By Tanya M. Jackson
He's a big dog, but he's a big bag of skin and bones. As the Animal Control Officer lifts him from the patrol truck and sets him on the ground, he collapses, too weak to stand any longer.
"Jack" has been a stray for some time. Who knows where he came from or why he is loose and at large, as we say. Someone was not watching and did not look very hard for him if he wandered from his home. He's a big dog but a very gentle dog, a pit bull mix. Never does he growl or show his teeth while he is checked over by the veterinary technician. You never know with pit bulls, people say, but there are many gentle ones out there.
Jack is taken to the sick room at the Nassau Humane Society, and bedded down on quilts and old blankets to cushion his bones. His white coat and orange spots are dingy and dirty, his ribs and back bone stick out under his rough coat, his chest and neck are bitten, bleeding and scarred, as is his face. Yet he feebly wags his tail and looks hopefully at us.
Good food is the first step, but Jack is fearful about eating it. He eats a little then tries to bury it and hide it under his blankets. We think this is probably because he is afraid there will not be any for later. He has done without food for a long time. Water, on the other hand, he is desperate to drink, and drinks so much so quickly that he vomits it up. We pat him and sooth him, and assure him that there is more food and water for him. We promise him that he will never go without these necessities of life again.
In a few days, Jack is stronger, and is allowed to come out from the sick room to the small play yard near by. He walks quietly on a leash. He greets a few visitors guietly, and allows the pats and words of encouragement to sink into his mind. Some of us shed tears and hug him gently. We take turns sitting in his room with him, feeding him by hand and telling him how much love there is for him. Staff and volunteers are amazed at his gentleness. We all vow that he will have a new forever home, he will never be neglected like this again. Word spreads, and others come to see how Jack is doing.
The amazing thing about dogs is that no matter how they are treated, most of them never hold a grudge. They never forget, but they forgive and move on to another life, a much better life. Jack is one of those. As the weeks go by, he puts on weight, and his beauty really begins to show. I look at his short-cropped ears, and the scars and scabs on his face and neck and I recall a book that my grandmother gave me when I was a girl about 12 years old. It was BEAUTIFUL JOE, written sometime in the 1950's and I have forgotten the author. Somewhere my nearly worn out copy is in storage. I still remember the illustration on the cover, and I realize that Jack looks like Beautiful Joe. I loved that book so much, I read it again and again when I was a girl. The illustration and the story are still vivid in my mind 50 years later.
The story is about a dog that begins life in an atmosphere of abuse and fear, yet remains beautiful in spirit and eventually finds his "forever home" with a young woman from a family dedicated to caring for animals. There he lives happily ever after and learns much about how loving humans care for their animals. He shares what he is learning with the reader. I pray for that kind of caring and that kind of family for Jack as I pat his head, stroke his bony back and look into his gentle brown eyes.
Sure enough. Not many days later a very nice woman visits the shelter, sees Jack and agrees to give him foster care through his heartworm treatment. It is not long before she falls in love with him completely and tells us that when he is well, she wants to adopt him. The shelter never adopts out a pet that is going through medical treatment until the treatment is finished, just in case. What we look for are dedicated foster homes to give love and care until the treatment is successful. When Jack finishes his heartworm treatment and he's healthy again, his foster mom happily adopts him from the shelter.
Every now and then she brings him to visit us. The staff and volunteers are always excited to see him. Jack is now even more beautiful, with a shiny white coat and glossy orange spots. His brown eyes are still so soft and gentle, yet lively and spirited too. He sports a fine new harness and his very own ID tags. His wounds and scars are healed, he is a happy dog, so deserving of the love and kindness of his new owner, and the comfort of his new forever home.
What a lucky dog, an even luckier new owner! I have said it before and I will say it again: Work at an animal shelter is never easy, but in my long working career at many various jobs, it is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever held.