Sometimes I have no idea what I’m going to write and have learned to trust that something will come to inspire or insight me. Today, Friday April 12, as the daffodils bloom in the fields around my home, I just received news that a commercial dog breeding bill that we have been lobbying for since 2008 when we shut down a puppy mill from operating in our county, is now heading to the Governor for signature. This bill which hopefully will become law creates requirements for care, registration, regulation and inspection of commercial breeders and will be a great step forward in helping animals especially those that spend their entire lives in tiny cages never knowing what life is like.
Two years ago, our animal control rescued 33 dogs from a commercial breeder in our community that again were living in utter filth. This picture says it better than I could describe except absent the horrific odor.
The thought that these animals had known nothing but this life was unimaginable. And so when I fostered one of the dogs in my home, a Boston Terrier that I named Tucker, I wrote what follows. I do this as a way to share their past and hopes for the future with their next caretaker.
However, I’ve never shared Tucker’s letter before but knew one day I would. When I heard the news about the law that will hopefully help animals like Tucker, I knew I needed to share it now. Partly so those that don’t understand fully what we are really fighting for will and partly to just honor this sweet little dog who deserved so much more than he got.
As a foster parent for animals from our shelter, I have fostered hundreds of animals. It is one of the most rewarding tasks in animal rescue. And yes, I’ve failed at foster more than once and in the end kept a foster or two or five to become a part of my family. But whether I’ve had them for a few days or for months, each and every one is special.
Admittedly some are more special than others and the tears as I say good-bye to them is often evidence of my attachment and fondness for those that have crept further into my heart than I should dare allow. But it happens.
While some of my fosters will leave me and go directly to their adoptive homes, often they will head off to a rescue where they will be the next step along their way to finding that special home. In those cases I send a letter with them that serves to share with their next foster or eventual adopter my knowledge of their history as well as what I have learned of them while in my home. Selfishly, I also write the letters in the hope that it will encourage their next family to remain in contact with me and share the rest of their story. I love the happy endings!
This was Tucker’s letter from the spring of 2011.
My name is Carrie Roe and this is my letter to you about a sweet boy named Tucker. My hope is this will ease the transition into his new home with you.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of Tucker’s history prior to his arrival in our shelter is quite limited and very unpleasant. But I will share all I know, not so that you can feel sorry for Tucker but only so you will understand and be extra patient and understanding with him when he may seem confused.
I met Tucker one evening when our humane officers returned from an investigation. They returned to our shelter with 33 dogs and puppies, a handful of cats and even a few birds. These animals all had been seized from a home of absolute squalor. Actually it wasn’t even a house but trailer no longer than 20 feet and crammed with trash, waste and cages stacked floor to ceiling with these animals. The cages were open to each other and waste and urine would spill from the upper cages on top of the cages and animals beneath.
As such the animals were covered in feces and filth. Despite it, most were friendly and social while obviously scared and overwhelmed. It seemed like some were in shock from the experience in the beginning.
Their owner had been an elderly woman, who was missing a leg, on oxygen and was apparently mentally ill. But none of that kept her from breeding these dogs for sale. She too lived in the midst of this filth and would never return to the residence after we removed the animals and social services took her away. Had it not been for the state of these animals in her care, I would feel some compassion for her but I could not find it in my heart to do so.
All of the dogs were of purebred or designer breeding and while some were puppies, several were older dogs that we suspected were her breeding stock. There were Pugs, Chihuahuas, Maltese, Jack Russells, a few Dachshunds and a few Chinese Crested. And one Boston Terrier….Tucker.
The signs pointed to these dogs living the majority of their time and lives in these cages with little access to the outdoors and to people. And although they were friendly and responsive to all the attention we would rain upon them in the coming days, they had few manners, were certainly not housebroken, had no regard for toys or playing or at least not initially.
Tucker was one of the older dogs. We estimated him to be three or four years of age. And while he seemed to be in reasonably good shape, he did bare scars on one leg that we speculated came from his feet and legs slipping through the holes in the wire cages as there were no bottoms or trays in their crates to support their weight. Only piled up newspaper laden with feces and urine.
It seemed likely that Tucker’s entire life had been inside that cage. Yet from the first moment, he was friendly and outgoing but knew nothing about walking on a leash, playing or rolling in the grass. He along with all the other dogs spent their first week with us in a makeshift shelter in a neighboring building where they each had a clean cage of their own, enjoyed frequent walks by caring volunteers and even was allowed to run loose in the building each day. Each dog was bathed, groomed and nails clipped. Good food, fresh water and lots of treats were also par for the course. And each and every one of them including Tucker responded with wiggling butts, wagging tails and obvious glee.
Tucker became known as the guy that would lift his leg on absolutely everything and considering what he had been through, we just laughed at his joy in marking freely. We had to move his cage away from the others or he would rain down on his neighbors.
But it was amazing in the filth he had lived in, that after a few days, he seemed to resist using the bathroom in his cage. As such I would make a point to get him out first thing so that he could relieve himself after showing a new found discipline and enjoyment of a clean cage. I was quite proud of him and thought immediately that he should tremendous promise to be adoptable soon.
One morning when I arrived to help take care of all these dogs along with other dedicated volunteers who came together to tackle the task of this significant influx of needy animals, I noticed that Tucker didn’t seem like the dog I’d come to know in our short history together. He lacked his normal enthusiasm and I noticed that he had not eaten his food. He seemed a bit depressed at a minimum and when I noticed he was moving more slowly than his normal bouncy self, I grew concerned.
I quickly swept him off to the vet where she could not discern anything notably wrong but suggested that considering their prior living conditions that a bacterial infection could certainly be the culprit. With antibiotics in hand, I decided that Tucker deserved more attention than what could be provided amongst all the other dogs, so off to my home we went.
It may have simply been the change of scenery, the freedom of acres of yard, fresh air and the company of my well adjusted and foster friendly pack, but he seemed thrilled to be home with me. And I couldn’t have been happier.
While his energy was not as I thought it should be, he was curious and intent upon sniffing and lifting his leg on everything as he explored my yard. He seemed to take particular delight in the clumps of daffodils that were in full bloom in the pasture around my home.
After the frenzy of activity and freedom before long he was settled into a cushy dog bed and snoozing the afternoon away.
When night arrived, he curled up in the crook of my arm and slept soundly for several hours, seemingly content with it all. He’s such sweet and gentle boy and so forgiving of all the trespasses of his past life. I think he’s happy here and knows that I am already beginning to love him.
However, in the middle of the night he became restless. Standing up in the bed, circling and then lying back down momentarily to start the routine all over again. Initially I thought he needed to go to the bathroom but that didn’t curb his fidgeting. He just couldn’t seem to get comfortable lying down. I don’t think he slept much and I know that I didn’t. I planned to take him back to the vet in the morning but something told me that I couldn’t delay the trip until then.
Middle of the night trips to our local emergency vet are not foreign to me and so off we went. Tucker out of noticeable discomfort and me out of worry.
Thank goodness I didn’t delay until morning as the news is bad. The vet suspects lung cancer. She removed substantial amounts of bloody fluid from his lungs and almost immediately he relaxed as the discomfort eased as quickly as it seemed to appear. She is not optimistic and warned me that he likely has little time before his lungs will fill again. I’m so shocked and sad.
He’s been fairly comfortable all day but I can tell that soon enough he’ll be struggling to get his breath again. As the hours have passed he’s starting to fidget again and I suspect his lungs are straining with the collection of fluid. He spent long hours bravely standing to try to relieve the pressure. I can’t stand to see him in distress as there are times I think he’s going to fall asleep standing up and topple over.
He didn’t eat much today and I can tell he is growing progressively weaker. There’s little I can do to help him but try to make him as comfortable as possible until even that is impossible.
As the time grows nearer when I must send him to you, please know that while I didn’t know him for long, he was greatly loved and cherished each and every moment. I’m going to miss him dearly. As I type these words he seems pretty comfortable in the cushy dog bed next to me that he’s come to claim as his own. But I know that very soon I am going to have to give him up. I wish I could do more for him. I wish we could have rescued him from the awful life long before and given him years of fun and happiness rather than the life of confinement and loneliness. I think he knows I love him. I have to believe he does.
And yet I feel privileged to have had him in my life even for just these few days. While a mystery to me as yet, I know my life will be changed in some way, because of him.
So I must soon make the decision that will send him to you. Since he’s already lived through hell, I’m counting on heaven for his forever home. Please look after him for me and make sure he finds the home he deserves…one without cages, where he is healthy again and can run and play with carefree glee. With great love for this little dog, I’m sending Tucker home to you.
The following morning I said good bye to Tucker while I held him in the cradle of my arms, kissing him good-bye and crying for him and all the lost years he should have had. I sprinkled his ashes on the wilting daffodils and think of him each spring when they bloom again. I still mourn the loss of a life that was so wasted simply out of greed. This little dog deserved so much more than five days of freedom. I only hope he knew that in those few days, I could not have loved him more in a lifetime.