Almost certainly every single person reading this has a special memory of a special person—or many of them—to remember on Memorial Day. It’s especially weighty to me as it’s very close on the calendar to the anniversary of my father’s death, and he like many in my family, was a veteran (in his case, WWII).
But what is a proper tribute from a “dog organization” on a day designated to remember the importance of those now gone from us? Dogs for Autism is about people—no doubt. But we USE dogs to be about people. And in at least this small way, I’d like to remember a special dog who undoubtedly came to DFA for a very special purpose.
Many dogs have played their roles and are now gone: Asko, Sonja, Cora, Degen, Avanti, Joss—in time perhaps each of them deserves to have their own story told. But for today, I want to tell you a little about the surprise role that one little dog played in the development of our current program.
Back in the early months of 2008, those of us out here at what is now the DFA Resource Center (kennel, grooming, Pupstart) began another episode of something that is all too common—someone dropped off three strays here on the little farm. Three female mixed breeds. All friendly, varying degrees of energy, probably related despite their different colors (red, black and white, and solid black).
Well. What fun. This was getting beyond quite far beyond “common”….we’d just found the owner of three footloose Labradors less than a week before. (A friend of mine was having such a rash of drop-offs a few years ago that she started naming them for the day of the week!) So what would become of these girls? For starters, we popped them into a separated kennel run and started feeding them in hopes that their ribs wouldn’t burst through the skin. There wasn’t much hope for advertising, but we tried anyway. No luck. Eventually it became a choice to drop them at the animal shelter or attempt to find homes for them. But that’s a slow process with dogs of unknown background when the shelters and breed rescues are bursting. Weeks passed and we found no homes. But we did find something else…suspiciously widening flanks on the black and white dog. Oh no.......oh YES!!!. Definitely pregnant.
Hard choices! Had we known sooner, we might have spayed her. But by the time you can see that kind of development, a canine pregnancy is pretty well advanced. Two of the dogs went into a temporary foster home and we settled ourselves in to await the arrival of puppies from a stray. Surely we could find homes…right? Puppies are much easier to adopt out than adult dogs….RIGHT?
But Murphy’s Law wasn’t done with us. The anticipated day arrived. Labor began….and it was evident almost from the start that this little girl was in trouble. We waited, hoped, timed, tried all the normal things, then bundled her off to our wonderful vet (North Greenville Animal Hospital). They tried several options, but nothing worked. The puppies were there and ready, but far too big to be born normally.
Come ON!!!! (Imagine my thoughts.) C-sections are expensive. The launching of DFA from the former program, Dogs for Disabled, was very new. We were scrambling for every penny to meet the needs of our dogs. Nobody was being paid any wages at all. Here in front of me was a pregnant stray that would never be a service dog. We hadn’t been able to find a home for any one of the three. What in the world would we do with another whole litter…and a huge vet bill on top of it? Cold hard common sense said to euthanize her and save the money for dogs with a more realistic chance to help people.
But I knew that couldn’t happen. I sat there on the floor with her and watched this trembling, stressed, frightened little girl strain and work to no avail. She was already the victim of someone’s carelessness; she never had any choice. No, no breeder, no rescue, no volunteer can save every dog, but this one was given to me, no doubt, and it was not in me to turn my back on her.
With a deep sigh, I dug in my wallet for the plastic. “One thing’s for sure,” I muttered to the vet tech, “I just decided on a name for her: Visa!” And Visa it was. Surgery was swift and soon I was the proud owner of five enormous “little” newborn mutts. Their names came automatically: Dollar, Buck, Penny, Cash, and TwoBits. Very logical, yes?
I threw the receipt away….didn’t want even to look. I knew I’d being seeing the credit card bill soon enough. With all medical matters under control, I bundled up the new family and headed home. Things progressed uneventfully for a few days….but only for a few days. The C-section happened on June 26. One week later, DFA’s “L” litter arrived, and we were in trouble again.
By the end of the L litter whelping, again, it was clear that we had a momma dog in big trouble. But this time no surgery was going to fix it. For reasons nobody was ever able to determine, our lovely little sable girl, Joss, was crashing into kidney failure, and nothing was going to save her for long. To our great sorrow, we lost her. And we lost seven of her eleven puppies. But what of the other four?
The Rescue came to the rescue!
Visa’s own pups were just eight days old when we knew Joss was failing. With difficult decisions ahead, we decided to see if Visa would adopt them into her own family. She did. With never a second look, and instant mother-concern, she started right in on the feeding and cleanup, and she never doubted for a second that they were rightfully hers.
Thus followed a few weeks of some very interesting photo-ops! Of course the first-born part of the family rapidly outgrew the second-born. By four weeks or thereabouts, they had to be separated, but see here some of the wonderful photos we were able to get of Visa and the mish-mash of puppies around her!
It was still a long haul to find appropriate places for all the mixed breeds….but as a wonderful example of what can work out, one of the first adult three (Bess) is now near the end of her training as a clinical therapy dog. And almost all DFA “fans” know about Cash! He was possibly the most popular item both at Furman University and HopeReach Clinic during this past year. All because of little Miss Visa. But wait….those L puppies? All four of them are currently with clients, doing advanced training and hopefully will certify before the end of 2010. You’ve read stories about them on FaceBook. You’ve heard from the parents and seen pictures of the children: Leo, Logan, Lucy, Leroy. They are a magnificent quartet. At the time I sat on that cold tile floor with Visa, facing hard, expensive decisions, I could not possibly have known the huge need barely a week in the future. And yes, I’m grateful that I made the right choice for the sake of the L pups. But I’m even more grateful that I’m sure there was never really a choice. In the face of suffering and need that is flung into your path, what else can really be done?
I wish that I could introduce you to Visa today. I wish that I could bring her to a DFA fundraiser and re-tell the story and let you see her cute colors and her silly “smile.” And oh my…she could SMILE like no dog I’d ever seen. All teeth exposed….tail wagging furiously…..entire body from the nose back one large wiggle.
But those of you who have followed DFA’s progress for a while are also aware of the huge, frantic, lost-dog hunt that happened some months later. An inexplicably open gate (we never found out how it happened) and suddenly two dogs were missing. Many people searched many hours in the pouring rain. Multiple TV stations ran spots about the dogs. Calls poured in. We found Jethro, but were too late finding Visa. A speeding car, a screech of brakes, and the little black and white charmer was gone from us forever, her combined families of pups not yet six months old.
Visa is buried on the high bank above the creek in which she loved to “hunt.” She was never discouraged because she never caught anything, the tail-wagging search was a primary joy, right behind petting and dinner. She had no choices in life, no choices in death. Few, if any, domesticated dogs do. Their well-being, their quality of life, their very lives themselves are all determined by people. Which failure is the greater shame to people—that they make poor choices on behalf of the animals, or that they never realize the choices they are making—I am not altogether certain. Regarding Visa, I am sure only that those of us here who knew her briefly made the correct choice and did the best by her that we could. I'm also sure Visa was sent to us under special circumstances, for a special reason—several special reasons. I will think of that little stray dog every time I see Leo, Leroy, Logan, or Lucy for the rest of their lives. But for her, none of the impact they are having on their current families would be possible. But for Visa, their lives, also would have ended before they had hardly begun.
Sleep well, Visa. You are not forgotten. Thank you for what you gave us....
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby
some have entertained angels unawares.
(Hebrews 13:2 of the King James Bible)