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Belle: A dog rescue and rehabilitation story

During the course of my career as a veterinary technician, I not only acquired an interesting range of pets, I also had the opportunity to foster a few. One of the most memorable was a yellow Labrador Retriever. She arrived at the animal hospital in the arms of a Good Samaritan who’d found her along the shoulder of a busy expressway. She had no collar or tags and had suffered a broken leg—either by being thrown from a moving car or being struck by one.

We accepter her as a patient with the hope that we’d be able to locate her owner. We sedated her and set and cast the leg, then let her rest up a few days at the animal hospital. An astounding number of dogs are abandoned each year, so we knew the chances of anyone claiming her were slim. Though she was a pretty girl with large soulful eyes, and one of the other techs named her Belle after the princess in Beauty & The Beast. Judging by her teeth, my boss estimated that she was under 4 years old and otherwise in good health.

I got to know Belle a little during the week she spent in the hospital. She was skittish and definitely hand-shy, so I guessed she’d endured some abuse prior to her abandonment along the roadside. She did, however, seem to want to like people. So, I slowly let her warm up to me. After her first week was up, and with cage space scarce at our small practice, I agreed to foster her at home while she completed her convalescence. I already had my own dog—a Shepherd-Shelty mix named Misty—as well as four (previously rescued) cats, all living in a one-bedroom apartment. A bit of a tight fit.

Misty was great with other dogs, but I knew she’d want to be the alpha. Belle accepted this, and even tolerated the cats, who were often underfoot. From the start it became apparent that Belle had some behavioral issues. Any sudden or sweeping moves—like changing the sheets or gathering up the laundry—made Belle flinch or snarl. She also had a particular passion for chewing on almost anything. First it was shoes, then books, and even my glasses. And while Belle was willing to defer to Misty, she was not as willing to do so with me. I relied on my training—rewarding her when she behaved well—but over the next few weeks her behavior worsened. With her leg healing, she became more aggressive, and after she nipped me a few times and lunged at one of the cats, I knew I couldn’t adopt her.

One of the saddest parts of working with animals is encountering those whose personalities have been badly damaged by abuse. I knew Belle and I had to part ways. So, I asked some of the animal hospital’s regular clients if they knew of anyone willing to take in a dog with behavior problems, and someone suggested a friend named Bunny, with whom they’d worked on a few prior rescues. Bunny ran a sort of dog ranch—where strays lived as one loose pack—cared for by Bunny and a handful of volunteers. I decided to have a look and arranged at time to bring Belle out to Bunny’s place.

The land was well kept, with trailers where the dogs slept and ate, and sufficient grounds and toys for them to play and exercise. Bunny gave us the tour and I let Belle off leash to meet the pack. Though Belle had been good with Misty, I wondered how she’d accept an entire pack of strangers—and how they’d react to her as the newcomer. After some sniffing and a few lip curls, she seemed to fit right into the pack order. I surrendered Belle to Bunny, with the provision that I could reclaim her is she didn’t acclimate to life at the ranch. We said our goodbyes at the gate, and I drove home, both relieved and worried.

A week later I got a call from Bunny, who said Belle was healed up and had even made a friend, a Shepherd mix with one blind eye, called Popeye. For the next few months I’d get an occasional positive update, and knew that Belle had entered the next chapter of her life.

Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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