Last week, while sitting at home recuperating my broken ankle, someone pulled into our driveway honking their horn. Our driveway is a little foreboding. It is a long dirt road that goes through a tunnel of trees. We don’t get many visitors and we like it that way. I hobbled outside to find an older gentleman asking if we were missing a dog. He and another man had almost run one over out on the highway. We have a lot of people dump dogs out here, so strays are not uncommon. I told him to bring it to me and we would try to find its owner.
What showed up was the sorriest old dog you have ever seen. The guy whose pickup truck he was in didn’t even want to touch him to unload him. I picked the dog up with my ankle protesting the whole time. What was delivered to my house was an old black lab with dirty, matted fur and a terrible limp. He still had a sparkle in his eyes though. I had to coax him into the house. My alpha male, Enli, didn’t help matters any. Enli was worked up and ended up being put into his crate. Once inside, our new guest tried to hide in a corner. He was very obviously scared, but not enough that he would turn down a bowl of dog food. After that he slept for a long time. Once he woke up he discovered the water dish. That dish is large enough to water four dogs for a whole day. The new guy drank the whole thing all at once!
I also found a silhouette of blood where he had been laying. A quick inspection showed what I feared. He was covered in fleas. More than I have ever seen on a dog before. Off to the shower we went. Have you ever seen the shower scene in Psycho? My shower looked like that. Seeing all that blood go down the drain broke my heart. I wasn’t able to get all the fleas even after soaping and rinsing multiple times. He didn’t possess the strength to withstand the shower any longer. We had to give him a capstar to get the last of them. Imagine being ridden with multiple thousands of fleas. I cannot fathom the torture this poor old guy was enduring. He cried as the last of the fleas bit him and died. We did our best to comfort him and brush the fleas out as they died with the brush on the vacuum.
That first day and part of the next we simply referred to him as new guy, but he needed a name. Right after Christa and I got married we found a lost dog in Croom Forest while we were mountain biking. We named that dog Chance. That particular dog had an owner looking for it so it went home. What ensued was many years of rescuing dogs in need of a home. The last two years saw the death of several of our dogs as they grew old. We swore off collecting anymore dogs as the heartbreak and the finances could not bear it any longer. Then along came this guy. The name Chance completes a circle for us. It also fits in that our newest addition has a new chance at life.
The next day was his vet appointment. We had already discovered that he likely had a urinary tract infection, an infection in both eyes, and we figured he was anemic. He was starving as evidenced by the bits of plastic garbage in his stool and he is underweight and gaunt. He is also ate up with arthritis. We also figured he was older than fourteen. The vet appointment confirmed all of that. We got a surprise by the vet’s assertion that someone had taken good care of him up until recently. Chance’s coat was in good shape once cleaned up. His teeth, though worn, were healthy. He had been neutered. His dew claws had been surgically removed. The biggest surprise of all was that he had a microchip. The vet gave him a good prognosis after the antibiotics and arthritis medicine had a chance to do their job. He may be old, but he has a future.
The discovery of the microchip created a dilemma. We now had the owner’s name and address. She is an eighty three year old neighbor of ours. The problem is the condition that Chance was in. It rose to the level of malicious neglect and animal abuse. Do we return him back to the people who caused this or do we keep him and hide him at our house knowing we can provide better care in his last days? We wondered if maybe she had died and the kids just didn’t care. I checked the obituaries to no avail. The other thing that bothered me is that there were no lost dog signs at the corner store, no signs in the yard, nothing on Craigslist or ads in the local paper, no reports at animal control, and most telling, no one reported him missing to the microchip company. I checked every place daily for the next three days. I even blocked my caller ID and called the numbers listed on the microchip. They were disconnected. We drove by the house and it has fallen into disrepair over the last few years.
Every day, Chance showed vast improvement. He started out wearing diapers because of his UTI. He no longer wears them. His eyes have stopped oozing. His limp will always be there, but he is able to get around much better. The blood work report came back showing that technically Chance needed a blood transfusion. He did not get one because we dealt with the cause of his blood loss which was the fleas. Over the next month or so his body will replenish itself.
We arrived at the conclusion that since no one was looking for him and they had obviously neglected him, we weren’t going to go looking for Chance’s owners any further. We plan to give him the best care and life an old guy like him deserves. Unfortunately, things took a turn. Our vet’s office received a phone call from the 83 year woman listed as his owner. She was looking for him. With trepidation, I called her back. I blocked my number again, not knowing where the conversation was going to go. We got Chance on a Monday, she called on Friday.
It turns out Chance is not her dog. He belongs to her grandson. Her grandson was military for eight years during which time she kept Chance and had the chip inserted. (His real name is Max, but we are sticking with Chance because he is mostly deaf and doesn’t answer to Max anyway.) She went on to explain that she wasn’t able to get around much and although Max lived next door with her grandson, she did not see much of him. Her grandson mentioned that Max was missing and had likely crawled off to die. Upon hearing that she immediately called the microchip company who told her that our vet had made an inquiry about the chip on Monday. It burns me up that it took that scumbag grandson five days to even notice his dog was missing. He was days away from death with the fleas alone, not to mention we had heavy rains and a cold front move through in that time. We also have packs of coyotes running the area who would have gladly made a meal of him. I explained to this nice woman that I would have animal control and the sheriff’s office involved to press charges of animal neglect and abuse if her grandson did not surrender the dog. She asked for my phone number to give to her grandson, I refused and asked for his number. It turns out he has some super secret government job where he goes away for weeks at a time and can’t be reached or located. Finally she agreed to talk to him on our behalf and even agreed that Chance/Max belonged with us. She was angry with her grandson too. For eight years this dog was her baby. I told her I would call back in three hours for his answer.
As agreed, three tense hours later I called back. This poor old woman’s voice was trembling. She said her grandson had agreed to relinquish the dog. My wife and I were elated. I really believe if this woman was right about her grandson, he likely holds secret clearances which criminal charges could interfere with. He really didn’t have much of a choice. I also got the impression this elderly woman had a few choice words for her grandson between our phone calls.
Chance spends most of his time sleeping. He is an old dog after all. When he is awake he pesters us for attention which we gladly give him. He also seems to enjoy the rough play that Enli throws his way. We would stop it except that Chance will often instigate it. He loves attention. I don’t know how long Chance has left. Maybe months, maybe years. We hope years.
This story would not be complete without mentioning that I had asked for some financial help for Chance on facebook. I am out of work with a broken ankle which I got while running through the woods after two of my other dogs who were on the losing end of a fight with some hogs. Their surgeries set us back a bit. I was hoping for maybe a hundred dollars to help with the vet visit. What the vet received on Chance’s behalf from friends and strangers was an amount that was staggering. It really reaffirms that good people exist. Chance is well funded. I want to thank everyone who contributed. We will give him the best life possible, which of course is easier to do with the generous contributions.