78: A Better Life

78: A Better Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

A Better Life

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

~Mother Teresa

The malnourished Shih Tzu looked at the camera with sad eyes, its tail tucked between its legs. How could this sweet, helpless creature have been so mistreated? And what could I do about it? Fifteen dogs had been rescued from a woman who hoarded over fifty dogs, cats and horses. Some were so far gone it was too late for them and most were starving. Those that survived were scheduled to be destroyed. This little guy was one of them. Something about his teddy-bear-like face called to me. I knew I had to help him.

My next step was to convince my husband we should take on another pet. We already had a ten-year-old cat named Moose and a five-year-old Shih Tzu named Panda. I have a soft spot for Shih Tzus, having grown up with one as my best friend. That particular dog, Nikki, had gotten a sensitive teenager through some rough times with his unconditional love. It was my turn to pay his gift forward. I was hoping my husband would see it that way too.

After some discussion, we agreed to foster the dog to see if it would be a good fit for us. We didn’t know what to expect from a dog that had been neglected and quite possibly abused. We were also unsure how our other pets would react and we needed permission from our landlords to bring another animal into the house. If we couldn’t keep him, I knew he would still have the opportunity to be placed in a good home.

We met the dogs’ rescuer, Judy, at the kennels and were shocked by the little Shih Tzu’s condition. His coat was so short that pink skin and ribs showed through. Dried mud and what looked like dried blood was caked on some of the hairs. He had an eye-watering stench. One of his eyes had a milky white spot in the middle and he was missing all but one short front tooth, so his tongue slid partway out. His skinny little tail was tucked between his legs. This dog had seen rough times and needed some attention.

We knelt down and he approached us without hesitation. He rubbed against us like a cat and licked our hands while we petted him. He even rolled on his back so we would rub his belly. I fell in love with him then and there.

We had brought Panda with us and the two sniffed each other in greeting and seemed fine together. That was all we needed to know. Though he had no belongings, no name and we had no way of knowing his age, we brought him home with us.

Luckily, our cat Moose just ignored him as he explored his new surroundings. Loud noises caused him to jump and he flinched at sudden movements. When he lifted his leg on our couch, I was able to race him outside and praise him for finishing on the grass. He didn’t seem to know any basic commands and wouldn’t come when called. And when given his freedom, he would take off at full speed and we had to race to catch up to him. He had a lot to learn.

While he and Panda got to know each other in the back yard, my husband and I debated whether we had done the right thing. Here was a dog that had been traumatized and had no training. We had two pets already, limited finances and were set to move within the month.

“I’m not sure I want to take on the stress and responsibility of another dog,” my husband said.

“I know,” I said miserably. “I don’t know that I want to either.”

My husband’s eyes widened in surprise.

“What is it?” I turned around to see what he was looking at. The dog was lying on the deck, his ears drooping, his sad eyes watching us.

“I think he heard us,” my husband said.

I shooed the dog off the deck so we could continue our discussion, but he returned to my side immediately. I glanced at my husband, who shrugged.

“I don’t really want to get rid of him, but I don’t know if I’m capable of all the added work that will be necessary to train him.” I kept an eye on the dog as I spoke. He dropped to the ground, put his head on his paws and stared up at us dejectedly. I was stunned. Could this dog really understand what we were saying?

“We can’t get rid of him now!” my husband cried. “Look at him!”

And that’s how our decision to foster a dog lasted for less than a day. We called Judy and told her we were keeping him. We got him a new collar, leash, bed, food, treats and toys. He needed three baths and a professional grooming before his coat went from tan and gray to silky black and white. And finally we gave him a name that seemed to fit him: Koala.

We were able to crate train him and teach him commands. He never went potty inside again. He still hesitated at the word “come,” but we improvised by clapping and calling his name. We were always adapting, and it was always an adventure. Koala had some quirks, like swallowing my husband’s earplugs, growling to get our attention, sticking his behind in the air if you scratched the right spot, doing a dance when he saw his food, panicking if someone cleared their throat, and sleeping on the floor of the closet under our clothes. The only thing that really mattered was that he had become a beloved member of our family.

Not long ago, we learned Koala had congenital kidney disease and was in the early stages of failure. It was heartbreaking because I wanted him to live a long and happy life. But my husband helped me realize that in rescuing him, loving him and taking care of him, we were giving him a great life. And no matter what, no matter how long he has left, we will never regret bringing him into our family. He shows us his love every day in the way he rubs against us, licks our hands, snorts happily when we come home or sits in our laps gazing up at us with his tongue sticking out of his mouth. And though it might have taken a few days, once that now-fluffy tail of his curled up and started wagging, it was never tucked between his legs again.

~Kristi Cocchiarella FitzGerald

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