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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Happy Ending Project: Leo, a lion hearted love story

Leo now Seamus

Leo with rescuer Nicole Salter

Leo the lionhearted, saved by the kind hearted
By Marda Winnick and Mirja Bishop

Sometimes, things happen so quickly, you barely have time to experience that pit-of-the-stomach feeling you get when a dog is in danger of being put down. But you have a lot of time to savor the feeling of knowing he is safe. (No spoiler alert needed; after all, that’s why this series is called The Happy Ending Project!)

Consider Leo. Once he was a handsome and regal-looking Chow Chow—the so-called Chinese lion dog—with a spectacular lush orange-brown coat. Until he showed up as a stray at our shelter May 17.

Quiet and reserved, as Chows often are, he huddled in the back of his run, frightened and bewildered at what the world had seemed to have done to him.
Where did he come from? What was his story? Why had no one stepped forward to claim him? The same questions we unfortunately find ourselves asking about most of the dogs we see.

When volunteers read his kennel card and took him out of his run, a picture began to form and not a pretty one; rather, a sort of fast-track version of Dorian Gray. And a probable answer emerged to some of those questions.

First, they discovered that he was thought to be ten (or more) years old, which automatically elevated him to the hard-to-adopt category. Then volunteers noticed something odd about his demeanor. His affect seemed flat and he appeared to be almost dazed in the yard.

They noticed other things as well. His hearing was discernibly impaired and his visual acuity was in question. And, he favored one leg. He obviously had not been groomed for a long time, making him a sad sight.

We’ll never know his story, but now seeing his whole picture, it was evident that an old, lame dog with hearing and vision problems could not get very far very fast if he had somehow escaped. Even when we think we’ve seen it all at the shelter, this is always one of the hardest thoughts to swallow about pet guardians; that they would dump their dog. What’s next, we think sadly: granny, when she becomes “inconvenient”?

At least volunteers could do something about his coat. He stood very quietly as they fussed over him. His eyes showed the gratitude that he must have felt for this much-needed attention and love that he was receiving. After some brushing his coat took on a sheen and it was amazing what a difference it made in his appearance.

Unfortunately, a shiny coat does not make it any easier for a dog of his age and with his medical problems to find a home. The endangered list is not one a dog aspires to, yet there he was. The clock was ticking.
But out there, someone was watching, saw his story online, and forwarded it. And once again, the wonderful animal networking/ rescue community got to work.

When you work in the networking/rescue world, you know it can be a time- and energy-consuming—and frustrating—experience. And, it does not always end well, but Leo’s sad story touched people. Within a few days, as his story spread, money began to be raised towards his rescue.

Meanwhile, back at the shelter his picture brightened a bit. He had been put on medications for his arthritis and pain and seemed to be responding. The flat affect was likely a side effect of the medication. Outside in the light, his vision was definitely better. Volunteers walked him to strengthen his joint muscles and his gait improved.

And then the news everyone was waiting for; a home had been found with Orange County-based dog lovers David Rosenfelt and his wife, Debbie Myers. Back in the ‘90s they had founded a rescue, called the Tara Foundation, named after Debbie’s beloved Golden Retriever. In the years of its existence they rescued and re-homed some 4,000 dogs, a pretty amazing feat.

These days their rescuing is confined to their household where they take in primarily older, large-breed dogs (many of them Goldens), which may also have medical needs and are difficult to place.

Arrangements were made and rescuer Nicole Salter picked up Leo on June 4. Since his new home was not available for a few days, she took him home and noticed some immediate improvement. He seemed energized, was climbing steps, and was busy interacting with her dogs. The latter was good practice, as he was soon to discover.

Three days later, Leo's new life was about to begin. If he felt he had somehow fallen down the rabbit hole when he wound up at the shelter, what must he have thought when he arrived at his new home? He had just left a multitude of dogs at the shelter. When David and Debbie opened the door to greet him, he was also met by 26 sets of eyes—and an equal number of wagging tails.

David notes that though some newly arrived dogs take a bit to integrate into their large pack, undaunted, Leo (now renamed Seamus) just moved right in. He has already selected his own favorite spot, right in front of the fireplace. (With that many dogs, he probably figures it’s best to get early dibs on a prime spot before winter comes.) David insists that he won’t be lost in the shuffle. All their dogs, he explains, have distinct personalities, and he and Debbie know each well. Indeed, Seamus has already made it known that he loves being petted and having his belly rubbed.

With the obvious next questions, David elaborates. It’s the dogs’ house, he explains wryly; he and Debbie just live there. The dogs also have the run of their large property. And then there is the issue about sleeping arrangements. The couple shares their bed with five dogs. The trick, he explains, is to get there early….

If dogs now consume their personal realm, they also run David’s professional life. If you like mystery novels and the name Andy Carpenter who has a Golden Retriever named Tara rings a bell, ponder no more. David is the author of the popular Andy Carpenter series of novels (seven to date) and his latest, Dog Tags, is due out in August.

Although this story could end here, nagging questions and images remain.

When it’s breakfast time, do the 27 dogs line up like a restaurant crowd waiting for an available spot? If one of them wants to finish its food later, does it take the leftovers in a “people bag?” If five of them usually sleep on their bed, just where do David and Debbie sleep if say, 10 dogs decide they want to sleep with them? If newcomer Seamus wants to join them, is there a sign-up list? Just wondering….

Seamus is now home safe for the rest of his life. So if he really did seem to have visual problems at the shelter, maybe he just hadn’t seen his future yet. It’s quite clear now.

Update: Two weeks into Seamus’ new life, David now reports, “Just wanted to tell you that our boy is doing absolutely great...couldn't be better. He seems completely relaxed and at home, and physically is way healthier than we expected.
“He really is a terrific dog.”

(A video of the fun life at the Rosenfelt/Myers home!)

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