It was supposed to be a normal drive to work: We’d recently lost our longtime family dog, Misty to a splenic rupture, and we were still mourning her. I had her since I was a teenager, and my husband and I weren’t yet thinking of getting another dog. However, one of the side-effects of spending eight years as a veterinary technician is that it gave me a kind of radar for lost or injured animals. I find them or they find me--I’m not sure which is more accurate. And while driving to work that morning, my radar went off, loudly.
There was a dog, big but clearly emaciated, sniffing around for scraps among the dumpsters behind a Chinese restaurant. I pulled over and carefully approached him. He was so thin that his ribs jutted out like knuckles and his back legs seemed almost too weak to hold him up. I called him over, and to my surprise, he came right away. I remembered I had my lunch in the car, so I offered him a bite of cheese. In his starved-down state, it was more than he could resist, and he took the cheese, ever so gently, from my hand. With the remainder of my lunch, I was able to coax him to the car, and he allowed me to lift him inside.
I phoned Charlie, my husband. Never one to pull my punches, I said, “Babe, I have an unneutered male Pit Bull in the car with me.” Charlie had grown accustomed to my lost pet radar, so he wasn’t exactly surprised. He did, however, want to know what I planned to do next. I told him I’d try to place him with the local ASPCA. Unfortunately, Pit Bulls and Pit Bull mixes were not eligible for ASPCA adoption in my area at that time; and I was told in plain terms that leaving the dog here would mean he would be humanely euthanized.
Back in the car we went.
I called my boss and explained the situation, and that I’d need a personal day—then drove to the veterinary hospital where I’d last worked. I still had lots of friends on staff. Marty, one of the kindest, most intuitive vets I’d ever had the pleasure to work with, agreed to give the dog a quick exam. Aside from the obvious malnutrition, there didn’t seem to be any major problems. The weakness in the dog’s rear legs, I was told, would likely resolve with proper diet.
It was time to take the dog home to meet Charlie and our four cats. (Did I mention we had cats? We had cats.). Again, he showed no aggression at all. We still had Misty’s bed and food bowl—not being willing to part with them yet—and I made a place for our new foundling to stay. I cooked up some rice and mixed it with a little ground beef (fried and strained). This is a pretty standard bland diet use to reintroduce food to dogs with severe malnutrition. Our guest gobbled it down. Unfortunately, he’d been dumpster-diving so long that his bowels weren’t quite as cooperative as the rest of him, and he needed to go out immediately after eating. Still, he was able to hold the food down.
Over the next few weeks he began to fatten up. Slowly, flesh began to cover his ribs, and he regained the strength in his back legs. My husband and I started taking him on walks through the neighborhood. He was so slim that people were at first shocked and asked, “What did you do to your dog?!” Their tone changed when we explained he was a rescue.
When the dog was well enough to withstand surgery, we had him neutered. Then one night, as he was recovering, my husband and I had “the talk”—which basically amounted to him looking at me and saying, “We’re not fostering this dog—are we?” We both laughed, because of course we knew we’d be keeping him. A week later we’d named him—Hammer—and he was a part of our family for the next decade. During his life, he came with us hiking and learned to ride in a canoe. He climbed mountains and swam rivers. He gleefully chased soap bubbles across the lawn and even romped with the cats. And when our daughter was born, he became her best friend and protector.
I’ll always be glad I stopped that day.
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.