Friday, January 20, 2012

Little Vlad

  This is probably the worst time in the world to dredge up old memories.  Our dog Amelia (formerly Becky) is at the vet, in the middle of an emergency surgery that will either save her life or end it.  The odds are pretty heavily in favor of the latter.  I can't stop thinking about it, though.
  Many, many years ago - when I was still in college - I found a tiny red bat.  He'd flown into one of those electric bug-zappers, probably chasing after some bugs.  He was scared, hurting, and his wing was a charred, mangled mess, but I just couldn't leave him there.  I raced back to my art studio, grabbed a pair of leather gauntlets and a box, and took him home.
  The next day, I called everywhere I could to find someone who knew about bats.  I finally reached a bat rehabilitator.  Unfortunately, she lived about eight hours' drive from me.  She did, however, give me advice in dealing with the little guy.

  "Don't expect him to get better," she cautioned, "Don't even expect him to eat or drink.  Red bats are kind of like 'nature's popcorn'...  They are so small, even a minor injury makes them give up and just wait to die."  She also taught me how to keep him comfortable in the meantime - most significantly, always make sure that he had something to hang from.  I never knew that "standing upright" was actually uncomfortable or painful for them, but apparently it is.
  So I worked with him.  For three days my friends and I would keep an eye on him, carefully clean his mangled wing, and offer him food and water.  The second day, he started drinking.  The third, he even ate a few mealworms.
  When I went to check on him the next morning, I found him in the bottom of his non-aviary, cold and lifeless.  Apparently he had felt spry enough in the night to move around and stretch, which re-opened the wounds on his wing.  There just wasn't enough blood left in his tiny body to keep him going at that point.
  I was sad.  I was excruciatingly sad.  But there was an undercurrent of happiness, as well.  Even when it was hopeless, we kept trying; we kept fighting.  And even though we lost in the end, that little bat gave it everything he had.

  And as I write this, the vet just called; Amelia is out of surgery.  Things still look dire, and at this point there's nothing left that anyone can do.  On one level, however, that's OK.  She's a tough girl (is that ever an understatement), and none of us ever gave up.  We all fought the difficult fight, and didn't take the easy way out.  Little Vlad would approve.
UPDATE:  It's about a month on, and Amelia is watching the cats and squirrels taunt her through our back door.  She wound up losing about half of her intestine (and is still too thin), but our scrappy tank of a dog somehow managed to pull through.  I tell myself that - despite the abysmal odds - she wound up with a perfect storm of skilled hands, caring hearts and never-give-up-the-fight attitudes all around.  Some days, it really does work.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


There's a dog that we've never talked about in Shelter Diaries before; I don't have any photos of her, and she was only in my life for a total of two days.  I really think that her story needs to be told, however.

Nyla was picked up as a stray, and brought to the shelter.  Everyone knew that no owner would come to claim her.  No rescue would take her, and she couldn't be adopted.  She was a lost soul by the time I met her, but it really didn't matter to me.

I had seen some pretty badly mangled Pit Bulls before.  Sam, for instance.  But Nyla was something different altogether.  She was absolutely beautiful - velveteen, snow-white fur with a ticking of black freckles across her nose and shoulders, bright, alert eyes, and a graceful and powerful body.  And on this elegant canvas had been wrought a cacophony of hate and brutal injustice.  Her tail was missing completely, her graceful legs and shoulders and her beautiful face were crisscrossed with scars and fresh wounds.  Worst of all were her ears; severed entirely, flush with her battered skull.  I'd seen some pretty horrific injuries:  the effects of severe neglect, mange, malnutrition and even cancer before.  But this was different.  This was done by a human: deliberately, purposefully, and malevolently.

And that's why no owner would ever reclaim her.  Nyla was a fighting dog.

She was understandably skittish, and slow to trust.  Toys meant nothing to her, but food and treats were more than welcome.  Since she couldn't be taken out of her kennel, I worked with her inside.  SitLie downGood girlHigh-five.  We were making progress.  We were finding that small ember of happiness, that real dog down inside her.  She was relaxing, and oh so beautiful.

And then it happened.

Another volunteer passed by with a dog, on their way out to the play yard.  Nyla sprang up, snarled, and threw herself - just once - against the door of her kennel with a fury that had been beaten into her for so long, it was reflex.  Then she froze.  And then she turned and looked at me.

I've only met one other dog with eyes that soft.  There was no aggression on her face; no tension in those powerful, scarred shoulders of hers.  She took a couple of steps toward me, then collapsed in my lap, rag-doll limp and shaking like a sobbing child, her head buried in my chest.  We sat like that until closing time.

Due to overcrowding and her dog-aggression issues, Nyla was euthanized.  I wish I had been able to get some photos of her, but I don't need them.  Her face is burned in my memory as deeply as Buster's.  And if I don't react well to people pontificating about how it's the breed of the dog, and Pit Bulls are "born killers" and "genetically aggressive," I hope people will understand.  There are killers and monsters and savages out there aplenty, but most of them walk on two legs instead of four.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Paige came into the shelter as a stray, and it's bewildering that her previous owner never came looking for her. She's only about two years old, so she's hitting that golden time when a dog still has a puppy's playfulness and energy, but a bit of the wisdom and restraint that carries into their adult years. Although she is a little bit overenthusiastic in wanting to give hugs sometimes, Paige is well-behaved and personable. On top of all that, she plays fetch, too!

When we went outside today, Sophie and I took turns brushing the unshot winter-coat she was still carrying around (in the 103-degree Texas summertime). As is often the case, getting anything but a close-up was tricky, since she always seemed to want to be wherever the person with the camera was. Paige really seems to be everything you could want in a friendly, knocking-about-with kind of dog.

"And if you adopt one Paige today, we'll even throw in a second set of back dewclaws FREE as an added bonus!"

UPDATE 7/11: Took Paige outside again today, and she was really happy to get a chance to stretch her legs. We also found out that she's much more of a people-dog than a dog's dog: she grumbled at a couple of other female dogs that walked by her kennel, and (although there was no snapping or lunging) an overenthusiastic young puppy wound up getting literally punched in the face. Not sure if it's because she isn't spayed or if her "only dog" instincts extend to the menfolk, but Paige could use a little extra socialization and supervision when it comes to strange dogs.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Although ShoeShine was dumped at the shelter by his owner about a month ago, I only had the opportunity to meet him this past weekend. At first, I didn't think he liked me at all - he would dart to the front of his kennel, bark repeatedly, then dash off... only to repeat this ritual again and again. It was only after I got home and was getting ready to walk our dog Rufus that it hit me: Rufus usually uses the same bark when he's playing or when he wants something. And that got me thinking even more.

The next day, I managed to get up to the shelter again. When I got to his kennel, I called out, "Hey, ShoeShine! Wanna' go ouside?" and he cocked his head at me; not a confused expression at all, but a cheerful gesture that I recognized well. It's the same bright little "Heck yeah!" nod that Rufus gives me when asked if he wants to do something fun. So outside we went.

ShoeShine is brimming over with energy and enthusiasm. He's a smart dog, and a complex one as well. One moment, he can be mischievous and swaggering; the next moment, he'll be sweet, vulnerable, and eager to please. He's a combination of German Shepherd and Golden Retriever, and seems to have gotten some of the best of both breeds in him.

Beautiful, energetic, and amazingly friendly, ShoeShine is a real find - and sadly, one that may be gone forever in just a few short days. Since the opening of the new shelter, adoptions have been painfully few; rescue groups are over-full and desperately trying to make just a tiny bit more space to save more lives. Times are tough all around, but it's literally a life-and-death struggle for the shelter, its staff, and the animals. ShoeShine has been there a month - long enough to grow from a puppy to an adolescent, long enough to watch a number of other animals come and go. In the past two days, at least eighteen new dogs have come in, and there is nowhere to put them.

Tuesday may well be his last day. If it is, and he has to be put to sleep to make room for new dogs, it will be heartbreaking. And for me... well, he's so much like Rufus in so many ways, I think my heart will break a little bit every time I look at my own lovable rascal and see what ShoeShine could have been, too.
UPDATE 6/30: ShoeShine was one of ELEVEN dogs pulled yesterday by rescue groups at the last minute. Thanks to their hard work, there's a little bit of breathing room at the shelter - at least for a few days. ShoeShine headed to Shreveport, LA along with a Chihuahua named Josh, where they will be fostered - and hopefully adopted out - by Animal Welfare, Inc., a Shreveport-based rescue group.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Request

Looking back at all of the dogs we've met over the past year - and looking forward to the opening of Irving's new "Animal Care Campus" to replace the 36-year-old shelter building - has made me a bit nostalgic. I've been wanting to do another slideshow of the animals we've featured, but this time I'll need some assistance to make it work.

If you have (or know someone who has) an animal that was adopted from the Irving Animal Shelter - especially one featured here on Shelter Diaries - I'd like to get photos to show the animals "then and now" when possible. People should get to see that for a lot of these dogs and cats, leaving the shelter is not just a "happily ever after," but a "to be continued" as well.

If you do have photos you'd like to contribute, please e-mail them to us at Thanks!


Sunday, March 7, 2010


Sandy is, to put it plainly, the ugliest dog at the shelter. Her eyes are red and baggy half-covered by the membranes surrounding them, her tongue protrudes from her mouth constantly, her teats are like wads of chewed bubblegum hanging from her underside and she has a permanantly protruding vulva from her years as a puppy-mill bitch. She was smeared with feces and her legs calloused and scabrous. And I absolutely love every inch of her! One might think that a dog so used and mistreated would want nothing to do with people, but Sandy is so full of affection and trust, she has surprised everyone at the shelter with her good nature and manners.

Tim and I took her outside for a much-needed bath, and she was so good on the leash and really enjoyed stretching her legs and soaking up some sunshine. She didn't like the cold water but she was really brave as we scrubbed away the dried poop from her shoulders, legs and backside.

I let her stay outside in the sun for almost an hour while she dried. She liked the grass but was quite happy when I laid out one of the towels for her to sunbathe on. If I walked away, though, she was right there following me. She is not stingy with the kisses either and her tongue is surprisingly long! She doesn't know what to do with a ball but she does enjoy just hanging out and watching the world go by.

Like I said, Sandy is not going to win any beauty pagents, and is going to have to get by on her personality alone, but given a chance to love somebody, there is no one who shines brighter.

UPDATE 3/09: Sandy met two outgoing female dogs in the lobby of the shelter and did NOT like either one. I would suggest she not be homed with other females, and possibly not any other dogs at all. We'll see how she is around males and try again with calmer, older females.

Friday, February 19, 2010


We haven't been able to take Harley outside his kennel yet, but check out these photos.  He is too cute!

We'll do a proper write-up when we have more to tell you.  He really does seem terribly sweet, though.

(UPDATE 2/24):  Never got around to doing a proper update, but it doesn't matter now.  Harley was euthanized today, due to acute illness.  I'm sorry we didn't get to spend more time with you, Harley Dog.