It’s December 19, 2012 & we’ve had such eventful days with Finnegan! Yesterday afternoon I completed his official adoption at Ft. Wayne Animal Care & Control. He is one of the GrayHaven Gang now, legally, but I knew he was the moment I saw his face. St. Francis apparently wanted to ensure I received the message loud & clear; however, as I realized later on the evening I brought Finn home that it was also the birthday of our deceased bulldog, Harry, who’d been our family’s most awesome friend & playmate for fourteen years. Over the years I’ve stopped arguing with these small messages from Above. Many call them simple coincidences, but my faith leads me to a happier response, one that has resulted in countless Blessings, the most recent of which is a new old dog named Finnegan.
Finnegan was found slogging through wet fields in Grabill, Indiana’s Amish community on Thanksgiving. He weighed seventy pounds, had burnt fur on his neck & back from hiding beneath cars, & was suffering with an open wound on his right thigh. Staff at FWACC judged him to be about 9 – 10 years old, but who really knows? His belly sags, his back is swayed, & his feet are terribly splayed. He was not neutered. When I first met him & learned all this, my immediate thought was that he’d probably been an Amish breeding dog, as Amish puppy mills are prevalent in our area, & caged his entire life (hence, the splayed paws). Once he failed to sire puppies, instead of killing him, he was simply turned loose or dumped from a buggy roadside.
Nothing I’ve yet observed in Finn’s behavior or reactions has dissuaded me from this supposition about his origins. He has clearly never been an indoor dog; television astounds him & sometimes completely frightens him. He is terrified of the staircase so badly that my husband has been carrying all eighty-two pounds of him up every night & back down every morning. He is utterly amazed by “people food,” but must be coerced to try each new item. He lacks simple indoor manners, such as moving out of the way of walking people. Sadly, Finnegan doesn’t know how to play & he doesn’t like water. Worse, it’s obvious he has been beat on by someone, as quick hand movements create an involuntary head duck & eye squint reaction. And then he tucks his head into your chest or lap or legs asking for comfort.
I sprung him from the shelter Friday as a foster so I could get him to my vet. Yesterday, he officially became “mine.” But interestingly enough, Finn made his own decision somewhere during the course of the weekend. In those initial hours with him, it was obvious that in his mind I was just another nice lady holding his leash & rubbing his ears. I can’t say when that changed, but it did. By the time we returned to FWACC yesterday, he knew as much as I do that he’s mine (or perhaps to him, I am “his”). He was genuinely happy to see the people he knew & tell them all good-bye, but he was even more ecstatic to walk back out that door & load into the van for the ride home. And this time, he quite contentedly lay down, heaved a sigh, & took a nap while he enjoyed the drive.
Life at GrayHaven Bostons has once again taken an unexpected, though not unpleasant detour. Nearly everyone who knows me well also knows that even though Boston terriers command a humongous portion of my heart, Labrador retrievers have always been my personal & most powerful love. Two of the three greatest Heart Dogs in my life thus far have been Labradors, with my Boxer, Copper easily meeting them point for point. I’ve been without this dear love for about a decade, focusing on Bostons (& Copper). Very recently & quite suddenly that changed when I gazed into a pair of wise, worn eyes & experienced that moment of knowing they were looking into me.
Wednesday (12/12/12) I was scrolling through Ft. Wayne Animal Care & Control’s listings of adoptable animals, something I actually do quite often so I can send photos of prospective pets to friends & family. Over the course of many months I’ve viewed & read about hundreds of wonderful animals, large & small, & I’ve not once felt compelled to race in & adopt one. Were there ones that captured my attention or made me “oooh” & “ahhhh” from the pure adorability factor? Of course! But I never saw an animal that created in me an urge to rock the boat of Bostons & my family at home. Cuteness versus the rigors of daily living with an added animal in a multiple-pet home are both considerations I’ve matured enough to understand & appreciate. However, as I scrolled through FWACC’s listings on Wednesday, a single thumbnail photo leaped from my screen the moment I scrolled to it: Finnegan, a nine-plus year-old Labrador retriever who’d been at ACC since Thanksgiving; originally a lost pet, but now available for adoption. The dog’s deep eyes & world-wise expression seemed to unlock something inside me. I felt that he was mine; period.
I fought with my conscience & weighed pros & cons for nearly an hour before I called my husband & said, “I know what I want for Christmas; it’s a little controversial…” Thus ensued a rather lively & interesting conversation which ended with the decision for me to go meet Finnegan & “if” he seemed a likely fit, Matt would go meet him. So, after work I raced over to the Animal Control Shelter.
Of course old Finnegan was still there, but nothing worth having is ever easy. As I discussed our situation & completed forms, the staff quickly realized that with our two rescues (waiting for Forever Homes) & two additional retired dogs which would soon be leaving for new homes, our family has more than the allowed five dogs already in our household. I was crushed. I felt Finnegan slipping away before I even had a chance to meet him. Fortunately, Allison, the wonderful lady in charge of adoptions, overheard the discussion & took our case on personally. She sat & spoke with me, asked pertinent questions about our current situation, our plans, our experience, & what drew me to Finnegan. By the time we were through I think we were both relieved; Allison thinking that Finnegan was likely getting a chance & I feeling as if I was – unbelievably – being offered a chance, too.
A few moments later I finally got to meet Finnegan. My first impression was, “Aww, what a sad, sorry old dog. Who the heck (besides me) is ever going to want this old guy?” He was quiet, reserved, & a tad aloof, although he was entirely pleasant. It was clear that to Finnegan I was just another human face in the blur of human faces he was seeing every day at the shelter. I wanted desperately to change that.
Physically, Finnegan screamed, “Used-up!” & “Decrepit!” His once honey colored face was now a creamy white, his nose was a mottled liver from exposure to sun & elements, & his entire body lacked muscle tone; his back swayed & belly sagged from too little exercise. The oddest things I noted were his feet. They were all so splayed that it made his feet appear huge, with the toes far enough apart to see floor between them; very strange. Also, along with various patches of worn &/or burnt feeling fur, Finnegan sported a large granuloma on his right thigh. I call these sorts of things “worry spots,” as a dog kept confined for long periods of time will often develop the habit of licking & chewing a specific area over & over. The pain of the chewing/licking releases hormones in the dog’s brain which helps him to calm himself & also generates an enjoyable emotional “buzz.” The dog becomes sort of addicted to his own brain chemicals to relieve stress, frustration, & boredom. This is common in puppy mill breeding dogs & any dog kept chained or confined.
Upon seeing this wound on Finnegan’s thigh & combining it with his splayed feet & where he was found wandering, I made an educated guess about his past: I think he was probably an Amish breeding dog, kept caged his whole life. When he stopped functioning as a viable sire, instead of being killed, he was either turned loose or dropped off on his own. Allison told me that Finnegan didn’t know any commands besides “come,” & displayed no reaction to toys, bones, or balls; however, he was extremely dog-sociable & loved lots of activity. I reached my own conclusion with all that information & my heart broke even more for the elderly dog. Seriously, who knows a Labrador who has no interest in BALLS? How terribly sad…
The next evening, my husband & our youngest daughter, Anna all visited Finnegan. Despite the fact he’d developed an apparent upper respiratory infection & was coughing copious amounts of thick green snot from his nose & throat, Finnegan enthusiastically greeted each of us. He wasn’t at all aloof or reserved! He was utterly thrilled to visit & be the recipient of lavish strokes, ear rubs, bum scratches, & words of praise. He moved from person to person, tucking his muzzle & head into our chests & under our arms, just soaking in the affection & attention. Matt & Anna fell for him within moments. We left hoping he’d feel better very soon.
I called ACC the next morning & learned I’d been officially approved to adopt Finnegan. We decided to wait until Monday to stage a canine meet-&-greet between him & our other dogs, as we wanted to avoid infecting our dogs at home. I counted the hours & drove to the shelter after work to visit him & see how he was doing. I was worried about him since the infection seemed to strike so hard so suddenly. I spoke with Allison again & shared my concerns that Finnegan might well worsen over the weekend before their vet could see him, especially since he’d just completed an eleven-day course of two antibiotics just a couple of days ago. Clearly, something more needed doing. I told her I wished I could just load him up & take him to my vet. Voila! Allison produced foster care forms & before I knew it, I was trying to figure out how to load a reluctant eighty-two pound Labrador into my van for a drive to the vet. I was thrilled; Finnegan, not so much.
The fifteen minute drive was quite eventful, as Finnegan chose to heave most of his body onto the center console of the van, leaning heavily into the physical space I needed for driving. We were like two ornery kids in the backseat, shoving back & forth, each trying to gain ground from the other. I kept trying to direct him onto the passenger seat, but it just didn’t happen. He was too heavy & strong for me to budge while also operating the vehicle. He pressed forward farther & farther until somehow he knocked the van into “neutral” & then stuck his muzzle through the steering wheel. Fortunately, by the time his muzzle went through the wheel, I was already coasting along the road’s berm, trying to reach under him for the hazard lights, with no need to turn the wheel. Once stopped safely, I somehow wrestled his dead-weight onto the passenger seat, put the van into gear, & drove the last half-mile to our vet clinic. I was out of breath & sweating.
Waynedale Animal Clinic was busy, so Finnegan & I waited outdoors for his turn to see Dr. Glidewell. Once inside, he dragged me along like a skier behind a ski boat, with little regard for my scolds or the laughter of clinic staff & other clients. Dr. G. examined him & pronounced tonsillitis as the main complaint, probably a bacterial invader that attacked on the heels of his initial respiratory infection. Finnegan was prescribed different antibiotics, added to our roster, & away we went… after he dragged me clear through the clinic a couple more times!
He must’ve tired himself out, because on the drive home Finn chose to lie down in the back instead of sabotaging my driving. I recall listening to him snoring behind me & feeling incredibly relieved, both that he was lying down safely & that he was finally going home with me. I had no idea what might happen next, but I felt I’d accomplished something very important that I was meant to do. Finnegan was out of the kill shelter with a chance to begin again, just like the old man in the children’s song I used to sing with my kids. Right then, having leapt that hurdle successfully was enough. We’d go on from there & see where Life took us…
I’ve been tossing this whole blogging idea around for quite a while & finally decided to just go for it. I suppose we’ll see how it goes! Anyway: welcome!
The stories or happenings I share may not always be lace-trimmed & perfectly well-kept, but consider this a sort of window into a wannabe writer’s mind & memories & future hopes & dreams. I plan to mostly write pieces about pets which have influenced my life, but there have been numerous other animals as well, so things could get a little weird now & then. Really, you just never know what’s going to greet you at GrayHaven Farm… And so the same will hold true for VelcroDogBlog.
My first post is a piece I’m very happy with, both because I just like it & because it’s true. The dog’s name is changed, but the facts of the story are real. The dog currently shares his heart with me & I’m honored to share my home with him. He’s an incredible boy. I look forward to any comments you wish to share.
I hope you enjoy your visit with us; better yet, I hope you’ll become a regular visitor & encourage some friends to join us!
Thanks so much for sharing your time with us (me & my dogs),
I met the surrendering owner at the sliding door and gaped in utter astonishment as the gasping, black-masked fawn Boxer anxiously entered the house. I’d been forewarned that Elvis was a “bit overweight.” However, there’s a certain level of beyond-disbelief when over one hundred thirty pounds of morbidly obese Boxer waddles in a vaguely obscene fashion into one’s kitchen. He was so corpulent that he carried ‘saddle bags’ on his hips. His entire body was overwhelmed by flab and upon first glance; I found it impossible to determine his gender. I felt my heart squeeze in compassion for Elvis’s obvious suffering and I struggled to shore up my emotional defenses. I had filled my life with small dogs precisely to avoid the Call I was hearing inside myself from this sad behemoth; how could I guess how much he’d come to mean to me?
I am a Boston terrier person by choice – exhibiting AKC Bostons, plus rescuing and fostering Bostons and other “bully” breeds. Although I had no need of a mega-sized Boxer; something more than concern for the dog’s health yanked my attention back to the wheezing animal time and time again, as I discussed the surrender terms with the overwhelmed owner… While she completed the paperwork, I knelt on the floor before Elvis, squared my shoulders, and met his eyes with a dominant stare. He panted malodorous ‘death breath’ in my face and immediately flicked his eyes away from mine. I whispered nonsense to him and waited for his attention to come around. I stared strongly into his eyes again. He blinked and turned his head away and down, angling his entire body so it became lower, smaller than mine. I was pleased and told him so, “What a sweet, soft boy you are!” and rubbed his silky cheeks.
The owner’s leave-taking was heart-rending to witness. Again, my eyes were drawn to Elvis. For all his bulk, he sat unobtrusively by the door, quivering and panting madly, ears erect and eyes wide within his shadowy mask. Elvis understood that a Big Change was here. He wanted his Person to give him direction – but she only let her guilty eyes skim over him as she squeezed by him out the door. When she stepped off the porch, Elvis’s breath caught harshly in his chest, not panting for the first time since I’d met him, not breathing at all for several moments, and then suddenly gasping out a single stunned bark as he watched his beloved Person climb into her car and drive away. The pain Elvis breathed into that single hoarse bark spoke of six years of devotion, companionship, and his innate drive to stand steadfastly by those in his charge. Deaf to all consolation, Elvis was a Boxer in mourning.
Within days, I knew I was keeping Elvis. His stoic acceptance of his situation broke my heart – and I wanted to earn his. I put him on a weight reduction diet that consisted mainly of green beans, mixed with miserly servings of kibble. We went for meandering strolls in the field behind our barns. At the start, it was so difficult for him to navigate the two porch steps that I worried whether I could ever get him healthy. Halfway ‘round the two acre field and Elvis was spent; drool hanging from his chops, his docked tail hanging limp. Very slowly, the excess pounds vanished. As blubber melted away, Elvis breathed easier and walked lighter; he could sit like a normal dog. It was clear he looked forward to our walks, but though obedient, held himself remote from me. Within weeks, the canine could make the trek around the field three or four times, even trotting partway. I nicknamed him “The Hunk,” because he was becoming such a gorgeous dog.
An amazing thing gradually happened: Aloof Elvis noticed me. I observed that instead of just blandly accompanying me on our walks, he began to walk with me, often choosing to walk so close that he brushed my thigh. If I sat to rest, he paused. As summer waned, Elvis sat closer and closer until one evening I found myself propped in the sun warmed grass with an arm draped companionably around the now athletic Boxer, whispering silliness into one Spock-like cropped ear. It twitched and waggled; tickled. Hunk turned his head and focused his soft, deep gaze on mine. He looked at me.
Two years later…
A flash at the edge of my vision catches my attention and I turn in time to see a large dog streak by my side, galloping flat-out. “There’s my Hunka-Hunka Burnin’ Love!” I call as he thunders past. His eyes are wide, shining; his ears are pinned back hard; his tongue is flagging out the side of his mouth, and I swear – I swear! – I can see a canine grin of utter joy on my dog’s face. He skids and spins to an untidy stop thirty feet before me, plants his paws, locks his docked tail impishly upright, and awaits my next move. I can see his eyes gleaming with anticipation within his inky mask.
“Come on, Hunk!” I holler at him and clap, crouching down into my own play pose. Immediately, Elvis collects himself and launches. I drop to my knees, spread my arms, and urge him on. As my gorgeous golden dog rockets toward me, I see love and joy beaming from his gaze and wide “Pac-Man” grin. I consider the comfort and companionship he has brought to my life and I wonder who really saved whom?
When Elvis reaches me; when this eighty-nine pound Boxer slews ungainly to a stop within the circle of my arms, he sits and pants his gleeful death-breath in my face. I laugh a bit misty-eyed as I press my forehead to his and rub his ears, his shoulders. I cup his velvety cheeks gently in my palms and look softly into his glowing, coffee-rich eyes…
My Hunk looks back at me.