Weekends at the shelter are usually a great time - some of the most amazing folks volunteer there, and Saturday is when most of them can shake loose from the daily grind and come play. One of my favorite volunteers is a guy who always seems to have an extra bit of happiness to share around, and a real way with dogs both large and small. After having spent time exercising dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to a St. Bernard, he got ready to call it a day and hopped in his car.
A few minutes later, he came back into the shelter with this young fellow in tow. While leaving, he had seen a couple of guys in a truck slow down a bit, chuck this poor dog out onto the sidewalk (at about 10-15 miles an hour), and speed away. Without pausing a beat, he had pulled over, scooped up the pup, and whisked him back to the shelter to be checked out.
When I got back to the shelter (I was away when it had happened), young Smitty was sitting in his kennel, shaking and looking around nervously. Moreover, he hadn't touched his food. I sat down next to him, casually looking around and waiting for him to calm down. Smitty - who I straightaway nicknamed "Buster," owing to both his earlier pratfall and his deadpan face - sniffed at me cautiously, then licked the air nervously. I gently petted his shoulder, and he crawled right into my lap and promptly fell asleep. I felt so guilty when I had to finally get up and go, but he took it in stride, and nibbled a bit at his dinner.
Monday, Sophie and I decided to brave the rain and take Buster out for a few photos. He was very calm and friendly, though he kept trying to crawl up into my lap whenever he had the chance. Remarkably, he seems to have walked away from his tumble with only a few minor scratches and scrapes, which made me very happy.
When I had to clean his kennel later on, I simply clipped his lead to one of my belt loops, and he followed me so well he never even took the slack out of the leash. And when I was in the kennel next door with Chester, I would periodically glance up to see Buster's eager face bounce up over the kennel wall, then back out of sight. It seems like now that he's seen a bit of comfort and affection, he's very hesitant to let it slip away.
Best of all, I saw him smile today - something I hadn't seen since he came in.
UPDATE (August 1):
UPDATE (August 14): Two weeks. Buster was with us for only 13 days, then he was gone - the "kennel cough" that he'd contracted had masked the only early symptoms of canine distemper, a far more serious (and lethal) infection. By the time any tangible symptom had appeared (in Buster's case, myoclonus of the facial muscles), it was far too late. In less than twenty-four hours, he was beset by pneumonia, encephalitis, disorientation and seizures. He might have been able to hold on another day, perhaps less; and if by some miracle he survived (CDV is untreatable), he would have suffered horrifically and been left destroyed both physically and mentally.
It was an impossibly painful decision, but we decided that Buster's last memories should be ones that would give him comfort, not agony or fear or hysteria. He was euthanized by anesthesia overdose yesterday, and his body cremated to prevent any other animals from being contaminated.
I can handle the grief - the sorrow, the pain of loss. I can cope with the guilt that I'd let him down so very badly, and wasn't able to save him. The only thing I can't grapple with right now is the anger; the abject disgust for the reason he was in the shelter in the first place, the reason he got sick. The reason he died.
The chance that a mature dog will contract CDV is remakably small, assuming that the human who is responsible for him gives enough of a shit to keep his vaccinations up-to-date. Because someone couldn't be bothered though, Buster is dead.