Back in mid-October, when I was house-sitting for Mona during a family emergency, Emily and I rescued three pups from a not so great situation. The old lady was trying, but she was battling early-stage dementia and dealing with her own mother’s pending death, and the grandson who was supposed to be caring for the pups was “throwing out scraps every now & then.” She called Emily and begged for our intervention… and we intervened.
Dad was a stunning black Lab; mom was a scrawny GSD/Chow mix. She was not even a year old and far too young to have given birth. One of the pups had a short, thick coat of glossy black fur, just like dad. The other two (who were identical) had long black coats. All three had a Chow-like face and sloped forehead – if the one hadn’t had such short hair, they’d have all three been identical.
At that time, Emily had a houseful of fosters. So did I, but Emily tends to have very large litters whereas (with three exceptions) I take in singles or three or four littermates. I took the pups home. My teenagers insisted that we name one of the long-haired pups Reptar – I named the other long-haired pup Godzilla, and the short-haired one T. Rex.
It didn’t take very long at all for us to realize that, while Reptar and Godzilla were the sweetest, gentlest souls you could ever hope to meet, T. Rex deserved his name. Very much. He was dominant-aggressive to his siblings, who lived in utter fear of him. Though only ten weeks old, he had already challenged me before the first nightfall.
I was extremely uneasy about T. Rex. I have seen dominant dogs, but I have not seen all that many who are willing to challenge a human… and I’d NEVER seen such dominance in a puppy. I put my uneasiness aside and separated the brothers – Reptar and Godzilla stayed at the back of the property with my mom’s frou-frous, and T. Rex went up front with my dogs. I knew that Max, my alpha male, an Akita mix, would keep T. Rex in line.
Max is the least aggressive dog I know, but he’s the alpha male, and he keeps his pack in line. People tell me I’m mistaken to let him be the pack leader. I disagree. He is the pack-leader among the dogs… but make no mistake, he is extremely submissive to me, hubby, and all three kids. If Max fights with another adult male (which is why Biscuit is in a solitary pen, but that’s another story), all I have to do is say in a firm voice, “Max. No,” and he stops. I don’t have to shout; I have never struck him. He recognizes my authority and accepts it. Read about how Max came to live with us at https://heathermcamp.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/max-or-we-needed-another-dog-like-we-needed-a-hole-in-the-head/
Back to the Dinosaurs. Like I said, Reptar and Godzilla were great puppies. They got along well with everyone – dog, cat, or goat. (Note regarding the photos – my mom put a pink collar on Reptar so she could tell them apart.)
In the meantime, T. Rex made a nuisance of himself at every turn. He was constantly picking fights, and Max was constantly taking him down a peg. Even Nanuq had to put him in his place a few times… and Nanuq has no social aspirations!
The day came to take the Dinosaurs for their health certificates. Companion animals cannot be transported across state lines without a health certificate from a licensed veterinarian. We have to get health certs on our pups prior to putting them on the North Shore Animal League transport van. Read more about Operation Puppy Love at https://heathermcamp.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/operation-puppy-love/
I leashed all three puppies and headed out the door. We got into the yard and T. Rex immediately attacked his brothers. I didn’t put my hand into the fray; I used leashes to separate them… T. Rex whirled and attacked the leash and, leaping up, snagged my fingertip with one of those needle-sharp puppy teeth and tore it to the bone. I swore and slung all the leashes at my husband and rushed into the house to bandage my finger.
By the time I got to the vet’s office, my bandage was saturated and, unbeknownst to me, blood was running from my finger, down my arm, and dripping from my elbow to the floor. The vet tech said, “Oh my God, you’re bleeding! What happened?”
I was shocked and answered honestly, “T. Rex bit me.”
The vet tech took me into the back and made me scrub the finger with a Betadyne solution they keep on hand for just such situations as this. The staff is accustomed to bites. The tech said, “You need stitches.”
I said, “All things heal with time,” and it did, without stitches, though it took several weeks.
Keep in mind that the pups were only around twelve weeks old at this juncture, far too young yet for a rabies vaccine. Because of this our vet only wrote a health certificate for Reptar and Godzilla. She ordered me to keep T. Rex quarantined for ten days.
“You know and I know that he doesn’t have rabies,” she told me, “but I know a vet who was wrong about that once, and I don’t want to make that mistake.”
The next morning, Emily and Mona came to pick up Reptar and Godzilla – I don’t always ride to Martinsville for the transport. I was sorry to see them go, but glad at the same time, because T. Rex was a thorn in my side, a pain in my arse, a trial and a real cross to bear, and straightening him out was going to be a full-time job.
We had our behaviorist do an evaluation on him. She said, “Neuter him now. It’s the only thing that will save him.”
We don’t always like to neuter pups that young – we prefer to wait til six months – but in this case we went ahead and had him done at three months.
I saw an improvement within a week. They say that it can take two weeks or more, but he calmed down so much after the surgery that he was almost like a different dog. I worked with him intensively. I crate trained him. I leash trained him. I took him to soccer games and parks – he even walked with me in the Walnut Cove Christmas Parade.
T. Rex still had some bad days – but they were few and far between, and he was always willing to give up the fight. He and Nanuq became very good friends… and he and I grew to adore one another.
We decided that since we’d put so much money and time into T. Rex that we would try to adopt him locally. Our photographer did a shoot for us. The photos were fabulous, and Tammera captured his very T. Rex-ness perfectly.
And my favorite of all:
Surely, with these photos, someone would come along and adopt this beautiful boy. Surely, someone would see him on Petfinder or Adopt-a-Pet and say, “Oh my God, I’ve been looking for a black lab and this one is perfect!”
That didn’t happen. These photos were taken in December. As of yesterday, we had not received one inquiry on T. Rex. Therefore, yesterday we put him on a transport for North Shore Animal League. We feel that T. Rex will stand a much better chance of finding a good furever home with North Shore’s vast resources than with our very limited ones.
I bathed him night before last, and sat on the side of the tub long after his bath rubbing him with the towel (which he loved) and sniffling. Yesterday morning was hectic – we sent a total of 17 pups and young dogs to North Shore, and had to use two vehicles to get them all there! I thought maybe I’d be too busy to grieve until later.
They loaded the young puppies before the older pups & dogs, and so I had ample time to sit on the tailgate of the van with T. Rex in my lap and fully realize what I was letting go.
The North Shore driver is a regular, and he shook his finger at me before we ever got to T. Rex. “I know you,” he said. “I remember you. You and that other gal are always up on my bus crying your eyes out over these dogs. Don’t you do it this time. I don’t want to see that.”
(That other gal is Emily.)
I gave him a winning smile and said, “I don’t know these puppies. I’m fine right now. I won’t promise not to cry, though, because my boy will be loaded last, and I’m pretty sure I’ll cry then.”
He shook his head. “You foster parents. I could never do what you do… but I’m glad you do it.”
T. Rex didn’t understand when I walked him onto the bus and put him in a crate. He stared at me with betrayal writ large in his eyes. And I was weeping openly when I walked off of the bus. (I’m sniveling about it again even as I write it.)
Here’s the thing about these problem kids. I’m good at this. I’m not the best by any means – I am not and will never be Cesar Milan – but I’m good with them. The only thing is, they take a lot of investment, a lot of time, energy… a lot of love. And when you put that much into a dog it’s impossible not to feel the separation like a rift in your soul.
Yesterday Mona & I wrote a grant application that wanted stories with an emphasis on volunteers. I wrote, “Our volunteers love to be abused. Physically or emotionally, it doesn’t matter – they take it and come back begging for more.”
T. Rex wasn’t the only dog I put on that transport yesterday that I love. Louise, a stray female Border Collie-type mix, also went, and after I spent a month earning her trust and devotion, I betrayed her as well.
Why? you ask. Why do you keep doing this?
Oh, Gentle Reader, the answer is not easy to put into words and is more about feelings than logic. Maybe, as the song says, I just miss the misery. Or maybe it’s that the feelings of doing something RIGHT in this world outweigh the feelings that I’ve betrayed my best friend. I don’t know.
What I do know is this:
Over the course of the last two years, I have fostered over fifty dogs and puppies, and two cats. Of those, more than half went to North Shore Animal League. Of the rest, most were adopted; two had to be euthanized (Billboy Baggypants due to severe birth defects, and Pepper due to age-related dementia); five are still with me – those five won’t go anywhere if they’re not adopted, because I am a no-kill advocate, and any animal that I take in is safe for the rest of its life.
From a numbers standpoint, that’s why I do it. I’ve saved over fifty lives, thanks to my work with Stokes County Humane Society, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
Want to learn more about what we’re doing in our community? Visit our website – http://www.stokescountyhumanesociety.com