This Dog is Loved

"You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do."

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Every thing is quiet since you’re not around.

I’ve been meaning to stay on a roll with this blog. Update at least once if not twice a day. I have so much to say and tell that the first immediate entries weren’t a problem, but I haven’t even made it any where of substance (assuming I’m gonna write any thing of substance, I’m very lazy) and I already hit a wall. Reliving all these memories, some of which I had even forgotten about, started out really exciting and sometimes nostalgia feels good. Well, it always starts off feeling good and then realization that those times are over now sets in and it’s suddenly hollow. Like when some jerk plays a song on the radio that brings you back to a distinct moment in your life and you go through the same wave of emotions. “Hey! This song!” followed by a smile then followed by the sinking feeling.

It’s no secret to most following this blog that Elsa was adopted. A week ago yesterday, in fact, so the enormous loss is still really fresh. I want to keep this blog in order and hopefully by the time I get to telling you about her adoption it won’t be as fresh. That was the end goal, and it’s always the end goal with fosters obviously, but this time it really, really sucks. We spent nearly two years of our lives with that sweet gal and how much she was apart of our lives didn’t creep up on me, it leaped out into my face the first morning I woke up after she left and I sincerely thought I heard her making her weird bird noises. Our routine was so solid I am still having brief moments of panic when we’ve been out for a few hours thinking I have to get home and let her out. No one steals my coffee any more. My chest is getting super tight writing about it already. More so than the angry, tight feeling it still gets when I think about how she was going to be killed.

We love her, a lot of people who never met her love her, and her new family loves her. This dog is loved.

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I promise you I will learn from my mistakes.

Unfortunately for Elsa, we did not have the good fortune of moving slowly forever. Barring a single bordatella vaccination and a heartworm test (seriously, I should have picked up some handling skills from the SPCA if they were able to give an intranasal vaccine to AND draw blood from feral dog.. snrk.) she had no medical work up and was heart worm positive. She was just coming out of a heat when I brought her home as well. It was imperative we start treatment, but so soon? How? Well, good thing by about a month in this was happening:

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Well, that happened shortly after she ate the room she was in. The apartment attached to our house is a wide open basement space, then a living room/kitchen area that has a single bedroom and bathroom. Initially I put her in the bedroom, assuming she would remain weary of me for a long time. Not the case. About a month of hanging out together and we were having some positive, albeit awkward at times, interactions. Like the time she climbed into my lap and immediately regretted it.

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I call that one “Oh god, what have I done?”

She started hollering from the bedroom in the mornings, so we started to prepare the rest of the apartment for her to have free run in but she decided she would choose when she got run of things. We had some repair men over to work on our heater and after a short time one of them came to us and said “Your dog? Is eating the door?” and sure enough she was. We found her with her head and shoulder peeking out through the bottom of a half demolished door.

Now or never, so I went ahead and sent her spay and heartworm treatment appointments. I opted to spay and then treat with Immiticide, I honestly could not tell you if I made the right call here or not. Most familiar with heartworm treatment know your general options are the “fast kill” that is Immiticide, or the “slow kill” that is generally monthly HW preventative and rounds of antibiotics. The latter typically begin regarded as the kinder, gentler treatment. When I brought Elsa home I was determined to do the slow kill method since I figured she would be with us for quite a while, but then it dawned on me that physical treatment would limit her recovery otherwise. Maybe it was better to get her physically well first. Oh, I must have yapped about this and annoyed my internet dog friends to bits over what to do for weeks, so I’ll spare you the same anal thought processing I had then.

Her spay was uneventful. Getting there was interesting. She had never been on lead at this point and completely balked at the idea. She was a gal who liked to know where the exits were and not a fan of being restrained, even by a leash or a kennel. She was surprisingly unmoved by the idea of wearing the cushy fleece lined harness. Every day preceding her appointment she’d wear the harness for a few minutes while being showered with hot dogs. It was so easy, surely nothing could go wrong. And this is how common mistakes are born.

I never tried uh.. practicing with a leash on the harness.

Spay day comes and I suit her up, clip the leash on, and we step outside. We walk around the side of the house and every thing is fine. She stops to pee and then a car pulls onto our street. She turns to run back into the house and the minute she hits the end of the lead panic ensues. I’m not free? I can’t run for safety? Oh shit. I better chew through this tether preventing me from sweet freedom.

Don’t worry. What I lack in common sense I make up for in reflexes. I immediately grabbed the harness loop where the lead was attached and threw the extra slip leads I had around her neck. We sat and chilled out on the ground for a minute before I just opted to carry her to the car- which I should have just done from the beginning instead of trying to cram tons of counter conditioning into a few days AND while forgetting the whole point of the damn thing- successfully taking her to and from the car on the leash. And duh, cars exist, a person could have walked by, a Pterodactyl could have swooped down upon us. Point being, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief if you write stuff down. What point A is, what you want point B to be, and absolutely every thing that could happen in between. In this incident I end up looking like a dingus- even more so when I tell you I put her on Smalls’ specialty leash that cost a decent chunk of change and she nearly severed it in two points- when in reality she could have gotten away from me and been lost again where the odds of recovering her were extremely slim. Or worse, she could have gotten away from me and been killed.

If you HAVE to move a fearful dog, get that dog in a crate. Even if they don’t love said crate, there is no smarter or safer option. Too often I see transport team stories where dogs are lost in the same manner. In wanting Elsa to be as comfortable as possible I just bypassed a simple safety system. If you have a dog that is OK to be on leash, you might still encounter a Pterodactyl. Double leashes. I also like split ones that connect to two points, preferably one point being a harness and the other point being a martingale, but two slip leads will do just as well. Thankfully she made it to and from her spay appointment without further issue and the journey for her heartworm treatment went much safer and smoother.

My motto is to be prepared as possible, but if you mess up, you mess up. Do your damage control, dwell on it for a while, and don’t ever do it again.

It’s your choice.

I named her Elsa for two reasons. The primary one being that there is a lovely true story called Elsa the Lioness. It’s about a pair of handlers training a lion that was raised in captivity to learn to live in the wild again, and they in fact successfully released her. I thought at the time Elsa’s would be a dog version of that, except backwards. She came from living in the woods. I forgot the part where Elsa the Lioness met her untimely demise but details, details.

Second, I find little old lady names hilarious for dogs. I once knew of a Pit Bull named Louise and that just grabs me right.

Our first few weeks together were quiet. She wasn’t sure of me and I wasn’t sure of her. The SPCA could obviously offer no real background on her because she was in essence just an incubator for the litter of puppies she had. Puppies adopt for $375 and generally go inside of a day or two. Moms are whatever. What she wasn’t was feral. Feral dogs don’t go gently into a crate, then quietly for a car ride, then come directly out of their crate and stretch to smell the people around them. She was, however, quite scared but content enough to lay down on her blankets and stare at me. So that’s what we did. I sat on the other side of the room on my computer and she studied my every move from her safe zone.

This is the most rudimentary and important step for fearful dogs. Whatever they do is their choice and you just stay out of their way. You don’t interact with them, you don’t talk to them, you don’t even put even the seemingly smallest amount of pressure on them by looking at them. It seems counter productive to a person. We want to be proactive, but here proactive kind of equals out to inactive. Forcing yourself on a scared dog can have catastrophic results, but at the very least it’s counter productive to scare the shit out of a dog to teach them.. not to be scared any more.

Essentially for the first few weeks all I was to Elsa was the thing that came in, stayed some time, and left behind food. She had potty pads set out though I didn’t really pretend they would do much of any thing for her. I couldn’t exactly show her how to use them, but ah hell the apartment has concrete floors in most of it and I was keeping her in a smaller area of it while she settled in. She had bed, food, water, and an unwanted house guest every so often. I don’t remember a specific time frame, but it really wasn’t very long before she was laying right next to me. She’d take her time after I came down but eventually would make her way over and lay touching my feet, not taking an eye off me but eating up the treats I threw her way. And then another short amount of time later she was laying touching my feet and going to sleep. Then finally this:

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She was starting to accept the food machine. I want to stress that it’s important just to be the food machine in the beginning. The idea behind letting the dog make their own choices is for them to be able to relax and be able to make their own choices. I needed Elsa to know that every moment is a holiday and every decision she made resulted in a reward. Even smelling my feet meant she got a treat. Food is, after all, a universal language- dog and human alike- and a fearful dog eating in your company is a good conversation.

I’d write more in this entry, but I Just watched Shambles pick up an empty bowl, carry it across the entire living room before pausing behind Jack and ultimately sending it clattering to the floor right behind him. Things are gonna get dicey.

This is the first day of your life.

Lolly Doo and another dog named Jacobi were scheduled to be euthanized the same day in mid-November. Jacobi received her sentence for.. growling at her kennel sometimes. At this point it’s probably important to mention no such temperament tests were done at the rescue, and there was no one on staff or otherwise that was educated or capable. No the one signing the death warrants, and not the ones pulling dogs from shelters. The rules of the SPCA of SW Mich are “We only take the most adoptable dogs” with no real constraints on what adoptable means and to who, but if you didn’t fill those arbitrary requirements you were toast. And so it goes for Lolly Doo and Jacobi.

Except not this time. The only time in my year and a half at the rescue were dogs due to die allowed to be saved. The only time.

If you take a gander at their website http://spcaswmich.org/ they really love the tagline “Rescue, Rehabilitation, and adoption of abandoned pets.” So much so if you click on any link that tagline remains the header. So surely they would not want these two dogs to be euthanized and would allow employees to rehabilitate them, right?

Not really. A coworker and I asked the manager Katie Meskil if we could foster these two dogs and were met with a resounding no. These dogs would NEVER be adoptable. However, we could legally adopt them and sign waivers then we were on our own, or we could accept they were going to die. I think at this point it’s important to mention I had been an employee for less than 3 months and no one knew me from Adam, but I was given the option of adopting a “feral” heartworm positive unaltered dog with no assistance from these masters of rehabilitation in the future.

So I did. Our house has four floors, one of which was an entire apartment attached to the house that we didn’t have any real use for and was separate from the normal day to day with our own personal dogs. I had the space, the means, and the resources so I signed that waiver:

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That hand written waiver with my name misspelled, a mention of a vet with no notes or signature from them (and I would hope a veterinarian professional would not note that heartworm positive dogs are contagious) and that “feral” dog was mine. November 17th, 2011 shortly after 7 PM I placed a large crate just inside her kennel door and gently guided her in, loaded her into the car, and brought her to the first day of the rest of her life.

And for the first few weeks of the rest of her life she sat 10 feet away staring at me just like this:

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Some won, some lost.

It’s been nearly two years now since my early days at the SPCA, and I can’t remember too much of note from the first few months other than Zelda’s death. A Pit named Jay was euthanized in the first couple weeks but I hadn’t worked long enough to believe any thing nefarious had happened. I wasn’t “in” yet so the worst of the worst was unknown to me. Zelda I remember though.

There were a few Chihuahua like dogs brought in from an apparent hoarding situation. 70 some dogs in a house apparently. I only distinctly remember Poe, Link, and Zelda. Poe went into foster shortly after, Link was terrified and uninterested in any thing but his dog friends, and Zelda was completely shut down and terrified out of her mind. I’ve actually never encountered a dog more frightened than she was. She trembled in her kennel and it was advised not to open it because the moment she got opportunity she would run for her life. Her apparent foster home was the same fellow fired over the Parvo deal, and she was reported to be living under the home rather than in it and being rehabilitated. She then went into another foster where running for her life would ultimately end it.

Every day shelter employees at the bottom of the pole are faced with things they can’t do any thing about. You’re placed in these situations that are ultimately out of your hands that sometimes have catastrophic consequences. Zelda was one of those. A foster with young children showed up and I was asked what would be the best situation for a fearful dog. It was not that situation, but when you clean shit you have no decision making power. I stated it would be a bad situation, a very basic run down of LEAVE THE DOG ALONE and to put her in an area that was as far away from any exits as possible. There was another foster family I quite liked interested in taking her and I had talked with them at length about how to help her. I really liked those folks, but they subsequently stopped volunteering. Another good resource run off.

I think it was the very next day it was reported a door was opened, Zelda ran out, and she was hit by a car and killed. There is zero joy in “I told you so” when it costs a dog their life.

What happened to Zelda was (and still is) perplexing to me. Ultimately they failed that dog, but at least a foster was tried? Meanwhile, the scruffy shut down Pitty mix remained over in quarantine while she was no where near on the same scale of fearful as Zelda. She laid passively on her bed, went directly in and outside when her kennel was opened, and didn’t cause trouble for any one. I didn’t often work in the quarantine kennel but as the 5 months she was there went on she was allowing employees to scratch her through the bars. I was interested in this dog, who was known as “mama” and “Lolly doo” (what a stinking awful name) and made a few passing comments to my boyfriend about fostering her. As summer became fall I heard she would be going to a sanctuary and a volunteer was footing the bill for it. It was passed around that she was feral and it was her only option, where Zelda was.. not and OK for foster.

So you can understand why I was really confused when it was announced she was to be euthanized.

An interruption in your regularly scheduled programming.

Not that we’re on a regular schedule or any thing, this is only the third entry and all. I’ve just been sad and aimless the last few days, so I thought I’d tell you about my dogs. I just like them is all, and you should too. You know the roots of Smalls:

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And there’s a face to the name. She’ll be 7 in November and she’s your quintessential good dog. Never met a stranger human or animal but she won’t take any of your shit. If dogs are a reflection of their owners, she’s my mirror counter part. She was the tipping point of this whole dog thing for me so technically if we’re going to point fingers they should lead to the stumpy black dog eating sticks in the backyard.

This handsome old fellow is District Attorney Jack McCoy, though Jack will do just fine:

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He’s been with us a bit over 5 years now and we figure he’s around 9 or 10. He’s a Norwegian Elkhound and we found him in a rural rescue that has quite a lengthy history of bad reports. If you’re rescuing, it’s just as important to research where you rescue as it is what breeder you buy from. There was nothing exceedingly disturbing going on when we adopted Jack, but the rescue workers interactions with the dogs were mechanical and erring on the side of unkind, and most of dogs were kept outside. The winters of Michigan aren’t much to an Elkhound, but I wondered about the other dogs. I took photos when we were touring that accidentally reflected how much poop was every where.

Anyhow, we took Jack home. It was a “you have the cash, you get the dog” exchange and we knew nothing of his temperament other than he was quite content to ignore us and was stoic with other dogs. Lucky pull- because he’s a wonderful dog. Except, you know.. the barking.

And then there was Jonas:

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Or Pootie. Or Poots. Or Squeeps. Or.. oh, you get the idea. Man has a lot of names. Nearly 8 year old Miniature Dachshund and our problem child. Previously, anyway, he leads a quiet, cushy life these days. He’s wedged between my butt and the sofa as we speak. Jonas was adopted shortly after Jack from the same rescue. This experience was less enjoyable than the previous. He was a shut down mill surrender adopted to us unaltered and never once checked in on after we adopted him. For all that rescue knows we bred him left and right after we left. I didn’t, by the way, he was subsequently neutered but there was no reason for him to be adopted out before. Especially not a small desirable purebred even if he’s a little rough around the edges aesthetically speaking. This was our last venture to that rescue. Jonas has had a long road, if not longer than Elsa, and when he emerged from being shut down he was fear aggressive and not exactly a delight to live with. At one point in our relationship I caused a nasty bite to my face and I wonder what would have become of him had we not gotten there to adopt him first. Maybe some dingus that may not have pushed him to bite to begin with, but maybe someone who would have punished him. Either way, 5 years later and we’ve had much happier days together.

Oh sorry. I don’t think you realized quite how full our house is. Onward.

Now this gal. Oh man, this gal. Magpie is the crème de la crèm of dogs:

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Likes include: Hugging, being hugged, and hugging more.

I use that photo because that’s really how Magpie spends her time. One minute you have no idea where she is, the next she is smashing her wrinkly head into your chest, wagging her tail hard enough her entire body and the couch are swaying. She’s a roughly 10 year old squishy mutt that I spied on an online community riddled with mange, secondary infections, and nails so long she couldn’t walk. She was transported to me from southern Illinois and was our first foster failure. After an adoption gone awry. She was adopted by a woman who checked out on paper and in person, and we received updates on her. Even dog sat her for a weekend at one point. Then I received an e-mail from her adopter stating she was pregnant and did not think she could care for a dog- Could I come pick her up? I told her I would be there ASAP, but she said she panicked and did not want to give her up. It’s not always a mistake to trust in other people, but sometimes it is. I let her keep her and offered assistance in whatever way I could at any time. Then a few days later I found Magpie at the local animal control where she had been turned in as a stray. Her adopter denied it was her, but after I picked her up and confronted her with the obvious I never heard from her again. Magpie obviously didn’t deserve this, so she stayed. Throw in the new behavior of aggression towards children while previously in our care she was exposed to children regularly with no issues, it just made the most sense to keep her. And look at that face.

I swear this is the last dog I have.

Shamyams

 

Shambles. Aptly named. Another foster failure who came to us from Ohio as a wee baby. See:

Weebabyyams

 

Obviously he didn’t stay wee for long. Sham is my first foray outside of rescue in a way. He came from an oops litter with a long story that I’m much too lazy to tell this far into this long post. I fostered him for a few short months with little interest (and interest I didn’t approve) and I guess I was a bit guarded in the whole fostering deal because the last run had been awful. Only daddy is unknown, but he comes from working Alaskan Huskies and as I quickly learned that is a lot of dog to take on. Especially when daddy apparently contributed giant genes. Toss in some fairly bad resource guarding and you had a giant, hot mess. So he stayed, and he’ll be 3 this coming November. He’s a giant stubborn mook that loves long hikes, swimming, body slamming, and wanton destruction. Elsa was his best pal in the world. I have to admit he’s frustrating and I love him immensely. You will hear of him frequently because I think without him Elsa would not become the dog she did. His brother Squash’s ma also keeps a blog if you’d like to venture to Mushbaby.com and read about his adventures.

That’s the family. Oh there is this guy too:

Kitty

 

No, I don’t have a cat. Well I kind of have a cat. I guess he’s a foster now but I haven’t been able to place him with a rescue yet. I worked at a now closed dog sanctuary and this fellow came yowling out of the woods at me. Lots of coyotes in the area, so I loaded him up and he’s been residing here for the last month or so. He’s the friendliest, most lovey cat I ever met and I never so much got a single phone call about him. I guess no one was out there missing him, so hopefully I can find him a new home. Much easier said than done, even with the sweetest cats.

Words they come and memories all repeat.

I started working at the SPCA of Southwest Michigan in August of 2011. In retrospect, my biggest mistake was not researching the place I was accepting a position of employment at. Even more perplexing, after the experiences I had dealing with rescue I was more naive and green than I should have been at the time but I digress. To me, a no kill rescue didn’t kill dogs unless behaviorally or medically there was not a more compassionate option for the dog and that’s what they all did, damn it.

(You don’t have to correct me, I’ve been LONG standing corrected, and I will get there, believe me.)

The facility seemed nice, the staff seemed moderately capable of cleaning up dog poop and not much else, and every one micromanaged every thing. I recall a positive note during my interview (which was held by volunteers.. and not actually any one capable of hiring/firing any one..) was mentioning my history in transporting animals and connections to other rescues. I also absolutely recall stating my position on when dogs within rescue systems should be euthanized: When all options have been exhausted. For a rescue that claims to have placed over 11,000 animals in a few short years with a 1.2 million dollar facility, I did not assume that would be an issue. And at the time it apparently wasn’t, as I was hired.

Not too much of note of the first few weeks. After two two hour “helper” shifts I was placed on my first closing shift alone- with no training and absolutely no idea what to do. When I came in another new hire was there and he obviously couldn’t fill me in on much, either. I fed the dogs, let them outside in the tiny concrete area we called a yard, and muddled my way through any questions asked of me with “I am new and have no idea, we have to find someone who knows.” Whatever screw ups I left behind apparently were not enormous enough to merit any sort of training or follow up, so I continued to be scheduled and just figured things out as I went. The staff turn over rate at that point was so high it probably didn’t really matter to any one that no new hires had any idea what they were doing. Why would it? We were merely in charge of the lives of animals and all.

My second week there I was called in to an opening shift at 7 AM, still with no knowledge of what exactly I was supposed to be doing. An employee had been placing unvaccinated puppies outside (against the supposed protocol of no dogs under 6 months out in the yard) and there was a large scale 20 some puppy out break of Parvo. Said employee was apparently fired, so they were filling the shifts with whoever they could. Upon my arrival the doors were locked and the director was bumbling through trying to get a hold of whoever could open them. I asked what the morning protocol was like, and was just assured to clean the kennels and that I would be fine. I would be fine with no knowledge of the morning shift beyond “clean the kennels” with multiple puppies with Parvo. So it goes.

Save for a few, the puppies were largely in recovery. I was instantly covered with diarrhea. I remember mixing bleach water and cleaning the kennels with a hilariously unnecessary amount of towels. Whoever had to continue laundry after I left was likely enraged. I made it through several kennels before I encountered the strangest looking dog. Like a Pit Bull that somehow developed a scruffy v-cape:

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I knew absolutely nothing about her. At the time she didn’t even have a name despite having been there two months prior to my arrival. So, I opened her kennel and went to put the slip lead on her to lead her outside, like any other dog. Except this dog let out a screech and tried desperately to climb the kennel walls to get away from me. I would be lying if I didn’t say it scared the bejesus out of me. So much so I just quietly shut her kennel and skipped cleaning her. I came back and opened the kennel again to set food down, and she regarded me quietly with large eyes from her bed.

Later I would post that same photo on my Facebook and oh little did I know when I commented on said photo: I want to foster her and make her better real bad.

Start from the beginning.

In the summer of 2011 I was working in a hair salon and just kind of.. dinking around, as it were. I thought I always wanted to do hair, and so I went to school and did hair. I adopted my first dog, Smalls, from a municipal shelter in November of 2006 and subsequently got more and more into dogs. Not like, living in a camper trailer with 50 Toy Poodles eating wet dog food to survive, but pretty into dogs, specially rescue dogs. My experience in adopting Smalls was really not a great one.  I found her on PetFinder.com as a wee baby and it was love at first. My then roommate and I drove a ~8 hour round trip to a tiny rural shelter after I had put my name on her a few days previous to spare her from euthanasia should space become limited. The shelter checked in to make sure I was still coming to get her a day before I did, and all was sound. Until it wasn’t. When I showed up we waited a long time before a woman informed me she had Parvovirus and would very likely die. I was a bit perplexed since she was reported fine the day before and after she reported it was determined that morning I asked to see my dog anyway, because at that point she was my dog.

A janitor (yes, a janitor) took us back to her kennel. In it was a very lively puppy, which is not synonymous with Parvo, but the surrounding kennel walls, blanket, and puppy herself was covered in blood. I picked her up to take a look and found what I later learned at the vet to be a severely prolapsed rectum. All I knew at the time that this wasn’t parvo. I don’t recall much of what the janitor said, but he remarked that he really liked that puppy and he hoped I would take her so she would have a chance. Of course I would. I already saw her face.

I paid a $15 adoption fee for her, the desk lady told me if she died over the weekend they’d refund my money, and we were off back home. My memories are a bit fuzzy, but I have a distinct memory of the smell and.. projectiles. I tried my best to hold her without causing further injury, but any pressure on her belly would release a liquid spray- directly onto my roommate’s jacket. It took me roughly a year or two to admit to him why I was laughing so hard that long car ride home.

She went to the vet and required an expensive surgery to correct a prolapsed rectum and ruptured small intestine. She was given basically zero chance of survival with those injuries at being estimated as merely 5 weeks old. I received this word while I was working in a local grocery store. I didn’t know how I’d pay for that surgery up front, but I did know zero chance and doing something is better than zero chance and doing nothing. Now this is where I remember the times I wish I treated my human counter parts better, but I remember my roommates offering to kick in money to get this little gal surgery. To make a long story a little bit shorter, she did in fact survive her surgery and we’ve been together nearly 7 years now. The vet filed some paperwork and we learned that this wasn’t something that happened in the morning, she had been like that likely long before I even put my name on her. There was gangrene present in her intestines, so she lost a fair amount of them during the surgery, and she was extremely emaciated. At no point did she receive medical care or was euthanized at the shelter, at no point was I informed of her condition, and I never claimed that $15.

That was my first experience in rescue. My next experiences adopting and volunteering were roughly on the same plain. Then I started working for the abomination that is the SPCA of Southwest Michigan in the summer of 2011, which is where this story and Elsa’s starts. So, as this blog goes along, you might be wondering..What the hell did you get into?

Well, I’ll get to that.

 

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