Ten thousand babies are born in the US every day. And every day 70,000 puppies and kittens also are born. Four out of five of them are abandoned. May is not one in a million. She’s not even one in six million. She’s a miracle. By all accounts she shouldn’t be here. She should have been one of the six million dogs euthanized every year because they are either surrendered by their owner, black, old, young, or under the weather. These are the first to die in our nation’s dog pounds when they’re short on space. Or when three days pass from the date the dog arrived.
May’s case is spectacular. She was spectacularly ill when I found her in a rural Georgia pound. No charitable animal rescue would touch her. Why? Because they can save three dogs for the cost of May. Their choice is not cruel. It’s just math. When there are six million to save, it has to be a numbers game.
May was malnourished and dehydrated caused by severe, advanced parvovirus (aka “parvo”). She had a 20% chance of survival. This is what I heard when I spoke with the local vet who accepted her case and my credit card. Then the question: “what would you like us to do?”
I could deliver her back to the pound. Spending the last ounces of energy she had shaking with fear, she would be put to sleep there at 8:00 AM the following morning as scheduled. This was my choice. But in the end, there was no choice. As that is something I could not do.
From my feet in Marblehead, MA, connected to a willing veterinarian over the telephone, and attached to a pup in Rome Georgia who I had seen only through a Facebook photograph, I exercised the only choice that seemed right. The one felt in my hopeful heart. “Treat her please,” I said.
I didn’t name her for a week. When I would call to check on her, she was just: “the little parvo pup.” Attachment comes with a name and I was already setting myself up for a broken heart.
I should tell you that May wasn’t the only pup I pulled from the dark depths that day. I rescued a beautiful border collie who had the misfortune to be born black and into the hands of someone who would give him up. He too had only a few hours left to live.
Fortunately, save a treatable case of hookworm, he was healthy. Yet I still didn’t name him. He remained “the border collie.” How could I name him and not the other? It would be like turning on the bedroom light in the middle of the night. I couldn’t see out of the darkness, but I couldn’t quite confront the painful flash of reality.
My sister is a veterinarian. I called her. I needed to know what she would do if she were me. It’s a question no one can really answer. We can never be anyone but who we are. But bless her, she tried. She would give her 24 – 48 hours of IV fluids. If she didn’t improve, my sister would ask the local vet to put her down without returning her to the pound.
Wednesday, 24 hours later, May wagged her tail and lifted her head. Her bloody diarrhea had stopped. Thursday, 48 hours later, May was lethargic again and still vomiting. I decided Friday morning that I couldn’t prolong her agony through the weekend. If I had arrived too late I could at least offer a prayer for her soul and bring her peace. The first and final gift to a tortured soul. Friday afternoon, 72 hours later, May drank some water, sniffed some food, wagged her tail and stood up.
I knew she wasn’t home free. Pups die from parvo even when you think they’ve pulled through the rough stuff. But on this Friday it was enough of a miracle for me.
If all went as I hoped, I would save, transport and foster these two pups in my family and as my own until a loving forever home came along. Early that following week I told the vet the names I had picked out for my foster pups. Newt was the border collie named after my great grandfather. And May was my little parvo pup. It was the name I had known all along but couldn’t voice. She was named after my great grandmother, but also because she may or may not make it.
May was mine alone to rescue. You see the parvo was killing her insides and the mites were attacking her outsides. It was the mange that everyone saw. The mites and the constant itching and chewing had made her skin red, raw and oozy. She had lost a lot of hair. Her eyelashes were gone and her eyelids were swollen; she had sores on her lips and scabs on her ears and nose, tail, knees and toes. We began a long course of treatment including medication to kill the mites’ life cycle, antibiotics to treat skin infections and baths to flush her hair follicles and soothe her.
Sixteen days later May was stable enough to travel. I found a volunteer who would drive her and Newt an hour north to Chattanooga, Tennessee where they would board a rescue transport for New Hampshire. I settled the bill with the local vet – who gave me a significant discount on their services – and bought two “tickets” on the transport north.
I was unprepared and ill-equipped for what I would find in New Hampshire. I never suspected that both rescue dogs would try to escape out of my car. I should have had crates, but I hate cages. And I knew by now they would too. But it never occurred to me that I would be distrusted by them too. That May would sneak out of my car as I opened the door to let Newt in, and run and hide under a parked SUV. But building trust starts at first blush and I would stop the cycle of fear forever beginning now.
We eventually all settled in. Newt took the back seat. May cuddled her tiny, worn body into my lap. Her hip bones jutted through her skin and I could see the ripple of every vertebrae. She had put on over five pounds at the vet and was still just a skeleton at 15 pounds. She rested her head on my left arm. And this is what amazed, sickened, and thrilled me all at once: that despite the depravity she endured she could still trust her life to a stranger’s hands.
I would soon learn that it was the feet she feared. It was easy to see that May had been kicked a lot. Around moving feet, she would tuck her tail, hunch her back, drop her ears and scurry to the nearest corner where she cowered and sometimes tinkled. My girls, Grace and Lula, are standard poodles. May falls below my radar and sometimes theirs. We all learned quickly to watch where we walk.
Still May is a marvel. She keeps trying, and so far has enabled every human and dog to approach and touch her. She loves to be held and will cuddle all night long under anyone’s arm, near their heart. My husband calls her his little May Flower.
Two weeks passed since May and Newt came home. My sister, the house call vet, came to visit. She never saw Newt because in that two weeks his dream came gloriously true. Newt and his forever home found each other: a loving family with a nine year old girl, a spacious yard on a dead end road with neighborhood canine playmates. The little girl got Newt for her ninth birthday. And we got to keep Newt (now named “Bradlee”) in the family as the forever family belongs to my husband’s niece.
In that same time, May had been making great strides. She put on a few pounds, grew some hair, and began acting like a playful pup. I owe that last part to my precious Grace; she taught May how to play. The sores around May’s mouth and on her tail, however, started to look a little angry. My sister gave us some antibiotics, medicated shampoo, and the news that “May’s still not out of the woods.” Sometimes dogs are just put to sleep because they cannot recover from these miserable skin infections.
She also advised us to have a parasite check done on May. I think my sister is clairvoyant. A day later I found what looked like tapeworm in May’s stool. And sure enough she had it. And whip and round worm.
Who on God’s Earth could neglect and beat a helpless creature like this?
We are now treating May for that as well. She hates the medicated baths. She quivers with fear and with cold. She has so little insulation to protect her from the dampness. But she tolerates it and moment by moment she trusts a little bit more.
I now have changed May’s name. It is now Mae. It’s just the spelling, I know. But to me it’s a whole lot more. With all the strength of my spirit and all the courage in my heart I will carry her. And she, Mae, will make it.
I encourage everyone with an open heart and an interest in sharing your life with a dog or cat, to contact your local non-profit animal shelter or rescue organization. The work they do is God’s work. It’s a whole lot of heavy lifting to rescue an animal. I did it myself, I know. You need to have local, experienced, and trustworthy help to pull animals from pounds, get them to good veterinarians experienced in shelter care, and transport them to you. And then there’s the potential issue with temperament. I was fortunate that the two dogs I rescued sight unseen direct from animal control had beautiful dispositions. It’s safer and wiser to meet your future companion in person before adoption. And if you’ve thought that the fees animal shelters charge are excessive, I hope I’ve made you think again. To rescue and care for a healthy animal it takes at least a few hundred dollars. Shelters ask for adoption fees only so that they can cover their costs and continue their mission. The problem of overpopulation will only be solved when enough people take responsibility to spay or neuter their pets, and when they stop buying puppy mill pets from pet stores.
We’re going all the way Mae! I love you!