave my life, a part of him has just permanently etched itself into my being.
We complete the necessary paperwork. His record indicates he has been in the shelter for five weeks, picked up as a stray. He is heartworm negative and has been vaccinated. There is no other information about him.
How could someone lose this dog? I would have turned the world upside down to find him. I cannot understand. I sign the release, make a donation and leave.
Anxious to be gone, the dog pulls me down the hill. At the car he hesitates. I lift his bony body inside. His expression is worried and sad. What has happened to him in a car? Was he taken away from his home and dumped? As we start down the road, he moans and whimpers a bit before settling down. He watches the scenery pass; our return trip is uneventful.
Day 1; P.M.
Before taking the Elkhound to the vet's, I let him exercise in a fenced yard. He trots around and is curious - a good sign.
I give him toys, but he doesn't know what to do with them. He leaves the treats I offer on the ground. He prefers to drink from the bird bath instead of from a clean bowl of fresh water. Where has this dog been kept that he doesn't recognize these basic items of doggy life?
At the animal clinic I instruct them to check the dog for worms. Surgery to have him neutered and his plaque-encrusted molars scaled is scheduled for the following morning.
Satisfied that he is in caring hands, I steel my heart to leave, hoping he does not believe that he is being abandoned again. Dropping to his level, I hug him. He smiles at me, wags his tail. As I hurry out the door, I hope he will forgive me for leaving him.
When I call to check, I am told the rescue dog is recovering well from surgery. He has tape-, whip-, hook- and roundworms; his weight is 25-percent below what it should be. The vet-tech promises to feed him extra food and give him vitamins with his deworming meds.
How long has this dog been on his own? It's a miracle he wasn't poisoned or didn't die of starvation.
I hang up and sit on the floor where I gather my own dogs into my arms, squeezing and kissing them. I wish all dogs were so healthy and loved.
I am anxious to visit the rescue dog. I grab grooming tools and treats, and head to the clinic. The tech brings him out and he walks eagerly into my arms, his tail wagging. We companionably stroll the grounds. He watches new sites while I observe his personality.
I sit on a bench. Although sore from surgery, he tries to climb into my lap. I move to the ground where he crawls into my crossed legs and curls against me. He sits quietly while I brush away a mound of unkempt fur. His contentment at this simple gesture of care, holds me in his presence, grooming for an hour.
I try to reward his good behavior with a treat, but he drops it on the grass. He smells and sniffs, then timidly eats one I hold to his mouth. After four treats, he finally understands and looks for more.
During the visit I talk to him, try out names, but the Elkhound does not recognize the sounds of human conversation. Although his hearing is keen, this dog appears never to have heard a loving voice speak to him.
Such basic neglect shocks me. Before I convey my desolate mood to this happy, unaffected dog, I end the visit.
Despite a cold breeze, I dress warmly and go to the clinic to walk the rescue dog. He is feeling better and greets me enthusiastically. He noses in my pocket for the treat bag, then looks at me as if asking for one. Good boy!
The rescue coordinator has encouraged me to name him and use this name frequently when speaking to him. Even if he doesn't respond at first, it will start to provide the dog with some stability.
Treat in hand, I christen him "Rudy Valentino," in honor of his undaunted, loving nature.
Valentino's energy increases as he recuperates. When I arrive for our daily visit, he bounds down the hall towards me. Today our walk is a run and the activity around him excites his senses. In the waiting room, he makes the rounds of people, eager to be petted and meet more friends.
My bond with this attention-starved dog deepens. Regretfully I leave him for the weekend.
At bedtime, as one of my dogs snuggles against me, I wish Valentino were also in my arms - somebody's arms - instead of by himself. I lie awake wondering if he feels unloved.
How is Rudy Valentino? I can hardly wait to see him again.
Outside, Valentino climbs peacefully into my lap to be brushed. He intently checks out his surroundings, his senses alert. He still doesn't respond to words and ignores my attempts to talk to him.
We sit in silence, watching the world. This mutual observation allows me a brief glimpse of what the original bond between humankind and the first dog must have been. No words, no commands, just a mutual desire for contact and comfort.
This tie is deep. An intense sensation of primitive, but calm wildness comes over me. I am awed by this connection with antiquity. That night, I go to sleep, assured this ancient tie will bind Valentino with his new family.
The last day
Valentino leaves today for his foster home where he'll learn to live inside, as a member of a family. When I pick him up, his continuing recovery is evidenced by his energetic flight into my arms. He wraps his paws around me and gently kisses my face, something he has not done before.
I take Valentino for a last playtime before this evening's trip. As soon as I unleash him, he trees a squirrel. He looks to me for approval and I say, "Good boy." For the first time he responds to my voice by wagging his tail. I cry.
Caring for him this week has been immensely fulfilling. I will miss the presence of this dog in my days.
Departure time arrives and I cannot face the journey. I say goodbye to him here, to remember him running carefree in a familiar place. My husband drives Valentino to the rendezvous with the foster family. When they pull away, I feel empty. I also feel relief that this Elkhound has been saved. For someone not to have the experience of Valentino's sweet nature, his joy for life, the gift of his affection, would be an unthinkable loss.
A week later
Rudy Valentino is on my mind. I hope he finds a good home with people who provide the love and attention he deserves.
Worrying what could happen to the next dog that needs rescued, I can't sleep again. What about the ones that won't be saved? Such a loss. Why do some people neglect or desert the animals in their care? Don't they realize what they are doing? What they're missing?
When will my phone ring again with the next rescue call? I hope tomorrow. I hope never again.
Spring; 6 months later
Three-hundred miles from home, I stand in a drizzle and watch Norwegian Elkhounds in the show ring. A woman stands beside me.
"I have a rescued Elkhound," she says. As we talk, I excitedly realize, Rudy Valentino is her dog. He has found a permanent home. The woman shows me pictures of him. He looks gorgeous, healthy, perfect, like the dog he was meant to be. He has a special bed and many toys with which he now plays. She calls him Rudy.
I tell her my story, our story. She gives me three pictures of Rudy to keep. At home, I put the pictures in the album with the rest of my own dogs' pictures. Rudy Valentino belongs there, with the other dogs who live in my heart.
Today and tomorrow
Rescue still terrifies me. The anxiety, the worry, the attachment and loss, the relief, the dread and anticipation, with every dog, the feelings are always the same. Rescue breaks your heart, changes your life and hopefully touches your soul. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be - if the work is being done right. Facing the fear and feeling the pain is part of the job.
What makes it all bearable are the incredible love and gratitude the dogs give in return, that, and the happy endings. Sometimes, when I think I can't stand it anymore, I remember the joy Rudy's rescue brought me, and let him be the inspiration to try and help one more dog.