By Tonya Kniest
My first Old Dog Haven Final Refuge foster, Lizzy, went over the bridge in February. With my pending trip across the state for my college commencement ceremony, I knew I had to wait until May to bring another dog into my life. The very weekend following graduation, I asked ODH Director Judith Piper for a new dog. She mentioned this male chow mix that had very bad skin, but was known to be good with dogs, cats, and kids. I hesitated, because, even as a crazy dog lady, the sound of chewing makes me climb the walls. But Judith told me more. This dog was an owner surrender, something that ODH doesn’t take on very often because there are so many on the shelter waiting lists, but Judith felt horrible for him and needed to get him away from his old life. He had been itching for literally years and the owners were unable to treat him to make it go away. Three years prior they put him in a cone and made him live outdoors most of the time because he’d begun chewing himself bloody and it was getting on the furniture. That was enough for me.
The next week Teddy came home to forever with me and my resident dog, Buddy. The pictures the owners sent did not represent the dog that I picked up from the transporter, who, upon getting out of the car said, “Wait till you see this.” I was concerned then, and for good reason. Teddy came out with a cone that had been zip tied on, dirt and filth crusted ring all inside it. His eyes were runny with dirt caked in the goo, fur missing over a third of his body, bald tail and head, and perhaps worst of all, so emaciated that his hips, ribs, and backbone were protruding. He is also mostly deaf. I cried and cussed and apologized to him all the way home. My hands shook as I cut the zip ties to remove the cone. A four-inch dread lock of matted fur fell out from under it. That night, I used some medicated shampoo I had on hand and got him into a bath, where he bucked and jumped and struggled.
My vet was able to examine Teddy a few days earlier than scheduled for a full workup and onto a medication that would quell his itching. He started on a limited ingredient food, as there was no indication of what caused this horrible condition. Soon after, we went to the wonderful doggie dermatologist, who prescribed skin soaks in baby oil and then baths with prescription shampoos once to twice a week until the old, crusty, dry skin could begin to heal.
Fast forward almost five months, and he’s a whole new dog. His fur is long, thick, and silky. So much, that I wish there was pet-o-vision, because I want everyone to feel how soft and fluffy he is. There is no more fighting his baths; he doesn’t love it, but he stands still, leaning into my arm or chest, knowing it comes with full body rubs and dried salmon treats. Looking back, I imagine his skin was so raw that first time that bathing hurt. He’s gained enough weight that I have to remember the adage, “lift with your legs, not your back.” He gobbles up every meal, which in his old life was said to be hit and miss. Then again, it was also claimed that he prefers to lay on carpet or cardboard and “is not kind to soft beds.” Well, the first week Teddy came to forever with me, he found the softest, cushiest dog bed in the house and claimed it as his.
The very best thing about this cone to comfort story is that Teddy has been the happiest dog I have ever known, since day one. His tail never stops wagging. I make eye contact – wag. Scratch his belly (he lives for belly rubs) and pause – wag, to remind me to keep going. We do fun hand signal training tricks to keep his mind active and his tail wags, even when he’s doing the “bang” and play dead trick.
We humans could learn a lot from this sweet, happy, gentle soul. He went through hell for many years in his old life, but he doesn’t dwell on it, doesn’t feel sorry for himself, or let it affect who he is today. He lives in the moment. He is happy. He is loved beyond measure.