Long time readers may remember that I work at a low cost spay/neuter clinic in NJ, and that my boss, the vet, runs a dog rescue that rescues, rehabs, and finds adoptive homes for Satos, Puerto Rican street dogs. The rescue continues to grow, and much of my boss’s farm has been transformed into climate-controlled housing for pups in need. With adoptions numbering in the hundreds each year, it is an organization that does an overwhelming amount of good. For the most part, my involvement in the dog rescue is limited despite the fact that I spend three days a week at the clinic, working as a tech.
I do volunteer my photography services to the rescue. When dogs come in, I am the one who takes their adoption photos. It’s a rewarding job because a good photo is often all it takes to find a lead for a homeless dog. It is also a fun job that involves lying in the grass in the sunshine, waving squeaky toys, and getting licked by puppies. Often times, I see the dogs once or twice between when they arrive and when they get adopted out. In fact, many of the puppies have homes lined up before they even fly stateside. Usually, I don’t get names or back stories on any of the dogs. I take the photos, edit them at home, and send out a mass email to all the parties involved in finding forever homes. The files go on my external hard drive and I almost never even look at them again.
Once in a while, however, a dog comes along whose story I can’t ignore. Sometimes, dogs come in extremely sick, and I hold them for diagnostics and treatment. I change blankets and flush IV’s and take temperatures. I snuggle pups whose bodies ache and who need a comforting hand to keep them quiet while they heal. Most of the time, the dogs recover and go off to live happily ever after. I can count on one hand the number of dogs we’ve lost in the four years I’ve been volunteering with the rescue. Still, sick dogs break my heart, and I don’t have the heart to write about their ailments.
This year, a dog came along that was special in a different way. This is Pearl’s story, and it’s a feel-good tale just in time for the holidays.
Pearl is a chi-weenie, or, at least, that’s our best guess. Like 99% of the dogs we take in, she was found wandering the streets of Puerto Rico. She was emaciated, full of heartworms and other parasites, and very, very pregnant. Pearl had been on her own for so long that she was completely terrified of people. Thanks in part to the fact that she was so incredibly sick and weak, the rescuers in PR were able to wrangle her and get her to safety.
It wasn’t long before Pearl delivered a litter of four teeny, tiny puppies.
The babies were healthy, but mom had given them all she had and was very, very weak. The puppies were supplemented with formula to take some of the strain off of Pearl. She was a good mom; a very good mom. She cleaned and nursed her babies and was very protective of them. Unfortunately, this made socializing her even more of a challenge. She barked and snarled whenever anyone came near her litter, and she even tried to bite on several occasions.
We received this photo with a plea, “Will you guys take these four puppies and their mom?”
How could we say no?
After a plane ride and a car trip, Pearl and her pups arrived safely at the farm, where Pearl began treatment for her heart worm. A few days later, I took adoption photos of her and her pups. I had to stay outside the ex-pen because Pearl would try to kill me any time I got too close to her pups. She was fiercely protective of her babies and tried to bite anyone who tried to come near them, including the doc!
Juggling Pearl and her pups over the next couple of weeks was tough. Of course, the adorable puppies found homes immediately. It was just a matter of waiting for them to be old enough to be weaned. Thankfully, they’d been handled by people since birth and were extremely friendly.
Once the puppies were weaned and adopted, the real work began. Without her motherly instincts kicking in, Pearl stopped being aggressive, which was a relief. However, she was painfully shy. The vet took her inside her house to get her used to cohabiting with people. Pearl started getting used to my boss, but still barked at her son and hid from him. Pearl was quickly getting attached to the doctor, but that wouldn’t help her get adopted.
One day, the vet brought Pearl into the clinic, and informed me that the little dog would be “working” with us every day. It became my personal mission to befriend the terrified chihuahua mix.
It wasn’t easy. Pearl hid from me. She barked at me when she felt cornered. She shook. I tried bribing her with human food and cat treats, tricks that have worked with many dogs over the years, but Pearl’s fear was greater than her appetite. She resisted even the most delicious treats (Dunkin Donuts hash browns!) even when I left them far from myself.
Gradually, however, she started to come around. She started taking food that I left on the floor for her. Then she’d eat it from a few inches away from me. Eventually, she took it from my hand if I sat completely still. After a lot of time and patience, I was able to pet her while she ate, and eventually pick her up.
The weather worked to my advantage. Once the temperatures started to drop, hairless Pearl from the tropics started to realize the benefits of a warm body to cuddle. I would have her sit in my lap while I invoiced and did office work at the end of the day, and it wasn’t long before I caught her following me around the mobile unit as long as I didn’t make eye contact with her. Slowly, she was coming around.
In the mean time, we discovered that Pearl was a great little farm dog. She never strayed far. She came when she was called. She got along with the other dogs and cats on the property. She was quiet, unassuming, and obedient. Gradually, very gradually, she started to come out of her shell. She looked right at home.
The hunt for an adoptive home began in earnest. Where were we going to find someone with the patience and quiet nature this skittish little girl needed? She deserved a home to call her own. A few people came to look at her, among them an elderly couple who wanted a small dog. One after another, they passed Pearl up in favor of the cuter, friendlier, more appealing dogs on the property. The weeks flew by,and still Pearl lived on the farm and hung out in the clinic with me.
Eventually, Pearl adapted enough to go to PetSmart with the other available dogs. There she would gain more exposure to life and people. PetSmart also increased her chances of someone noticing her.
And notice her they did! A family came in who wanted a project dog, someone whose affection they would have to earn. Pearl would be perfect. It was love at first sight!
Next thing we knew, the family had passed the application process and was ready to take her home. Best of all, we got to receive updates on our little friend in her brave, new world. She was probably pretty overwhelmed at the size and newness of it all.
We waited with bated breath to see if the home would stick. It has been five weeks now, and it doesn’t sound like Pearl is coming back to us at all. In fact, we just got this photo of her living the good life in her new home. Doesn’t she look like she owns the place?