Saturday, December 3, 2005

Of Warm and Searching Heart - Jezzie's Story

Of Warm and Searching Heart -- Jezzie's Tale

The ad on read as follows:

"Jezebel is a very spirited, loving and enthusiastic red Chow Chow, despite being picked up as a Bronx "stray." We don't know whether she was actually a stray or someone's neglected junk yard or garage dog.  We also don't know her true age. While Jezzy is responsive, loving, and peppy with a "strong heart," the vet tells us she is an "older dog." But, we think Jezzy much younger than her bedraggled appearance would belie.  Jezzy could have gone down at the shelter like so many other neglected and cast away dogs. But, something about Jezzy told us she wanted to be saved. She stood in the front of her cage, demanding to be noticed. "Save me, save me! I need to get out of here! " she seemed to say. This dog wants to live.  Chows are very devoted to their people and we are sure Jezzie will be the same to you if you if you are kind enough to adopt her." 

But, nobody called about Jezzy. The warmth and love showing through her eyes in the pictures of a bedraggled dog on the internet apparently reached no one. Was I the only one to see it?

I remember the first time I saw Jezebel.

She was in a back ward at AC&C. There was no name on her card as she had been picked up in the Bronx by one of the AC&C Rescue Drivers. I named the scruffy dog, "Jezebel" (after the famous Bette Davis character) because of her deep red, passionate color. 

Jezzy awaited her "stray hold" to be up, after which, she was scheduled to be euthanized. Her status was a "5T" (for "severe temperament") with a notation on her cage card that she tried to bite the catch pole used to drag her into the shelter.

There was also blood in the cage as Jezzie seemed to be bleeding from her mouth. Perhaps she had suffered some injury?

Jezzy stood in the front of her cage barking frantically. Everything in her message was, "I need to get out of here!"   Shelter handlers were afraid of her. But, there was something in Jezzy's soft eyes that told me there was nothing to fear.

I begged AC&C staffers to let me take this dog. But, first we needed to get her out of the cage in order to evaluate and hopefully change Jezzie's "5T" status. This could not be done immediately. One of the more experienced handlers would have to deal with her. A memo was put on Jezzie for me with reluctance.

"Are you sure you want to take this dog?" I was asked, repeatedly by several staffers.  "She's not nice and may be sick."

Nevertheless, I insisted. I was able to pet Jezzie through the cage. "I will take her to my vet." I told staffers. "I am sure she will be fine once she is out of here."

Some days later, I was allowed to take Jezzie. One of the handlers and I were able to carefully take her from the cage and walk her. Once out of the cage, Jezzie wagged her tail in delight and relief. She was going to be a good dog, I could tell!

My assistant, Dave Ambrosio waited in his car to help me take Jezebel to our vet. Jezzie sat in the back seat quietly looking out the window as we sped to "Dr. G."

Jezzie was caked with filth, mud and feces. Her once beautiful coat was a mess of tangles and dirt. She smelled horribly. We had to open the windows in the car despite the near freezing temperatures outside.

"Oh my," said Dr. G when we walked into his office with the grungy, smelly, skinny stray dog. "This is the worst you have ever brought me."

Dr. G checked Jezzie's mouth, heart and vitals. Her teeth were very bad with several infected teeth. He theorized that a severe mouth infection caused the bleeding in her mouth, along with a sinus infection.

"At least three of her teeth should be pulled," Dr. G pronounced. "We can put her on antibiotics for the infections. She also has an inverted eyelid which causes pain. That will require surgery to fix it. But, we will have to work on that later. For now to get the mats shaved off and deal with the teeth and mouth."

"The good news," Dr. G. added, "is that she has a strong heart."

I agreed to the treatments and left Jezzie with Dr. G.

"I hope my landlord doesn't complain about the smell," he joked.

The next day, I picked up Jezzie, now somewhat cleaned up, but funny looking. She was still fluffy in the front, but her entire backside, legs and tail had to be shaved. She looked like an bizarre combination of Red Chow and Poodle.

Since I had no foster home for Jezzie, I brought her to Run Spot Run, a dog boarding facility on the Upper East Side. I took some pictures of her and bought some canned dog food for her. I imagined after having three teeth pulled, it would be difficult for Jezzie to eat hard food.

Later that night, I wrote the ad for Petfinders and put up her pictures.

Over the next few weeks, I went each day to walk Jezzie, along with the three other dogs we had in boarding. Jezzie seemed to be doing well -- except for the occasional, heavy sneezes, sometimes spraying small droplets of blood. I hoped the antibiotics would take care of the sinus infection.

On her walks, Jezzie was enthusiastic and always took the lead. She seemed forever "on a mission." Always trying desperately to get back to where she once was and once belonged. She looked at every person on the street, trying to find in one face, the one of familiarity and devotion.

But, it was never to be.

Unlike the other dogs, I had to coax Jezzie back to the boarding facility. She would frantically try to pull away, as if desperate that she had not completed her mission! She had not found her home. Had not found her person. I always had the feeling that if I let the leash go, Jezzie would run for however long or far it took, to find her way home again.

No matter how bad or how neglectful the former owner(s), it did not matter. Jezzie still loved and still wanted to return. I petted her, hugged her and offered her treats. But, always her gaze fell yonder.......The soft, yearning eyes, searching far beyond my face.

"Beware, the Ides of March" a character in a Shakespeare play says to Caesar.

So, it was in the early days of March, I noticed, what seemed to be a swelling near the top of Jezzie's muzzel, giving her face the appearance of slight distortion. The sinus infection did not seem to be getting better. Yet, Jezzie was eating well and gaining weight. Her personality was chipper and determined. She was still the dog with a mission!

I too, was determined to find a home for this wonderful, devoted dog. If not, an adoptive home, then a foster.

One day, a woman contacted me seeking a nice older dog who could do well in an apartment while she and her husband were at work. "I have the perfect dog for you," I told her. "Can you foster Jezzie while we work on her medical needs?"

Jenny and her husband arranged to meet me at Run Spot Run on the evening of March 5th to meet Jezebel with the intent of fostering her.

But, when I went to walk Jezzie earlier in the evening, I noticed that the swelling on her muzzle seemed much worse and additionally, she was sneezing a large amount of blood.

I immediately rushed Jezebel to Dr. G.

Dr. G. was very concerned when seeing Jezzie. "I will need to do an aspiration of the lump and run some tests. Leave her overnight." "This doesn't look good," Dr. G cautiously warned me.

Seemingly, not hearing his words, I hugged Jezebel close to me.

"Its gonna be all right, Jez, don't worry! There are wonderful people who want you! There is finally light at the end of the tunnel!"

I then returned to Run Spot Run to meet the lovely young couple who had come to take Jezzie home. With apology and embarrassment, I told them, "We have a slight setback."

The next day, around 5PM, Dr. G. called me.

"I have very bad news for you," he told me, somberly.

The "swelling" was not swelling at all, but rather an aggressive malignant tumor that was eating away the bone on Jezzie's muzzle. Dr. G had also done X-Rays which showed a tumor already growing in her lungs.
I couldn't believe the news.

"But, she gained weight!" I said. "But, she was peppy and always walked briskly and led on the leash!" "She ran up the stairs!" "But, but, but.....I could find a hundred "buts" and yet no explanation for the brutal and cruel irony which was confronting and opposing all of it. Knocking, tearing down hope.

"I know, " Dr. G said sadly. "She looks good, but this is something that is not going to go away. It is not treatable."

In the end, I had no choice but to voice the inevitable words. The words which, though, so painful to say, would somehow send Jezzy back to the only home she seemed to have known and sought. The one I could never provide or find for her again.

It was time to let go of the leash and set Jezzy free.

One of the basic tenets of rescue, is that "You cannot save them all."  But, those of us in this work never truly believe that for those we have chosen to save. The ones who "speak to us," the ones we fight to save.

But, though Jezzy spoke to me in her desperation to get out of the shelter, it was not for me to find what she really wanted. There was only one home for Jezzy and one way or the other she would find it again. It was her sole mission.

I hope I was able to give Jezzie some small comforts in her last days. Some good meals, some care, some hugs. But, in the end, I was not the face she sought. The one she wanted so desperately to get back to

Sometimes, in the end, we have to admit, we are not God.

In the arms of an angel, I hope Jezzie finds....


Memorable Adoption (and other) Dialogues

One of the major jobs of anyone trying to place animals is screening potential adopters.  Sometimes this is done through adoption applications. And sometimes it is done through personal interactions, meetings and/or phone conversations.

Over the years I have had thousands of adoption conversations and interactions with people. Following are some of the most memorable and/or the most typical:

An 85-year-old woman called one day seeking a "kitten:"

Me:  "Ma'am, have you considered that an adult cat would be a better choice for you than a kitten?  Kittens get into things, they are active, and they scratch and play bite."

Caller:  "Oh, no, I don't want an adult." 

 "Why not?"

"Well, you know after a cat is spayed, how they get that pouch under the stomach?  I don't want a cat whose stomach sags!"

"Well, I am sorry, but we have no kittens for you. We only adopt kittens in pairs." 

What I wanted to say and didn't:  Well, Ma'am at 85 years of age, I am sure you have more than a few things "sagging!"


Caller: "I am looking for a small dog."

Me:  "Can you tell me about your experiences with small dogs?"

"I have owned three small dogs.  A Pomeranian, a Lhasa Apso and a Shih-Tzu."

 "How long did you have these dogs?  What happened to them? Where are they now?"

The Pomeranian I gave to my friend when I moved.  The Lhasa I gave to North Shore Animal League when I moved again.  And the Shih-Tzu I gave to my parents when I came to New York."

"Ma'am, we're looking for a little more commitment than that in people we adopt to."

Caller (very indignant):  "What do you MEAN?  I loved my dogs! I was committed to them during the times I had them!” 

 (Does that mean someone is “committed” during the few hours of a One Night Stand, I wondered?)  

“Ma’am, "Who gets the next dog, when you decide to move?"


Caller: "I am looking for a kitten.  But, she must be a semi-longhaired Calico, born under the sign of Pisces."

Me:  "Ma'am, we are rescue. We don't breed cats made to order."

"Well, with so many cats and kittens out there, I feel I can be fussy!"

"Well, I am sorry, but we cannot help you. All our Calicos are born under the sign, Scorpio.  And they bite."


Caller:  “I have to put my cat up for adoption.”

Me:  “How old and what sex is the cat and why are you giving it up?”

Caller:  “She is 12-years-old and we are giving her up because we are having a baby.”

Me: “But, surely you know there are millions of babies who grow up with cats.  The cat is no threat to a child!”

Caller:  “Well, my husband has health concerns that the cat might transmit something to the baby.  He wants me to give up the cat.”

Me:  “Your husband is being unreasonable, as well as uninformed.  Presuming the cat is an indoor animal and well cared for, she presents no risk to the child.  You also need to understand that it is almost impossible to find a new home for a 12-year-old cat.  People  seek younger animals.”

Caller: (sounding upset).  “But, she is a wonderful cat!  I don’t want her put to sleep!”

Me:  “Its not a question of what you want, Ma’am, it’s a question of reality.  We have far more cats, than what we have adoptive homes for.  Your cat is literally looking at the needle, unless you and your husband can find a sympathetic relative, friend or coworker. I don’t know of any no-kill shelter or rescue group that can take her.”

Caller:  “But, isn’t that why organizations like yours exist?”

Me: (slightly annoyed)  “No, it isn’t.  We exist to try and save those animals who have no homes. Your cat has a home." 

 “I will call someplace else.”


 Caller:  "I want a small puppy for my 89-year-old mother."

Me:  "The dog you are inquiring about is very young and active.  He needs to run everyday. I don't believe he would be right for a senior citizen."

"My mother is in good health and very active."

I tried to picture an 89-year-old woman jogging in the park everyday with a adolescent, bouncy Lhasa Apso.

"Sir, have you tried the Animal Control shelter?  There were several small, very nice, older dogs there yesterday who had come in after an owner passed away.  One of them would be a far better choice for your mom."

"I went there last week and the small dogs looked dirty and unkempt. I want a healthy dog for my mom.  The dog must be housebroken, quiet and loving."

Me (slightly annoyed):  "Sir, its not the dogs' faults that the previous owners didn't take proper care of them!  They can easily be cleaned up at a groomer."

"But, how do you know about the temperament?  I can't take that chance!"

"Treat a dog well, and s/he will be loving and trusting.  Everything good in life involves 'chance' and risk.  Animals aren't computers we can program!  They thrive in a loving, nurturing home!"

"I don't want to deal with your organization. You have not been helpful."

  "Whatever.  That is fine, sir." 

And I thought to myself that yes, this man will find a young dog or puppy for his 89-year-old mother someplace.  And then that dog will come into the pound when either the mother decides the dog is "too much" to take care of or she becomes ill, goes into a nursing home or passes away.   For sure, this man isn't going to take over care of the dog.  He simply sees the dog as "therapy" for his mother or a substitute for his own lack of attention to her. 


Caller: "I am interested in Missy, the Pitbull you have for adoption."

Me:  Have you had a pittie before? Can you tell me of your experience with them?"

"I have had three," the young woman answered. "I rescued them as puppies."

"Where are they now?"

"All three are with my parents."

"Why is that?  Can you tell me of the circumstances?"

"Two I gave to my parents when I moved to a no-pets apartment. The third I gave to them because my then boyfriend was allergic. But, we don't live together anymore and the place I'm in now allows dogs."

"That is good. Tell your parents to call me if they are seeking a fourth Pit bull."