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The good news is that Beauty is finally going into a foster home. After several weeks of looking for an appropriately experienced and sympathetic household, a Lab rescue found a vacancy and Beauty, with her gentle disposition and various ailments, is leaving Toronto Animal Services for a new life.

The bad news is that the last time I saw her, on Friday just before she was due to be picked up by her foster, she was in terrible shape. It looked like she had lost a third of her fur. The itching she exhibited at my house had progressed to the point where there were now large patches of skin exposed, much of it raw red and covered in scabs. There was a smell coming off her which I thought was like nachos but was told it was the odor of yeast. Her health had deteriorated to the point where she could no longer fight off the infection and it had spread throughout the surface of her skin.

They still didn't know the cause of it. When she came into TAS, she wasn't itching, at least not noticeably, but because of her poor general health and malnourishment, there may have already been some festering problems. Then, something at TAS set it off, turned it into a generalized outbreak. Perhaps it was the food. Perhaps it was the bath they gave her before she came home with me. Perhaps it was the stress of me bringing her into another new, utterly alien environment.

Whatever the reason, once the illness had set in, it grabbed onto her and wouldn't let go. They tried a change to hypo-allergic food made with the blandest ingredients; they tried various ointments and medicines. Beauty wouldn't stop scratching and biting at herself and pulling and clawing her fur out and scraping her skin bloody.

Well, that's not true. She did stop whenever the possibility of human affection arose. That was her one salve.

I wanted to say goodbye to her before she was brought to her new foster home. It's silly saying goodbye to a dog, of course. A dog doesn't understand it's a goodbye. A dog doesn't even know what a goodbye is unless it's part of some known routine. It's one of those things we do for ourselves, like dressing a dog in a costume for Halloween or putting plush toy antlers on it at Christmas. I've wished it was different. Several times, I've wished there was a way to get across that nuanced emotion of loss, regret, and in some cases, good luck, to a creature who cannot possible understand.

Or maybe they do understand. Maybe they understand the effort.

Beauty was in the large kennel in Room 3. Often, the attention starved dogs at any shelter create a commotion when they sense the approach of a person, anticipate the possibility of a few moments of human affection. Sometimes they get so worked up they pace at their door, pant heavily or bark and yelp like lunatics or pogo hop inside their kennel. Pick me. Pick me. They get so frantic and people may look at their desperation and think, well there's a crazy dog I don't want to go near.

With Beauty, it was different. As soon as I pushed the door open into Room 3, even before I rounded the corner and she could see me, I could see the end of her tail start to wag. Then she did see me and still no noise but instead there was this slight tilting back of her head, exposing her throat - a pose hard to describe but known to most dog owners, I think - a show of meekness, perhaps, an invitation to visit, an offering. I approached and I saw the piles of fur on the floor around her. I saw the condition of her coat and skin. I saw the ravaged bald patches on her face, her limbs, her torso, her tail. There was no area left unscathed. She was one large, self-inflicted wound.

And she had not gained a bit of weight. In fact, I think she had lost even more.

I walked up to her kennel and she immediately lay down and rolled onto her back, her tail wagging harder, her whole rear half wagging with it, sending tufts of her loose fur on the floor flying and floating away. I opened her door and bent down to pet her. I could smell the yeast as I leaned over her. I touched her chest and I could feel the disease on my hands - a coating, like thick old grease, almost tacky. For a moment, reflexively, I wanted to pull my hand away but now that I was touching her, how could I deny her the only thing she seemed to enjoy in her confined, lonely life?

Everyone likes to be appreciated. Dogs are nothing if not masters of appreciation. Rubbing her chest, scratching her belly, Beauty couldn't be happier and she showed it. Across her mutilated face there came a look of relief, a distraction from her unrelenting ailment. It was like watching someone in pain when the morphine hits and dulls the nerves, sends a touch of euphoria to the brain. It was like she'd been transported into some other, better world.

I sat with her for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of happiness in a lifetime of neglect didn't seem like much of a thing to give but that was all I had. I got up to leave. I said one more goodbye. I left.

I wonder how she would have been if she'd been given a different life, if her luck had not been so spare. How much of her sad life resonates in her personality? I wonder if the time will come when she will she have a day, a full day with no anxieties and no physical ailments. And what will her personality be like then? At ease, awash in a sense of security and nurturing. So relaxed she will melt into the floor. Perhaps this will be her life if her fosters shower her with affection and can figure out what ails her and how to treat it.

I have to hope this will be her life some day. I have to hope she will end up in a home filled with people who will love her and treat her well. I have to hope she will be cured and she will be happy. I have to believe this is what will happen because the alternative is unbearable.
(The two photos in the above post were taken 6 weeks ago. I didn't have a camera with me on Friday. She looks much worse now.)

Update, October 27, 2011: Beauty has been adopted. Video of her on the beach here. She's doing amazing.

16 Comments to “Beauty's Hope”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am kind of glad you did not have a camera with you. I could barely read the words as is and an image might have been too much. I spent Sunday with my brother & sister-in-law's dog-Maxx-a doberman that was left outside for years, (may have been used for fighting and literally attacks others dogs) and then got dumped. My brother and sister-in-law have spent the last year retraining him -and whenever we spend time with him we can't stop talking to him, playing with him, petting him. He is the center of attention and perhaps we love and adore him more than we otherwise would because of what he endured and survived those first 4 years. While all of the love and training may not be able to erase what was done to Maxx and what he became as a result of it, the scars have softened ,he is safe and loved and we feel incredibly blessed to have him in our midst. I hope Beauty finds whatever it is she requires to heal.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Oh Beauty, I wish you all the love you deserve. I will think of you often and hope to see one of the happy endings about you on this blog one day. Fred your photos and words are so beautiful and her eyes and your words will haunt me..... she deserves all the good things you speak of.

  3. Beauty's world has been literally turned upside down; that is bound to be stressful. On the other hand, she must have some survivor instincts because she made it out alive and knows enough to choose love and attention over aggression. If the vets can't figure it out--and I don't know how you feel about this but at this point what could it hurt--I wonder if there's an animal communicator in your area who might be willing to donate some of their time. I know it may sound crazy to some but I have had very good result when I've been stuck. I would suggest the woman I used to use, but unfrtunately due to illness she is no longer working. In the meantime, Beauty has a lot of people rooting and praying for her.

  4. Nadine says:

    If you have ever had the fortune to catch the episode of Dogtown on TV regarding a certain little dog called Aristotle, who had the most hideous skin infection, you will find some comfort that even the worst skin disease can be made tolerable and there can be a good and decent life for the dog if he finds loving owners who do not give up on him/her. Good luck Beauty, we all wish you well and hope to hear how you fare in your new foster home.

  5. Sheryl says:

    Oh, the poor darling. My folks have a Lab that is allergic to *everything*, and they went through the same situation. It's ongoing but mostly under control. Hopefully the fosters will be able to figure it out and get her treated.

    Thanks for the update, Fred. Your story of Beauty really tugged at the heartstrings.

  6. Anonymous says:

    It kills me to read stories like this, and yet you write so beautifully and sympathetically. Thank you for sharing. Beauty has a lot of love coming her way from people who have never met her. Perhaps - in her doggie way - she might be able to feel this, too.

  7. rika says:

    Thank you for the update. It was heartbreaking to read this, but I will focus on the good news - that she has a new life ahead, and there is hope. I wish you all the best, Beauty.

  8. Lynn says:

    Oh, Beauty. I wish you well, my dear. I hope you can find peace and comfort and rest. I wish I could put my hands on you and send you all the love that exists in the world for you alone, beautiful black dog. Let everything else fly away and know that you are loved. I wish I believed in prayer. I wish I believed it really worked. Every once in a while, I feel so strongly that I try anyhow...just in case. I am praying for you, Beauty.

  9. Anonymous says:

    My dog has allergy, when she has the allergy reaction it looks like hotspots. We washed her with neem pet shampoo and used Vetericyn.
    The Vetericyn really works well to heal her skin. It won't heal the underlie condition though but will treat the condition.
    Hopefully Beauty will get better once she gets into foster and sure hope they find the caurse.

  10. Anonymous says:

    As they used to say some decades ago, "you go, girl". It's hard when your whole world is thrown into the Mix Master, even if your whole world was a hell on earth. Beba, it can get better.

    If the Vick dogs can find love and peace, so can you, Beauty.

  11. Erin says:

    That was so beautiful, it made me cry. I wish only the best for Beauty and it looks like she has that chance. I hope they're able to find out what's going on with her skin and give her some relief.

  12. Hoping Beauty finds peace and happiness.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hi Fred,
    Been thinking a lot about Beauty and her life in a cage as a breeder. It's trite to say it must have been awful, but the pups were probably the only comfort she had and, every time, they were taken away. I wonder if she might be soothed by being able to nurture puppies, kittens, sqirrels or any mammalian offspring. I assume her milk wouldn't return and she wouldn't be able to fulful all their needs, but it just seems as if the emotional hole might be filled somewhat if she could find a serendipitous situation where she would feel needed by being able to snuggle with and groom young animals. Maybe just being given the opportunity to be able to befriend very young and non-threatening animals might help, assuming her reaction isn't violent. I had a cat - a male! - that was going through a tough time and grooming baby rabbits helped enormously. Animal annals are full of stories of females whose milk returned with the offspring of others, although Beauty may be too old now. I'm certainly not suggesting this as an alternative to a good home in a loving family with no canine competitors and I think the animal communicator idea is a good one. It's just a thought because she communicates her stress and sense of loss, fear and other emotions through self-mutilation. It might have been helpful to see how she would have reacted to a litter of kittens/pups if available at THS, although it sounds as if her skin infections might be past the point now, at least for a time. This is more a suggestion about an added approach to the problem, rather than a specific therapy and certainly - no cage.
    Please keep us posted about Beauty, for better or worse. Your readers care about her. As always, you are doing wonderful work.

  14. siouxee says:

    Any updates on Beauty, Fred? I've been a bit quiet... I've had some heartbreaks over some rescues lately, and the wounds are too fresh still... well, they will never heal, that's just who I am. I am still pondering about Beauty.

    Isn't it strange how someone, an animal lover, gets attached to an animal they've never even met? But I guess if there weren't people like that, no pets would be saved.

    I hope all is well.

  15. Fred says:

    girl in a coma, I'm sorry to hear about your recent rescues. It can be awfully hard on the body and soul sometimes.

    I've got a bit of info on Beauty. She's gone to a wonderful foster home with Dog Rescuers Inc. She is the only dog in the household and so she gets all the attention she needs from the kids and all their friends and she's soaking it up. She's also on Prednisone for a short term and then onto another drug - can't remember the name of it off hand. Her diet is restricted to pretty much her dog food which is a game based food (bison and ???) with no grains. She is also being given baths to soothe and help her skin heal. It sounds like she's in great hands.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I was to meet with you Beauty. I am so glad that you are in a great home. This doesn't seem to fit, I love you Beauty.

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A request

The reason for this blog is to help get specific dogs adopted from TAS but equally important is to try to normalize the idea of shelter dogs being just as good and just as desirable as any other dogs including those which are regularly merchandised by backyard breeders, puppy millers and those few remaining pet store owners who still feel a need to sell live animals. The single greatest stigma shelter animals still face is the belief that shelter animals are substandard animals. Anyone who has had enough experience with shelter animals knows this is untrue but the general public hasn't had the same experiences you've had. They see a nice dog photo in a glossy magazine and too many of them would never think of associating that dog with a dog from a shelter. After all, no one abandons perfectly good dogs, right? Unfortunately, as we all know, perfectly good dogs are abandoned all the time.

The public still too often associates shelter dogs with images of beat up, sick, dirty, severely traumatized animals and while we definitely sometimes see victims such as these, they are certainly not the majority and, regardless, even the most abused animals can very often be saved and made whole again.

Pound Dogs sometimes discusses the sad histories some of the dogs have suffered. For the most part, though, it tries to present the dogs not as victims but as great potential family members. The goal is to raise the profiles of animals in adoption centers so that a potential pet owner sees them as the best choice, not just as the charity choice.

So, here's the favour I'm asking. Whenever you see a dog picture on these pages you think is decent enough, I'd like you to consider sharing it on Facebook or any other social media sites you're using (I know many of you do this already and thank you for that). And when you share it, please mention that the dog in the photo is a shelter dog like so many other shelter dogs waiting for a home. If we can get even five percent of the pet buying public to see shelter dogs differently, to see how beautiful they are and how wonderful they are, and to consider shelter dogs as their first choice for a new family member, we can end the suffering of homeless pets in this country.