This week we welcome back guest blogger Emily Felty with a dog story that many of you will read with a smile because it sounds like your own experience.
To remind you about Emily, she says this about herself: “I’m Emily! I’m an East Coast transplant with a West Coast heart and a few furry rescues. I started volunteering with Old Dog Haven for probably a similar reason that brought you to this blog: a love for old dogs. I write thank you notes for donors and spend my free time reading all the dogs’ bios.”
I very clearly remember standing in the pillows section of a HomeGoods when Malissa called to tell me about Flower. A recent intake to the local SPCA, Flower was a stray dog missing over 75% of her hair and battling more health conditions than would fit in this blog post. “I’ve bought her some sweaters and I’m going to donate them so she doesn’t get cold.” I had suspicions I was about to get a furry niece, even though my best friend had a golden retriever, three cats, and four humans to convince. Then a month later I got that anticipated call; Malissa was bringing Flower home.
When we welcome a new dog we often know very little about their past. In Flower’s case, we knew next to nothing, most of it just an educated guess from what we could see. She was about eight years old, found wandering the streets of Syracuse, NY, was more than fifteen pounds underweight, and had an eternally wagging tail. Judging by the condition of the mange, fleas, skin and ear infections, and open sores, she had probably been a stray for a while. And although she earned a “practically perfect in every way” during her behavior evaluation, she waited, unadopted for over eight months.
With those educated guesses and freshly signed adoption papers in tow Malissa and Flower headed to the vet. Her mange and fleas had been cleared at the shelter, but Flower’s skin was far from healthy. Touching her was like rubbing the bacon grease you let sit in the pan for too long before washing. Her neck was so irritated that a simple collar would cause the skin to break open. A stiff back leg earned her the nickname “wonky leg,” and arthritis had set in to what seemed like every joint.
Flower’s unknown past did nothing but complicate her recovery. After suspicions of being part collie, her vet was cautious to recommend certain skin treatments, despite their effectiveness for fear of a bad reaction (turns out that was a good call when Flower’s DNA came back with a healthy portion of collie). At one exam the vet found abnormalities in Flower’s ribs hinting at a potential car accident, maybe an answer to the mystery of the wonky leg. There was no heartworm record, no vaccine history and each new problem meant another long, slow process of elimination. Throughout Flower’s journey there were plenty of dead ends, too many overly complicated treatment plans and a few wonderfully, perfect answers.
While solving Flower’s health mysteries Malissa was also solving the mystery of what made Flower, Flower! There was the strange discovery thatno matter where she was in the house if Malissa sneezed, Flower would come running, even barking, to check on her. Flower was playful, even with the house cats, but could expertly read a room and know when it was time to leave the cats alone. She hates the wind, loves nose work, and even spelling the word car causes excited mayhem. She thinks wearing bandanas is awesome and skyping with her Seattle aunt is even better. And anyone who meets Flower immediately knows that despite everything she has been through, Flower always chooses to be loving and kind. After all, flowers do grow out of dark moments.
It’s been nearly five years with Flower and you would hardly be able to recognize her from the cold, hairless dog at the SPCA. She’s still mostly hairless, but her skin is healthy, her infections are gone, her arthritis is managed and her tail is still always wagging. There are plenty of things that Malissa will never know about Flower. Did she have a family? Did they love her but couldn’t care for her? What made her fear the wind or what in the world does NOT cause an allergic reaction? As owners we commit to caring for our dogs past, present and future. It’s hardly ever easy and decoding their past can be a frustratingly slow process, but when we try we get to see our dogs blossom into their own kind of flowers.