Just a little over three years ago, I drove into my driveway after work, and noticed a Beagle walking from the neighbor's yard across my driveway and into my back yard. I got out of the car; he cringed and bolted.
Later, after picking my kids up from school, he was at the back of the driveway. He didn't come close, but he didn't try to run this time, and we could see the pitiful condition he was in. His ribs were somewhat visible, I could tell even at a distance that he was covered in ticks and fleas, birds would occasionally try to swoop down on him, and he had cherry eye. I had my youngest son go inside to get some lunch meat for him so he would hopefully not forage through neighborhood trashcans for food, and therefore hopefully not end up shot or poisoned. He wouldn't take the food from us, or come any closer to get it, so we set it out and backed up, and watched him devour it.
(I promise that bush wasn't in Buddy's eye, it was just the angle of the camera.)
Later that same evening, my oldest son caught him - I guess he was too weak to get away - and brought him inside. We bathed him and got rid of most of the ticks and fleas, but had to turn him back out, since we don't have a fenced-in yard, and I had an intact female indoors. It started raining that night, and when I opened the door to go somewhere, I noticed he was huddled against the house, getting rained on because he was underneath an eave that only comes out about a foot or so. So my son got him and we put him on the porch under our patio table. I even got two old blankets, one to make a "wall" around the table, and another for a dry spot underneath for him to lay on. Turns out he didn't like confined spaces, so he went back to getting wet under the eave.
We started calling this little man "Buddy", and I let the neighbors know I planned to keep him and get him checked out by a vet, I just needed to get a stake for him. Even if his "owner" had come for him, I had no intention of turning him over. He acted like he'd been abused, or at the very least, had never had any human contact, he was half-starved, and obviously in need of tlc. I panicked when I didn't see him for a few days, and I was so worried he'd been picked up by animal control, or hit by a car, or hurt by another human for getting into their yard/trash/too close to their kids.
But then he showed back up, and in the meantime I had procured a harness, stake for the yard, food and water bowls, a Dogloo I bought from a neighbor, and I made sure he couldn't get wound up on anything in the yard or near the house. He'd go into the Dogloo, but he preferred a little hole he'd dug himself underneath our back porch. Every day when we'd come home and check on him and feed him, he'd come out from under the porch with his tail wagging! We could pet him now! But although he was beginning to trust us, you couldn't make any sudden movements or he'd drop to the ground. It was heartbreaking to see.
I took Buddy to be checked out by our vet. We got all his vaccinations up to date, checked for heartworms (negative) and started on prevention. The vet estimated him to be approximately 11 or 12 years old, most likely never a pet, but a hunting dog who'd been separated from his pack. And the vet said he had the worst case of canine dental disease he'd ever seen. I was quoted a price of around $500 for the vet to perform surgery to remove all the tartar growth and restructure Buddy's mouth, and we decided that we would take care of the cherry eye at that time, too, so Buddy would not have to be put through two different surgeries. Of course, this animal hospital didn't offer a payment plan and I didn't have that kind of money laying around, so I planned to save for the surgery.
We had a great summer. Buddy played with us, and our other dogs (we already had Mini, and had committed to April, who was still being weaned when Buddy first got here)
Buddy and April playing in a light snow in the winter of 2009
Once, Buddy's tie line got broken by a lawn mower. My son tied it back together hopefully to hold it till I could bring another cable home the next day, but that didn't work. Buddy was gone the next morning, without a doubt off into the woods with half a tie line attached to his harness. My son and I were in a panic as we combed the woods for that dog! I am so thankful my son was with me, because I can't hear very well, and I wouldn't have heard Buddy from as far off as he did, or known where the sound was coming from. Pretty Boy (ANOTHER stray Beagle, but much younger, and most likely from the same hunting pack, had come to our home about a week after Buddy. But he was too spry and healthy for us to pet, let alone catch, so we just fed him and hoped for the best as far as him not getting hurt/picked up) walked the woods with us, and led us to a point where my son could hear Buddy barking when we called him. Sure enough, Buddy had gotten his cable wrapped around a tree and couldn't get free. We were SO happy to have him back home with us!
Other than that, the summer wasn't very eventful. Buddy gained weight and his cherry eye seemed to go down a LOT on its own. I bought him a squeaky rabbit toy, then we watched from the kitchen window as he picked it up, walked around with it, dropped it, moved it, etc., finally just digging a hole and burying it! As often happened, other expenses came up, and I was not able to ever save the money necessary for Buddy's surgery. I had hoped to hold out through the winter and have it done at tax return time, when I usually got a bit of a refund back.
Sadly, about a month before I could have done that, I noticed Buddy had bled in the yard, and on his hay/bedding. I called the vet thinking he'd eaten something or hurt himself, even though he didn't seem to be in much pain. They told me to just bring him in once I got my kids home and settled in. I gave him a bath and put him in the utility room to dry off while I changed my own clothes. I nearly fainted when I opened the door after a few minutes and saw how much he had bled in such a short amount of time! I scooped him up and rushed him to the vet immediately.
This time, the sweet, older man vet wasn't there, but a young woman. I explained to her Buddy's story (because I did not want her thinking I let a pet of mine get in such bad shape), and .... well, I still felt like she looked down on me. She told me that the dental decay had gotten so bad it pretty much dissolved his jawbone and had gotten very infected, and we had to make some kind of decision regarding surgery immediately. She said he also had a heart murmur and ear infection (two things he did not have at his initial visit).
Since she was willing to let me pay for half of his surgery then and half when I got my paycheck the following Friday, I considered that. I also asked about euthanization. She said she didn't want to seem callous regarding Buddy, but he was old, not in the best of health, and it was certainly an option. He could not be strong enough for surgery. He could be strong enough for surgery, but die on the operating table. He could pull through, and die of complications during recovery. He could pull through and recover just fine, then die a natural death of old age in another six months.
I opted for euthanization. I picked my sons up from school and had to tell them about Buddy. We went back to the vet's office, this time to have Buddy put to sleep. We stayed in the room with him, talking to him and petting him, until he passed a few minutes later. Then we had him prepared for burial, and brought him home and buried him under a shade tree in our front yard.
We may have had him for less than a year, but he stole our hearts and we miss him every day.
I hate that we had to lose him like that, but I really didn't feel like he would make it given all that was wrong. And I am glad that he got to live out the last few months of his life with a regular food, shelter, and a family who loved him. I like to think of him somewhere happy, where he can follow all the trails he can possibly find :)
And although this story is about Buddy, I just can't leave it on a sad note. We have since adopted Oakley, who, while not a stray, was headed for the pound if a home couldn't be found for her. She has also stolen our hearts, and is a wonderful companion and very much a part of our family!
I would like to encourage anyone considering a pet for their family to please save an animal from the shelter (or do like we did, and let a stray become a member of your family!). To see more Writer's Workshop participants, head over to Mama's Losin' It.