Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Her Story

She didn't have a name when the puppy and her sister were dumped at a construction site, so the ARLP volunteer who found them in June of 2008 named her "Katie." Katie was an adorable little black puppy, and it didn't take her long at all to be adopted.

I don't know who took this picture, but it wasn't me.

Kate's new family renamed her "Lexis." Lexis grew up into a lovely dog. She was sweet with all people, but she particularly loved children. She gravitated toward the little ones like pit bulls to peanut butter. She also loved balls, and would play fetch until she fell over, preferably in some sort of water. Her new family taught her important things like sit and shake and to walk nicely on a leash.

But as she got older, Lexis became "aggressive" with other dogs. While she continued to get along well with her family's other dog, she started lunging and barking at other dogs on walks, and her family had difficulty managing her. One day while Lexis and her canine sibling were being walked by a friend of the family, the two of them lunged toward another dog at the same time and pulled their leashes out of the person's hand. The two dogs attacked the other dog, and in the process of separating them, the little boy who had been walking the other dog received two punctures - a dog bite.

Animal control was called, and Lexis's family sent her to their impound facility for quarantine. Then, they emailed ARLP to say that they were unable to handle her anymore and would the rescue please find a new home for her. ARLP doesn't typically take in middle-aged lab mixes with bite histories, but that is what Lexis grew up to be, and we take care of our own. So the Powers That Be went out to animal control to do a temperament evaluation on Lexis in order to better understand what her options would be.

Lexis breezed through her temperament eval with grace and aplomb. She seemed to be a biddable, eager-to-please, well-balanced dog, and food motivated to boot. The animal control officers that worked with her had come to like her. They hadn't had any trouble with her around the other dogs at the impound facility, and Lexis behaved like a normal, well-socialized dog around all the human staff. They felt, and the Powers That Be agreed, that Lexis deserved another chance, even if that chance was just a warm bed, a full belly, and a little love before she was euthanized as a compassion case.

Photo by Paige.

Here's where I come in, because, as Tyrion would say, I have a "tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things." And Lexis came to my house a very broken dog.

She wasn't aggressive or overly anxious or behaviorally challenged; she was lost. She would pace around the house, looking out windows, scanning rooms, looking behind furniture for something - or someone - she could not seem to find. I would call her to me, and she would cheerfully come, receive some scritches, and then trot to the door as if to say, "Okay, can I go home now?" I didn't have a way to tell her that she wouldn't be going home again, and it was one of the most heart breaking experiences I've had nearly fifteen years of rescue.

But there was more broken than just hearts. It took me about a week to realize that there was just something wrong with the way this dog moved. Her back end wasn't put together like my other dogs; she had an odd, short-strided gait in her rear. So we packed her up and went to the vet where we learned that she has severe hip dysplasia.

So now we have a five year old, large, black, mixed-breed dog with a bite history and a severe health problem. On paper, she is unadoptable. I mean, who willingly signs up for a dog like that? But her statistics do not even come close to describing the dog she is.

We renamed her Marnie, because that is what she told be her new name would be for this next chapter in her life, and I don't know how to argue with that. She has the softest mouth. She loves, loves, loves to play with balls, even though the vet said that a dog with her hips shouldn't be able to stand steadily, let along run and play - no one told Marnie that her body was broken. She can be left alone in the house and not chew stuff up. Her behavior is normal and predictable. Her whole body lights up with joy at meal times. She is more social, better on a leash, and better behaved than the majority of my own personal dogs.

And Marnie is not even a little dog aggressive. For the first few weeks at my house, Marnie completely ignored my dogs; she wouldn't even look at them. Thanks to the two week staycation, Marnie learned that she did not have to interact with the other dogs if she did not want to. You see, Marnie likes other dogs, but she is worried that they will hurt her. While she can still run and jump and play on her own, having her hips bumped and jostled by other dogs hurts her. So she became defensive toward other dogs. Once she figured out that she could interact with dogs on her own terms, both at home and on walks, Marnie began enjoying interacting with the other dogs, and even solicits play. I have yet, in the four months that Marnie has been living at my house, to see anything that could actually be considered aggression or even reactivity.

Marnie in person is a very different dog than Marnie on paper, and her case lies in the hazy grey area between "unadoptable" and "should be euthanized." Is she a good candidate for adoption? Well, no. But I have a hard time saying that she should be put to sleep for being born black and with bad hips and for behaving like a normal dog in a dog fight (that could have likely been prevented). So last week, thanks to a grant from the University of Minnesota, we made the difficult decision to go ahead with surgery on Marnie's hips in order to relieve her pain and get her ready for adoption.

I believe that compassion is not something you are - it is something you do. But I admit that I am having a hard time being impartial and compassionate toward Marnie's first family. If your dog was displaying aggressive behavior, why wouldn't you reach out for help? Any why would you let some leash-dropper walk your "aggressive" dog? I mean, I get that behavior change takes time and resources, and hey, I've heard raising kids can be hard, but I feel like these people didn't even try. Maybe it's extra hard because I know firsthand how easy Marnie's behavior was to fix: don't let her get molested by other dogs - problem solved! There's a reason that we tell people to take their dog to the vet if they notice radical behavior changes. And if I'm handing out the benefit of the doubt, maybe I can hope that Marnie's family did this - and their vet just didn't notice severe hip dysplasia in an otherwise healthy dog? I mean, someone had to graduate at the bottom of their class, right?

I think that the fastest way to earn your burnout in animal rescue is to start hating people, but I want to be angry at someone. I want Marnie's story to be someone's fault. I want to place the blame on someone so that I have something to fix. Because if I just say to myself, "This is a shitty thing, and it happened, and it couldn't have been prevented," then I don't have a way to prevent this kind of suffering in the future. It hurts. And the hurting hasn't stopped yet. Marnie still has a hard journey ahead of her, and she deserves better than the hand she's been dealt. Marnie deserves the support of a family who loves and wants her as she takes the next steps on this difficult, painful road.

Photo by Paige.


  1. So, so heartbreaking. Thank you for taking a chance on a broken girl.

  2. I think the puppy photo is Marie's - that looks like her backyard.

    1. It could be. Marie fostered her and her sister.

  3. I remember when they came in; doesn't seem like it's been that long. Great post, Laura!

  4. big hug for Marnie and good thoughts for a speedy recovery and foreverhome.

  5. Very loving story. I'm sending out all my strongest hopes and intentions to the Universe for someone to take her up and taker her in for the remainder of her journey. What a sweet girl. And, you're right -- she didn't deserve to be abandoned: twice, even. :(

  6. Her story is exactly like Robin's. :-/