Late one morning, about a year ago, a (non-rescuer) friend called to say he and his girlfriend had found a dog in bad shape and they didn’t know what to do. “I think he’s dying,” he said. “He won’t move. He won’t eat.”
As I drove, I prepared myself for the worst. A quick shot at the vet’s, a merciful end surrounded by strangers—“but, at least, strangers who cared enough not to leave him to die in the street.” I squeezed that for every drop of comfort.
Not even a thimbleful.
The dog was nothing but skin and bones. Mangy, watery eyes, pale gums. He panted a little (good), but otherwise didn’t show interest in anything (bad). He didn’t even sniff at the liverwurst I brought.
But he was friendly. He let me approach and touch him with nary a flinch. I wrapped him in a big towel, picked him up and put him in the car. My friends wanted to come along to the vet, so before we drove off—and so they’d have time to process on the way, if they did decide to come—I gave them the speech. “You’ve done this dog a great, great service. You saved him from dying out here, alone, and probably in a lot of pain. You did good.”
Their smiles were wan, but they did follow me—us—all the way to the vet.
The vet’s diagnosis was grim: heartworms, tick fever, sarcoptic mange, anemia. (More on these here.) This dog was an elderly chap, 8 to 10 years old, which meant both heartworms and tick fever had probably been around for years. But—and I still get choked up about this—the vet didn’t think euthanasia was necessary. “He’s not that far gone,” she said. “He needs to gain some weight before we treat the heartworms, but he can get antibiotics for the tick fever now. That’ll give him a boost, and if he starts eating then I’d say he’s got a chance.”
|Seriously. I need to add champagne, or at the very least cold beer, to the Rescuer's Kit.|
Except… we had a problem. Because of his (highly contagious) sarcoptic mange, none of the fosters I know could take him in. No shelter would, either, or boarding facility. I don’t blame them—but the fact remained we needed to treat this dog, monitor his eating and drinking, give him medicine twice a day. How—where—were we going to do this?
The vet suggested starting the mange treatment—weekly shots—right away. “Within a week or two he won’t be contagious anymore,” she said. “Maybe then you’ll find a foster willing to take him.”
Maybe. But… Until then, what?
You might have noted the switch from I to we. It happened at some point in that examining room. My friends weren’t rescuers, had never done this before. But they joined in like the best of ‘em: they asked questions, they fetched paper towels, learned how to hold a dog for the vet. They grimaced but didn’t turn away when the needles went in, when the skin scrapings began. (Respect for steel-stomached newbies, y’all.) They even volunteered to foot the bill. And, as their rescue baptism, they got to name the dog. They chose Carlito (of Carlito’s Way).
Most importantly, though, they rolled up their sleeves and helped. Because, you see, without a safe place for Carlito, we had to treat him in the street. This doesn’t work always, and not every treatment can be done like this; in order to recover fully, Carlito would need a home. But, until that particular miracle happened, we’d have to pick up the slack.
We established a twice-a-day feeding routine. It took a couple of days and a bit of “research” (asking the locals at which times they saw him), but eventually Carlito settled into it like a pro. He waited for us, he learned to recognize both our cars as soon as we turned into his street, and his greeting, as his health improved, went from walking up to the car tail a-wagging to running madly and jumping up, always gently, to the driver’s seat. Once a week he got a car ride to the vet for his mange shot, and he loved that. Within ninety days he went from the saddest sack of bones to a bouncing, healthy dog.
We never did find a foster for Carlito. We didn’t need to. After the summer, my novice-rescuer friends moved to a new place, and took him in. And so Carlito went home.
|This isn't Carlito... My friends, the ones who adopted him, are traveling in Holland, and I completely forgot to ask for photos before they left. My apologies for that.|
It’s no secret that the real challenge of rescuing is space. Shelters are overcrowded (and underfunded); foster homes are about as rare as purple unicorns. Too often the unthinkable happens: you find a dog desperately in need of help and—for any number of reasons—there’s nowhere to take him/her.
Let me be clear. The best option is always—always—to take the dog off the street. They need a safe place to recover, to heal, to regain their trust in humans. Treating a dog while s/he’s still on the street can only be a last recourse.
But it is a recourse. One more in your arsenal of hope.
~ * ~
I'm sorry for posting this so late. I'm far, far behind... But I'll catch up. Thanks for hanging in there, and for all your comments, your questions, your stories, your encouragement. I'm glad you're enjoying this series :)