Christmas. Its a time for sharing, for giving, for finding time to tell the people you love how very much you love them and how much they mean to you.
Growing up, I was obsessed at this time of year with ‘Whats in it for me?’ and now that I am grown and know better, I have found out, as most of us thankfully do, that the biggest and best gifts come from us giving of ourselves…..because they actually reap the greatest rewards.
A few years ago, Pete and I decided that we wouldn’t buy each other huge fancy Christmas gifts that we a) probably couldnt afford and b) probably didn’t need. We would keep our gifts to each other small and instead spend the money on helping a last chance dog at a shelter that would have no chance of ever being adopted for reasons of health, behaviour or whatever. As many of you may know, we always have a foster or two here and part of your spend here at the ranch goes towards that, but this was different, this was to be a diabolical case that required over and above the usual commitment.
Well, no sooner had we made this decision than I heard about a dog up in the Animal Shelter in Jackson County which, for now, is run at Commerce Animal Hospital until the County get their own facility. I saw horrific pictures of this poor, older dog; riddled with mange, skin and bone, eyes all puffed up with the worst allergies I had ever seen, and she had been brutally used as a breeder dog way past when she should have done, by a puppy mill, who turned her out on the streets to die once she had such poor malnutrition she couldnt produce any more. Found wandering on the streets of Jefferson in sub zero temperatures, this poor old girl was destined to be put to sleep the day after she arrived at the shelter as she looked so awful and was so poorly there was no fixing her.
BUT…and here it is………. one girl, Sarah up at the shelter saw something in this dear old dog and held her over for a couple of days, hoping to find anyone to take her on and at least give her a few days of comfort in a warm home before she died. She contacted the rescue I work with, Gracies Place, who emailed me the picture and Jake my son and I rushed up there before it was too late, deciding we would do exactly that, and even though Dr Phillips at Commerce Animal Hospital warned against it and said she wouldn’t make it past a day, we brought her home….ostensibly to die in comfort.
I have never seen such a sad dog in my life. Completely disconnected from everything, Ava had never learned love from a human hand and had never known anything but mating from other dogs.
We tried to make her comfortable those first few days, gave her the softest bed to alleviate the pain from her sores, and really just waited for the end to come, not asking anything of her but showing her using very hands off techniques and pure body language, that she was safe and could relax. We fed her foods rich in Vitamin C to boost her immune system and made fresh stews and doggy casseroles every day to tempt her into eating. Because she was so thin, thankfully she ate everything we gave her and I do believe this saved her life, because a few days turned to a few weeks and then all of a sudden we saw that she was looking a little better, that her skin seemed to be healing a little.
The real breakthrough for us came about six weeks after we got her, when I walked all of the other dogs down into the woods, but decided to leave the door open and see if she would maybe come out on the deck to investigate. Wearing her little coat (she had no fur to speak of to keep her warm) she wandered out on to the deck, down into the woods and went up to our dear Levi and sniffed him. Then followed him around for the next half hour, sniffing the trees and bushes, and really starting to explore her new home. She came up to me, having not even made eye contact with me for that whole six weeks, and sniffed my hand, and I about burst into tears…Pete and I were ecstatic and knew that she had reached her turning point.
From there, Ava went from strength to strength…we had setbacks on the way, her allergies were appalling and even the drugs didn’t seem to help that much, her hair took so long to return we thought she would be bald for the rest of her life, and it took us about three months before we could even feed her by hand. (With dogs like Ava, hand feeding is a really useful thing to do as it connects the dog to you in a very primal way, they need food, you give it, they understand your importance in their life in a very real sense.)
We determined to let her enjoy her new found freedom as much as possible and would take her and Freddie and Levi up to a wonderful parcel of land in Flowery Branch every day to give them a break from the guests, where they could just be themselves and have fun. She surprised us one day by whooping and hollering on the way up there in the car like a kid at Christmas…Ava’s Mojo had arrived!
We couldn’t put Ava up for adoption until she was fully healed; each time she seemed to be making headway, some new allergy would bring her down……. we truly discovered new meaning to the term ‘seasonal allergies’ with this dog. So, she stayed with us, while we underwent some pretty traumatic times, always there, quietly just cementing her position in the pack, then we moved over to the ranch 15 months ago and decided if she was going to be here long term it was time she rolled up her sleeves and got to working. Just until she got adopted, of course….
So, Ava became our ‘hyperactivity dog’ and we started partnering the wild and crazy lunatic dogs who wouldnt settle with this little ‘rock with legs’, and lo and behold, they would calm down. We started using her with the odd aggressive dog and her cool indifference to anything new and irritating led most dogs to stop and take stock of the situation rather than lunge and bark the place down. We used her with puppies, as a breeder dog she had obviously had at least five or six sets in her lifetime, and turned out to be excellent at moulding and shaping the pups who come to stay at the ranch…she really enjoys this work, it brings out a sparkle in her like nothing you’ve ever seen.
In short, the bloody dog made herself so useful that when someone who came to the ranch for an evaluation asked if she was up for adoption, Pete and I found we couldn’t do without her and told them firmly ‘No’. Then looked at each other and laughed. This little girl had come so far it was really quite incredible.
Today, those of you who have been to the ranch will have met our dear Avaroo, as we call her, she’s always right there when we do an evaluation, letting the newcomers know how things are done at the ranch and teaching by example.
She may be nine or ten years old, but she runs and plays like a puppy these days. She adores Freddie, the true love of her life and follows him around like a lovesick schoolgirl as they dig tunnels together, chase squirrels togther and whip the puppies into shape.
Everyday, she is so quietly thrilled to see us and has such a deep gratitude in her that it spurs me on to want to do more and more for dogs like Ava. While we can’t adopt any more dogs as we now have seven, she is the very reason behind our dog food drive this year…in us giving to Ava, we received the most amazing gift in return, greater than any love or happiness I could have gotten from that BMW I’ve always wanted (I’m still willing to see if it might make me happy tho, LOL), better than any jewelry or techno product we could have received.
Her face, so rapt with love when she looks at us, even though she still hasn’t learned to be very demonstrative like the others, is all the proof we need that there was oh so much life in that old dog yet.
She was the Christmas present we gave ourselves that took almost two years to fully unwrap and boy, do we love her!
God bless you all and have a merry Christmas.
With love from Pete, Penny, Joe and Jake, Nelson, Simba, Freddie, Levi, Noodle, Steve and of course…Avaroo