My name is Beth Ireland and I’ve been the Director of Marketing here at the ARL since July 29, 2013. I’m also a foster mom and my husband and I have been fostering for the Grey Muzzle program since early 2011. I’ve struggled over this past year trying to decide what I want our blog posts to be, to say, to do. And then Annabelle entered my life and it became clear that our blog should be about the animals that we care for and hope to save every day. From now on, our blog posts will tell the stories of the animals that come into our care and their journey with us. So without further ado, here’s Annie’s story…
On February 2, 2014 local police brought us a stray dog on a “loop”. A dog coming in on a loop can mean that the dog is anxious, scared or aggressive. She was mostly a red/brown color, but had distinct white markings on her head reminiscent of a bovine and so, Kennel Tech Brooke named this four year old female American bull dog mix Annabelle after a character in a Christmas cartoon – Annabelle the Cow.
By law, the ARL holds stray animals for 48 hours to allow an owner time to come forward and claim their lost animal. No one came for Annie and since she was niether microchipped nor licensed, she was eligible for adoption. The problem with Annie heading to the adoption floor was that her kennel presentation was awful. When approached she would jump, bark, and growl from behind her chain link – traits that were not likely to get her adopted. Brooke, however, had gotten familiar with Annie and noticed that she didn’t act the same with people she knew. When released from her kennel, Annie transformed into a giant, furry lump of love. Calm and gentle, she quickly won Brooke over with her big squishy face that just begged to be pet.
It became obvious very soon after her arrival, that Annabelle had issues beyond her kennel presentation. She was evaluated by our consulting veterinarian and it was determined that she needed two TPLO surgeries to repair the torn cruciate ligaments in her hind legs. The cost for these surgeries was right around $10,000 and each leg would require six months rehabilitation. Our options were limited. The ARL did not have the funds to provide the surgeries, so our Rescue Coordinator Missy reached out to several of the organizations in our rescue network. As anyone in rescue work knows, we are all short on space and money, but demand for both never wanes. Despite Missy’s best efforts, a rescue that could care for Annabelle could not be found. Our Grey Muzzle Foster Program is often able to cover the cost of medical care for dogs in need, but a $10,000 bill would wipe out the account and leave us with nothing to care for the countless other dogs that were in need. Foster homes that will take bully breeds are also limited and so it seemed that foster care was not an option either.
Brooke had been doing everything she could to buy Annie time, and her efforts weren’t in vain. Kennel Team Leader Jamie had also fallen victim to Annabelle’s loving demeanor, but her kennel presentation had not improved. We were forced to look around at the other 20 or so perfectly healthy and very adoptable bully breeds that were on the adoption floor seeking homes. Was it fair to them to hold on to this seemingly unadoptable dog? What about when a new dog came in and we had no space for it? Could we justify allowing Annabelle to fill a kennel when there was nothing else we could do for her? And, let’s not forget her legs. While her pain was being managed with medication, being confined to a kennel all day was likely causing her unnecessary discomfort.
In open admission shelters across our nation, the decision to euthanize has to be made all-to-frequently, and it is never made lightly or easily. Shelter staff cares for every animal that comes through the doors. They feel a personal responsibility for each, and making the decision to let an animal go is not only heartbreaking, it feels like failure. Every. Single. Time. In Annie’s case, the options had been exhausted and we knew her time had come. Annabelle however, had a different plan and at the last possible moment, she looked up at Jamie and licked her face.
Jamie called our Shelter Manager Michelle, and together they decided that that somehow, some way, they would figure out a way to help Annabelle.
On Friday, March 21st Annabelle was hanging out behind the front desk before we opened. I asked why she was there and was told she was one of ours and that she really needed time out of her kennel. I’ve got a large office and a doggie gate and was happy for the company. She walked into my office, over to the chair, hopped up and promptly fell asleep. I fell in love.
She will never convince me otherwise – Jamie knew what she was doing that morning when she asked me to hang out with Annie. While I’ve been fostering for several years, my husband and I were taking a break after a particularly hard case. I was not ready for a new foster, but that Monday, I heard Annabelle’s whole story and I heard the familiar voice in my head say “you’re supposed to help her.” Ours is a home where bully breeds are welcome and we had an opening, so there was no way around it – she was coming home with me and that decision gave Annie what she needed – time.
Together with Brooke, Jamie, Michelle and Foster Coordinator Marcy, we decided Annie would see a veterinary orthopedist to get a specialist’s opinion on her legs, we would continue giving her medication to control her pain and we would put her up for adoption on the very slight chance that someone was willing to take her on knowing the expenses involved. I knew that the reality was that she would likely stay with us until her pain was no longer manageable and that we would let her go with the small solace that at least she had spent her last days, weeks, or months of her life in a comfortable home with people who loved her. I knew she would break my heart.
She settled into our home quickly. We found that she didn’t just love my office chair – she loved EVERY chair. Most of all, she just
wanted to be wherever the people were. She and our dog Stella played like they’d been best friends their whole lives and Stella did whatever Annie did. We saw our normally shy and anxious Stella begin to come out of her shell simply by following Annabelle wherever she went. Annie was the best cuddler. She weighed 70 pounds and was quite content to settle the whole of her weight directly on top of anyone that dared take her spot on the sofa. She demanded to be pet by nuzzling her head under your arm and she was relentless until you gave her what she wanted. She loved to play with toys, greeted everyone she met with a wag of the tail, and her gentle, loving manner made her a hit with neighborhood kids. Sunbathing was probably her very favorite past time though. She would lay in the yard, directly in the sun until we were sure she was going to boil.
We’d gone to the orthopedist and learned that there was another surgery option for Annabelle called TTA. It accomplished the same things as the TPLO, but for about half the price. Great news, but $5,000 was still a lot of money for the ARL to spend on a single animal.
Much to our surprise though, we were contacted by people interested in adopting her. The first family loved Annabelle instantly and was willing to pay for her surgery. They took an application, but a few days later, we received an email telling us that pit bulls were forbidden in their apartment complex.
Shortly after that, a volunteer group was at the league, and Annie and I stopped in to meet them. At the end of the day, one of the women approached me and said she was interested in adopting Annabelle and that she was blessed with a good job and paying for the surgery wouldn’t be a problem. They owned their home and had two other pits. I cried. An angel had been sent. We scheduled a meet and greet for Annie and their dogs two days later, but the family didn’t come. They did call a bit later to tell me that they had recently moved and they wanted to get their dogs settled in before bringing another into the home. I had been warned not to count my chickens before they hatched, but I was devastated.
But, life went on, and one day a woman came to the shelter looking for a special needs dog. I, like most days, had Annabelle in my office, and so we met Lori. She fell instantly for Annie’s big brown eyes and a few days later, contacted me with a plan to raise some money for her cause. A fundraiser was organized and we were optimistic that we would raise the money needed to provide Annie relief from her pain.
Meanwhile, I had done quite a bit of research and had grown increasingly concerned about both of the surgical options recommended for Annabelle. The recovery time alone meant that she would likely need to stay in foster for as long as a year. We live in an old home, with steep steps. Did I mention that she weighed 70 pounds? How were we going to carry this dog up and down and in and out for a year? I wanted to find out if she was a candidate for another type of cruciate repair. This surgical solution utilized nylon suture rope and was recommended for less active dogs. It was significantly less expensive and the recovery was a breeze. Well, if nothing else, Annie was a couch potato and so I wondered, could this be an option for her? I questioned this possibility at work and our Foster Coordinator Marcy mentioned that one of our partnering veterinarians regularly repaired cruciate ligaments using the suture method.
So off we went to meet Dr. Ostrich at Eagle’s Peak Animal Clinic. We took along Annie’s medical records and Dr. Ostrich poked and prodded and then decided to sedate her to get a better feel for what was going on which was something the other vets hadn’t done. He determined that indeed, she had a torn cruciate in one of her knees. Wait. One knee? Yep – one knee. He could find no evidence suggesting the other ligament was torn. Nearly giddy with joy, we braced ourselves and asked for the cost. After some whispering amongst themselves and some back and forth and a little bit of begging, we were told that they could offer us a very special rate of $1500.
And suddenly there was REAL hope for Annabelle’s future. Within days of finding out this news, we heard back from Lori that she had raised nearly $900 and it was quickly decided that the remaining $600 could be covered by the Grey Muzzle foster account which is in place specifically to fund medical care for senior and special needs dogs like Annie.
Annabelle had her surgery on June 1st. I went to pick her up and she had a long neon green cast on her leg. Still groggy from sedation, she had already tried to eat it, along with two e-collars. One of the vet techs helped me get her to the car and we laid her in the backseat. I ran back in to grab her meds and when I came back to the car she’d managed to get herself into the front seat. It seemed she was not phased by her surgery. At all.
Her recovery was swift. Dr. O anticipated that she would be “toe-touching” (touching just the toes of the leg to the ground) within two weeks. She was doing it in three days. I couldn’t keep her off her favorite chair and her tolerance for us carrying her
up and down the stairs was short lived. Dr. O was thrilled at her progress when we went back for our two week check-up. She was bearing nearly full weight on the leg and with the exception of the shaved fur, was back to normal. She was released from his care with no further restrictions.
On Saturday, June 28th, I was working the ARL table at the VF Outlet Food Truck Festival when a couple, Kelly and Al, asked if Annabelle was still available for adoption. I told them that I was actually her foster mom and that yes, she was still looking for her forever family. They had recently been in to the shelter and saw Annie’s picture on the Grey Muzzle bulletin board and it had caught their son’s attention. I liked them immediately and I loved that they had another pit bull at home as well as teenaged kids. This was the type of home where Annie would get A LOT of love. Kelly said she would contact Marcy, the Foster Coordinator, in the next few days. Not to be a pessimist- but we hear it all the time, and most of the time, the call never comes. So you can imagine my surprise when Marcy called me on Tuesday, July 1st, saying that someone had called about Annabelle and wanted to schedule a meet and greet. We made the quick connection that it was Kelly and I was elated. Within an hour, Kelly and her son were at the ARL and Al was on his way with their dog Cyrus.
When Cyrus came, he and Annie acted like old friends and I knew then that my Annie was finally going home. Kelly and Cyrus came out of the play yard followed by Al and Annabelle and they walked ahead of me back to the office. Annie never even looked back.
While they filled out their paperwork, we spent a few last minutes together. Our staff that had worked so hard to save her life stopped into my office and one by one said their goodbyes. I sat sobbing on her bed, which, by the way, is still in my office. I moped around that evening when I got home. We picked up her dog bowls and put away her bed and spent the night wondering if she missed us, if she thought we’d abandoned her, if her new family would love her as much as we did. I came in to work the next morning and Kelly had already emailed me to let me know that Annie had made it through her first night and was doing well. We’ve been in touch since and I see photos of Annabelle on Kelly’s facebook page and know that she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be.
How lucky am I to have been a part of this story? When I think of it now, the phrase “it takes a village” comes to mind and I am thankful every day to Brooke and Jamie and Michelle who fought for “just another pit bull” to get a second chance. I am eternally grateful to Dr. O and the Eagles Peak Staff for working with us so that Annie could get the care she needed and to Lori Baer for raising money for the surgery. And I can’t thank Kelly, Al and their children enough for committing to care for this very special dog for the rest of her life.
Foster families hear so often “Isn’t it hard to give them away?” Uh. Yeah. It’s really hard. I swore on the afternoon that I said goodbye to Annie that I was done, that I couldn’t put myself through it again. And then I met BeeBop….