Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ballad of a Rescue Dog

It's no secret that much of my life centers around rescue dogs.  I haven't been as active with attending events or evangelizing as much as I used to, but with five rescue dogs in the house, I can be absent from the rescue group, but the rescue group is never far from me.  I love every single one of them for different reasons, though I will be happy when a certain gruesome twosome find their forever homes...for many reasons.

Rescue is HARD work.  You are pulling an animal from the unhappy and guiding them towards the unknown.  Often, the animal has only known the depths of despair, has an intense distrust of humans or whose spirit is so broken it's all you can do not to sit on the floor sobbing.  One of my current fosters, Chief (Havoc for those who may know the code) is all three of those things locked into a neat little package. 
And by neat, I mean not at all.  Here is his story.

In a sort of bizarre "small world" symbiosis, someone I have known for many years was alerted to several dogs in various stages of malnutrition and neglect.  She immediately reported the story to local authorities who investigated and found 46 hounds in rough rough shape.

If that image turns your stomach, and it should, then you should know there was more than meets the eye with this case.  Ultimately, the owner was a convicted felon who also had a weapon.  He agreed to plead guilty to the weapons charge so that the dogs would be relinquished and available for rehoming immediately.  Generally, it takes months to years to take animal cruelty cases to trial (see Michael Vick), so the animals languish in shelters until the case is brought to trial.

Chief was one of those dogs.  He was all of 8 months when he was rescued, so he hadn't witnessed as much of the atrocity as some of the others had.  I can't provide you statistics on how many were rehabilitated and adopted out, but I can tell you that when I got Chief and two other dogs two months later, they were still thin.  Chief, and the two females, were adopted out rather quickly.  Each owner knew the story and resolved to give their respective dog the lives they deserved.  Through a series of unfortunate incidents, Chief was returned to the rescue.  That was a year ago and we still have him. 

Contentious relationship with neighbors aside, we also get the benefit of some interesting behaviors/interactions with Chief that in many ways are a direct result of where he came from. 
  • Food Hoarding:  Chief is fed like clockwork, twice a day.  He's also given treats a couple of times a day.  This does not matter to Chief.  In his mind, he doesn't know where his next meal is coming from.  If he is fed in his crate, he deliberately, tips his bowl over and hides his food.  Every so often, I am forced to clean the food out of his crate.  When this occurs, it sends him into a tailspin.  If, when I sweep, food is collected, he will obsessively hunt down the food in what's been swept up and eat it, as I sweep it.  If there is food on a counter, he will pace and whine until the food is put away.  This is the case if it's human food or dog food, but especially dog food.  Simply put, his brain can't accept that he WILL be fed again, so it's critical to his survival that he make provisions for himself.
  • Anxiety:  Chief's anxious behavior manifests itself in many interesting ways.  If any member of the dog pack is separated from the rest, Chief goes into a tailspin.  He doesn't know what it means, but he knows that the dynamics have changed and he cannot adjust.  In his former life, when a pack member was separated, it meant unspeakable things, so that could be why that makes him anxious.  Many nights, without provocation, he'll start pacing and whining.  No amount of stimulation or redirection will get him to stop.  He once had an anxiety/panic attack so intense (as a result of introducing two strangers to the house), it lasted for two and a half hours.  If a person had a panic attack that lasted for two hours, they would be hospitalized. 
  • Medications:   Chief is on medications for his thyroid and to help him maintain an even keel.  The only dog in the house who is on more medications is our diabetic dog who gets insulin twice a day and assistance with her arthritis.  His anti-anxiety medication is a ramp up medication that requires additional bloodwork to ensure none of his liver functions are being affected.  Think being uninsured is expensive for humans?  It's just as expensive for dogs and he'll be on these meds, and require blood tests, for the rest of his life. 
  • Temperament:  Chief's anxiety prevents him from ever being restful or really truly happy.  If he's not pacing and whining, then he's goading one of the other dogs to play with him.  While it's true that he could be bored, he also doesn't know when to stop pestering, which gets him into trouble with the other dogs.  He's received physical correction from the other dogs after several hours of pestering, and he does not stop.  He seems to have no off switch.  He loves his humans, but has a hard time accepting the change that outsiders bring.  It wouldn't be a stretch to say that he simply cannot accept the change outsiders bring.
Chief is the first dog that has brought me challenges that I did not feel I could overcome.  For Chief, neither time, nor love, nor money, nor patience, nor medication (at this point) can bring him to a restful state.  Yet, despite all this, and maybe because of his origin, I can't help but feel that he's worth it.  That he's worth being redeemed.  Is the perfect owner out there for Chief?  Maybe.  Will he be with us for a long time?  Most assuredly.  But having him around has made me appreciate my faults, my weakness and see my failures as learning experiences.  And for that, I wouldn't trade my experience with him for anything in the world...except maybe a permanent home where he can be happy, once and for all.

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