Meet Buster, an irresistible 4-5 year old Sheltie mix and the latest recipient of United Hope for Animals’ Angel Fund, which is dedicated to helping shelter pets who need a little extra medical care in order to be adopted.
About two weeks ago, a picture of Buster circulating on Facebook caught the eye of UHA volunteer Menna Kearns. This one-of-a-kind boy – with his luxurious black and brown coat, adorably short legs, comical floppy ears, and kind-hearted eyes – was at the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center and seemed like a dream dog. As soon as Saturday rolled around, Menna and a fellow rescuer met up at the shelter to meet Buster (then called Mr. Beasley) – who turned out to be even more charming in person than his picture suggested.
“It was so obvious that this was possibly the sweetest, most mild-mannered pup in existence,” Menna says. “He is the embodiment of that warm giddiness you get when you see something really cute.”
With looks and a disposition like this, Buster was a prime candidate for adoption – a perfect family pet. There was just one problem.
“We noticed there was blood in the kennel, and thinking it was an injured paw pad or something minor, we considered leaving and telling the staff on the way out. But something made me stay,” Menna says.
That something turned Menna into Buster’s angel. The source of the blood was not a superficial wound, but ruptured anal sacs that had developed into a large and painful infection in need of immediate medical attention. Thanks to Menna’s hard work and the cooperation of the shelter, UHA was able to rescue Buster immediately and book him a same-day appointment with our vet.
With a couple of hours between leaving the shelter and the vet appointment, Menna took Buster home to hang out in her back yard.
“He proceeded to sniff around and get covered in leaves and cobwebs. I was amazed at how happy and grateful he was, despite the obvious pain he was in. He pranced when he walked and enjoyed taking in all the smells around him,” Menna says.
We are happy to report that Buster is now on the road to recovery. His infection required surgery to treat, and he is healing well in a foster home, where he is receiving lots of love and affection.
“Buster is a cuddler and loves to be touched and to sleep next to you, if you invite him. He is house trained and has the most beautiful brown soulful eyes,” says his foster mom, Lorinda.
Many Americans would be shocked to know that just a few short hours south of Los Angeles, land of movie stars and sunshine, dogs live on the streets, scavenging due to starvation, dying of preventable diseases, and reproducing at a rapid rate due to a lack of spay/neuter resources. The local Mexican pounds, or Perreras, fill up endlessly as a result.
“The percentage of animals [in the Perreras] that are either adopted or claimed by their owners is negligible,” Marlene Revelen, President of Animal Advocates of the United States (AAUS) says. This means that most pets who enter the Perrera don’t make it out alive. Between January and June of 2012, 22,399 dogs were euthanized in seven Baja Perreras (Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, San Quintin, Nogales, Saltillo, and San Luis Colorado).
While over 22,000 dogs euthanized in a seven-month period points to a staggering problem — there is hope. One of the most effective means of ending suffering in the Perreras is preventing pets from ending up there in the first place.
Every month, United Hope for Animals teams up with AAUS, 4 Paws, and other individual sponsors to support a spay and neuter clinic in Baja, California. The clinic travels to areas where people do not have the financial means to alter their pets, and in doing so provides this needed service as well as pet-care education.
The clinic team is made up of about 30 volunteers and three veterinarians, who devote a Saturday or Sunday from 9 am to about 6 pm, performing as many spay/neuters as possible.
Laura Sandoval of AAUS reports that there hasn’t been much need of advertising the clinic, as people share information with their friends and family. Dog and cat owners who could not otherwise afford to pay for the surgery line up each month, and often only have rope, wire, or shoe laces to leash their dogs, Sandoval said.
In March, the clinic team surpassed its goal of 80 procedures when a record number of 111 pets were altered: 77 dogs and 34 cats!
United Hope for Animals was able to sponsor 40 of these surgeries, thanks to generous donations to our Spay and Neuter Program.
We hope to continue our regular support and even expand it, increasing the number of animals we can help each month. For just a $20 donation, which goes toward anesthesia, sutures, and other medical supplies, you can sponsor the spay or neuter of one pet and prevent the suffering of thousands more.
It wasn’t long after we brought home our Italian greyhound puppy that we started calling him “Corso, the Wonder Dog.” What a charmer. I was smitten.
But when Corso had his first seizure three years later, I was scared.
He was in the car with my husband and suddenly started flapping around, “like paddling a rowboat with his hind legs and front legs,” Steve told me. Corso didn’t answer to his name, nor did he seem aware of his surroundings.
Our veterinarian’s office just happened to be nearby, and when Steve arrived Corso was calm and responsive. But when the vet came into the examining room, Corso was just coming out of a second, milder attack. Good thing I wasn’t there.
The vet looked Corso over, gave him a shot to prevent another immediate seizure and ordered blood work to see if the attacks might have been caused by something other than a misfiring brain — kidney or liver disease, or diabetes, for example. The tests, however, confirmed our worst fear: Corso had canine epilepsy, likely inherited and incurable.
We learned that if the seizures recurred only intermittently, we would just need to keep him safe until they stopped. In more serious cases, when seizures become as frequent as once a month or more, there is a risk of brain damage and anti-convulsive medicine is required. Corso turned out to be in the latter group.
Corso wasn’t a rescue or a shelter dog. We wanted an Italian greyhound puppy and made a decision to go through a breeder. And we got a dog with seizures. Of course, rescue and shelter dogs can have seizures too. But here’s the thing: Canine epilepsy like Corso’s can’t be cured, but with the right medication, most cases can be managed and the dogs can live otherwise normal, happy and active lives.
It’s true. Corso the epileptic IG just celebrated his 12th birthday.
Corso takes Phenobarbital twice a day and rarely has seizures more than once or twice a year, and that’s usually because he managed to dig the tiny pill out of his food dish and hid it somewhere. Ever the Wonder Dog, he is playful, impish, flirtatious, and dedicated to ridding the neighborhood of cats and squirrels. He travels with us, loves the beach, loves to run, adores playing with fluffy white dogs and buries treats (for later) in the sofa or under my pillow. Come by and you’ll find him snuggled up close to me n what I can only described as doggy bliss. Now that’s a happy and active life.
Here’s what the Canine Epilepsy Network website, which is sponsored by the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, says about living with an epileptic pet:
Most epileptic pets can live relatively normal lives. We can successfully control epilepsy in over 2/3 of the cases. These dogs may require daily medication, but they can still run and play and love. Even the best controlled epileptic will still have some seizures, but usually we can keep their occurrence down to a tolerable level. The number of dogs who have serious side effects from the medications is very small. Some may experience sedation, but this does not prevent them from being loving companions. They don’t need to stay awake in class or behind the wheel, so if they need an extra nap in the afternoon, who cares!
Yes, even one of those rare seizures still frightens me, but when you get the kind of love and companionship – and, in our case, entertainment – that dogs provide, it’s worth it.
It’s no secret that every other weekend, a group of extremely dedicated UHA volunteers gives up a precious weekend day to help dogs in need at the shelter find their way out of anonymity by photographing and videotaping a hand-picked group of highly adoptable dogs that need a little extra help to make them sparkle. Volunteers will generally choose which dogs to include in the photo shoot the day before, so they can get everything organized in advance.
As it happens, a little dog named Henry (originally thought to be named “O’Toole”) got passed over (probably not the first time in his life), and was likely next in line for euthanasia. He was visibly sick (a white dog with chronic diahrrea), emaciated, lethargic, and very matted and dirty. He wasn’t the kind of dog an average person would want to pick up, let alone take on as a project. But somewhere in there was a wonderful and amazing soul just dying to be loved and recognized—and yet he languished under matted hair and fecal material, too smelly and weak to make anyone interested.
A Sweet Soul, Forgotten and Clinging to Life
And yet, these very qualities are what sometimes do get the attention of a big-hearted UHA volunteer, and he had one other thing going for him: he shared a kennel with another dog on the list, who happened to get adopted. So, when it came time to get the little white dog out of the kennel, guess who got picked up? Henry!
This little guy was not snuggle material yet. He needed a bath, badly. He needed a shave as well. Lucky for him, he got both, as it was UHA glamour-shoot day and we weren’t going to take his photo like that! No way! This delicate and serene long-legged poodle mix got scrubbed and clipped, and came out looking like a shorn lamb, and bewildered to boot.
His big eyes blinked in the bright sun and he didn’t know where he was but it was better than where he was before. All the attention was overwhelming, and he was weak. He trembled in the arms of the volunteer presenting him for the camera, and had to be cradled in a towel, as he didn’t have a tail and was suffering from Giardia, a parasite that infects the bowel tract. He was cleaned up on the outside, but still a mess inside.
The director of the UHA Shelter Support Program, Laura Knighten, who has a soft spot for small white dogs, had her eye on him, and was concerned. “I didn’t think he was going to make it through the weekened, let alone through the night.” She just wasn’t sure she could bring home and care for this sick dog, but continued to fret. “I already had another foster and two more at home, and my condo was close to bursting.”
As kismet would have it, another volunteer, Amanda Wray, also noticed Henry’s tenuous condition, and her heart went out to him. “I was worried for that little dog. He looked so sad and downcast and was hanging onto a thread. I had a feeling he had a wonderful spirit in there somewhere, and deserved a chance.” UHA’s glamour shoot had already worked its magic, before the photos and videos even went public. Amanda spotted Henry when she was helping upload the videos to YouTube to make public. She called Laura and Laura knew right away that together they could rescue and care for Henry.
They jumped in their cars and met at the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center and sprung Henry from his crowded kennel. The hard cement floor must have been unforgiving on his bony frame. Laura brought Henry to a “meet and greet” enclosure where Amanda waited for her to gently place him on the ground. They held their breath as he stood there, struggling for balance on his tip toes, and fell over. He picked himself up and wobbled again, but this time held his ground.
“He reminded me of a newborn fawn he was so delicate and unsteady,” Amanda said. “It was as if he had never been in the open before. As a matter of fact, his lack of a tail and difficulty balancing made me think someone had botched trying to dock his tail, and kept him in a tiny kennel most of his life, probably for breeding.”
Video of Henry (formerly “O’Toole”) just before his rescue
Laura, who had stopped to get him a hamburger on the way to the shelter, gave it to Amanda to feed to Henry and she tore it up into tiny pieces while he watched. The aroma got his attention and he moved forward very slowly. She offered him several small pieces.
“It took him a minute, but he ate every last one,” Laura laughed, remembering the moment. “I wasn’t sure he would be able to, but he did. He was hungry.”
Amanda decided she would foster Henry at her house, and Laura would serve as a backup, in case something came up. Turns out, Henry fit in just fine—but it took some time to get him rehabilitated. He didn’t get in that condition overnight, and it would take several weeks of TLC before he would be ready for adoption. The first stop was the vet’s office, where Henry stayed for a week being treated for Giardia. It’s highly contagious, and Amanda didn’t want to risk her own dogs catching it, so she opted to play it safe and boarded him at Family Dog and Cat Animal Hospital in Monrovia. He was well looked after, and is fondly remembered to this day.
Upon bringing Henry home, it soon became apparent that Henry would need more that just a full plate of food. His balance issues persisted, and he had a peculiar behavior that was going to make gaining weight a tricky undertaking: when food was put in front of him, he would start a ritualistic pushing away of the bowl with his nose, and it was pink and raw on top, not the shiny, moist black it should have been.
This fueled Amanda’s suspicion that he was likely kept in a kennel most of his life. “If he was in a small, confined space that was not kept up, and he had to eat and defacate in the same place, I think I would have pushed things away also. He couldn’t get away from things in his space, so he pushed them away from him.”
As a result, getting Henry to eat required creative thinking.
“At first he wouldn’t eat at all if I told him not to push the bowl away, and then I think he thought he wasn’t supposed to eat when I was around, so I would end up leaving the room and then he would eat. When it became apparent he wasn’t gaining weight, I started buying whole roasted chickens from the grocery store and hand feeding him. It was a real song and dance.”
Despite the slow progress, Henry did thrive in his new environment. He became steadier on his feet every day, and gradually gained weight, ounce by ounce. After a couple of weeks he was playing with her dogs in the yard, barking at them to egg them on, and curling up next to her on the couch like he had done it all his life. Not long after that, a potential adopter called, and Henry’s fate was sealed.
The Perfect Fit
“This woman was perfect for him,” Laura said. “She had two the other small dogs, worked at home, had a yard, and a poop-proof floor in her house, glazed pebbles of all things. Wow. I couldn’t believe his good fortune. On top of that, she was extremely gentle, and sensitive to his future needs.”
Before Amanda released Henry for adoption, he needed to weigh at least 14 pounds, as that’s what the vet required to neuter him. Every few days she put him on the scale, but his appetite was finicky, and his weight went up and down. “I about went crazy trying to put weight on him, but he made it!” Amanda said. And now Henry is living the life up in the Hollywood Hills.”
Talk about a rags to riches story!
“Appearances aren’t everything, but a bath, haircut and good photo can really turn a shelter dog’s life around,” Laura said. “That’s what our Shelter Support Program is all about. Volunteers make all the difference in these dogs lives, and now, thankfully, our program is expanding to other Los Angeles County shelters, including North Central and Downey. We are so pleased, and I think the dogs are pretty happy about it, too.”
So what started out as a mix-up and bad paperwork turned out to be a home run for Henry!