Dogs

Life after Dog

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A glorious thunderstorm is dancing outside my window, and it is the first time in more than a dozen years that Tinker Bell isn’t feeling terrorized– desperately afraid of the violent thunder and lightning as it flashes across the sky.

This is because Tinker Bell no longer walks this earth.

On Friday afternoon, he was lovingly released from his body.  Since then, it feels as if the simple sweetness that was him has filled the air around me.  The grass is even more beautiful as it sways in the wind, the trees provide even more luscious shade.  The sun is more golden, the sunsets more dramatic– the beings that people my world even more beloved than ever before.  Blessings abound and I know with certainty that all our prayers are answered.

Tinker Bell’s sweetness is everywhere, and yet his nearly pathological and lifelong fear of loud noises, raised voices, or fast-moving hands or feet has disappeared completely.  My darling dog is finally free.

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***

Tinker Bell’s life before joining mine was bleak, to say the least.  He was bought from a breeder and raised by a man whose temper was his defining character, a man who imprinted in this innocent puppy a fear so great that, for the rest of his life a loud noise could make this big dog vomit and cower in distress.

When the man had a fatal heart attack, his family asked me if I would take him in.  Delightedly, I said yes, and took him immediately to have his medical needs met and to be neutered.

This was the early days of Indraloka,  I did not know to get “ownership” of the animal in writing right away.

Alas, the family changed their mind, and I had no recourse, I had to give him back.  Oddly, they tied him up outside and left him there, with seemingly no interest in him.  I approached them several times and offered to give him a good home, but they refused.  So I took to visiting him on his chain, offering him what comfort I could.

***

It was no coincidence that when Tinker Bell finally came into my life to stay it was perhaps my darkest day.

Everything around me seemed to have fallen apart.  My marriage had failed, my business had collapsed, my savings had been spent, I had distanced myself from nearly all my friends, my parents had moved to India, and even my home seemed to be falling apart around me.  The animals were all that kept me going.

And then my pony got sick.

Cody had a rare form of autoimmune disease.  The slightest exposure to the very things that horses live for– such as grass– made him dangerously ill.  I developed a system whereby his stall and paddock were disinfected twice a day, and he was kept alive on a carefully prepared diet that ensured no exposure to his many allergens.

Oh how I loved that little pony!  His eyes would light up when he saw me, and we spent hours together, comforting one another.

But finally, a day came when his body just couldn’t go on, even with all of my precautions.  He couldn’t stand and he couldn’t breathe.  I knew that my great love and even greater need was not enough reason to hold him here any longer.  So, I called the vet and sat next to my dying pony, feeding him all the things he had longed for but was too allergic to eat– what difference did it make, right?

I had no one to call to be with me and Cody, and when the vet came I said goodbye to my little pony all alone, and alone I watched his body being dragged onto the trailer that would take him away.  I did not have any money to have him cremated, and had to allow them to take his body to a place where he would be made into fertilizer.  That choice still haunts me today.

Heartbroken and forlorn, too worn out and hopeless to even cry, I made my way back to the house.

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And suddenly, as if by magic, Tinker Bell appeared in a car in the driveway!  He was very sick, and very frightened.  The woman behind the wheel– the same woman who had taken him back several years ago– said to me, “I’m on my way to the SPCA unless you still want him.”

I didn’t even have the strength to respond.  I just took him out of the car, walked him into the middle of the lawn, and collapsed into tears, crying in his fur.

His name was not Tinker Bell then, of course.  They had called him Stroker.  But to me, he was an angel– a fairy– a magical creature of love who had come to save me.

He laid his huge, drooly head on my shoulder and sat patiently while I cried and cried, just as Cody had always done.  A pony for a pony.

***

But Tinker Bell wasn’t well.  In fact, his body was slowly shutting down.  It began with breathing problems and weight loss and progressed to liver failure, then kidney failure, and before I knew it, Tinker Bell was in congestive heart failure.  I took him to every vet I could find, and none of their tests revealed the source of his multiple organ failure.

Finally, I realized that he was suffering the same symptoms as Cody had.  And sure enough, we treated him as if he had auto immune disease and he started getting better!  He regained his weight and his strength, and began acting like a young puppy, frolicking with the other dogs, shaking his big head with drool flying everywhere and a sparkle in his eyes.

Tink plays with Marisol
Tink plays with Marisol

And yet, despite his recovered physical health, Tinker Bell still suffered emotionally.  If I said, “Tinker Bell, come,” he would tuck his tail between his legs and run and hide.  I realized he expected to either be tied up or hurt when he was called, so I stopped asking him to come.

Instead, I made up a silly game that he loved.  I would wander around the yard saying, “Excuse me, have you seen my dog? Where’s my dog?” in a silly voice, deliberately looking away from him.  Delightedly, he’d run up to me, circling around and barking for my attention.  I’d continue to look away and ask where my dog was, until finally I’d pretend to trip over him. We would tumble into the grass for a good cuddle.  And that is how Tinker Bell learned it was okay to answer when he was called.

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Tinker Bell relaxes with Izzy and Marisol

***

Resting after a vigorous swim in the creek
Resting after a vigorous swim in the creek

And oh how Tinker loved kids!!  The way that I discovered this was that one day we had a Brownie Troop visiting the sanctuary.  The girls were congregated on the hill, getting ready for a picnic lunch.  I decided to bring Tinker Bell out to see them.  He bolted through the open door, ran up the hill, burst into the midst of the children, and flopped down on the ground for belly rubs.

Since then, every time children have come to the sanctuary, Tinker Bell has gloried in having them crawl all over him, hang on him and even fall asleep on him.  I know with certainty that Tinker Bell’s heaven is filled with doting children and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

***

The weekend of July 4th Tinker Bell was devastated, as usual, by the sounds of firecrackers all around us.  We also experienced an oppressive heat wave starting that weekend and lasting most of July– terrible conditions for big, shaggy dogs that prefer laying in mounds of snow in 20 degrees fahrenheit.

That was the weekend he stopped being able to climb stairs.  I started sleeping on the sofa in the living room, and we got an air conditioner to bring the room’s temperatures down to a level where he could breathe, although the rest of us were shivering.

We took him to vet after vet, and gave him more and more arthritis medications, but he kept getting worse.  Finally, he fell down and never got up again.  I began carrying him from place to place.  Then his heart started failing, and I knew at his age I wouldn’t be able to save him again.  We kept him comfortable for a few more days, while a stream of visitors flowed through the doors.  Time and again, Tinker Bell comforted each visitor as they cried into his great mane, his eyes dancing with love and sweetness.

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Tinker comforts two young admirers as they say good-bye

He was ready.

I lay down next to him and cried into his fur a final time, holding him as he let out his last breath.  The sweetness that was Tinker Bell was released in a cloud of love that has enveloped me since.

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Sunset

Marisol’s Story Part III: Many Waters Cannot Quench Love, Neither Can the Floods Drown Them

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Home at Last

The hope of Acapulco has become the hope of Pennsylvania, too.

Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco y Pennsylvania journeyed for three weeks, over 3,000 miles, via three long car trips and two plane trips, while being housed, driven, and cared for by three different, devoted animal rescue workers (all of whom fell madly in love with her) only to arrive during the worst flood in the history of northeast Pennsylvania!

We watched dumbfounded as entire homes and dreams were swept away by the raging river. It was a time of deep devastation and despair for the good people of this region. These are people who have welcomed me and the sanctuary into their community. These are neighbors and friends who have repeatedly gone out of their way to help us and each other whenever they saw a need. These are hardworking people without the means to pay for flood insurance. I watched helplessly as many of them lost everything to the river, which I loved dearly enough to move 100 miles to be near.

The sanctuary, blessed to be on high ground, escaped unscathed. But with Mehoopany, where the sanctuary is based, under 10 feet of water I was landlocked. Roads and bridges were closed in every direction, and I wondered, “How do I get my dog?”

Marisol’s flight was coming in to Philadelphia. They were not experiencing the flooding that we were, and her flight was scheduled to arrive on time. I had only hours to find a solution or Marisol would be stranded in the airport. Unthinkable for any dog, but after all Marisol had been through, it would have been unspeakable to abandon her in this way.

Once again, I called on Janice Preston, beloved sanctuary volunteer and friend. Janice and her husband Ed, with their big hearts and generous natures, had already decided to adopt another dog from Save a Mexican Mutt. Their dog Otto, a blind Daschund found abandoned on the streets, was traveling with Señorita Marisol, so I knew they needed to get to the airport as well.

Janice with her newfound love Otto, adopted from Save a Mexican Mutt

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I learned that their roads were unaffected by flooding, and they agreed to pick her up. But there was yet another obstacle: the two dogs were traveling under my name, and the airline would not release them without my photo ID and signature.

Frantically, I called Kelly Karger, who was driving the dogs the 1500 miles from her home in Mexico to San Antonio and putting them on the plane. No luck. All I got was her voice mail. What now?

The rain was coming down fast, the river rising, and I was parked on the hill at the top of my road because my phone lines were down and I had no cell signal at my house. I could see that conditions were getting worse by the minute. I only had about 10 minutes before my road would be impassable, stranding me away from all the other animals that needed my care.

Thinking fast, Janice called the airline directly and simply requested that the “ship to” information be changed. They never even asked who she was or by whose authority she made the request. They just changed it for her. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I sat at home that night and wept for my neighbors and friends whose hopes had been drowned. And I wished beyond all wishes that I could be there to greet sweet Marisol, who has been through so much and has come so far.

I wasn’t the only one on tenterhooks until Marisol came home. Volunteers and friends of the sanctuary all waited with me, a community of baited breaths. I was able to send and receive text messages, despite having no ability to use the internet or phone, and so I tracked Marisol’s progress and texted updates to another remarkable volunteer, Michaela Moore. Michaela posted updates on the sanctuary’s Facebook page, and our many Facebook friends followed her progress eagerly. Time and again, people commented and sent private messages that Marisol’s arrival was renewing their hope and making the grief of the floods more bearable. Our little dog had become a beacon of light in our dark and rain-filled skies.

Finally, Janice and Ed made it to the airport and were able to pick up the two dogs. Of course my road was still closed, so they kept Marisol until Saturday, when some of the flood waters began to recede. They then embarked on a three and a half hour journey (which usually took a bit under an hour), navigating through flood ravaged countryside, around debris, closed roads and bridges, finally arriving here in the late afternoon.

When she saw me, Marisol wagged her tail so hard she shook. I felt the same way.

After six months, the connection between us remained palpable. Clearly, Dr. Gomez Duque took wonderful care of Marisol. I would not have recognized this shiny, healthy dog that can walk and run on all four legs but for the look in her eyes, which draws one straight to her unmistakeable, wise, faithful, old soul.

Oh yes, this is the same feeling I had the first time we made eye contact, when we found each other by a six lane highway. Then, she was filthy, emaciated, and had two broken back legs. And even then all I could see was her wise old soul.

The first moment of our reunionFirst whiff of sanctuary life...

As I write, Marisol is sleeping soundly with the other dogs and two little foundling kittens. She has already settled in as if she always lived here, and seems to love farm life. In her blog, Jennifer Schmidt, who cared for Marisol for a week and took her on one leg of her journey through Mexico, commented that her dogs played with Marisol gently, “as if they knew she had been broken, and was put together piece by piece.” I noticed my dogs are doing the same, and the sweetness of it adds even more beauty to our happy little real life fairy tale.

My little beacon of faith, hope, and love couldn’t even be stopped by floods. This is why I do what I do.

Marisol’s Story Part II: …y el mayor de ellos es el amore (…and the greatest of these is love)

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Indraloka in the morning

Morning sunlight streamed through the fog as it lifted, revealing my own personal paradise– Indraloka on a summer morning. The creek burbled and Majja the Fabu, our resident peacock, called an exotic good morning. Tom and Jake (the Turkeys) added their voices to the choir, while Magdie and Nunzi just grumbled and turned over in their sleep. They are not morning pigs.

Majja the FabuMagdie and Nunzi

I wake up smiling every morning, but this day was even better than most. Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco was finally coming home! (For Part I of Marisol’s story, click on her name.) I savored a cup of hot tea as I got ready to embark on my new and prized morning ritual, a meditative walk over the hillside before feeding and cleaning up after my beloveds.

Magdie and Nunzi
Three-thousand miles away, Marisol was also taking her morning walk. Just a few months ago she had to drag her two broken back legs behind her and scrounge what nutrition she could on the streets of Acapulco. Today, she is fed plentiful nutritious food and offered daily therapy to help her regain use her now-rebuilt back legs. Thanks to the diligent work of her vet, Dr. Eusebio Gomez Duque, Marisol now walks and even runs with only a slight limp.
Dr. Eusebio Gomez Duque, Marisol, and I discuss her treatment (March, 2011)

When I left Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco with the Dr. Gomez Duque in March, we had agreed that he would hire someone to get her to the Texas border when she was healthy enough to travel. I had planned to bring her home from there. Unfortunately, he had no luck finding a trustworthy person for the job. Commercial airlines flying out of Mexico don’t have the best reputation for gentle handling of dogs and also require a prohibitively expensive customs process. We kept running into brick walls when we tried to find a safe and affordable way to transport her.

What now?

I had to bring her home. She was counting on me. I couldn’t leave her future to chance. But how does one woman with limited resources safely move a 35 pound dog more than three-thousand miles across a dangerous, crime-ridden border? Add to that my obligations to care for my other 150 animals here, and my need to work in order to feed them (and hence my limited time and ability to travel). I was stymied, but I refused to give up. My mother raised me never to say, “I can’t”.

My best friend, who has accomplished many impressive things against great odds and who never gives up on doing the right thing (even when it is not easy), likes to say, “Solvitur Ambulando.” It is solved by walking.

So I walked.

As I walked, I meditated. I sang the Cherokee morning prayer. I chanted the Buddhist Green Tara mantra. I prayed the Prayer of Saint Francis. Let me be an instrument of your Peace. Let me bring her home.

I was blessed with a simple answer: “Ask for help.”

Ask for help. Don’t try to do it alone. Don’t try to solve it alone. So, one of the sanctuary’s wonderful volunteers, Janice Preston, began asking bigger rescue groups for help and advice. Some never returned her calls, and we were stricken again by how overwhelmed and overworked so many animal rescuers are. Many more made time to respond, and offered love and support but did not have an answer for us. Best Friends Animal Society, a huge rescue in Utah, has a whole department dedicated to helping grass roots animal welfare groups. They gave us a list of dog rescues who work on an international level.

Janice, who never ceases to inspire me with her passion, resourcefulness and dedication, contacted all of them. Kelly Karger of Save a Mexican Mutt responded immediately, “We have to make this happen!” As I read her email, tears of joy streamed down my face. What a beautiful person. I could hear her warmth and strength as if she were sitting next to me, instead of sending me emails from thousands of miles away. Kelly immediately offered to bring Marisol from San Miguel de Allende to Dallas, if only we could get her there from Acapulco.

I looked up a map of Mexico and found that Acapulco is far from San Miguel de Allende, across dangerous territory and less than ideal roads. I asked for help yet again. Marisol’s vet, Dr. Eusebio Gomez Duque, readily agreed to drive the 12 hour round trip himself. Here we were then, with the most difficult part of Marisol’s journey arranged by loving, generous people willing to help simply because they love dogs and wish to improve the lot of Mexico’s countless, suffering street animals one life at a time.

Janice then turned her attention to how we could transport Marisol from Dallas, Texas to northeastern Pennsylvania. She contacted PilotsnPaws to coordinate a series of flights on small planes that will bring Marisol home, but found out it would require coordinating five separate flights on small planes, all of which would depend heavily on favorable weather conditions and, of course, willing and available pilots. How could we make this work?

Janice called some commercial airlines to get information on safety, comfort, and pricing when transporting dogs from Texas to Pennsylvania. We double-checked the information on safety and comfort by having volunteers with relatives who work in the airlines do some additional investigating, and were satisfied that this is a viable option. But where would we find the funds to buy her ticket and the large, expensive travel crate?

Janice and I hardly had time to discuss the dilemma before a solution emerged. A supporter of the sanctuary who is dedicated to helping animals in need contacted us and offered to pay for Marisol’s flight. Another stepped forward to pay for the travel crate we will need to purchase for her.

The list of kind and generous people who have volunteered to help this little dog goes on. For example, the owner and employees of Char & Company Salon and Spa have been working diligently to help us raise funds to pay Marisol’s vet bills, going so far as to donate all of their proceeds from a whole spa day dedicated to Marisol’s rescue.

We have an international network of animal lovers involved in helping us bring Marisol home. The beauty of it staggers me. This world is an astounding place, full of grace and love and hope. “Be silent, my heart, until Dawn comes, for he who patiently awaits the morn will meet him surely, and he who loves the light will be loved by the light,” (from Between Night and Morn, Kahlil Gibran).

All I had to do was ask, and look what happened. Another life is saved, and my little canine angel will soon be smiling herself awake every morning, right by my side on a morning walk through paradise.

The latest photos from the vet-- Marisol standing on her own!She's ready to come home
She's ready to come home

Marisol’s Story Part I: Fe, Esperanza y Amor (Faith, Hope, and Love)

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A rustle in the bushes caught my attention. Under Acapulco’s tropical sun near a beautiful, silver sand beach, a bony, filthy little creature dragged herself towards us. Her whimpers grew into howls as if she were calling out for me. Our eyes met and I was stunned with a jolt of Divine Recognition. I rushed over, her cries immediately subsided, and it was clear she knew me too.

The shock traveled from my heart into the pit of my stomach and then grew into conviction as it traveled through me and out my feet, rooting me to Mother Earth with the pledge that I would forever be true to this little dog, come what may.

The world narrowed to this single soul, and she was all that I could see. We stared at one another silently for a few moments. I felt great awe for her. This was no pathetic little creature, but a great soul filled with love and wisdom, trapped in a seemingly helpless and broken body. I spoke to her softly and ran my hands over her to get a sense of the extent of her injuries. She gifted me with complete trust, neither flinching nor moving away as I completed my initial assessment. She was burdened with fleas, ticks, mites, and parasites and so she was visibly anemic. Every bone in her body protruded through her thin skin and grimy coat. I could see that she had had puppies several weeks prior, although I couldn’t imagine how she could have been able to care for them. I came to her back legs, splayed painfully on either side and unable to hold her up. Knowing that her injuries were severe, I ran my hands over her legs gingerly to get a sense of the nature of them. Despite the brutal pain, she continued to gaze at me with love and faith, never shrinking from my touch. I looked up at my two friends, who stood by with compassion in their eyes.

“What do you want to do?” they asked me.

“She needs a vet.” I replied. “You two go on to the beach, and I’ll meet you at the hotel later.”

“We’re staying with you. Tell us how we can help.”

They embarked on a mission of finding her puppies, yet their thorough search produced no trace. From speaking to nearby vendors, we learned that the little dog was homeless, perhaps abandoned or perhaps one of the thousands of stray dogs who scrape out a meager existence on the streets of Acapulco. Her puppies had disappeared the week before. A few of the locals came towards me to talk about the dog, prompting her to skitter back into the center of her bush and wait fearfully.

We hailed a cab and I marveled at the blessing of having friends with hearts as big as theirs, never hesitating to give up a day at the beach—or anything else—to help anyone in need. Unable to persuade the little dog to leave the bush on her own, I crawled in myself. She licked my hand gently and allowed me to lift her up and carry her to the cab. Her trust nearly brought me to my knees with gratitude.

I held her in my lap during the bumpy car ride, cooing softly in her ears. We had asked the taxi driver to take us to the nearest vet. It has been at least a decade since I’ve been in a Mexican vet hospital, and even then it was in a completely different part of Mexico. Remembering the unsanitary conditions and questionably trained vets I had worked with in India, I prepared myself for the worst—or so I thought. We were delivered to a tiny pet shop where I rushed her to the back to be examined by the “vet”. Nobody spoke any English, and our Spanish didn’t extend to these circumstances, so we used Google translator to tell the vet what I thought was wrong and what the little dog needed, while he spoke of nothing but money and barely glanced at her.

Still, he had medicine, supplies, and access to an x-ray machine, and I was in a foreign country where I did not speak the language and did not have any contacts. I knew her situation was urgent and felt it best to allow her to receive immediate care. He explained that he had to take her to another location to x-ray her and asked that we return in an hour.

Leaving the shop, I finally woke up to my surroundings and saw tiny puppies, far too young to be without a mother, in a filthy box. I raised my eyes and saw other dogs stacked in puppy mill-style cages much too small for them and with no water in this hot airless shop. There was nothing for them to lie on but metal grating, and not enough room to move away from their own feces, much less stand or turn around. I cried as I concluded that I couldn’t rescue all of them.

When we returned, they told us she was not back yet and asked us to come back tomorrow as it was past 6pm and they were closing for the night. With no choice and heavy hearts, we went back to the hotel to research better vets and arrange to move her the next day.

With translation assistance from the hotel concierge, I had a telephone conversation with the vile “vet”, who was demanding more pesos with the veiled threat that we would not get her back without paying.

We got on the computer and found a well-trained, ethical, and compassionate vet who spoke English. We made an appointment and sped off to confront the evil puppy miller. Expecting us to arrive with cash, he had the dog ready. She wagged her tail and tried to sit up when she saw me enter the shop, and I fell even more deeply in love. I left my dear friends comforting her while I took our antagonist aside. This man, who must have seen from my demeanor that I had taken my power back, lost his threatening bluster. We left triumphantly moments later, dog and x-rays in hand, without parting with another peso.

As our valiant cab driver, Napoléon, sped us to the next vet, we named her Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco. Miss Sea and Sun, Hope of Acapulco.

Thankfully, the next vet was all we had hoped he would be and more. Dr. Eusebio Gómez Duque of Clinicas Veterinarias San Francisco (Saint Francis Veterinary Clinics) radiated kindness and compassion, along with keen intelligence. As we discussed her various ailments and developed a treatment plan, my heart lifted. Her initial blood tests showed her to be malnourished and fighting infection, yet the doctor felt her prognosis was good. He planned to start by first treating her infestations of parasites, giving her fluids and nutrition, and providing the proper medicine to keep her comfortable and fight infection.

Dr. Gómez Duque wants to allow her to regain strength before performing the surgery, which will involve resetting both femur bones using rods and external fixators to hold them in place. She will need 3 months of physical therapy after that. It is going to cost Indraloka Animal Sanctuary nearly $6,000 (US!) to do all of this, yet I just don’t see how you can put a price on life. This is a brave, strong, loving creature who has had a terrible time in her short life. We needed to help her. And so, we are starting a fund drive and, knowing how many good people are out there who care about animals, we know that we will raise the money.

In the meantime, our love burns bright, undiminished by miles. I will always love her, and always be here for her, and she for me. Come what may.

Post Scripts

If you enjoy this blog, please subscribe and recommend it to your friends.

For one of my Compadre Rescuers’ point of view on the same rescue, please see http://www.eleanorgwyn-jones.blogspot.com/

If you or someone you know would like to contribute to Señorita Marisol Esperanza de Acapulco’s care, you can make your tax-deductible donation online (www.indraloka.org or https://www.justgive.org/basket?acton=donate&ein=20-2855094 ) or you can send a check to:

Indraloka Animal Sanctuary

PO Box 155

Mehoopany, PA 18629

USA

For more photos and updates on Marisol’s recovery, please friend Indraloka Sanctuary on Facebook.