It was just a week ago that I saw a URL which pointed to an article in the Village Voice about the Center for Animal Care and Control in Manhattan, an article which paints a dirty picture of mismanagement, bureaucracy, and death.
I must have read that story just about the time as the CACC van picked up a stray, a GSD bitch with hind quarters so weak she couldn't stand and with a front leg which appeared to be broken. Abandoned by her owner, set out into the streets of Manhattan near Harlem, probably hit by a car, and brought to the largest dog pound in this country with nothing to hope for but a quick end to her misery.
A worker at CACC recognized the dog for what she is: a beautiful, sweet, gentle little shepherd, and called SASRA/PA for a rescue. The pound vet was unwilling to examine the leg and in a way that's understandable. In her current condition she's not adoptable and she was slated to die; why put time and money into a skinny limping bag of bones when there are hundreds of cute, adoptable, golden fuzz balls demanding care?
The kennel worker's contact began what added up to over 50 phone calls and innumerable e-mail messages across the Net in an attempt to bring this little girl out of Manhattan and to Pennsylvania. It was a post to TGSD-L which started the first leg of the transport. Phyllis had business in Hackettstown, NJ, and offered to detour through Manhattan to pick up the dog. No mean feat, that. Phyllis lives in South Jersey and going across the George Washington bridge at rush hour is not a relaxing drive. I met them in Hackettstown at the cattle auction. Dog rescue takes one into some very strange places!
One look at Hattie and I was gone. What a doll! Black with salt-and-pepper top hairs on her back, tan legs, long tail, and big ears. But oh, did she wobble. My heart went out to her. And then the shocker. "I think she may be pregnant," said Phyllis. "Pregnant?! You're kidding, right?" "No. Palpate her. I think I can feel a mass in her belly." I've never had a bitch and I wouldn't even begin to know what to feel for. She had some vaginal discharge as well, just barely pink. Ye gods, please, I thought, not pregnant! Females since the beginning of time have sent that plea.
I had brought liver treats and fed her a piece, then another, and then she stuck her nose in my coat pocket. "More please," she smiled at me. We lifted her into my truck and coaxed her into a crate. "Here you go, crate cookie." All dogs get crate cookies. She laid down, crossed her paws, put her head on them, and sighed. Phyllis and I hugged, and unspoken between us was the hope for a good home somewhere in this dog's future.
Self-talk on the drive home:
"If she's pregnant they won't take her at the shelter. I'll just foster her until she's whelped and the puppies are old enough. Hm, let's see. Four weeks to whelping, eight for the pups...nope, can't do it, gotta go to Georgia in May. Oh hell, Edwin can take them for the duration. Yeah, right! ....Cute dog....wonder what her name is. Got it! Hattie. For coming from Manhattan. .....Big mistake. You do not name a rescue. It ties you to them. Remember Jake??? ...."
She was in my kennel for an hour before we undertook the next leg, to Quakertown this time. Hasso and Jake were beside themselves. There's a bitch in their kennel and even though both dogs are neutered the memories of past lusts in their hearts were strong. Her scent was all over me, as were my dogs.
In Quakertown I was met by another SASRA volunteer who would foster Hattie for the few days it would take to have her examined by our vet. "Meet Hattie," I said. "Hattie? She has a name?" "Yeah, I gave it to her, for Manhattan, you know?" "Great name! That's who she'll be." Now there were three of us in love with this dog. So easy to do and so dangerous. After a while your mind is filled with all of the dogs you've handled, however briefly, and each one has a special place in your heart. I wonder sometimes how much room I've got left and then I think of all the lost and lonely dogs still out there, and I know I have a spot for all who come into my life.
Carol called me. The vet had already done a preliminary check. No puppies!! Her abdomen is slightly distended and they'll check that out in more detail tomorrow. Why is she so weak in the rear? Because she has absolutely no muscle tissue back there, just skin and bones and fur. She needs some very carefully managed exercises and a carefully balanced diet to give her body some structure and strength. The bad news is the front leg. The vet didn't think it was broken but he does suspect an injury to the stifle. X-rays tomorrow will give us more information.
And that's Hattie. Her story will go on. She'll have a home with one of us for many weeks before we begin to look for a new family. One of us will feed her and walk her and maybe take her swimming until she's strong again and walks like a GSD should. One of us will love her and care for her and then mourn her when she leaves. Already she has touched three lives. She's a special dog.
The author Anka Andrews is a committed volunteer with Save A Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Pennsylvania. SASRA/PA can be reached at (610) 261-1695.