Since I'm using this as a kind of online scrapbook, I figured I'd share my Maddie story. She is my soul mate, my best friend, my everything and I am completely in love with her. She is also my dog.
Five years ago, at 21, after going through a traumatic breakup, I moved back in with my parents to try and sort out what was left of my life. I hadn't done much that was positive in the previous year. I dropped out of college, did a lot of drugs and lost myself in a first love that was going nowhere. I was completely empty inside and felt like a horrible person. I needed to do something that was positive and uplifting. I needed to do something good.
As an animal lover and someone who had no faith in people, I knew I wanted to do something animal related. I remembered stumbling on Boxer rescue a few years before and decided to see if they needed volunteers. It turns out that just that week, there had been a puppy mill bust in Northern Kentucky where over 100 dogs were discovered living in filthy, cramped cages. Some were kept in an old van where they had no water or food. The ground was littered with collars and rabies tags, from dogs who were stolen out of their backyards. Dead dogs were also found on the premises. I was told that foster homes were needed, as there was no where for the dogs to stay. I immediately sent in my application and waited impatiently to hear back.
Meanwhile, I went on the website to see what dogs were available. That's when I saw her. Hers was the first photo that came up. She was, in my eyes, beautiful. Her sad eyes seemed to mirror what I felt inside. She was empty, too. I must have spent hours looking at her pictures, dreaming of how I would take care of her and make her better. I felt that by filling her with love, I would also be filling my own heart.
The day finally came when I was to meet the women who ran the rescue. They were at Petsmart with some of the adoptable dogs and I introduced myself and asked who was available to be fostered (I was disappointed to see that my girl wasn't there, but I could understand why they wouldn't bring her out in public). I was answered with, "Well, who do you want?" I immediately asked if "Madge" was available. The woman smiled at me and said, "You're not a crazy car thief, are you?" I shrugged and smiled, "Ummm...no?" She reached out her hand and gave me her car keys, told me what her vehicle looked like and where it was parked and said Madge was out there. I was so thrilled. I couldn't believe that I was actually going to meet her. I had spent so many hours daydreaming that it seemed like she couldn't possibly be real.
I found the car and there she was sitting in the passenger seat. She managed a slow wag of her tail when I opened the door. I took her leash and let her out of the car. She, a dog of approximately 1 1/2 years old, moved like an enfeebled old lady who had only enough life left to keep her heart beating and air moving in and out of her lungs. Her eyes reflected pain and confusion and a deep sadness that could only come from heartbreak and trauma. Her puppies had been taken from her, since she had no milk to nourish them with (they were too sick and eventually all died). Her raw, hairless flesh was covered in sores caused by demodex mange. Her wrinkled, gray skin hung from her body and bunched at her ankles like leg warmers. Her paws were a puffy red that seemed to be the only visible outlet for her anger. To me, she was perfect and lovely.
I returned the woman's keys, bought food and a crate and toys and treats and took her home. For five weeks, I nursed her. I gave her tea tree oil baths every other day and then dabbed her skin with Safflower oil. She received daily doses of Ivermectin for the mange. I slowly increased her food intake, so as not to shock her ravished system with the nutrition that would save her. She moved like a tortoise; each slow and painful step using up precious energy. I spent most of my time sitting with her on her dog bed. She would crawl slowly onto my lap. Even though she couldn't comfortably fit her whole body on me, this is where she wanted to be. We were one in the same; aching, soulless creatures, clinging to life for what it was worth. I didn't see her greasy, scabby, infected skin and she didn't see my past mistakes. We slowly healed each other and came out with two shiny new souls, sparkling with love, though still scarred.
Watching Maddie heal, was like watching her age in reverse. She went from being a feeble old lady to being a goofy, playful and athletic dog. Her coat grew back a beautiful brindle...it's a miracle that it grew back at all. I was sure that she would be permanently scarred.
So, with time, we came to a point where things must move on. I made the decision to go to dog grooming school. And, because the condition of being able to foster in my mother's house was that I not adopt the dog - no matter how in love; I watched as Maddie's new family drove away, with her looking back at me through the open window of their mini van. I did not cry. I just accepted what was inevitable. Things move on.
Maddie had different feelings, however. She, who had been a well behaved lady in my mother's home, became something entirely different with her new family. She escaped from her kennel when left alone, kept the family up all night (until they finally let her sleep in the little girl's room), pooped daily on the family's heirloom oriental rug in the dining room and ran away only to be picked up later that day by animal control. They were a great family, but Maddie was not going to make things easy on them, so they made the difficult decision to give her back.
At this point, I was a few months into dog grooming school. Once I graduated, I would be able to have a dog. After speaking with the rescue, a wonderful volunteer agreed to foster Maddie until I graduated. Maddie was equally as naughty at her house and finally my mother said, "Oh, alright, you can keep her here." I brought Maddie home and she's never been a problem since. (As I type this, I just heard the crinkle of the treat bag on the top of the kennel. Maddie dropped it as soon as she saw me come through the doorway with that "la la la...How'd that get there?" look).
I truly believe that she was just fighting her way back to me. She wanted no one else and there will be no other for me. When I look at her, I see a deep, soulful creature, who is wise and knowing. She's one of a kind and I cherish every day that I have with her, though I know our days are numbered. One day, Maddie will leave this world and I can't imagine how I will go on without her. It is a cruel fact of nature that dogs live such short lives, but maybe that's why they give us so much while they are here.
*Update* check out: "I'm stunned"