Monday, December 17, 2012

A little piece of my heart

I ran a rescue transport this weekend. And while my work in rescue always makes me look with new eyes, I can say without reservation that this trip changed me. Ella is pretty typical of many of the dogs we have seen in Welsh Terrier rescue (WTCARES) lately. She is older, she has some health issues and she isn't a shining example of the breed standard.

Her story isn't unique: she was dumped at a shelter in southern Oklahoma, likely gotten rid of by the puppy mill to which she gave her life until they got rid of her. When I picked her up just about two months ago, she was crawling with fleas - literally; it was like her skin was moving - eek! She was dirty and matted. She smelled. She was misshapen from nursing litter upon litter of puppies. She seemed to crouch as she walked; I'm not sure what caused this, maybe she spent all her time in a small crate; I will never know. She had lumps and bumps. And, in what was a first for me, she was swaybacked. At 8-10 years old, she had a lot of "strikes" against her.

Her name - Ella - popped into my brain, and it seemed to fit. She was as ladylike as she was fearful. But her spirit was evident, even hidden beneath the indignities of her life. That first night she slept in an ex-pen full of clean fluffy towels and bowls of fresh water and food. After delivering her to my vet for a health check, I was told she had erlichiosis and had to be treated for that before anything else. For the next few weeks, she was given twice daily doses of medication to fend off this tick-borne disease, one that isn't unusual for puppy mill dogs in this part of the world. When she was strong enough, she was spayed and began the second step in her recovery. There was a bit of interest in her from adopters. Unfortunately, all have cats and Ella is not a fan.

The decision was made to move her to Tennessee, which is where the national chair of breed rescue lives. Ella would stay there until a forever home could be found. Yesterday she continued the journey she began in October when she left her former puppy mill life behind.

Preparing to load up

"But I don't want to ride in a crate!"
She didn't, by the way. That is, she whined and barked until I relented and allowed her to ride in the seat next to me as we made our way east towards Arkansas. We were meeting someone in Ozark, just about 180 miles for us, who take her to meet another transport person in Little Rock and she would go on to Memphis for a couple of days. I don't usually let dogs ride outside of crates; it's too dangerous for both them and for the humans. But ...
Who could resist this face?
As I drove, I had a lot of time to ponder the horrors of recent days. Ella didn't really care for music, so it was quiet except for road noise and her quiet snores as she relaxed into the heated seat. She made one thing clear, however, either I had to be touching her or she had to be in contact with me. At all times. I found this interesting, as many times puppy mill dogs have been so deprived of human contact that they never really welcome touch. Ella is different however. She craves touch and human contact. She is happiest when she can be in direct line of sight. And her tail wags constantly. I haven't seen such an ongoing windshield wiper of a tail in motion in quite a while! She may carry baggage from her former life, but she has relegated it to a place of unimportance where it cannot interfere with her appreciation of the here and now.

And so we traveled. I talked to her and she listened intently when she wasn't sleeping. We shared secrets and ambitions, hopes and dreams, heartache and grief (well, I did). Even in sleep, she would stretch across the center console until the tip of her black nose - or one of her paws - lay ever-so-lightly on my leg. In her silence and her peace, she told me of herself and taught me a lifetime of lessons.

As I have done more times than I can count, I drove to the appointed location and sent Ella along her way. She wasn't happy to get in her crate (I hear she barked on her next two legs of the journey; that would be close to five hours of total barking. Sheesh!). I told her goodbye and that I loved her, that she would have a wonderful life and I would work hard to find her a forever home. And then I spent the first 20 miles of the return trip sobbing. For, you see, Ella gave me more than I ever gave her. She shared her ageless wisdom with my very soul, in ways I have yet to even comprehend. But I can absolutely say that I know that wisdom is there, somewhere deep inside me. She taught me that it is okay to open up for love, even when you have been treated badly, that the reward is worth the risk, that good and loveliness exists in the world and, often, comes in the shape of a little rescue dog.

I pray that Ella will have a long life filled with love and happiness. I will work hard to find a home for her where she will have the time and the space to stretch her bent legs and always be in contact with those who love her. And I will always carry a little piece of Ella in my heart, in exchange for the piece she took of mine. I can only hope that my heart will be as pure and as full of love as hers, that I will greet each day with the exuberance of her tail and her sparkling dark eyes. That I will relish the good in the world and do my best to help good outweigh evil.

As I drove back through Tulsa at dusk, I snapped this photo of the evening sky. It reminded me of the unlimited potential in the world and that, regardless of the vast potential for grief and ugliness and horror, the wisdom of the ages can be found in the heart and spirit of the animals all around us.

Thank you, Ella-Bella. I love you.

P.S. If you know someone who can give Ella the life she deserves, please let me know. Or go to to complete an adoption application. Ella is waiting and she is patient. But I am not, and she deserves nothing but the best!

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