Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bella the Wonder Dog

After months of dry weather, we're enjoying the booming noise of a thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms but they really scare our border collie, Maggie.
Tonight is the first thunderstorm we've experienced since we acquired Bella (above) and so far, she seems totally unphased. But then, after what she's been through, a thunderstorm is nothing.
Last fall, the Nurse Practitioner at the clinic where I work, arrived one morning in near hysteria after one of her terminal patients told her about some dogs that had been left chained up with no food or water. It seems the owners were relatives of hers; two young girls who had left town about two weeks prior. This particular patient was too fragile to do anything so she asked Kay for help. Kay had patients waiting so we called Mike - who immediately headed over to check it out.
The house definitely looked abandoned. Outside, near the gravel road, Mike found a skinny, skittish, but friendly border collie mix tied to a tree. The dog was filthy and hungry. Someone had left some water but there was no sign of any food so Mike left a big bowl of food and figured he'd check on her every day until the owners returned.
Then we found out the owners had no intention of returning - they had moved. And there were supposedly two more dogs there. One had been left inside the house and another was chained up near a shed somewhere in the vast backyard of overgrown weeds.
Back Mike went to find the other two. The one inside was easy to get to since the doors were practically falling off their hinges. She was a younger dog, probably 9 months old or so and was in fairly good shape.
So now to figure out if there really was a living being in the lean-to that was barely visable through the tall jungle of growth outback. Mike was navigating toward the shelter when he heard something. Looking up, he saw a heavy motorcycle chain fastened to a eye bolt at the top of the shed. As he got closer, the chain moved slightly so he knew there was an animal attached to the other end. He figured it must be a pretty big animal judging from the size of the chain.
Imagine his surprise when he rounded the last corner of weed-jungle and found a nearly hairless creature that stood no more than a foot tall staring back at him. Her body was low to the ground with legs about 4" long. She looked like a Corgi crossed with a German Shepherd that had been crossed with a weinie dog.
Along her back was a 2" ridge of what looked like tiny black eggs ribboning down her spine. Her ears and eyes had similar clusters and her belly was covered with them. They looked like tightly compacted fly eggs. She was, after all, surrounded by her own feces and had dug a den in the dirt to escape the summer's heat. A few feet away lay another chain, this one empty. We would later learn that the dog kept there had died from starvation.
The small dog growled at Mike, daring him to come near her - which he didn't. He threw some food in her direction and while she ate, he filled her water bowl. Every day for two weeks, Mike went over to feed her, talking to her and finally - she trusted him enough to let him touch her.
In the meantime, with the sheriff's blessing, we were able to take the other two dogs to the local groomer. She bathed them and treated them for fleas and ticks and one Sunday, we drove them 160 miles to a no-kill shelter.
The following Monday, we headed over to get the little Corgi. As we started toward the shed with a leash, two Mexican men, presumably a father and son, came charging out of the house and demanded to know what we were doing. My heart leaped into my throat as we turned to face them. The father looked to be in his forties, had tattoos on both arms, wore a muscle shirt and looked at us curiously. The son had tattoos on his face and bald head, wore low rider pants with chains hanging from his pockets and looked at us suspiciously. Needless to say, they were pretty intimidating.
We explained that one of the doctor's patients had asked us to take care of these dogs because they had been left with no food or water for a long time. The father claimed he knew nothing about any dogs being kept there while the younger man strutted around and insisted the dog that was chained up would be just fine.
Mike was calm - though I could tell his blood was boiling. He said if it was all the same to them, we'd take the remaining dog and get her medical help since she appeared to be covered with parasites. I think the dad realized they could get in trouble for animal abuse so he finally relented and let us take her - but they watched our every move as we carried her back to the truck.
Never in all my life have I seen anything like what this animal had. As soon as I lifted her out of the backseat, thousands of ticks fell onto the seat and started crawling around- and I do mean thousands! All those tiny eggs were seed ticks and they were everywhere. We put our other dogs in the house and led her to a stoop in the backyard to bathe her. Mike went to the feed store and got every treatment they made for ticks and parasites.
Armed with heavy duty rubber gloves and a water hose, I started scrubbing the tightly attached ticks off her body. Her back turned deep red where the ticks were scraped away. It took two hours and I cried all the way through it. When it was done, she had almost no hair and was bleeding from the thousands of bites. I called our Vet tech daughter, Christi, and asked her if I should just have the dog put down. She assured me it would be okay but it would take time and patience to get her through it. I wasn't sure I had the stomach for it but Mike insisted that he'd made a promise to this little dog that we'd stick with her - so we did.
Standing there, looking at this pitiful creature, I decided she needed a name. We decided on Bella, which means beautiful. We figured we could at least give her a pretty name.
Over the next few weeks, Bella's coat grew back long, thick and shiny. Ruger, our Rott/Lab cross and Bella acted like they were old buddies - soul mates reunited. They play non-stop every day. She loves dog biscuits, but not rawhide chewies and has a strange gait when she runs. She sleeps on the floor next to Mike's side of the bed and knows where he is most of the time. She ignores the cats and finds a place to hide when neighbors or workers are here.
Today when the storm rolled in, Bella fell asleep on the floor near the fireplace and I thought about the many storms she's weathered in her short life. I can't stand to think about what her life would be like if we hadn't found her - or what our lives would be like without her in it.