51: A Message from Morton

51: A Message from Morton

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog

A Message from Morton

Fun fact: A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that pet owners had a much greater survival rate than those without pets one year after a heart attack.

The dogs that need me always seem to find me. I don’t look for them but somehow I know, as if they are sending me messages telepathically. This was the case three months after both of our beloved Shih Tzus died suddenly.

I was working at my computer when I was hit with the familiar yet indescribable knowledge that another dog needed me. The sensation was so strong that even though I knew my husband Dave didn’t want one, I started searching online to find the dog that needed me. No pictures spoke to me until I came across the Humane Society’s website.

Sure enough, there was Morton. He was ugly enough to be cute and he needed an owner who had experience with special-needs dogs. In my mind, we were a perfect match. I expected resistance when I broached the subject of Morton with Dave, but he simply said, “If the dog needs us, let’s go get him.” I called the Humane Society to make an appointment, but they couldn’t fit us in until three days later due to the intake of a large number of dogs.

I found it odd when we finally did meet Morton that he was much larger than I expected, and I didn’t feel any special connection to him. Even though I was a bit disconcerted, we went ahead and met with Jennifer, an adoption specialist. The Humane Society cares deeply about their animals, and the screening process is thorough. To my surprise, at the end of our interview, Jennifer talked us out of adopting Morton. She didn’t think we were a good fit because of my health issues. I’d had a heart attack two years before, and my energy levels hadn’t returned to normal and were not expected to do so. She felt Morton would be too much work for me, and Dave agreed with her.

However, Jennifer thought we’d be ideal for one of the dogs they’d just rescued from a puppy mill where they’d been forced to live in cages for their entire lives. They did not know how to be dogs. They needed the love, patience and experience she felt we had. She took us to an area that was not open to the public where we saw some of the saddest, most scared and timid dogs we’d ever seen. I was overwhelmed with compassion.

They’d all been shaved down to their skin. I’d walked past the first cage thinking it was empty. As we started to make a second walk past the cages, I realized there was a dog in the first cage. “Gaston” was written on the label on his cage. I hadn’t noticed him before because he was so little. Actually, with his shaved body and pointy nose, he looked like an oversized white rat, but the moment I looked into his eyes, I realized that Morton had just been the messenger. This was the dog that needed me.

Gaston was only seven and a half pounds. When I picked him up, he pressed his tiny head into my chest and wrapped his little paws around my hand with a determination and strength that belied his size. There was no doubt we were meant to be together. We continued to bond while Jennifer gave us what little information she had on the dog: He was a Maltese, approximately five years old, and Gaston was just a name the staff had given him. Technically, because he had not been seen by the vet, he was not available for adoption, but we could pre-adopt him. As long as everything went okay, he would be ours in about a week. I hated putting him back in his cage, but we had no choice.

We filled out the necessary paperwork, and toyed with different names on the drive home, as Gaston didn’t suit him or us. Ultimately, we settled on Gus, a little name for a little dog.

Exactly one week later, we brought Gus home. He’d been neutered and had half of his teeth removed because they were rotten. His liver enzymes were elevated, his back leg was stiff from inactivity, and his coat had a yellow tinge from poor diet. We didn’t care. We happily signed the release documents and were thrilled that he was ours.

We’d never had cages for our other dogs, but Jennifer had told us it would be important at first for Gus to have one. A neighbour lent us a cage, and I placed a small soft-sided dog bed on top of a comfy red plaid blanket inside it. Every day while I waited for Gus to be ready, I bought toys, new dog bowls, a sweater, a toy pup tent, soft dog treats and really small chew bones.

At first, life outside the puppy mill was very traumatic for Gus. He was terrified of everything and everybody, including Dave, who is the most caring animal person I have ever known. Understandably, Gus operated on a fear-based assumption that anything new was a threat that needed to be run away from. He wouldn’t take food from our hands, and he did not know how to play. He was afraid of dogs that wanted to sniff him and people who wanted to pet him. And he certainly wasn’t house-trained.

Every day we share with Gus is a lesson in miracles and gratitude. We have watched him advance from hiding when Dave entered a room, to taking his first piece of food from Dave’s hand, to now barking confidently at Dave’s heels when he is too slow to give him his morning treat. As for play, he’s progressed from shredding paper towels on his own to playing fetch the ball with me. While he still doesn’t like to be touched by people, he lets our neighbour Jon pet him and initiates sniffing opportunities with the dogs he knows. The first time he ran freely and fast around our yard was to watch pure joy in motion.

Gus is a happy little soul who appreciates everything in his world. He has gained a full pound, has a shiny white coat, and there’s not a trace of stiffness in his leg. While he sleeps tucked into me at night, we ended up buying his cage because he loves it so much. It is located five feet from my desk where I work from home, and it’s his safe place where he sleeps and keeps his growing number of possessions during the day.

I was, and continue to be, the center of his universe, but he doesn’t panic if he loses sight of me anymore because he knows I always come back and pick him up so he can snuggle with me. I often think of Morton and hope he has found his safe place in the world. I thank him for sending me a message that there was a dog that needed me and, as it turns out, a dog that I needed more than I could ever have imagined.

~Laura Snell

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