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GONE FROM OUR HOME,
BUT NOT FROM OUR HEARTS
Anyone that’s ever been involved in animal rescue knows the joy and also the heartache that goes along with it. Tony and I have had the opportunity to rescue and foster many homeless animals through the years, and we've been very fortunate to garner so many success stories. Occasionally though, we encounter a situation that we just can't seem to remedy, no matter how hard we try. Shaggy is a perfect example of one such defeat.......
In my official Realtor capacity, I was showing properties to a friend and investor in our area in early July, 2007. One of the homes we were scheduled to see was vacant and the showing instructions were to use the back door entrance to view the property. Upon approaching the back yard, we noticed a little dog in the fenced area cowering under a tree that had fallen over. This dog had the cutest little face I’d ever seen. And his big brown eyes were soulful. The yard was a muddy mess with no grass whatsoever. I wondered what in the world that dog was doing contained in the yard of a vacant house........ I understood that the owners of the home had moved to another home in the area a year earlier. Surely they didn't leave their dog???? I panned the backyard for doggie dishes, shelter, anything that would tell me this dog was being cared for. I found nothing. I immediately went to my car (I always carry "supplies" with me) and got him something to eat, which he quickly devoured. I then called the listing agent of the property and asked her about the dog. She informed me that his family didn’t want him anymore (obviously) because they had a beautiful new yard now and didn’t want him “messing it up”. She assured me that they were returning often to feed and water him, as if this news would make me feel any better. I told her I would love to take the dog and find him a home. She agreed to speak with his owners and get back with me. I kept thinking about what it must be like to be left behind by your family. What kind of life is that?? The listing agent called later that same day and told me the owners would be delighted for me to take the dog. They sent word that his name was Shaggy and that he was approximately 5 years old. They also said that Shaggy wasn't current on his vaccinations. Tony and I went back that evening to spring Shaggy from life as he knew it. Without hesitation, Shaggy came with us. We were convinced that Shaggy was headed for greener pastures. Our first stop was at our vet’s office for a flea bath, groom, overall exam, vaccinations and heartworm test. After all, we have a house full of our own dogs to think about. Shaggy needed to be in a little better shape before coming home to meet his new temporary bunkmates. It was there that our journey truly began. Shaggy tested positive for heartworms. A strong positive at that. He would need the slow treatment, which would mean 2 months of very strict confinement, not to mention a lot of expense. Were we up to the task??? Piece of cake, we thought. After all, we had fostered many, many dogs through heartworm treatment. We were no novices. We decided to bring Shaggy home for a week or so to allow him to settle in a bit before starting treatment. Settle in he did! It was cute to see Shaggy enjoy the simplest of things, his favorite being the lush St. Augustine grass. He would roll over on his back and twist & wiggle!!! We bought him a crate to sleep in and his very own bone for his bedtime treat. The bedtime treat at our house is Velveeta cheese stuffed in the ends of a hollow bone. We’ve done this with our dogs since the beginning of time, and it's become part of the expected night-time routine around here. Shaggy seemed to enjoy the company of our dogs and most of all, us. He craved attention and we gave it to him. He adored Tony. It’s funny how an animal will take up with a certain member of the family. For Shaggy, it was Tony. When Tony would get home from work, Shaggy’s little face would light up, his tail would start wagging, and he’d dance on his tip toes waiting for Tony to take notice and reward his performance with a milkbone treat. When Shaggy was excited, everybody around him knew it! He was a delightful little dog. With a face like that, we knew Shaggy wouldn't be hard to place once he was heartworm negative. For the week he was here settling in, we noticed his coughing was fairly severe. Not wanting to put off the inevitable, we began Shaggy’s treatment on July 9. The treatment was hard on Shaggy, and even harder on us. It seemed much more difficult for Shaggy than what we had seen with past fosters. This was attributed to the advanced stage of the heartworms. Like a new mom, I called our vet every time Shaggy coughed, sneezed, wasn’t eating as much as I thought he should..... you name it, I was calling. Fortunately, we have a wonderful vet. He's always made himself available to Tony and I on evenings, weekends, holidays – whenever. We absolutely adore him!! He's one of those that truly cares about his patients. That being said, we took Shaggy to see him weekly, sometimes more, over the next two and a half months. Shaggy's second round of treatment began in early August. Knowing full well the risks involved with heartworm treatment, we just held our breath, but we began to feel more confident with each passing day. Shaggy loved his crate thankfully, because confinement was a must. We were always careful to make sure one of our other dogs was in their crate too at all times so Shaggy would have round the clock company. I made daily treks home from the office every other hour to take Shaggy out on a leash to potty and to rotate who his company would be for the next shift. I worked as much from home as I could so I could monitor his progress and keep a close watch on his coughing, which never subsided. The fits of coughing were hard to watch as his little body would spasm around his ribcage from sheer exhaustion. We were in constant contact with our vet day after day. If he didn’t hear from us, he’d call to check on Shaggy. We were trying hard to do everything right...... keeping Shaggy cool & confined, keeping his heart rate down, giving him his meds at the appointed times and making him as comfortable as possible. Through it all, Shaggy remained steadfast. His spirit always shining through those big soulful brown eyes. Teaching him things and watching how quickly he caught on was so much fun. He learned when it was “treat time” and he loved having his scratches behind his ears and on his tummy. He was adapting so well to having a family around him, and he absolutely loved being with our dogs. Slowly but surely, Shaggy was beginning to feel better and stronger each day. An approved adopter was anxiously waiting for Shaggy’s release date, which was approaching during the first week of October. All was well. Another success story was unfolding right before our eyes. We were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The goal was in sight. Or so we thought.
That Thursday morning, September 20th, would start like all the others. Tony is always up first. I’m a little slower to wake being the eternal night owl. He’s already fed the dogs, showered and dressed before I even put my feet on the floor. I had only been coherent for a few minutes when Tony came back up the stairs to see if I was stirring yet. I immediately sensed something was awry by the look on his face and the fact that he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans instead of his usual work attire. My mind was racing, and I could tell that he was trying to choose his words ever so carefully before he spoke. Tony then told me that our little Shags had lost his battle to heartworms sometime during the night. Shaggy died peacefully, surrounded by his newfound 4 legged friends. He looked as if he had just closed his eyes and gone to sleep. Shaggy’s battle was over, and we were devastated. How could this happen?? We were so far into his treatment that we were technically in the home stretch. We had a scheduled appointment with our vet that same day for his final oral dose of medicine. We had almost made it. Almost.
We don’t want Shaggy’s death to be in vain. Shaggy was such a great little dog. And even though he was only in our home for a brief period of time, he made quite an impact. Shaggy died needlessly. And the fact is, many other dogs die needlessly too. A single dose each month is all it takes to prevent deadly heartworm disease in dogs. Heartworms are spread from dog to dog by mosquitoes. And we all know mosquitoes are rampant most everywhere, but especially in Texas!! Please consult your veterinarian and protect your dog by giving them monthly heartworm preventative. It will save their life.
It was days before Buzz, our “saved from doggie death row” Rottie mix, stopped making trips to Shaggy’s empty crate. He'd just stand there staring into it. We wondered what he was thinking, and we knew he was looking for Shaggy. We all loved Shaggy, but Buzz had especially come to enjoy Shaggy’s company. It was heartbreaking. We take comfort in knowing that Shaggy spent his last days in a home where he was loved and he knew it. And we know that wherever Shaggy is, he isn’t coughing anymore. In fact, he's probably dancing on his tip toes for treats!!