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Opal and Jasper
Sybil Erden – Benson, AZ – July 27 2013
In early March 2013 I learned that 32 dogs had been
picked up from the Navaho Reservation and brought to
the Pinal County pound in Casa Grande.
This is not uncommon. Several times a year there are
roundups of these homeless, unsocialised, often ill dogs.
Dogs that no one cares about or wants. Dogs who for
generations have lived hard, short lives, scavenging on
the edges of human society as dogs did at the beginning
Among the dogs swept up this time, dogs unlikely to be adopted, were two momma dogs, one of which had nine malnourished puppies with her. I was later to learn that only six of these two and three week old babies were genetically hers. She had “adopted” three motherless babies, raising them with hers. However, due to her generosity of spirit, the older dogs were getting most of her milk and the smaller ones were suffering.
A pound, particularly in the cold of late winter, is not the ideal place for newborns. There are all sorts of diseases going around, and the babies do not have the immunity to fight these illnesses off. Further, when I went up to the pound and saw the mom, found her to be in a cold, unheated and very drafty wing of the “shelter”. One of the babies had died and several were very ill.
For over a week I worked with other rescues trying to find a “hand feeder” who could take the three older babies. Cochise Canine would take the mom and smaller pups. The older pups were now four weeks old, almost old enough to be weaned. At long last I had everything arranged. I called the pound and told them I would be up to get the entire family the very next morning.
I was driving the two-hour drive to Casa Grande, when I was called and told that another rescue had taken the dogs. I headed back home and called Pinal and asked them why they had given the dogs to another rescue, given the fact that we had confirmed that morning that I was coming to get them. Apparently there had been miscommunication among the staff. Thinking she was doing the right thing, one of the shelter’s workers had given the babies to another rescue, a rescue who left the mom at the shelter.
I knew the two-year old momma would die there. A black, unsocialised, skinny black-lab-mostly mutt who was debilitated from nursing was not a dog most people would be looking for.
The next day I drove up and got the big black dog, whom I named Opal.
Opal had never been indoors, except for her time at the pound. She was skinny with sad hanging tits. Frightened and mistrusting, she skulked, tail tucked between her legs, whenever we would approach. Her fur was course; her body covered with scabs and healed scars, testimony to her mistreatment.
March 19th was a very cold night, but Opal refused to go indoors, into the art studio I use as quarantine for new incoming dogs. My husband Jeff and I put an old t-shirt on her, hoping to keep her thin body warm, and created a pile of blankets on the enclosed porch attached to the studio. We put food and water next to the blankets and hoped she would sleep in the relative warmth.
The next morning the t-shirt was off, the blankets untouched but the food eaten. We brought Opal more food that, while keeping one eye on us, she ate ravenously.
Within a couple of days I realized that Opal was heartbroken. She had no idea where she was, nor could she understand what had become of her babies. So I made it my mission to get back at least one of her babies.
Opal, the skinny, black, Navaho dog, had now been at Cochise Canine Rescue for three days. She was bereft. Alone in a new environment, she was grieving for the eight remaining babies she had nurtured. Frightened, mistrusting, she would not come into the studio where she was to be quarantined
I began calling the Pinal pound, begging for one of her babies. I spoke with the facility’s director, Kaye Dickson, with whom I have a great working relationship. I was still frustrated by the fact that Opal’s babies had been taken by another rescue, a rescue that opted to leave her behind to die. Kaye was very accommodating and agreed that she would help try to get at least one puppy back for Opal.
This is, of course, unheard of. Normally a shelter will never try to get dogs back from a rescue. But due to the mix-up and my pleading for Opal’s sake, this was attempted…and accomplished. Later that day I was told that a baby would be returned the following morning.
Once again I set forth in the morning, heading up to Casa Grande, where, as promised, a tiny little black puppy awaited me.
I could tell something was dreadfully wrong. He was skinny and covered in diarrhea. I wrapped him in a towel, signed the necessary paperwork, grabbed the baby’s rescue papers, put him in a carrier in the warmed car.
I immediately began calling every Veterinarian we had ever used. One was away that day on farm calls. Another refused to service me because I had taken too long to pay off an astronomical bill – even though it had been paid off. Yet another could see me in two days if I could wait. I looked up other Vet hospitals in the area, while heading back to Tucson. One would “squeeze me in” at noon…but when I showed up and they saw how sick the pup was, they decided they didn’t have time just then after all. Could I come back at 6PM?
I sat in their parking lot wracking my brain. Finally I remembered the hospital in north Tucson where I brought my reptiles. They also saw cats and dogs. I called them and they told me they had an opening at 2PM. It was already 12:30 so I went to a Starbuck’s drive-through, grabbed coffee, and waited a while, arriving at Orange Grove Veterinary at 1:30.
Walter Merker is a wonderful young Veterinarian. He spent quite some time examining the puppy. When he heard that Jasper, as I had named the two and a half pound baby, was a rescue, he tried to keep costs down by giving me an assortment of medications to take home with us. I drove into town and made a few stops while in Tucson, keeping a careful eye on the sleeping puppy. But at about 5:35, 45 minutes from the Vet’s office, while on the east side leaving Tucson, I checked once again on Jasper and he was laying in a puddle of diarrhea which had what appeared to be red pieces of something in it…body parts I wondered? He was so weak he couldn’t even raise his head. Something was desperately wrong! I called the Vet’s office back. They closed at 6PM I knew. I was crying, pleading, and begged them to wait. The receptionist put Walter on the phone. By now it was 5:45 and I would not be there until about 6:30 at the earliest. It was the middle of rush hour. He told me not to worry…he would wait for us to return. He told me to drive carefully.
I raced like a woman possessed, fearing that Jasper would die on the way back to the veterinarian’s office. I arrived, delighted not to have been given a moving violation…and happier still that baby Jasper was still with us.
When we arrived, we were rushed back into the examination room. Walter was shocked to see how much the puppy had gone downhill in a very few hours.
We agreed that the puppy had to be hospitalized in order to find out what was wrong with the little one. By this time, I knew that one pup had died in the shelter before being released, and another, I had learned, had also died of whatever was ailing Jasper. I was not sure where the money would come from, but I knew Jasper had to survive.
Opal, the long-suffering Navaho dog, languished at our home.
Unbeknownst to her, her returning puppy was critically ill at the hospital.
I began a blog about Opal and Jasper, posted to my Facebook page. A woman I had never met offered to pay the second night in the ER. Other people pledged sent small amounts to help offset his care. I was humbled by pleased for Jasper…
Jasper stayed at the hospital for two days on IV medications and fluids. By Monday morning he was well enough to come home. His x-rays, along with a careful examination of the bizarre red chunks in his diarrhea, had shown that he had eaten pieces of plastic, undoubtedly in an attempt to assuage his hunger. The festering mess had probably been in his system for weeks, and only now he was able to pass the plastic out.
But his blood work showed that his liver enzymes were through the roof and he was very anemic. First things first, Walter and I agreed….we would try to get the little one eating on his own, then we could find out what the basis for his illness was.
Once again I drove to North Tucson, retrieved the baby with a large bag of medications and supplements to be given orally or mixed into his food. Jeff, my husband, and I decided that we would quarantine Jasper in our laundry room, where it would be much easier to keep an eye on him and give him the several-times-per-day medications.
When I got home I brought Jasper into the warm laundry room and opened his kennel door, offering him food and water. He wasn’t interested.
Jeff and I decided to try to bring Opal in. We made a bed
of blankets under the laundry table I use to fold clothes,
and draped other blankets to make a semi-dark, cozy tent.
Jeff carried the frightened Opal into the laundry room.
It was then that the miracle occurred. The tiny pup and
the bereft momma dog looked at one another, slowly
sniffed one another and, even though it had been ten
days since they had last been together, recognized one
another. Her milk had dried up during this time, but
Jasper stood under her, between her feet, his head not
even reaching her knees, and began to eat the puppy
food he had previously rejected.
I promised them both that they would never be separated
By the next day Jasper began to bloat with water, going from 2 and a half-pounds to almost six pounds in three days, as his liver malfunctioned. He began to look lopsided and mushy. Another trip to Walter’s office and I was given diuretics safe enough for the baby.
The next few weeks were filled with medical ups and downs. Between what Jeff and I spent and donations, a small fortune was spent getting Jasper well. When he went to the Vet, I brought Opal, still frightened and fearful, to comfort him.
Opal and Jasper were inseparable. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I was able to find out who had Opal’s other pups and spoke to her regularly. Ultimately three of Opal’s babies died. I intuitively knew that without Opal, Jasper probably would have been another one of the losses.
Slowly with the supportive care we provided, Jasper improved. We learned that the pups had Adenovirus, a rarely seen viral illness which could have totally been avoided had Opal ever been given her “puppy shots” as puppy inoculations protect against Adenovirus among the other deadly puppy illnesses. The mother’s protection would have been passed along to the babies through her milk. It is sad to know that this could have been so easily avoided!
But the majority of dogs on the Navaho reservation are not inoculated. They are not spayed or neutered. They are not regularly fed or provided shelter from the elements. All too many are feral, surviving on the scraps and bits of offal they can find. They live like third-world dogs, often mistreated when not ignored, unwanted and considered a nuisance by all too many. Like any feral animal, only the strongest survive. These dogs are smart, canny, and have native intelligence that has enabled generations of these wraiths to survive and procreate.
And they have a well-earned distrust of humans, who must they must see as incomprehensibly erratic and dangerous.
There is a difference between these feral animals and the domestic dogs most of us live with. Even after all these months, Opal tucks her tail when voices are raised, even if not at her. She has learned to kiss me, but there is a look in her eyes that silently asks: “When will this end?”
She and Jasper have laid claim to the laundry room. It is where they eat and sleep, and hide when they feel the need for solitude. While both dogs are accepted by the dogs that live here, playing with them, enjoying their company, Opal does not allow them past the doorway into the laundry room. It belongs to her and Jasper.
For the first time in her short and troubled life, Opal has safe haven, a place of her own, where the food bowl is never empty.
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