Friday, October 07, 2005
A Very Good Dog
I first met Walter at one of the municipal shelters we work with. I had stopped by on my way to work because I had heard there was a great dog for me to evaluate. He was seven, somewhat lacking in the front teeth department, 90 pounds of German Shepherd Dog and couldn't possibly have done better on his temperament evaluation. I loaded Walter into my car and brought him to our Tri-Valley shelter in Dublin where he began his new life.
Walter was a staff and volunteer favorite - always smiling his big, shepherd smile, always ready for his next training session. Most new trainers in our shelter start with dogs who have already worked with experienced trainers, but Walter was the first new, straight-from-the-shelter-dog that I assigned to our new trainer, C. Walter and C immediately bonded, making a fabulous team. I remember there was a time when she took a few days off, and every time I walked by Walter's kennel he was gazing out the window as if he were waiting for his temporary "mom" to come back.
She taught him the basics - sit, down, stay, and how to shake. But he taught her to lure well, improve her timing, and problem solve training solutions. Their training sessions together stick in my mind most when I think of my first month teaching our trainers in my new position as Canine Manager.
When Walter found a home, it was bittersweet - for C. especially, but we were all happy for him. We didn't hear much from his adopter, but didn't think much of it. Many of our adopters stay in close contact with us for months or even years, but others choose to be a bit more private.
However, I'm always saddened, often shocked when I hear that a dog we adopted out landed in a city or county shelter (partially because our adoption contract states that the dog must be returned to us if the adopter can not keep the dog).
I never expected to see what I saw with Walter.
He showed up last Sunday at a nearby shelter. A microchip led him back to us. Walter was emaciated, drooling, lethargic, covered in his own mess. Every time a staff member from our shelter came in to visit him, he raised his head and wagged his tail. His eyes would light up and he'd offer us kisses.
Due to stray-hold laws, we couldn't take him back to our shelter until the hold was up or the owner surrendered him to the county. We called the owner, who said she lost him two months ago, and no, she didn't want him back. But without her telling the county so, Walter had to be held the required length of days, first. Staff visited him every day. He seemed to be doing better by Wednesday, but yesterday morning his breathing became labored. The staff at the other shelter did their best to care for Walter while he was there, and knowing how much we cared for this dog, called us the moment he could legally be returned to us.
L. and I rushed to the shelter to pick him up. As I was walking with him from our lot to our clinic, he stopped and lay down. I carried him up the hill and in, but even emaciated a dog as large as Walter was still 50-60 pounds. I made it through the front door, just past the exam room to the back of our clinic, and had to put him down. Walter lay there, unmoving, fighting to breathe, and with his spine poking up a full inch, he was so skinny.
I've been in the shelter world long enough to have seen dogs who have been badly neglected before, and it is always heartbreaking. But I've never seen a dog I knew well, a dog who had been ours, and so fat and happy in our shelter just five months earlier, look so terrible.
Dr. Heidi, our amazing vet on duty, took over right away. She got him on an IV, took blood and fecal samples so we could find out what we needed to do for him as soon as possible. Everyone worked so hard last night for Walter, and although it might not be appropriate to anthropomorphize, I know he felt the love everyone in the room had for him.
C., his trainer moved on to a different career some time ago. She remains in touch with some of our staff, and heard as soon as Walter was back. She sat with him for hours last night before we shut down for the evening. He had gotten a good amount of fluid by then and the prognosis was looking pretty good.
This morning I got up early and put off my usual coffee run to check on Walter. L arrived at the same time as I did and we went directly to his kennel. Walter had passed away. It's nine a.m. now, and our staff will be arriving soon and will hear the news.
It's going to be a very sad day here, but I hope everyone will be comforted by the fact that thanks to his microchip, the fabulous relationship we have with the shelter he ended up in, and the care of eveyone here, Walter's life ended in a warm, comfortable place indoors. I'm torn up inside, but I'm so glad that his last days were with a group of people who really loved him.