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Tony and Charlotte

by Diane Helentjaris 2 days ago in adoption

The realities of rescuing a pair of Cavaliers

Tony and Charlotte. Photo by author

The still air and warm sun beguiled me into thinking I knew what the day would bring. Of course, I was wrong. I thought I would be meeting my new dogs, but instead, I met my latest mentors.

My husband, Crawford, gently placed the second travel crate on the grass then shut the gate to the backyard. He was milking this presentation for all it was worth. “Ready?” he asked me, grinning. I sat nearby, doing my best to be calm.

I’d waited weeks to meet our new dogs, two Cavalier King Charles Spaniel “rescues.” Crawford had driven nearly a thousand miles to fetch them.

“Yeah, go ahead,” I said.

Out bounded Tony, shiny hair bouncing like a slo-mo shampoo ad. Black with brown and white accents, Tony is a beautiful dog.

He readily approached me for a bit of attention. As I reached to pat the top of his head, Tony ducked.

“Okay, boy. Maybe you’ll like this better.” The three-year-old had no objection as I ran my hand over his chest. My heart sank. As a physician, I’ve felt many human ribcages, but few as bony as Tony’s. Every rib the friendly black dog owned stuck out. My pity deepened as I ran my hand along his side and felt the hard lump of his healed rib fracture.

Later, Tony would skitter away if I lifted my foot to tie my shoe. He fled to his crate at my husband’s approach. Hands, feet and men clearly scared Tony. His world had been a crate, a dirty prison. He didn’t know how to run and when he tried, wobbled with weakness. Early in his days with us, his feet were susceptible to infections, the result of standing so long in filth. Tony’s body and behavior told us loud and clear of a prior life spent underfed, neglected, and physically abused by at least one man.

Tony. Photo by author.

While Tony nuzzled me during our first meeting, Crawford opened the second crate. The diminutive Miss Charlotte emerged, blinking in the August sun. She sat without moving, stunned, as if lighting had struck her.

“Hi, girl.” I approached the chestnut and white dog. Unlike Tony, she welcomed my hand anyplace. Wanting whatever I was giving out, Tony trotted over, worming himself between my hand and Charlotte.

Charlotte had, like Tony, been groomed to a fair-thee-well, an obvious ploy by their rescuers to endear them to us. While Tony sported a long silky coat, Charlotte was a ruffled fluff ball with hair like cotton candy.

Charlotte’s coloring, called Blenheim, is a recessive genetic trait, making it less common than Tony’s tri-color coat. Charlotte rings all the bells for Blenheim fans. The lozenge-shaped brown splotch between her ears, known as a “Blenheim Spot,” legendarily originated with a duchess’s thumbprint.

Charlotte. Photo by author.

Unfortunately for Charlotte, her potential to birth Blenheim puppies with the Spot probably contributed to her problems. Before being surrendered to the rescue organization, Charlotte was bred repeatedly in a puppy mill. Multiple pregnancies and inadequate nutrition have left her swaybacked with a low-slung belly and few teeth.

Opening the dog food that first day set off a stampede. In a frenzy, Charlotte hopped around on her hind legs. She jumped and danced, launching herself into pirouettes by rebounding off my calf. Not to be outdone, Tony imitated a whirling dervish in the middle of the kitchen floor, spinning and spinning, his tongue flapping in the breeze.

The pair galloped off after me as I carried their bowls. I led Charlotte to private dining in the softener-scented laundry room. Tony supped in the family room. Once they’d gobbled their food, Charlotte dashed to Tony’s bowl and he to hers, carefully licking off any overlooked microscopic tidbits. Crawford and I watched in wonderment: “I don’t think they can believe they’re actually being fed.”

Charlotte knew how to forage for edibles. Like an old crone gathering wild plants for potions, she took her time examining plants and flowers on her walks or in the yard. Just prior to coming to us, she’d poisoned herself eating flowers from a Rose-of-Sharon bush. A dog with true leadership skills (her nickname at the foster home was “Miss Bossy Pants”), Charlotte taught Tony to forage.

In the first months at our home, the two would make a beeline to an area overhung by an old larch tree. Larch seeds are stowed away within one-inch cones, very much like the pine nuts in pine cones. I know for a fact pine nuts are delicious, especially in Christmas cookies. Apparently, larch seeds taste okay, too – at least to Tony and Charlotte. The doggy duo, never knowing for sure where their next meal would come from, thought larch cones were worth a chew. They’d stand under the tree, chomping cones, and then drag cone-laden twigs into the house like big game trophies. We didn’t want to scare the dogs, so we’d attempt to gently retrieve the larch bounty. Or, we’d swap a dog biscuit for a prickly twig of cones. Eventually, after getting fed good food on a regular basis, the dogs stopped eating larch cones.

Photo by author.

Over the following months, Charlotte and Tony settled in, becoming stronger and more active. Tony filled out. These dogs had lived for years isolated and confined in crates. They didn’t know how to walk up or down steps or on a leash.

Charlotte, two years older than Tony, struggled mightily to learn her lessons. Leash attached and eyes bulging, she’d sit in the front doorway, clearly not knowing what to do. Coaxed, encouraged, bribed with a treat, Charlotte, her sagging belly and short legs low to the ground, eventually waddled down onto the porch and then, the sidewalk. Like a pull toy with no wheels, she’d plop, waiting for whatever came next.

Our neighbors encouraged us, “Lookin’ good.” Ten feet on the leash grew to three blocks. Charlotte began to approach us when we rattled her leash.

Charlotte sought companionship. She boldly greeted other dogs, people, and especially, children. After accepting a treat, she’d settle down in her crate next to Tony’s at night - if I sat in the dark and talked to her. “Everything’s fine, Charlotte.” I’d sneak up to bed, only to be later awakened by her cries. Ever-patient, Crawford would go down and comfort her. Eventually she learned to depend on Tony for night-time solace.

Photo by author.

Once he became strong, Tony’s fears remained. To get over his terror of men, Crawford began to fix Tony’s food. Tony quickly realized men could be nurturing. As time went on and no one kicked him, he stopped fleeing moving feet.

Tony and Charlotte grew to live healthy lives full of love. That summer day, I thought I was meeting new pets, but instead, I met mentors. These two small dogs brought potent lessons in forgiveness and resilience. If they could forge strong bonds with us after being so poorly treated by other humans, how can I ever hold a grudge? Shouldn’t I be as forgiving as Tony and Charlotte? They dared to take a chance on a new family and with aplomb, gamely stepped up to a better life.

Diane Helentjaris
Diane Helentjaris
Read next: Calling All Wannabe Pet Owners
Diane Helentjaris

Diane Helentjaris uncovers the overlooked. Her latest book Diaspora is a poetry chapbook of the aftermath of immigration.

See all posts by Diane Helentjaris

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