To love a rescuer, you must be a special type of person. You must be compassionate – because your rescuer will bring home every stumbled-across animal in need, from birds to bunnies to dogs. You must be tolerant – because your home will literally become a zoo. Your rescuer will assure you “it’s just for the night,” but a few months in, you will come to understand that while spoken with good intentions, there’s no way this will hold true. You must be willing to share – your bed, your money, your bathroom (which will inevitably serve as a night’s respite for a semi-feral cat, one that will claw the s#$* out of you at one o’clock in the morning if you brave a visit to said-bathroom). You must be strong – because you will see first-hand the sorrow and pain that rescue animals are going through as they are saved. You will watch your rescuer’s heart rejoice at the highest times – and break at the lowest. Most of all, you must be willing to share your rescuer, whose heart, time and money will be given to animals on a daily, if not hourly, basis. There is no “half-way” with a rescuer; it is all or nothing. Rescue is like the mafia – once you are in, you never get out. This is the truth of rescue: the guts underneath the glory.
If you want to love a rescuer, you must not just accept these truths – you must be an active part. You will be solicited to help trap feral kittens; take hours-long road trips in rain and snowstorms in order to transport a terrified and abused dog to a foster home (which might eventually end up being yours); take a pregnant cat to the vet on your day off while your rescuer is at a “day job,” to pay for that vet bill.
My husband is exactly this type of special person. He did not sign on to love a rescuer when we got married 20 years ago. Our vows did not include “Do you, Mark, promise to help socialize feral kittens and strip in the garage after transporting a Rottweiler with fleas?” I have never asked him to renew our vows, for fear he would animatedly tell the officiant, “Buddy, you’ve got no idea what for-better-orworse REALLY means! Have you ever watched a Youtube video, then examined a kitten’s rear end to see if the rectum is prolapsed?!” A special kind of person, indeed.
Of all the animals whose paws have traveled across our paths and hearts (and there have been hundreds), one has captured a special place in our lives. One whom there was no question would stay – forever. This is Grizzly’s story:
It was the night before Thanksgiving, cold and snowy already in the temperature-fickle state of Michigan. I was checking my email, my husband engrossed in some type of sports game on television. A few days earlier, I had seen a social media post, a desperate plea for foster homes in the midwestern USA. The rescue pleading was South Central Newfoundland Rescue (SCNR). Having a 7-month-old Newfoundland already, I could not imagine anyone neglecting or abandoning one. Known for their sweet personalities and soulful eyes, they are truly a regal breed. I had immediately contacted SCNR to let them know if a Newfoundland were ever in a shelter, I would gladly foster. Having informally saved a few local cats from Animal Control, it was early in my rescue journey and I was still a bit naïve. Never expecting to hear back (Newfies in shelters are rare) it was only three days later that I found myself reading an email about Grizzly.
“Hi Marney! Thank you so much for offering to foster. We have a Newfoundland-mix at Animal Control about an hour and a half from you. He was seized from the previous owner for neglect.”
Oh boy, I thought, looking at my unsuspecting husband, who had absolutely NO idea I had offered to foster. “Hi, yes, what’s the situation?” While typing my email response, I simultaneously began my pitch to the clueless man lounging sideways at the foot of the bed. “Oh wow! There’s a Newfie at Animal Control in Eaton County!”
“No,” he responded, never taking his eyes off the game. My email notifications dinged loudly, “Hi Susan, I’m with a rescue in Michigan. We are so glad SCNR has agreed to pull Grizzly from Animal Control. He is emaciated, has intestinal worms and is heartworm positive. He was seized from the owners due to severe neglect. I’m copying the foster, Marney, on this email.”
Slowly building my case: “Awwww! He’s so skinny! They had him tied up outside a shed with a dirt floor. Poor baby…”
“No.” He was a tough cookie on the outside, but I knew the inside was soft and gooey. He didn’t stand a chance.
“Hi Susan, this is Marney,” I typed. “So I’m picking Grizzly up Saturday, because the shelter is closed for the holiday until then, correct?” I multi-tasked, continuing to lay the groundwork with Mr. Gooey. “Oh no! Poor Grizzly! He’s at a high-kill shelter!” (It was important to infuse with just the right amount of angst. I already knew Grizzly was coming home with me – it was a done deal.)
The sigh from the end of the bed came as his shoulders slumped. “Where is this dog at?”
I responded with a few details, just enough so that in a few days he would remember what we were talking about, when I sprang – I mean shared – my plan to foster Grizzly.
Thanksgiving has always been a time to gather with family for us. But this year, I was preoccupied knowing that Grizzly would be at the shelter, with minimal human contact that day and the next. Saturday could not come soon enough. And when it did….
Mr. Gooey sat at the kitchen table, eating breakfast. “Hey honey – remember that Newfie at the shelter I was telling you about?” Realization began to dawn in his eyes as he looked up suspiciously. “Yahhhh…..”
“Well, I’m going to get him. I’ll be home with him sometime after dinner. There’s leftovers in the fridge.” Shaking his head, he let me know it would be up to me to care for Grizzly. Uh huh. Sure….
Five hours later, I arrived home with Grizzly, who was aptly named. A black Newfoundland-Shepherd mix, he was covered in mud and caked-on feces. His belly (and other sensitive parts) was raw from having laid on the shelter floor in diarrhea, after being de-wormed. You could see his ribs and his sad eyes had a dull sheen to them. One was scarred, probably from being hit with something. The shelter guessed his age to be about 5-7 years old. He was a mess but despite all he had suffered, his tail wagged, and he rested against me whenever he had the opportunity.
Because Grizzly had been through so much, his first step was to “decompress” in our very large bathroom. I put a gate up, so he and our Newfie, Ella, could see each other without touching. Then I settled onto the tile floor to comfort my new friend through his first night in a strange place. My husband walked up and after a long, measuring look proclaimed, “That’s him? He looks awful.” At midnight, the de-wormer kicked in, and Grizzly let me know it was urgent we get outside. We did, and we repeated this process (with me in my fuzzy robe, shivering in the frigid November wind) four more times before dawn broke. My husband slept soundly in the bed nearby. The next day, Grizzly got a good grooming and as the caked-on filth washed away, it was clear in what rough shape he truly was. Bones and ribs protruded, and he let me know clearly to avoid his belly and butt at all costs. We formed a bond, my adoring rescue dog and I, with trips outside and regular canned dog food to start putting weight back on.
And then, on his second morning with us, it happened. Mr. Gooey got up and made breakfast. I was in the living room when I heard it. “There you go! That’s much better than that dog food, isn’t it?” As I came upon them, I literally saw the transfer of affection from me to my husband, as Grizzly looked adoringly at the man who had just brought him a plate of eggs and bacon. Bacon. There was no competing with that. My husband patted him on the head, looking at his ribs and the scar on his eye. And in that moment, Grizzly became what we call a “foster fail.” He wasn’t going anywhere else – ever. He was home.
From that day on, if you wanted to find Grizzly, you only had to find my husband. Six years later, with his fur-sister Ella, they are the Three Musketeers - inseparable. Moving slower now, with gray in his muzzle, Grizzly still has enough energy now and then for one good, fast run to the back of the yard, trying to catch the elusive geese who taunt him with their honks. On alert, he protects his property – and his family – from anyone or anything that might be a threat: geese, the Consumers Power meter-reader, the Federal Express delivery van. He gazes at his “daddy” adoringly, and we can only hope he has forgotten the hard years on a chain before he was rescued. Every day is a blessing now and Grizzly’s favorite day is “grilling day.” Every spring when the cloth cover comes off, he prances on the deck, knowing this means grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. Heartworm-free, the once- emaciated dog now has a junk-in-the-trunk rear end. And even though I keep telling my husband, “Food isn’t love,” sometimes it really is, isn’t it?
Social worker/Clinical therapist and Animal rescuer/advocate. Published author in areas of parenting, self-help, children’s storybooks & contributing author to Empowering Parents website. I use humor and compassion to empower others.